Economic Council of Palm Beach County Chairman Nat Roberts was the guest speaker at Monday’s Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce luncheon held at Breakers West Country Club.
Roberts’ topic was the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Six Pillars Community Strategic Plan, which has been adopted by the Economic Council.
The Six Pillars concept is a qualitative research program developing the first statewide strategic plan to help guide Florida toward a secure future economy. It put the focus on “six pillars,” defined as critical factors determining Florida’s economic future.
Those pillars are: talent supply and education; innovation and economic development; infrastructure and growth leadership; business climate and competitiveness; civic and governance systems; and quality of life and quality places.
Roberts, also a chamber trustee and CEO of Callery-Judge Grove, explained how the Economic Council was founded more than 30 years ago by a group of large business owners in an effort to promote a healthy business climate.
Roberts said the Economic Council has worked with a wide variety of industries in the area to promote a healthy commercial environment. One of the more recent initiatives has been to expand and renovate schools.
“At the same time we were trying to attract Scripps and Max Planck to the area, we supported the [school] sales tax program that went through,” he said. “The community built and renovated a large number of schools. That was a great accomplishment. Every dollar was spent, the schools were built. The sales tax went out of business, so we consider that as a success.”
Today, the Economic Council is working on a countywide strategic plan to create an environment that businesses can flourish in, making sure that one of the geographically largest counties in America is destined to grow, he said. “This county has a vast degree of diversity and breadth,” Roberts said.
By 2030, the state will have 5 to 7 million more people, he said. If not managed properly, “it can fill our environment, it can choke our roads, it can drown our schools,” he said.
Roberts added that the planning that was done in the 1960s through the 1980s must be modified to accommodate the anticipated growth of the next 20 years, and grow into a place that is prosperous, with high-paying jobs, healthy communities and global competitiveness.
“Palm Beach is a brand that resonates in Europe,” Roberts said. “It resonates in Asia, and it resonates all through America. How do we bring prosperity and high-paying jobs, vibrant communities and keep ourselves competitive? That’s a state goal, but it’s also something we try to organize our planning here around. That’s a fancy way of saying ‘our people.’ Are our people learning? Are they competitive? Are they state-of-the-art?”
A competitive environment that attracts enterprise must create an economic environment where business leaders feel comfortable to invest, Roberts said. That includes a healthy infrastructure with roads, clean drinking water, good schools and regulations that are friendly to business, he said.
“Somebody said to me: ‘I don’t care about statistics. All I care about is two things. How easy is it to start a company, and how easy it is to get a job? Those are the only two things that matter,’” he said.
Governing systems are also important. “The county has spent a lot of time on that issue in the last three years,” Roberts said. “It has to do with elections. It has to do with things like the Office of the Inspector General and the Commission on Ethics. I would argue that we are a leader in some of those things now.”
Quality of life, healthcare, environment and cultural resources are also important factors. “These are things that make the place wonderful when we’ve finished working, we’ve finished getting our kids to school, why we say to our friends, ‘This is a great place to be,’” he said.
The Six Pillars plan is organized by pillars because not everyone is interested in every component. “If you have a greater interest in schools, we have you over here,” he said, pointing to a six-pillar model. “If you’re more interested in cultural issues and quality of life, we have you over here.”
Nothing in a county as diverse as Palm Beach can be done by any one group, he said. The chamber has been working with many other groups attempting to formulate Palm Beach County’s version of the Six Pillar plan, which includes 220 steps toward a sound economic future for the county.
“I would suggest it’s a little like herding cats working your way through there and 500 volunteers,” he said, explaining that the organizers met for longer than a year to evaluate what this county thinks is important.
Roberts said that while the last couple of years have been difficult, his organization has moved forward with its planning. “Anytime you study this long with as many sub-points, it’ll put you to sleep, but we came up with something, and we are the first urban county in Florida to come out with a full Six Pillars Community Strategic Plan,” he said.
Roberts said the Florida Chamber Foundation has invested a large amount of money to be able to track the success of the statewide plan. “We all know it’s wonderful to say we’re going to improve education,” he said. “When you drill into it, you talk about improving math education.”
He mentioned the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program initiated recently at Royal Palm Beach High School as an example of programs that will be monitored for their success. Another program with Florida Power & Light leading the way has been initiated to retrain math teachers. “The Florida Chamber Foundation is working with the schools to be able to track the math results over the years so we can see how we’re doing,” he said.
More information about the Six Pillars Community Strategic Plan is available under “Reports” at www.economiccouncilpbc.org.