The future of jobs in Palm Beach County will not be in large corporate relocations with hundreds of workers but with smaller companies, especially those that specialize in niche industries heavy on technology.
That’s the word from Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board, Palm Beach County’s chief business recruitment arm.
As 2017 gets off to a start, Smallridge is scanning the corporate landscape, looking for companies that want to relocate or expand in the county. During the next month, she expects to announce the expansion of a medical device company in the county.
That deal is a metaphor for today’s workplace: Technology companies doing their best to compete and grow in an ever-changing business environment.
“Innovation and technology is where this economy is headed,” Smallridge said.
An example of this trend is De Keizer Marine Engineering , a Netherlands-based company that last year quietly selected Riviera Beach for its first U.S. location. De Keizer is at the Rybovich shipyard at 1940 Broadway.
De Keizer designs, builds and installs computerized security systems and monitoring and control systems for superyachts. These systems serve as the ship’s “brains” and control all the yacht’s functions. De Keizer also is rolling out new technology that adds batteries to a yacht’s grid system to store excess power.
According to De Keizer’s website, the demand for yachts continues to rise, and superyachts are becoming larger and more complex, requiring sophisticated electronics systems like the products that De Keizer creates and installs.
Chase Edwards, De Keizer’s commercial manager in Riviera Beach, said De Keizer realized it would be more cost-effective and customer friendly if it opened a U.S. location rather than dispatching engineers to service yachts in far-flung locations.
A number of superyachts that travel the world spend time in this part of the globe, making South Florida market a prime location.
Fort Lauderdale was considered for the company’s first U.S. outpost but Riviera Beach was the winner, in large part because of Rybovich, which allowed De Keizer to build its own facility in the shipyard. “It’s exciting to see how the industry is growing in Palm Beach County,” Edwards said.
The company will start with six engineers but employment could grow to a couple of dozen, depending on the center’s growth, Edwards said.
De Keizer’s U.S. service center is set for completion in mid-February. It will feature an office and a showroom of some of the company’s products.
But technology isn’t just for tech companies.
Smallridge said other companies are incorporating technology into longtime industries. At Aldi’s food distribution center in Royal Palm Beach, for instance, Smallridge said technology is central to the discount grocery store company’s need to get products out to stores in the area.
Business executives initially hoped the 800,000-square-foot distribution center could employ hundreds of workers. But Smallridge said employment is only about 100 employees, due to the extensive use of automation.
“The consumer is all about instant gratification, and so everything is automated” to make the process faster, she said. “This automation is changing our economy.”
That’s bad news for the job market because robotics and technology means companies can get by with fewer workers. “And so the jobs numbers are less and less,” Smallridge said.
But it’s good news for companies, especially those in niche industries, that specialize in technology. And it’s good news for skilled workers who are able to fill those specialized jobs.
Take Revelex Corp. in Boca Raton. The software developer creates products for the travel industry globally, and locally. (A longtime customer is We Make People Happy Vacations and iCruise.com in Delray Beach, a company that helps travel customers find cruise lines and destinations.)
Revelex Chief Executive David Goodis said the company, which began in 1997 with only a few workers, is up to 71 employees now.
Its software development has evolved from helping companies establish websites and apps to today’s challenge, responsive design. This means crafting sites to provide easy reading and navigation with a minimum of re-sizing and scrolling across devices, from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors.
Goodis echoed Smallridge’s comments about customers demanding faster, better access to products and services: “You’re serving a worldwide community of consumers who expect everything at their fingertips instantly, and they don’t give you any leeway,” Goodis said.
As a result, “You’ve got to stay ahead of the curve … and when you’re talking about e-commerce, it changes on an hourly basis,” Goodis added.
Of course, Smallridge noted that there will continue to be interest from companies, including headquarters companies, that like the Palm Beach County working environment and lifestyle.
Take Epoca, a distributor of household consumer goods, which expanded its headquarters in Boca Raton last year.
The company bought 11,000 square feet of space and is hiring 17 more employees, in addition to the 23 it already has. Epoca’s products include coffee makers and and cookwear. The company’s products are sold in stores and online through Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macy’s and Target. Epoca’s brands include Primula, which makes coffee makers and products for tea.
Distribution companies also will be seeking locations in Palm Beach County as the region continues to grow in population, Smallridge said.
One area the county would like to see grow is the life sciences field.
Smallridge said the Business Development Board last year created a life sciences advisory council, to try to derive economic benefit from the investment in bringing Scripps Research Institute and Max Planck Florida to the county 12 years ago.
Last year, the BDB heard results of a study that found the region’s biotech industry, once touted as a transformative force for the county’s economy, is hampered by a lack of venture capital, a shortage of lab space and general confusion about the direction of the industry.
Over time, the BDB hopes to create a scientific advisory board, which would pair promising biotechnology advances with financial backing, Smallridge said.
Palm Beach Post