Looking at the Business Development Board’s 2017-18 fiscal year, President and CEO Kelly Smallridge says the year-to-date numbers speak for themselves:
- 28 companies relocated or expanded
- 1,960 new and retained jobs
- $266 million in capital investment
- 1.1 million square feet of commercial space leased, built or purchased
- Less than 4 percent unemployment rate
- $51,098 average salary – the highest of all 67 counties in Florida
- 33 billionaires reside here
“It’s been a great year for Palm Beach County, and we are very optimistic about our current pipeline, which includes several potential projects for the Glades region,” said Smallridge at the BDB’s fourth quarter luncheon September 13 at the Kravis Center. “We know that economic development is a team sport, and we thank our many partners in the public and private sector for their ongoing support.”
The BDB also unveiled the results of a $130,000 Workforce Skills Gap Study funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co. “It is critically important for young people to gain the skills needed to compete in today’s workforce,” said Juan Tagle, executive director and Palm Beach market executive, JPMorgan Chase & Co. “We made a deep commitment to support local workforce initiatives such as this important collaborative study with the BDB.”
Boyette Strategic Advisors conducted the workforce study, which included surveys of more than 7,000 businesses, residents, high school students and college students in the Palm Beach County commuting region stretching from Broward to St. Lucie Counties.
“We found that 75 percent of employers here are satisfied with their workforce, but 56 percent find it difficult to find new talent,” said Kay Stebbins, director of research and analytics for Boyette. She noted that only one-third of college students plan to stay in Palm Beach County.
Stebbins presenting several recommendations from the survey, including:
- Placing more emphasis on developing “soft skills” from elementary to high school
- Exploring concurrent credit opportunities among educational institutions
- Creating new opportunities for businesses to collaborate with education and workforce training providers
After the survey results were presented, BDB board member Carey O’Donnell moderated a discussion of the findings. “We want to help our kids find a clear path to a good, high-paying job, raising the game at every level in our county,” she said.
Palm Beach Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy said today’s high school students can build soft skills by building relationships with members of the business community. “When I was in Charlotte, NC, they learned things like how to shake hands and make eye contact,” he said. “Understanding those basics can help them being successful on the job.”
Dr. Ava Parker, president, Palm Beach State College, said students need more apprenticeship and internship opportunities. “We work with them on career counseling,” she said. “That may include focused on current studies, rather than a low-paying job, in order to gain economic benefits in the long run.”
Kimberly Lea, president of Keiser College’s West Palm Beach campus, said educational institutions need to do a better job of communicating career and workforce needs. “Many students, parents and even guidance counselors don’t understand those pathways,” she said. “Fortunately, the BDB, through the Academic Leaders Council has done a great job in bringing our institutions together with a collaborative focus on the future of our workforce.”