The Wellington Chamber of Commerce recently welcomed longtime local business leader Jess Santamaria to its President’s Circle Trustee Level.
After completing his MBA from the Wharton Business School and working with IBM in Philadelphia, Santamaria and his family moved to the western communities in 1974, when Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, The Acreage and Loxahatchee Groves had a combined population of less than 4,000 residents. Commercial services included only a small convenience store, a laundromat and a hair salon. There was also an 18-hole golf course and a small 32-room inn owned and operated by the developer, Royal Palm Beach Colony.
Most of the residents at that time were retirees from the northeast. Santamaria and his wife Victoria were a young couple with three young children, who needed more services closer to home. A few years later, Santamaria started planning the first neighborhood commercial development at the northeast corner of Southern and Royal Palm Beach boulevards. In 1981, Santamaria brought the first supermarket, first major drug store, first medical offices, first bank, first gas station, first McDonald’s and more to the area.
There were times of economic difficulties, but also opportunities. The Royal Inn was losing money, and the owner/developer offered it to Santamaria in 1978. He accepted and took over. In 1992, a major residential development had financial difficulties was foreclosed on by the lender, which offered the land to Santamaria, who accepted and built over 600 quality homes with home builder Wally Sanger at Saratoga in Royal Palm Beach. In 1988, the original Wellington Mall went bankrupt, and its lender tried to sell it for two years. In 1990, the bank offered it to Santamaria, who accepted. The Santamaria family worked hard to convert their local projects into major successes.
Santamaria has been heavily involved in many public and civic activities, among them: Palm Beach County Commissioner (2006-14); Palms West Hospital, chairman of the board of trustees (1986-92); Wellington Regional Medical Center Board of Governors (2002-present); Palms West Chamber of Commerce, President (2000-01); My Brothers’/Sisters’ Keeper Scholarship Foundation (founder); My Brothers’/Sisters’ Keeper Charitable Trust (founder); Citizens for Open Government (co-founder); and the Crestwood Performing Arts League (co-founder).
Some of the awards Santamaria has received include: Excellence in Enterprise Award by Northwood University; Top CEO in Palm Beach County by the Center for Family Services; Man of the Year by the Lion’s Club; Leader of the Year by the West County Political Coalition; Hero of the Year by the Kids Cancer Foundation; Environmental Champion of the Year by the Sierra Club; Champion of the Everglades by the Arthur Marshall Foundation; Humanitarian of the Year by the Black Educators Caucus; the Education Benefactor Award by the Florida Education Foundation; the Ending Homelessness Award by The Lord’s Place; and awards from both Royal Palm Beach and Wellington.
After 43 years in the western communities, Santamaria continues all his business, civic and community activities together with his wife, Victoria and eldest son, Chris, who is an attorney. He has been able to multi-task all his businesses and civic activities because they are all within a short drive of his home — and he has no intention of slowing down any time soon.
The President’s Circle of the Wellington Chamber offers a unique and exciting opportunity to local businesses, community leaders and entrepreneurs. As a community partner of the Wellington Chamber, President’s Circle members are afforded a highly visible profile in the community, coupled with a most aggressive public relations campaign. For more info., call (561) 792-6525.