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$5 million pledge to enhance minority business in Palm Beach County still lagging

The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute

$5 million pledge to enhance minority business in Palm Beach County still lagging

By K. Chandler

         It was touted in 2004 as one of the biggest investments in Florida history. Then Governor Jeb Bush’s administration described it as an economic engine the likes of Disney World and NASA as a revenue generating source for the state.


     Scripps Florida, a division of The Scripps Research Institute, which is headquartered in La Jolla, CA, is considered a world-class biomedical research facility specializing in new, cutting-edge drugs for diabetes, Parkinson’s, Arthritis, Alzheimer’s, addictions, and a host of other pending medical treatments.

     Since 2004, the State of Florida and Palm Beach County taxpayers have forked out over $1.5 billion to make Florida a premier bio-hub bringing Scripps Florida and Max Planck Society, a German bio tech firm to Northern Palm Beach County, along with a host of other biomedical firms. To date 944 jobs have resulted in the county, translating to roughly $500,000 per position – a far cry from the estimated 44,000 biotech jobs predicted to be up and operating by 2018.

     Equally concerning is a 2006 decision by Palm Beach County Commissioners to give the go head for the project contingent upon a $5 million dollar pledge by several Northern Palm Beach County businessmen to assist minority business development within the county. The $5 million pledge was the key selling point for bringing Scripps Florida to Jupiter rather than Boca Raton, which was also strongly vying for Scripps Florida.

The group of local business-men all agreed to forward the $5 million over a 5 year period ending in 2011, to the Paragon Foundation, a non-profit, Community Development Financial Institution to be used for minority business loans, grants and scholarships. To date, only a portion of the monies have been delivered to Paragon Foundation making it very difficult for them to provide financial assistance to minorities seeking to get into business.

As it currently stands, only one firm, Forbes/Cohen Florida Properties (the firm that developed the Gardens Mall on PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens), has fulfilled its pledge to come up with their share of the money.

Cheney Bros. a food distributor located out of Riviera Beach, which had originally agreed to come up with annual payments of $50,000 per year, has not been in compliance as well as a number of other companies that agreed to donate the $5 million.

According to former Paragon Chairman Keith James, he tried numerous times to contact Cheney Bros. by phone and email to no avail. Finally, on April 13, 2010 Paragon administrators decided they’d had enough and filed suit against Cheney Bros. for failing to make payments totaling $150,000 as agreed.

For their part, Cheney Bros. has argued that the original agreement was “vague” in nature, and that Scripps, located in California, never relocated its headquarters to Jupiter, as part of the agreement. Other contributing donors cited hard economic conditions as their reason for holding back on the $5 million dollar pledge.

According to former Palm Beach County Commissioner Addie Greene, who cast the deciding vote in 2006, not only is the situation unacceptable; had she known that the pledged money wouldn’t be forthcoming in a timely manner there would have been no way that she would have voted the way she did back in 2006.

Stating that a “mockery” was made of her vote, she said that she would have “put it in the ocean first,” before putting it in Jupiter.

“The emphasis was to set up an incubator program for the establishment of Black businesses. It has always been my contention that we have such a lack of Black businesses in our community, it is crucial to obtain this assistance. It is still difficult for Black businesses to get loans from banks within the community. An incubator program would have made it so much easier.  Anyone wanting to open up their own business could go to Paragon and Paragon would give them the funding in the form of low interest loans, grants and scholarships” provided they were qualified.

Greene, who is currently a councilwoman representing Mangonia Park, just south of West Palm Beach, also noted that she was frustrated and rather disgusted with the Black public officials in Palm Beach County.

“We have more Black elected officials in Palm Beach County than any county in the entire state of Florida. Yet if you ask most of the Black public officials what is Paragon, they can’t tell you. That’s just how complacent our elected Black officials are in Palm Beach County,” she said.

Greene also noted that the Black community has a role to play in all of this. “We’ve got to learn to come together and stop relying on other people to finance our future. Those were deep pockets [that were being asked to donate the $5 million] yet seven years later we’re still trying to get assistance, and we’re not much better off than we were before. They know they can give us the ‘okey-doke’ anytime and too often we prove them right. That’s got to stop.”

Money raised and given out by the Paragon Foundation:$250,000: Bright Ideas Shoe Design located at 500 Clematis St. in West Palm Beach;$110,000: Family Enterprises, located in the Shops of Rosemary, City Side Suites;$60,000: La Petite Par-fait, a Haitian owned bakery in western Palm Beach County;$250,000: Biotech cancer research building to be located in the northern section of Palm Beach County. Other disbursements include $19,539 in grants, along with $4,116 in scholarships.


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