John Sykes: Without regional structure and, perhaps, regional taxes, we're treading water
Wake up and good morning. Tampa Bay area businessman, Sykes Enterprises founder, philanthropist and once again entrepreneur John Sykes spoke to the Gulf Coast Business Review. The story buries the most important remark by Sykes, in my opinion, because he touches on what is the most important issue -- or hurdle -- standing in Tampa Bay's way of taking the next step up as a metropolitan area. Our economic parochialism. Says Sykes:
"I’m not too sure that the people of the greater Tampa Bay area are being realistic. Without expanding our business base, we are going to have to consider some additional taxes or fees. It may force our cities and counties to come together and impose regional taxes.
“We may need to consider consolidating our local governments, which has worked well for Jacksonville and other cities. I know that’s not popular.
“We need leaders who can embrace new ideas and new thoughts, and be able to be a good salesperson for our community. We have a very narrow thinking in this area that if something is going to be in Hillsborough County, then Hillsborough County ought to pay for it. It’s going to require new thinking as we move forward.”
Amen to that. Kudos to Sykes for his willingness to articulate the most significant impediment to Tampa Bay's future: Its balkanized structure and, far worse, its historical incapacity to work together to achieve bigger goals. There are some exceptions, but they are still too rare.
Here are eight other takeaways from that recent Sykes interview:
1. His new venture, JHS Capital Advisors, is an asset management Sykes formed in December after acquiring Pointe Capital Inc., and a decision that an earlier investment in the Tampa GunnAllen Financialbrokerage was not going to bear fruit. (GunnAllen was closed by regulators earlier this year. Investment News says it may declare bankruptcy soon.)
2. JHS Capital currently has about 130 brokers strong and aims for 500 within five years. The company's divided into two parts. Paul Richardson, former owner of Pointe Capital, is president of its retail and institutional investment group, and Mary Kennemur, former senior vice president of Merrill Lynch’s Southeast region, is president of the firm’s fee-based wealth management services.
3. Why form JHS? Says Sykes: "We just feel that in the economic conditions we have now, there are people in that mid-cap area that need attention as well. As we move into our changing economic times, more people are going to want more fee-based managed care" for such things as credit cards, college tuition and mortgage payments.
4. Sykes will not be involved in the day-to-day activities of JHS Capital, but wills erve as investor and chairman of JHS Capital Holdings Inc. Scott Bendert, former chief financial officer at GunnAllen, is obtaining his new license as chairman and CEO of JHS Capital Advisors. (Bendert is a long-time ally of Sykes, serving as Sykes Enterprises chief financial officer in the past.)
5. Sykes already has strong ties to the University of Tampa with its John H. Sykes College of Business. Now, in a more spiritual gesture, Sykes has committed $20-million for UTampa's Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values, expected to be completed later this year. The highlight: A 75-foot music tower that will become as recognizable a campus landmark as the spires of the historic Tampa Bay Hotel, now known as Plant Hall.
6. About the economic downturn, Sykes says recovery will be slow. On economic development, he's more critical:
"Our community seems to sit back and wait for someone to show us interest, then go after them. We need to do what businesses do. We need planning — what kinds of business do we want, what do we want to be known for? USF has a strong medical component, so let’s focus on that."
7. A new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays? Says Sykes: "What difference does it make where the baseball stadium is built? The entire region benefits from games. Football fans stay in Pinellas County even though those games are played in Tampa." Build a new stadium in Tampa, he says, where studies show large numbers of people go to games, and where hotels and restaurants should be within walking distance of the stadium. "What it comes down to is not the best interests of Tampa or St. Petersburg, but those of the baseball team."
8. Build the high speed rail line. Says Sykes: “I’m a train buff, I love trains. I think we stick our heads in the sand if we continue to say we don’t need rail as a means of transportation."
Here is the complete Gulf Coast Business Review story.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist