Profile: West Palm Beach, Florida

Learn about the economy, history and demographics of this seaside city.
By: Matt Prichard
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Population: 1.8 million, including the Treasure Coast (largest cities: West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach)

USDA Hardiness Zone: Mostly 9b, though 10a in southern areas

Major Airport: Palm Beach International Airport

Companies with a Major Presence: Tenet Healthcare, Hospital Corporation of America, Florida Power & Light Co., Florida Atlantic University, Martin Memorial Health Systems, Publix Super Markets, The Breakers, Office Depot, U.S. Sugar Corp., Florida Crystals, Liberty Medical Supply, Piper Aircraft

The West Palm Beach area was once a sleepy destination for seasonal tourists and an agricultural region, relying on winter vegetables, citrus and sugar cane. West Palm, founded as a place for servants to live while working for the rich and famous in the island town of Palm Beach, is now the hub of Palm Beach County, which has grown from just under 350,000 in 1970 to about 1.3 million today.

While taking its place in the South Florida metro area of 5.5 million people, it offers a less-crowded lifestyle than the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area without lacking most big-city amenities. The area still warmly welcomes many winter visitors, but it also has become more diverse as Hispanics and other residents move up from other parts of South Florida. The Treasure Coast, just north of Palm Beach County, with over half a million people spread across Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties, offers more of a small-town lifestyle and plenty of outdoor activities. It gets its name from Spanish treasure ships that sank off its shore.

Healthcare is a key employer, and service industries and agriculture still are important. There are plenty of wealthy neighborhoods, and boat shows featuring large yachts are common. The area also has had a respectable high-tech history: the IBM PC was born in 1981 in Boca Raton, and Motorola and RCA once had large plants here. Pratt and Whitney, the aircraft and rocket engine company, has its Space Propulsion Operations center in northern Palm Beach County. A cryogenic engine designed for NASA's Altair lunar lander has been tested there. Piper Aircraft makes airplanes in Indian River County. Florida Power & Light Co., which has 4.5 million customers, has a sprawling headquarters campus in Juno Beach.

The region is making efforts to reinvent itself as the "Research Coast" and has lured several branches of West Coast biotechnology companies, including Scripps Florida, a state-of-the-art biomedical research institute in Jupiter, and Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies in Port St. Lucie.

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