thomas_masters_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

RIVIERA BEACH — During his third successful campaign run last year, Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas A. Masters spent lots of time talking to potential voters and listening to their concerns.

One thing he heard again and again: What about economic development? What can you do to help businesses in the city?

In response, Masters in February appointed an economic development team, a sort of kitchen cabinet of business owners. The group hosted its first event, a hospitality industry summit, on July 28 at Newcomb Hall at the Municipal Marina, 13th Street and Broadway.

The meeting brought together about 40 owners and managers of restaurants, hotels and motels in the city with about a dozen panelists from business development and funding organizations.

The panelists included Ed Chase, president of the Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce; Robert Amidon, executive director of the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council; Jorge Pesquera, president of the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Scott Evans, principal planner with the Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Agency.

The aim of the summit, the mayor said, was to start a dialogue and share information.

“One of the things I heard a lot from business owners is they felt like they were operating in a vacuum, that no one heard them, that they needed support,” Masters said. “This was a first start to addressing some of these issues.”

Each panelist discussed resources available to businesses. Evans told the business owners about a CRA grant program that will fund expansion, relocation or beautification of commercial property within the CRA district. He said the agency will soon add $1 million to the fund.

Claudia Lopez, a county economic development specialist, discussed business funding mechanisms, as well, including the county’s Section 108 loan program and the SBA 504 program.

Linda Williamson, who runs a Palm Beach Gardens-based mobile marketing firm, talked about free and discounted advertising available through Internet search engine Google.

Masters and his team, who meet weekly, plan more summits; next up is one on youth programs.

“I heard people loud and clear,” Masters said. “They want to see the city grow and develop and I’m going to help that happen as much as I can.”

Photo by: Alan Luby/ For South Florida Times

Thomas Masters