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Social capital is generally defined as the networks, institutions, and interpersonal relationships that contribute to a community’s economic and social development. As it pertains to economic development, social capital reflects the intangible reasons that influence a company’s decision to relocate or continue to grow in a community. Essentially, these are the reasons outside of incentives, finding building space, business taxes, and all the other items that comprise “site elimination” versus site selection. If you’ve ever been to Palm Beach County, you quickly realize that we have plenty of social capital to go around. Everywhere you turn, there is an endorsement of the efforts of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County (BDB), the contracted public private partnership tasked with completing the economic development efforts on behalf of the County.
Economic Development is definitely a team sport. The players in the game all strategize and present how its defense, the expansion of existing companies, and its offense, the attraction of new businesses, must work together to accomplish the singular goal of winning for the community. Winning represents contributions to the community’s tax base, the creation of employment opportunities, and the most obvious of cultivating a robust and diverse economy. Often times when I would travel the state of Florida while working for Enterprise Florida, Inc., the state’s public-private economic development organization, I would wonder how some counties understood the principals of approaching economic development as a team effort, while others did not. The communities that didn’t quite get it right were far too often the same ones that viewed economic development as an individual sport where one organization has the sole responsibility for traditional economic development efforts and is expected to show the return on investment to the community, with little effort being put into the process on its end. When I traveled to Palm Beach County, I immediately saw the ability to engrain myself within the community simply because of the rich social capital that is present.
In Palm Beach County, social capital is evident in education partners taking a proactive approach to curriculum development to help business leaders find their educated workforce. It is seen in our workforce partners who are willing and able to do anything to serve a dynamic dual purpose by helping employers find the skilled talent they need while connecting job seekers to these employers. It is seen in our partners at the County and the municipalities who work tirelessly to perform at the speed of business so that the BDB can diligently focus its efforts on the primary undertaking of recruiting, retaining, and expanding businesses. Most importantly, social capital is the perceptible relationships the entire community has and its attitude towards making the community as attractive to businesses coming in as well as the businesses that call Palm Beach County home. Appreciation for this social capital goes beyond the BDB sharing the news of closed projects at quarterly business luncheons. Our heartfelt appreciation is truly demonstrated when there is a need for our businesses to come together to share the story of why living and working in Palm Beach County is the best decision a CEO can make when deciding to relocate. Better yet, when a local company is courted to relocate by another community, social capital is evident in the decision the company makes to stay.
Our forte in the economic development game is seen in our collaboration as a community. We all feel compelled to tell our story of why we call Palm Beach County home and that in turn strengthens our social capital. Recently, I visited with a company that relocated from Silicon Valley and when asked what influenced their decision to move, the response was simple – “Why wouldn’t we want to move to a place with a competitive business climate that has people that can collaborate to ensure that we feel right at home?”
As we continue to compete in the economic development game where the standard rules are ever changing, Palm Beach County will continue to win despite the external forces that point to a more somber outcome. We won’t win simply because of the fact that we live in paradise, or because of our favorable business tax climate. It’s not even because of our easy access to international markets and our coveted South Florida lifestyle. We will continue to win because of our strong social capital, which reflects our community’s dedication to winning for the people that call Palm Beach County home.