Residences to workplaces: Engaging CEOs key to business expansion

For the past several years, Palm Beach County’s chief business recruitment arm has sought to lure companies through a program dubbed, “Behind the Gates.”

The Business Development Board’s strategy is based on finding out-of-area executives with homes in the county who may also be interested in relocating or expanding their businesses here, too.

And a recent deal validates the belief that company executives no longer are content to mostly stay behind the gates of their mansions or country club homes, venturing out merely to take in the county’s recreational amenities.

Increasingly, these executives want to be part of the fabric of the community, too.

Eric Becker is an example.

The co-founder of Chicago-based Cresset Wealth Advisors bought a home a few years ago in Admirals Cove, a Jupiter country club community. Over time, Becker started working with local nonprofits, even as he worked and lived in Chicago, where Cresset is based. Cresset surpassed $2 billion in assets under management in less than a year.

Recently, Becker started rethinking his business — and his personal priorities.

He’d grown to enjoy working with Palm Beach Philanthropy Tank, a program that helps students create projects that improve their community. He rose to lead the Admirals Cove Foundation, the community’s philanthropic arm.

And last month, the Business Development Board revealed it had helped Cresset ink a deal to lease 8,000 square feet on the 16th floor of the CityPlace Tower office building in downtown West Palm Beach.

Robert Hamman, senior advisor of SVN brokerage and a BDB member, said the Cresset deal stands out because of its size, particularly since similar firms seek space in the 2,500 to 3,000 square foot range. Although Cresset started out looking for 4,000 square feet, it ended up taking twice that amount, which allows the firm to grow, Hamman said.

The office will mark Cresset’s first expansion outside of Chicago, growth that could lead to 40 executives working in the space over time.

In an interview, Becker said he’s excited to create an office that not only will serve families and individuals by managing their investments. He also plans to create rooms in the Cresset space that can be a meeting place for families, nonprofits and other community players. Plans are to be in the space by October.

Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board, said Becker is part of a trend.

She’s noticed that executives no longer just want to dip their toe in Palm Beach County by owning a second or third home here.

In addition to getting involved in philanthropy, they want to do business here, too. This can take the form of bringing their firms here, or it can mean investing in real estate or business startups.

“Once they’re here, they’re interested in finding investments,” Smallridge said.

Smallridge said she’s considering a way to bring these executives together, pairing them with like-minded individuals as they seek out business or philanthropic opportunities.

She cited Wexford Capital of Connecticut, which opened an office in West Palm Beach in 2014. The firm ended up being a partner in a deal to transform the old A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana into a mixed-use residential and commercial center.

Al Adelson, developer of the West Palm Beach ultra-luxury condominium, The Bristol, said he’s not surprised the executives are curious about investing in Palm Beach County. Like him, these executives “are deal junkies,” he said.

Adelson said he counts about seven Bristol buyers who happen to be owners or principals of large wealth advisory, private equity or hedge funds in the Northeast. He expects some may become active in the local market, too.

Of course, as is the case with other corporate expansion or relocations, many executives also are seeking a welcoming environment for their families, too.

Mueller Industries, a Memphis-based industrial manufacturer, just leased 5,000 square feet of space at CityPlace Tower. About a dozen employees are expected to work out of the office.

The office will serve as headquarters of its international division, which is moving to West Palm Beach from Memphis.

Smallridge said Mueller officials were particularly interested in school quality (including the county’s private schools) and the state’s low tax environment.

Tom Burst, senior vice president of Colliers International, said Mueller also was drawn to the promise of Brightline, the express passenger train service with stops in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Brightline plans an extension to Orlando, making that city’s airport also an option for executives, too, said Burst, who found Mueller the CityPlace Tower space.

Becker, for his part, is eager to dive further into Palm Beach County’s community, including working with young entrepreneurs. “I was lucky to have a mentor who helped me, so it’s a part of what we all do,” Becker said.

Alexandra Clough writes about real estate, law and the economy.

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