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Tampa looks to Dublin for economic development strategies

By Richard Danielson
Walkers pass the Temple Bar area in Dublin, Ireland. [PETER MACDIARMID | Getty]

TAMPA — Some of Tampa's trade missions over the past four years have been about recruiting new airlines (Lufthansa from Germany, Copa from Panama). Some have been about trying to line up contracts for local manufacturers or supply companies (Chile, Brazil).

And some, like the latest one, to Ireland, are about meeting people, getting your name out there, arranging for college students to study abroad and seeing how a city with a growing population of young, tech-savvy professionals attracts new companies.

"You don't get new business by email. You get business by establishing personal relationships, going to places and meeting with decisionmakers," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, one of 19 officials and business executives who went on the weeklong mission to Dublin last week.

For Buckhorn, who hitchhiked through Ireland during his Penn State days in 1980 and honeymooned there in 2000, what struck him about this trip was the change.

"Dublin, in particular, is a great role model for what Tampa could become," he said. "In 2000, everyone looked like me. You walk around Dublin now, and you hear a multiplicity of languages and see different ethnicities and a lot of young people.

"They have done exactly what we are attempting to do here."

That includes offering incentives for relocations and, in Dublin's case, redeveloping an urban area that had become an abandoned wasteland as a business park for tech companies like Citrix. Companies like Google, Facebook and Airbnb have picked Dublin — where the waterfront work-live-play area is known as "Silicon Docks" — for their European headquarters.

Tampa delegates talked with executives in insurance and banking, toured three different innovation centers and looked at how greater Dublin, with a population of about 1.8 million, handles transportation challenges.

"Dublin, like Tampa-Hills­borough, is experiencing strong growth," said Joe Waggoner, executive director of the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority. Among the things he saw were a commitment to collaboration, a willingness to try everything and a multipart approach to expanding both transit and roadways. "Everywhere you looked, there were large numbers of buses, both public buses and private bus service."

The University of Tampa worked on arranging study-abroad opportunities for UT students interested in studying at Trinity College or the University College of Dublin. UT is one of 10 U.S. universities that is receiving grants to provide scholarships through the Institute of International Education's Generation Study Abroad campaign.

"We are terrifically excited to mobilize our faculty and students and start our exchange of ideas," said Marca Bear, associate dean in UT's international programs office.

Buckhorn also signed an agreement making the county of South Dublin (population: 265,000) Tampa's latest sister city. Buckhorn's travel expenses amounted to less than $3,500, most of which were covered by the expressway authority, where the mayor sits on the board. The trade and protocol council of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce picked up about $1,000 of the cost.

Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.