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Face to Face: A conversation with Alan Levy

Q. What attracted you to the Broward Workshop, and why have you spent so many years of your life working with it?

A. Almost 20 years ago, I was asked to become a member. At the time, it was probably one of the greatest honors ever bestowed upon me in my business career. Because here was a chance to become involved with the leading CEOs, presidents, partners and major decision-makers of Broward's most active businesses and to make a difference in the community.

Q. Does the Broward Workshop try to fill what it views as a leadership vacuum in Broward? Or is it just offering a different perspective and a different voice in looking at issues?

A. I think that the commitment of our members to the community is the primary thing. These are very busy men and women who give up their time to make sure that -- pertaining to business, to the economy, to the social
issues, to education -- all the pieces are in place to build a foundation for the development of a strong community.

We try to identify major issues facing the county and help promote solutions. What we are saying is, 'We are a group of business leaders. Use our expertise in your decision-making process, and we will help make the process become reality. Try to put a business twist to an economic problem, a social problem, a cultural problem.'

We have to start thinking seriously about where we are going in the future and how to get there. We are there to facilitate change in Broward County.

Q. What exactly does 'facilitate' mean? What do you actually do?

A. 'Facilitate' is a key word. We are not the decision-makers. In working with county and city governments and other groups, what we are trying to do is to take a stand on current issues, understand the underlying problems and suggest recommended compromises and solutions. We work together as an organization that has credibility and influence throughout Broward County to inspire, promote and try to follow through -- with the goal being a better community.

Q. This is not an advisory or honorary position. This requires a commitment and many hours of work

A. The Workshop has a very active committee structure. That's how we get our work done. We meet as a board once a month for an update. It's expected that every member will participate and be active in at least one committee. Our committees are not just Workshop members, but are open to community participants interested and involved in committee issues. The outside members have been a tremendous asset to the committee work.

Q. Is regionalism a big issue with you?

A. We think this is one of the most important facets of the future of South Florida. We can no longer afford to have three of everything, or as a county to do things standing in a vacuum. The three counties [Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade] are sharing workers who live in one county and work in another. There are no gates on I-95. We need to start looking at what we can do to share some responsibilities, to not fight with one another, but to join together to try to find some way to promote South Florida as a region.

Q. How did the Broward Workshop help bring about a Regional Transportation Authority to coordinate mass transit in South Florida?

A. We joined forces with the Miami-Dade County Chamber of Commerce and the Palm Beach Economic Council to form the Regional Business Alliance. With the help of the South Florida Regional Planning Council and others, we organized as a group that had never previously worked together. We saw the need to function in many areas for one South Florida interest. The RBA decided to concentrate on one major project to learn to work together, sharing the responsibility and developing a regional credibility. Transportation was the foremost problem we shared. Some of our members were already on the board of the Tri-Rail Authority, and it became a natural to relate what we were trying to do with what was already there, Tri-Rail, already a regional organization. We facilitated and promoted passage of a bill in the Legislature this spring to transform Tri-Rail into the RTA, to coordinate mass transit in the three-county region.

Q. What are some of the other important things the Workshop has been involved in?

A. Each committee has a major issue. Our Business Development Committee has been working with county government and the Broward Alliance as a partnership in doing what we call Vision Broward. It's an in-depth study that will become a strategic plan of the economic environment of the county. The results of this nine-month study should identify and track where we're at today and where we need to get going. Seventeen years ago, we did the same thing with Project Horizon, where ideas and missions were created that have affected our county's economy dramatically.

Q. Education?

A. Our Education Committee has been extremely active. We have the superintendent of schools and presidents of the local universities as members. We are involved in the business of education. The committee has worked with the School Board, studying the 10-year plan, helping find a chief operating officer, looking into funding options for the class-size amendment, teacher recruitment and retention, and school air quality.

Q. The Urban Core Committee?

A. Its initial purpose was to deal with [Zip Code] 33311 [northwest Fort Lauderdale.] We felt that it was really the 'hole in the donut' and the most neglected area in Broward County and we had to do something about it. We
worked very diligently with that community and with the CRA [Community Redevelopment Agency] to try to get Sistrunk Boulevard to become a two-lane community street, with a landscaped median and on-street parking, not a major four-lane thoroughfare.

Q. There's been talk about 'fixing' that community for many years. Can the Sistrunk corridor revitalization really be meaningful and work?

A. I think it's going to work. It's going to take time. It won't be easy. If you have three people, you have three distinct opinions. There's still a debate over how this development should take place. But there's agreement
that the street itself should represent a source of pride for the community.

