Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay is hosting a small business outreach event Wednesday in Belle Glade where Ashley Daniel Bell, a regional administrator with the U.S. Small Business Administration, will be the guest speaker.
McKinlay, whose commission district includes Glades communities like Belle Glade that have struggled economically, met Bell during a National Association of Counties conference in Washington, D.C. and invited him down.
“Knowing how the Glades struggles with economic development, I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to show our western communities to a high-level administration appointee so there is a better understanding of Palm Beach County,” McKinlay told The Palm Beach Post. “Too many people assume our county is just the island of Palm Beach!”
The most famous part-time resident of that island, President Donald Trump, appointed Bell in February to lead the SBA’s Region IV, which covers areas in eight southeastern states: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Bell, himself a small business owner and entrepreneur, oversees more than $5 billion in SBA-backed lending, according a statement released by McKinlay’s office.
Wednesday’s event will be held at the Belle Glade Library and Civic Center at 5:30 p.m. Bell and McKinlay will be joined by Tonya Davis Johnson, director of the county’s Office of Small Business Assistance.
Despite the prosperity of Palm Beach County as a whole, the Glades have long endured comparatively higher unemployment rates, lower household income and limited economic development opportunities.
Officials have blamed the area’s old infrastructure — its roads, water and drainage systems — for some of those problems.
Recent years, however, have seen more money poured into efforts to address those problems. The county encourages businesses seeking government contracts to employ Glades residents, and officials have been successful in getting state and federal funding for projects in the area, including money to complete repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.
McKinlay said she sees the Wednesday event as a way to help residents take advantage of the economic opportunities presented by the various projects in the area.
“With nearly $800 million in federal infrastructure dollars heading our way for dike repairs over the next four-five years, the pending billion dollar-plus reservoir construction, the expansion of the Hendry County Airport and the inland port moving along, there will be opportunities for our residents,” McKinlay said. “I want them prepared!”