While many of his generation tried to avoid the Vietnam War draft, Valeche (pronounced Val-a-shay) offered himself up. During his four years on the Palm Beach Gardens City Council, he earned a reputation as a fiscal conservative. He proposed a budget freeze and later voted against the spending plan, even when his colleagues — including Democrat David Levy, his challenger in November’s County Commission race — didn’t offer their support.
If elected to the north-county District 1 seat on the Palm Beach County Commission, Valeche says he will bring his business acumen and expertise to strengthen the local economy.
“We have a very high unemployment and a lot of low, value-added jobs,” the 63-year-old investment banker and venture capitalist said. “We need more knowledge-based jobs here.”
Valeche has a resume that positions him to make good on that promise.
An over-achiever while growing up in New York City, Valeche’s academic prowess led him to skip the fifth grade. He graduated high school at 16 and went on to Yale, where his contemporaries included President George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, as well as business leaders like former NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, Federal Express founder Fred Smith and Stephen Schwartzman, CEO of the private equity group Blackstone.
It was thanks to Smith’s family, who donated an airplane to the Yale Flying Club, that Valeche learned to pilot an aircraft. But a knee injury suffered in a ski accident kept him from being eligible for the draft during the Vietnam War. Valeche wasn’t about to let that foil his desire to serve his country, he said.
“I always wanted to be a military pilot, so I worked really hard to rehab [my knee],” he recalled. “I went on to Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola.”
During his six years in the U.S. Navy, Valeche flew 85 combat missions piloting an F-8 Crusader. Upon returning to civilian life, he attended the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned an MBA in finance in 1983.
From there, he headed to Wall Street, where he worked as an investment banker, experience that he says gives him the skill set to move Palm Beach County forward during difficult economic times.
“I am a businessman,” Valeche said. “When I was an investment banker, I represented Fortune 100 companies, and I’ve had a lot of experience with CEOs at very high-level companies, and that’s what we want here. I understand how their businesses work and what they need.”
About 20 years ago, Valeche and his wife moved to Palm Beach Gardens. He sat on the Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District before twice getting elected to the Palm Beach Gardens City Council, where he served from 2004-2008. During his tenure, he said he “worked very hard” to make sure The Scripps Research Institute located here, logging hours of phone time with then-Gov. Jeb Bush and his general counsel.
His public service extends to numerous boards and committees, including the Palm Beach County League of Cities, the Northern Palm Beaches Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise Florida, BIOFLORIDA and the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research.
David Day, assistant vice president at the University of Florida and director of the university’s Office of Technology Licensing, has served with Valeche on a number of boards and describes him as “reserved and thoughtful.”
“I’ve seen Hal perform both capably and thoughtfully,” Day said. “In particular, Hal understands and is an advocate for the seed capital assistance we need to draw out angel investors [investors who invest in early stages of startup companies] to grow our technology businesses in Florida as well as the jobs that go with them.”
Valeche wants voters to know that he studies the issues and casts his votes accordingly, that he’s not interested in engaging in partisan politics.
In order to ensure a climate favorable to economic development, he favors leaving intact the Office of Inspector General, despite efforts by some municipalities to deny the agency funding.
“It’s money well spent,” Valeche said. “From my economic development perspective, it’s an impediment to Palm Beach County being able to recruit businesses if they think they have to pay somebody off to get something done in this county. We don’t need that cloud hanging over us. We established the [inspector general], and that’s a first step in helping repair that image.”
Valeche does not favor commercializing Peanut Island. The small recreational island has long been a getaway for boaters and their families, he said, and it doesn’t need to be developed.
With aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney’s longtime presence in Palm Beach County, there exists a natural confluence with the industry, according to Valeche. Sikorsky Aircraft, Florida Turbine Technologies, Chromalloy and Agilis are the seeds of a budding “aerospace cluster” in the north end of the county that Valeche would like to see develop, bringing with it highly skilled workers like engineers.
“And we can’t neglect bio-science,” he said. “Two of the most preeminent institutes [The Scripps Research Institute and the Max Planck Florida Institute] in the world are right here. We’ve made a good start, but we can really expand.”
Valeche cites his tax record and knowledge of how to diversify and grow business as reasons voters should choose him on the ballot next month.
“I have a record of fiscal responsibility,” he said. “We’re in a lot of trouble, and I refuse to sit by and let things deteriorate.”