Before this week, Dallas site consultant Derith Jarvis thought of Palm Beach County as home of The Breakers and the beach. Cane fields and crop-dusters didn’t enter his mental picture.
Jarvis had no idea that a county with a ritzy image included cheap, rural land that might be perfect for factories or warehouses.
After a tour of the Glades organized by the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, Jarvis had a new appreciation for the oft-overlooked agricultural part of the county. He called the visit — which included a helicopter tour and meetings with Glades officials — “shocking.”
“The perception from a site-consultant perspective is that West Palm Beach is an affluent community,” Jarvis said Friday.
The tour attracted site consultants — specialists who help big companies pick locations for facilities — from Atlanta, Tampa and Miami.
The idea, said Business Development Board President Kelly Smallridge, was to showcase a corner of the county that needs all the economic development it can get. Unemployment in the Glades tops 30 percent.
While residents of coastal Palm Beach County think of the Glades as far from civilization, site consultants who visited the farming community had a different take.
“I don’t see it as a remote area,” said Juan Gallardo, principal at Hickey & Associates in Miami. “You’re surrounded by a huge population and great infrastructure.”
Added C.J. Evans of Merit Advisors in Tampa: “You’ve got a million-plus people right around the corner.
Among the Glades’ selling points: the area’s availability of land and its proximity to Florida’s ports. The Glades could be a perfect spot to manufacture goods for export, Evans said. Jarvis sees possibilities in food processing.
The consultants suggested that it’s a buyer’s market for big employers, especially when the seller is a rural area with chronically high unemployment.
Job-hungry states and counties dangle free land and tax breaks to woo companies. Towns that start making demands, such as requirements that employers hire a certain number of local residents, are likely to be snubbed.
“You can’t tell the companies what to do,” Evans said. “If you provide the right work force, they’ll hire your people.”
While the Glades long has offered businesses a cheap alternative to the coastal parts of Palm Beach County, economic development victories have been rare. Perhaps that’s because companies seeking cost savings skip the Glades and go overseas.
Gallardo said manufacturers in Mexico pay workers as little as $7 or $8 a day.
“You’re competing against the rest of the world, particularly if you want to attract manufacturing,” Gallardo said.