A decade ago, banks couldn’t open Palm Beach County branches fast enough. Now that the branch boom is over, SunTrust is trying a new strategy — opening an office in slow motion.
The Atlanta-based bank said its branch at 9909 Hagen Ranch Rd. west of Boynton Beach will open in January — more than three years after construction was completed. SunTrust Senior Vice President Tom McDermott blamed permitting delays.
“The permitting takes a long time,” McDermott said. “It’s very, very difficult.”
However, Palm Beach County records show the branch’s permits were approved in 2010. Scott Riznick, the Fort Lauderdale contractor SunTrust hired to build the 2,800-square-foot office, declined to comment.
McDermott also blamed the recession for persuading SunTrust to delay opening the branch. The site isn’t cheap — an investor paid $4.4 million for the 0.94-acre site and signed a 20-year land lease with SunTrust.
When the branch finally opens, it’ll be the bank’s first new location in Palm Beach County in five years. SunTrust doesn’t plan any more new branches in the county.
In the past, banks celebrated the end of recessions by embarking on branch-building binges. A decade ago, for instance, banks went on an expansion spree that added dozens of locations in Palm Beach County.
This time around, banks have decided that consumers are more interested in banking on the Internet or with their iPhones than in traditional branches.
As a result, branches are getting smaller. SunTrust’s new office is less than half the size of its older branches in the county, said Senior Vice President Tom McDermott.
“You hear people say the branch is dead. That’s not true,” McDermott said. “The role of the branch is just shifting. It’s moving toward sales and consultation, and away from transactions.”
As of June, there were 491 bank branches in Palm Beach County, a number that has held steady since 2005, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
If low taxes matter, why so few billionaires in Florida and Texas?
Do billionaires care about state income taxes? Apparently not.
The latest Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans pokes a hole in the oft-repeated mantra that Florida’s lack of a state income tax is a powerful draw for wealthy taxpayers. According to the list, the high-tax states of California and New York are home to far more billionaires than the low-tax states of Texas and Florida.
Fully 157 billionaires live in California and New York, while Texas and Florida count only 74 Forbes 400 members as residents.
Narrow the list to the 100 richest Americans — those worth $4.6 billion or more — and the results are even more lopsided. California and New York boast 39 multibillionaires, Texas and Florida only 16.
Intriguingly, many New York financiers on the list — Ronald Perelman, Stephen Schwarzman, Stephen Ross, Henry Kravis — own homes in Palm Beach but remain New York residents.
Mixed reviews of public schools
The quality of public schools is a perennial issue for economic developers, and two CEOs who moved here recently from out of state offer diverging conclusions about Palm Beach County schools.
Scripps Florida scientific director Dawn Johnson said she has been impressed by the public schools here, as have other scientists working at nonprofit labs in Jupiter. Johnson said that when she drops off her kindergartener at public school, she sees a number of researchers from Scripps and Max Planck leaving their kids.
But Al Rabil, CEO of Boca Raton commercial real estate firm Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, suggested that there’s room for improvement. He said top executives make enough to afford tuition at the county’s prestigious private schools, but mid-level employees don’t.
“They need to have public schools that they’re comfortable putting their children in,” Rabil said during a meeting of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. “If they’re looking at private alternatives, whether it’s $18,000 a year, $16,000 a year, $20,000 a year, it’s a big number.”
Scientist: Stop “Scripps bashing”
Even biotech boosters acknowledge that Florida’s medical-research industry has been slow to live up to its promise as a job creator. A decade ago, Gov. Jeb Bush said attracting the Scripps Research Institute to Florida with $579 million in state and county incentives would spark 50,000 jobs statewide within 15 years, not to mention spur demand for 8 million square feet of biotech space in northern Palm Beach County.
My Oct. 13 story pointed out the slow progress. Kirill Martemyanov, a neuroscientist at Scripps Florida, says questioning the pace of the industry’s growth amounts to “Scripps bashing.”
“The tone of the article seems to suggest that this was a bad investment,” Martemyanov writes in an e-mail. “I would disagree with this and along with many people think that this is one of the best things that have happened to South Florida and the benefits will be reaped by your children and grandchildren – and you in a form of better medical treatments, education and all sorts of forward-looking progress. Can one accurately calculate return on investment like this?”