By: Dale King Contributing Writer
When Kelly Smallridge visits Boca Raton, she is usually accompanied by good news.
When the president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County checked in with the Greater Boca Chamber’s Economic Development Committee last month, the good news was – that good news is on the way, in the form of business expansions.
She mentioned the names of several firms planning to announce enlargements, and listed a couple that are still under wraps – so much so that the proposals have codes, like “Project Kindergarten” and “Project P2P.”
Of Project P2P, Smallridge said, “An announcement should be coming soon from the governor.”
Companies said to be eying expansions include KRS Global Biotech, Garda, MB Clinical Research and Avid Technology, “all in Boca,” she said.
She offered Chamber members the backstory on Avid, a firm that expanded into Boca two years ago. “I got a call at 8 p.m. in my office from a man who said he had met me while he was CEO of another company,” Smallridge said. “He had left that company, and said that because of our great relationship, he wanted to work with me. The next morning, I called [City Manager] Leif Ahnell and Boca helped make it happen.”
Touching on other subjects, Smallridge flipped to the other side of the coin – the difficult search for skilled workers. Referring to the one-cent increase in the Palm Beach County sales tax for infrastructure repair, she said: “Contractors can’t find enough people to work. The trade schools in middle and high school were closed years ago.”
The BDB is looking to address this so-called “talent gap” with a newly appointed Academic Leaders Council, headed by the Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa and the presidents of the six area colleges and universities, including Kevin Ross of Lynn University, John Kelly from Florida Atlantic University and Ava Parker from Palm Beach State College.
She also noted the BDB has received a $135,000 grant for J.P. Morgan Chase to identify jobs that require more than a high school degree, but not a four-year college diploma.
To address the growing demand of jobs in the life science sector, the agency is hiring a new vice president of life sciences. Smallridge said an offer has been made to an individual who is expected to begin work shortly.
Another area with a dearth of trained personnel is the engineering field. She noted that FAU’s College of Engineering has a new dean. “One of her top priorities is to improve the quality and number of students,” said Andrew Duffell, chairman of the Chamber’s Economic Development Committee.
Another program that could benefit this sector is the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, something new to the BDB. “In the first year, it will provide $85 million for public infrastructure and job training projects that support growth and employment in Florida’s diverse industries.”
The Business Development Board is a private, not-for-profit corporation designated by the state of Florida and Palm Beach County Commission as the county’s official economic development organization.