|Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, discusses Palm Beach County’s business retention
and attraction strategies with Collier County community leaders on Sept. 5 in West Palm Beach.
|(Photo: Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce)|
Searching for open dialogue and input, community leaders recently embarked on an intercity visit to Palm Beach County to share ideas on issues such as economic development and housing.
The trip, which took place Sept. 5 and 6, was organized by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and included elected officials, nonprofit heads and community leaders. Chamber President and CEO Michael Dalby said intercity visits are common for chambers across the country, but this was a first for Naples.
He clarified that the point of the visit was not to become exactly like Palm Beach County but to determine how Collier County's strengths could be better utilized.
"One of the things that impressed us was just how aligned they were in their message of what they were trying to accomplish as a county and as a region," Dalby said.
Palm Beach has a strong mission of getting people invested in seeing the area grow and being an attractive location for national and international companies, Dalby said.
Steven Sanderson, the president and CEO of United Way of Collier County and an attendee of the trip, said that Palm Beach County has a "laser-focus" when it comes to collaborating between county government, businesses, the general population and nonprofit entities.
"They are very well aligned as a community," Sanderson said. "We do have the capacity to learn from what they've done and what our community might look like 20 to 30 years from now if our population growth holds."
Housing a 'challenge throughout all of Florida'
One of the major topics discussed during the trip was affordable housing, a concern prevalent to both counties.
"How do we maintain the quality of our hospitality services, find individuals to come and work in those businesses and, at the same time, find housing that works for them?" Dalby asked.
"It is a real challenge throughout all of Florida," Sanderson said.
According to United Way' ALICE research project, it takes a $58,000 income for a family of four to survive in Collier County, and more than 40 percent of area families with children live with incomes below that figure.
Additionally, a recent report from California's ATTOM Data Solutions showed that Collier County ranked "dead-last" among 36 Florida counties when it came to affordability.
With Collier County continuing to see an increase in population and a greater need for housing that can accommodate workers of all income levels, Dalby said Palm Beach County's Housing Leadership Council is a great idea to emulate in Southwest Florida. The HLC is an organization made up of business, civic and community leaders that works to ensure residents of all economic statuses have access to affordable housing.
"It's proven valuable to them to have one group that is totally focused on housing," he said. "We don't have an organization like that."
In Palm Beach County, the HLC raises funds for housing initiatives, provides housing studies, advocates for funding and policies, holds housing workshops and serves other functions in order to widen affordable access.
Assessing strengths for economic development
Another attendee, Julie Schmelzle, a senior relationship manager with Bank of America and chamber board member, said a big takeaway from the trip was how Palm Beach was able to pinpoint its assets and let those elements lead to growth.
"They have done a very good job of looking at what their strengths are as a community and pursuing those strengths," she said. "They've looked at what they have to work with, they've leveraged those assets and that's what they've accentuated going forward in the name of economic development."
During the trip, Schmelzle was informed about a strategy Palm Beach representatives referred to as "behind the gates."
The strategy involves finding high-net-worth individuals who live full-time or seasonally in the community but operate their business elsewhere, developing relationships with these people and bringing part or all of their operation to the area. Since Collier County, like Palm Beach, has many privately wealthy residents, she said that this strategy could prove fruitful in the future economic development of Southwest Florida.
"To uncover those relationships or businesses elsewhere represents an opportunity for Collier County," she said.
However, she noted that this is not the only opportunity that the county should pursue. She said that Collier County needs to take a step back, pinpoint already-local businesses with great potential and focus on growing those entities.
The area already has a wealth of smaller businesses that are transferable from market to market and don't require a large plant or facility to support development, she said.
"To grow what we already have, to me, is a very efficient strategy," she said. "The strategy of going out of the market and recruiting businesses to come here that don't have any connections, I'm not sure that's the best use of our time."
Community Foundation of Collier County President and CEO Eileen Connolly-Keesler, who also took part in the trip, said her takeaway was the importance of determining what industries are wanted in Collier County and what tools the community has to offer to get businesses to come to the area.
During the trip, a chamber president from Palm Beach told Connolly-Keesler that he sees Collier County "at the cusp of the expansion and economic growth that they experienced 30 years ago."
She said this community has an opportunity to look to the growth Palm Beach has garnered over the decades, decide if Collier should follow in those footsteps and then get the entire county on board.
"(Palm Beach County) probably looked more like Collier County does today 30 years ago," she said. "It's really impressive all of the business headquarters they've built over in Palm Beach. What is it we want to look like, and is everyone on board that we need to bring business into this community? Collectively, we have to figure that out."
Naples Daily News
Reach Andrew Wigdor at email@example.com and on Twitter @andrew_wigdor.