On Wednesday, June 6, the Wellington Equestrian Preserve Committee discussed the village’s 2018 Housing & Economic Study done by the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University, and committee members expressed deep concerns that the study greatly underestimates equestrian impact on Wellington’s economy.
The two-part study, which was first presented to the Wellington Village Council at a workshop on May 4, is intended to demonstrate the overall health status of Wellington’s economic revenue and its rather consequential housing market.
For Dr. Ned Murray of FIU, it was essential to explain that, especially in Wellington’s environment, housing and economic impacts on the community are oftentimes interrelated.
“Economies are much larger than any one particular community, so the purpose was to really do the study that ties together the economy and the housing market,” he explained. “It’s a smart approach, because you cannot talk about one without the other. This link between the housing market and the economy really allows the village to provide policy and planning strategies for the next 30 years. [We can] then compare Wellington to what’s happening in the larger county and the larger metropolitan area.”
Murray explained that, through the study, Wellington would be able to take a look at what is currently missing from the housing market or what could be improved when analyzing housing options in relation to an average resident’s economic income.
“Ultimately, this is all about quality of life. If you look at your essential workers — your teachers, librarians and nurses — you can see that salaries are far below the median income of Wellington as a whole,” Murray said, also pointing out that the population of the village is aging.
Murray reported that, in Wellington, there are more than 2,000 business establishments, more than 20,000 workers and an overall estimated revenue of more than $3 billion from sales. This figure was arrived at using well-recognized multipliers, which incidentally, show the equestrian community accounting for $150 million of that — five percent of the total.
“These numbers always come as a surprise,” said Murray, who has described Wellington as having a robust and healthy small economy.
He stressed that the objective of the study was not to determine the specific impact of any one community within Wellington, including the equestrian community, much to the dismay of many Equestrian Preserve Committee members, who believe that the equestrian impact is far greater than the five percent of revenue measured by the publicly available data used by Murray and his team.
Although the study did account for some of the equestrian impact on Wellington’s economy, the committee ultimately agreed that the study is only partially complete and accurate, as it does not fully measure the percent of revenue from the people who come to Wellington only for the season, or that of those who individually rent out horse stalls or offer other equestrian services during the winter months.
“In the State of Florida, a single member LLC [limited liability corporation] flows through one’s personal income taxes and not as a business entity. How are you able to garner that information in this?” Committee Member Annabelle Garrett said. “If you’re missing a large portion of the equestrian income, [then] that affects this count. How do you account for transients who are bringing in probably the largest dollar amount in a six-month period, into this study?”
The committee expressed concern that the numbers of the businesses and employees listed in the study are not complete, as those who generate revenue or work in the village for only four months out of the entire year have not been accounted for.
“The study, for its intended purposes, is flawed by the mere fact that so much of the equestrian population is transient,” Garrett added. “I’m not trying to diminish the study; I’m just trying to give the equestrian community more credit than people give.”
For example, the study stated that — within the equestrian industry in Wellington — there are 69 employees who work in veterinary services. The FIU representatives explained that, for this study, only full-time employees were counted.
Committee Member Dr. Kristy Lund, who is a veterinarian, questioned the accuracy of that number, being that there are numerous veterinary clinics in Wellington, some of them with more than 30 full-time employees.
“Palm Beach Equine [alone] has 26 veterinarians on staff, and I’m pretty sure they have more than 100 employees at one veterinary clinic, and that’s a permanent place here,” Lund said. “I have 25 [employees] at my little hospital by itself, and there are seven small animal hospitals and at least four large animal hospitals in Wellington.”
Because the committee has been actively working to have a study measure the equestrian industry’s impact on Wellington for two years, Committee Chair Jane Cleveland expressed concerns about the missing data from the study.
“This study, so far, has not taken into account all equestrian businesses, all transient labor and sales, part-time jobs, and we didn’t even talk about real estate — the equestrian industry has an enormous impact on the real estate in Wellington,” Cleveland said. “We need that data from this study. If we can’t get it from this study, please let’s not say we did.”
Dr. Maria Ilcheva of FIU explained that the data collected comes from a system that is only able to acquire public business registration and revenue information from the State of Florida, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, to account for those who may be self proprietors within the equestrian industry, especially if they are not reporting information to the state.
“We use a proprietary data source. They use public information and information from the State of Florida,” Ilcheva said. “You are saying that we are missing a big portion of the businesses, and that, of course, is true. From that perspective, we don’t capture the amount of money being spent here seasonally.”
Cleveland expressed frustration given that, after two years of work, the committee is not on the path to truly show the equestrian industry’s impact on Wellington’s economy.
“This committee, two years ago, said that we need a study that shows what the equestrian community does for Wellington. What you’ve done is interesting work, but I don’t think that we’re getting the answer that we wanted. I’m extremely frustrated, because this is so important,” Cleveland said.
The FIU team has pointed out that a large amount of economic impact of the equestrian community is a benefit to the entire county and surrounding areas, and would not be counted in Wellington-only data. For example, the limited number of hotel rooms available within Wellington mean that many equestrian visitors stay in hotels throughout the nearby communities, benefiting the county as a whole.
The committee consensus was that there is more work to be done if they hope to gather specific data on the equestrian industry’s impact within Wellington. The committee hopes to develop a way to more concisely measure the transient equestrian economic impact on the community with the help of the FIU specialists, in a study designed to capture that information.
While that is the goal, committee members agreed that collecting complete information will be a difficult task.