Commission Corner Why Focusing On Economic Development Is Critical

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By: Commissioner Jim Chard Special to the Delray newspaper

Our City’s economy is dependent upon the hospitality industry and related professional services. A small downturn in the economy which reduces the discretionary expenditures of our citizens and visitors will have a disproportionate impact on Delray’s local economy because of this structural weakness. Delray’s dependence on restaurants and bars limits job availability and diversity and makes it nearly impossible to expand the City’s tax base. Our economy is based on a one legged stool and many business and civic leaders worry about our economy in the near term.

As I travel around the city and find lots of energetic people who are starting their own businesses. You’ve seen them, they hang out in coffee bars with their laptops and singing with the music coming over their ear buds. I heard one estimate that there are literally hundreds of startups envisioning themselves as the next Facebook or successful IPO. But they are hampered by a lack of a supportive ecosystem, low cost work space, room to grow, and a culture that respects and welcomes entrepreneurship.

A solid economy like a robust ecosystem needs to doisplay diversity in order to have a resilient foundation. Young people may live in Delray but have to travel to Boca or West Palm because there are limited job opportunities in our City. Without jobs and economic development, the city cannot expand its tax base. It can’t afford infrastructure improvements and amenities. It can’t hire creative, energized staff.  Delray can’t create jobs but it CAN promote a multitude of economic sectors, help recruit and support high tech companies, and seek out emerging industries that are already here by synchronizing these tools:

  • Comprehensive Plan rewrite
  • Declaration that we are business friendly
  • Zoning and LDR changes that encourage worker space and new industries
  • Ongoing promotion of entrepreneurs and growing companies
  • Accelerating licensing and other paper processing, and
  • Fostering growth in the Congress Avenue corridor, north and south Federal and other mixed use sites in Delray.

But it takes leadership, vision, knowledge, experience, and courage to build the base for an economically sound City.  We have these characteristics we just need to deploy them with energy and persistence. We need to energize our local business sector by emphasizing economic development, fostering a startup culture, tolerating risk, recruiting companies to Delray by promoting our many unique advantages, and making a concerted effort to keep companies here rather than fleeing to Boca or Boynton Beach.

Our City Commission needs to encourage entrepreneurs, developers, and businesses, not disparage them. We need to be aware (and afraid) that nearby communities are out-competing us for growing companies and startups. We can’t afford to be outhustled by our neighbors. To have an impact on our tax revenues we need to start NOW because it takes 4 to 5 years to achieve results…if all goes well. Currently we stretch projects out for years…sometimes purposely and sometimes through inefficiency. We need to think in terms of months or even weeks, not years. The consequence of continued delay will lead to economic decline not growth and result in either reduced municipal services or increased pressure on our tax rates or both.

The choice is simple and clear. Promote economic growth, increase business diversity, accelerate municipal approvals, loudly proclaim our tolerance for new ideas and attitudes, honor entrepreneurship as much as we honor our beaches and arts community, and take advantage of underutilized properties on Congress, Federal, West Atlantic and elsewhere.