At first, residents of Palm Beach found it exciting, myself included. Love him or hate him, having the President of the United States in your hometown is electrifying. Between Air Force One, motorcades, secret service agents and all of the added fanfare, it’s not a sight you see every day. But if you ask residents, it’s starting to feel like a regular sight -- and an unwelcome one at that.
Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago Resort adding up.
According to a recent investigation by the Washington Post, President Trump’s first three trips to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach have cost the federal treasury -- American taxpayers -- as much as $10 million within just the first month of his presidency. By the end of his term, that number could total hundreds of millions of dollars. By comparison, the Obama administration spent an estimated $97 million on travel-related expenses over eight years.
Part of the cost has to do with the need for security. Trump often chooses to do his business in very public places, such as dining with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe alongside other Mar-a-Lago members. Then there’s the cost of flying a plane from Washington D.C. to Florida, which is a bit more expensive than taking the short helicopter ride from the White House to Camp David.
On a related note, the city of New York pays roughly $500,000 per day securing Trump Tower, where First Lady Melania Trump and son Barron are currently living. The annual cost could end up being around $183 million for this alone.
The impact on local businesses and daily life.
While the cost of President Trump’s travels is certainly of interest, it’s also important to note just how disruptive these trips have been to the people and businesses of Palm Beach.
Whenever Air Force One flies into Palm Beach, the airport has to go into total lockdown mode. Experiencing a comprehensive shutdown for the president’s arrival can be neat at first, but when you consider that Trump has caused five total shutdowns since December, it’s easy to see why locals are getting a little frustrated.
Take Jorge Gonzalez, owner of SkyWords, as an example. His company operates four planes that tow advertising banners along the coastline in Palm Beach County. Considering that 97 percent of his business is done on weekends and holidays, the airport shutdowns are having a quantifiable impact. Gonzalez says he has another month, two at the most, left in peak season to turn a profit. "So every week that they drag their feet puts me closer and closer to closing my doors,” he said.
It’s not just Gonzalez who is being impacted, either. Every business that relies on Palm Beach County Park Airport in Lantana, which is situated just six miles from Mar-a-Lago, is struggling. This includes flight schools, small cafes and restaurants, sightseeing excursions and more.
Dave Johnson, the owner of Palm Beach Aircraft Services, operates and maintains planes at Lantana. He has eight full-time employees and provides an upscale transportation service for prominent lawyers and doctors who travel around the country for work. Considering that no private flights can take off within a 10-mile radius and no arriving flights are allowed to land without first stopping elsewhere for security clearance, the effect on his business has been immense.
“We never dreamed that he’d be here every weekend -- that’s the killer,” Johnson said. “I’m getting customers that have been with me for years, and they’re actually moving their aircraft to other airports so they can fly.”
From a local security standpoint, Palm Beach County is struggling to find adequate law enforcement resources for its airports. To date, the county has already tallied more than $1.5 million on police overtime pay.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The folks at Mar-a-Lago seem to love brushing shoulders with the president, and the local economy could eventually see a long-term boost in value. “Despite the controversy Trump brings, the international media attention shown on Palm Beach and West Palm Beach during broadcasts of the presidents’ visits has been a Chamber of Commerce dream come true,” said Andy Reid, a reporter for South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel. “Tourism officials expect a long-term bump in visits thanks to potential customers in cooler climates getting frequent reminders of the local blue skies and balmy temperatures.”
In the meantime, the struggle small business owners and local residents are facing is hard to overlook.
Something has to change.
For a businessman who claims to fight for small business owners and the millions of “little guys” across the country, President Trump’s frequent and expensive trips to the “Winter White House” don’t reflect well on his first month in office.
Something has to change fairly soon; otherwise, President Trump’s lavish travels will squash a group of small business owners that are supposed to be directly benefiting from the administration’s new policies.
He isn’t the first president to enjoy a weekend outside of D.C., but he is the first to spend $10 million in one month while simultaneously straining a community that doesn’t have the luxury of sitting back and watching it all unfold.