Wellington Economy Is Strong, But Housing Stock A Future Concern

Dr. Ned Murray of FIU’s Metropolitan Center, Wellington Community Services Director Paulette Edwards, and Dr. Maria Ilcheva and Kevin Greiner of FIU.

Sustaining Wellington’s atypically diverse economy and the community’s quality of life was the topic of the first presentation of a day-long Suburban Remix Directions Workshop held Friday, May 4 at the Wellington Municipal Complex.

Village Manager Paul Schofield began by setting the stage for the presentation of a draft of the Housing and Economic Impact Study by the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University.

“You’re not going to hear anything new today,” said Schofield, who continued that the meeting would talk about sustaining the village’s quality of life. “We’re going to look at things that will keep us relevant into the future.”

One finding of the study was that Wellington has a very significant economy with an annual permanency income, using well-recognized multipliers, of $3 billion circulating within the local economy. However, despite commonly held beliefs, the equestrian community accounts for only a small portion of that.

“Every local economy interacts with its neighboring economies,” explained Dr. Ned Murray of FIU, adding that this includes Palm Beach County, as well as the six zip codes immediately surrounding the Wellington business node. “Wellington is special… the study [answers] where does Wellington sit as a competitive community.”

FIU’s Kevin Greiner said that residents of Wellington have the highest earnings in the state. This is because high earners gravitate to the community, but not necessarily that the higher rates were earned within the village. However, if Wellington were its own county, it would be the 21st highest-earning average income of any county in the U.S.

Greiner noted that the vast number of employed residents work outside the village, but there is an unusually high number of non-employee, home-based industries with nearly one-quarter of all workers working from home. “These are solid people with experience and high earnings,” Greiner said.

FIU’s Dr. Maria Ilcheva said that Wellington is incredibly unique, and that equestrian branding is a marketing benefit that distinguishes the community. Murray added that the equestrian and non-equestrian aspects of the community benefit each other. Together, they help one another grow and improve the lifestyle. “It is not a zero-sum game,” he said.

This equestrian topic sparked the most interest and comments of the session, with Murray and the FIU team stressing that the measure is of the 365-day economy and is based upon third party research. It does not measure the county-wide or village-specific impact of the equestrian season and the influx of visitors for it.

Murray said that the equestrian aspects of the village are an important part of the economy and make the community unique, with each worker accounting for more than $100,000 in productivity per year. The study describes the number of “permanent horse and other equestrian production and support activities workers on an annual basis,” not including part-time and seasonal workers, as 1,315.

Parameters of the study would not include the value of horse sales, rental space in facilities that have less than four stalls or collect in cash, solo or non-employee businesses and businesses that self-selected in another category.

Councilwoman Tanya Siskind asked about businesses that fall into more than one category. For example, a business that rents stalls, provides riding lessons and sells tack. These would only be counted in a single category of the data.

The figures also don’t include visitors who come into the village for the winter season of equestrian events that affect the county economy as a whole, since the study is only the Wellington-specific permanent, year-round impact.

The other big finding of the study was that in addition to the many strengths, some significant challenges face the village.

The study stated that, “Wellington’s next 40-plus years will be different from its previous 40 years. Build-out is approaching, the community’s master plan nears completion, and 60,000-plus residents are changing the voice of Wellington.”

The study revealed that competitive advantages of Wellington are its housing mix and the type and preference of homes available, the robust 21st-century economy and the fact that its professional workforce has an economic income of $99,925 to $124,905. “This is basically double the national average,” Greiner said.

However, the housing stock does present some challenges

“The biggest challenge is pre-1990 homes, of which 80 percent are single family homes,” Schofield said.

Countywide, 50 percent of homes are one or two bedrooms. In Wellington, only 20 percent are one or two bedrooms. Over the last five years, Wellington’s population of residents over age 55 has increased by 31.7 percent, and residents over age 65 has increased by 52.7 percent.

Wellington’s 24,529 residential units are aging, and one and two-bedroom residences and rental units are underserved. “The millennials and empty-nesters segments are growing, and families are staying longer,” Schofield said. “We have strong demand for one and two bedrooms.”

However, the village’s housing stock is out of sync with the needs of millennials and empty nesters.

“Our strength is families,” said Vice Mayor Michael Drahos, who commented that he wants to incentivize the renovation of existing homes.

The housing stock means that Wellington may not be able to serve all sectors of the population.

“We may not be able to attract millennials, and we may not want to target them,” Mayor Anne Gerwig said.

She also commented that dwellings without a homestead exemption could include two different things, either that people who own the unit, rent it out, or secondly, people own another home, and stay here only during the season.

Drahos said that the village’s strength remains in targeting families, and Schofield agreed. “We are always going to be successful as a family community,” Schofield said.

McGovern also favored that focus. “We need to do the things that Wellington does well,” he said.

The study stated that Wellington’s areas of success include the quality of life, the equestrian branding, the quality of the schools, the ease of transportation and lack of congestion.

“This is less about asphalt and more about reducing the commute,” Greiner said.

The study concluded that reinvesting and redevelopment planning will yield long-term dividends, including quality education, maintaining the living standard, improving portions of the community in order to remain relevant, defining and honing the village’s destination status and determining Wellington’s willingness to become the hub of central Palm Beach County.

Greiner said the challenges are that there is not a lot of space left for traditional businesses, but that Wellington is a leading 21st-century, live-work community with a vibrant, healthy economy.