Trump ef­fect takes on new mean­ing

Palm Beach Daily News - - OPINION - By KRISTINA WEBB

Call it re­verse Trump ef­fect? There was a buzz in Palm Beach County ear­lier this year when the newly in­au­gu­rated Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump be­gan spend­ing week­ends here. Some lo­cal busi­ness lead­ers spec­u­lated the pres­i­den­tial spot­light on the Win­ter White House could gen­er­ate more tourism, in­vest­ment or real es­tate deals.

The op­ti­mism had a name: The “Trump ef­fect.”

But as nearly two dozen char­i­ties have an­nounced they will move events from Mar-a-Lago and na­tional CEOs have dis­tanced them­selves from Trump pub­licly fol­low­ing the vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville, Va., lead­ers in the lo­cal busi­ness com­mu­nity are not talk­ing Trump boom. In fact, they are not talk­ing much at all. The one group that has been most out­spo­ken, the Palm Beach Cham­ber of Com­merce, has done so in a di­vided fash­ion.

With the 2017-18 win­ter sea­son just a cou­ple of months away, a Trump ef­fect now seems hol­low.

“I’m not sure there ever was a Trump ef­fect,” West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said ear­lier this month. “I think there was a lot of hope that his fame would bring more busi­nesses to our county and our city. I haven’t seen that hap­pen. I think we’re cer­tainly more well­known as a city as a re­sult, but I’m not sure that has pre­cip­i­tated more busi­nesses com­ing in.”

That was not the sen­ti­ment ear­lier this year. For ex­am­ple, Kelly Small­ridge, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Board of Palm Beach County, said she hoped Trump’s Win­ter White House “has a ma­jor halo ef­fect” that “created a sig­nif­i­cant buzz” for the county. At the time, just be­fore Trump hosted China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Palm Beach for an April sum­mit, Small­ridge said three fi­nan­cial ser­vice firms were look­ing at ex­pand­ing to the area.

In light of con­tro­versy sur­round­ing char­i­ties host­ing events at Mara-Lago, area busi­ness lead­ers have re­mained silent on the prospects or ben­e­fits from Trump’s vis­its. Small­ridge did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment for this ar­ti­cle. Nei­ther did a num­ber of other cham­ber and busi­ness lead­ers con­tacted.

‘A ref­er­en­dum’ on Trump?

Tom Kelle­her, pro­fes­sor and chair of the De­part­ment of Ad­ver­tis­ing at the Univer­sity of Florida, said the si­lence is un­der­stand­able, and prob­a­bly wise. While na­tional CEOs may see con­dem­na­tion of Trump’s state­ments more in the ab­stract, lo­cal busi­ness lead­ers could, for ex­am­ple, see “a more di­rect im­pact” if they speak out on Mar-a-Lago, Kelle­her said.

“In a way, it’s one thing if you’re di­rectly re­act­ing to Char­lottesville and the pres­i­dent’s com­ments on Char­lottesville,” Kelle­her said. “You’re com­ing out against neo-Nazis, and you’re com­ing out against white su­prem­a­cists.”

And while that may not be such a risky prospect, a Palm Beach busi­ness owner com­ment­ing on whether or not to hold events at Mar-a-Lago could be.

“It’s al­most a ref­er­en­dum on Pres­i­dent Trump in gen­eral, and peo­ple don’t want to get into alien­at­ing his group of sup­port­ers,” Kelle­her said. Busi­nesses on a lo­cal level also stand to risk the valu­able con­tacts they’ve po­ten­tially spent years build­ing, Kelle­her added.

“You re­al­ize, if you stay out of it, no one is go­ing to hate you for it,” he said. “You’re in dan­ger of draw­ing a strong neg­a­tive re­sponse.”

Kelle­her noted that dis­tinc­tion, of not mak­ing a po­lit­i­cal state­ment, is im­por­tant for or­ga­ni­za­tions to con­sider — whether they are mov­ing to or from Mar-a-Lago, or com­ment­ing on the Trump ef­fect.

“I think the re­luc­tance to the busi­ness com­mu­nity is, ‘Why would we want to get into a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle that doesn’t re­late to some­thing we do?’” he said.

Pol­i­tics, lo­gis­tics and cash

Long­time South Florida pub­lic re­la­tions pro­fes­sional Va­lerie Zucker, of Zucker Lewis Me­dia Group, said that the me­dia is “putting too much em­pha­sis” on Trump’s pol­i­tics, cre­at­ing a per­cep­tion is­sue for char­i­ties and busi­nesses.

“Maybe they (char­i­ties) re­ally don’t think poorly of the venue or of the pres­i­dent, but they think peo­ple may raise an eye­brow,” she said. “It’s be­cause of per­cep­tion and im­age. That’s sort of what the pres­i­dent is deal­ing with here.”

Zucker, who is go­ing into her 25th year in pub­lic re­la­tions, said any good work Trump is do­ing is over­shad­owed when he does or says some­thing con­tro­ver­sial.

To speak or not to speak

Those think­ing about speak­ing out also have a strong lo­cal risk-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis: the case of the Palm Beach Cham­ber of Com­merce. On Aug. 17, cham­ber Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Lau­rel Baker called out char­i­ties host­ing galas at Mar-a-Lago.

“If you have a con­science, you’re re­ally con­don­ing bad be­hav­ior by con­tin­u­ing to be there,” Baker said. “Many say it’s the dol­lars (raised at the events) that count. Yes. But the in­tegrity of any or or­ga­ni­za­tion rests on their sound de­ci­sions and stew­ard­ship.”

But those com­ments were then dis­avowed. Cham­ber Pres­i­dent Car­rie Brad­burn wrote a let­ter of apol­ogy to Mar-a-Lago say­ing that Baker’s com­ments re­flected her own views and did not rep­re­sent the opin­ion of the cham­ber.

There was one other cham­ber that has spo­ken out, but only to em­phat­i­cally state that it had not spo­ken out. The Cham­ber of Com­merce of the Palm Beaches, which is not the same as the Palm Beach Cham­ber of Com­merce, fielded tweets from peo­ple who mis­took it for the board that em­ploys Baker.

Palm Beach County Mayor Mary Lou Berger said she be­lieves there still is a Trump ef­fect — but not the same one seen when the pres­i­dent was vis­it­ing Mar-a-Lago ear­lier this year.

“Well, look what has hap­pened with the non­prof­its pulling out,” Berger said when asked how the Trump ef­fect has changed. “That tells a big story right there, that they’re pulling out from events that they tra­di­tion­ally hold at Mar-a-Lago.”

Staff writ­ers An­to­nio Fins and Aleese Kopf con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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