Another thing the committee has closely monitored is the proposed location of the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale and the government campus concept. This public/private development would replace antiquated and inefficient government buildings with new structures joined by retail shops and workforce housing in a mixed-use complex.

Q. The Criminal Justice Committee?

A. The sheriff spoke to us about truancy, and it became a benchmark for this committee. It deals with children's issues: prevention, intervention, juvenile justice, foster care, after-school care. This year the revitalization of the JIF, the Juvenile Intervention Facility, has the committee's attention. JIF is a great concept that has been underfunded and neglected by juvenile justice.

There's 13,000 kids arrested in Broward County every year. The idea of JIF was the policeman would be able to arrest the child and take the child to JIF. There, a process of evaluation would take place within six hours.
Whether you were dealing with mental health, physical health, abuse, neglect, drugs, crime, whatever, you could divert that kid into a program. We want to bring the community together to re-invent this 24/7 facility.
It's going to take some persuasion with the Department of Juvenile Justice, but we look at the numbers and the cases and we realize these six hours can save a child's life.

Q. We've had stories about the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra maybe going bankrupt and the Museum of Art struggling to get enough visitors and money. Many cultural and artistic organizations face similar problems. What could Broward do to improve the situation to get a permanent source of funding for the arts?

A. That is, of course, a solution, but I think we have to go through a process first. We have to understand exactly what our market wants, what it is willing to pay for and try to minimize duplication and competition that
negatively impacts the entire cultural arts in the community. There are many great, well-run and successful arts organizations in the county. We can learn from their accomplishments.

Q. So what is the Cultural Affairs Committee doing?

A. The committee is not there to raise money, but to develop a common base of understanding. The Workshop feels that cultural arts are an integral part of the county. The arts affect the economy, tourism and the quality of our lives. The message is that cultural arts need to be operated as a business, run more effectively and efficiently.

Q. Airport expansion?

A. We are trying to facilitate some sense into this anti-expansion issue. We cannot understand why, when people knew the long-term expansion plan 20 years ago, there is still so much opposition. If that same opposition had taken place at Port Everglades, we wouldn't have anything there. We are so unique in this county with our airport, 10 to 15 minutes from anywhere. It is and will be the economic engine of this county. We need the longer runway. We need to build for the future and prepare for it.

Q. Let me get you to look ahead to the future of Broward County. What worries you? What is going wrong?

A. Yes, we have problems, but there are also great opportunities. Redevelopment is going to be a major challenge and opportunity. What concerns me is it's piecemeal. I don't know how government and zoning and
land-use plans are going to deal with redevelopment.

We've got to find a way to do quality growth, controlled growth, and make sure we come together as a community. For the community to compromise, it takes leadership, and we're not seeing that leadership come forward. We need public input, to encourage people to become involved in issues. We don't have an identity for the 30 communities, but we need to develop this identity.

Q. If you could wave a magic wand and do one or two things for the county, what would they be?

A. I think we need to strengthen our educational system from early childhood all the way through the universities. We need to train workforces to work in what business opportunities we have. There's no sense in training people in high-tech if we don't have high-tech. If the trained workforce is available, they will come. We need to be known for our educational excellence, because that's the first thing people and companies considering relocating look at.

We need to figure a way to not only regionalize the three counties, but also the 30 communities in Broward County. We need to find some common boundaries and common interests so there's not all this fighting and bickering. I do believe that if something isn't done, 20 of the 30 will be bankrupt in the next 10 years because of their tax-base problems.

Q. Is there something you want to say in conclusion?

A. I reminded our Workshop members, "Seeing is believing." As a group, if we really believe in something, then we'll see it happen. We can't just sit here and wait for somebody else to do it. You've got to get behind it, make the decision that you're going to make it happen, believe in it, and have a passion for its success.


Alan Levy is chairman of the Broward Workshop, a nonprofit association of 75 top business executives dedicated to identifying and seeking solutions to Broward County's most pressing community issues.

Levy, 63, of Fort Lauderdale, works as founder, president and CEO of Great American Farms, a Pompano Beach-based agricultural marketing firm. He chairs the Broward School Readiness Coalition. He spearheaded efforts to save the Pompano Beach Farmers Market, was a founding member of the Performing Arts Center Authority and is immediate past chairman of the Broward/Palm Beach Chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice.

Interviewed by Senior Editorial Writer Tom Sander
Publication Date: Sunday, September 14, 2003
Edition: Broward Metro
Copyright 2003 Sun-Sentinel