Tampa Bay, Orlando swap 'super region' ideas
Wake up and good morning. For the future of central Florida economic development, Thursday's gathering of Tampa Bay and Orlando area business and civic leaders may prove historic. The one-day meeting, held for symbolic and practical reasons at the Omni Resort at Championsgate-- roughly half way between Tampa and Orlando off I-4 -- acknowledged that the two metro areas will soon grow together. And coordinating and collaborating on common central Florida economic challenges had better get under way now, not later, if this emerging "super region" wants to set some priorities and not perpetuate Florida's hodge-podge history of growth. Here's a column about the meeting I wrote for the St. Petersburg Times.
I include this map of what's to come, and to emphasize why Tampa Bay and Orlando need to start talking to each other now, not later. This map is from America 2050, a coalition of regional planners that's offering a framework for the nation's growth over the next 40 years. Notice Florida: By 2050 it will be one economic "megaregion" stretching from South Florida to Tampa Bay to Jacksonville. Notice also that there are about 10 other megaregions in the country. These 11 clusters will dominate the economic activity of the country. America 2050 co-chair Robert Yaro addressed these issues at Thursday's conference.
To be sure, at Thursday's all-day meeting, there was an underlying caution. The individual towns and cities that make up the greater Tampa Bay and Orlando areas remain wary, to varying degrees, of regional (much less super regional) economic planning just as St. Petersburg and Tampa still spend too much time watching each other suspiciously -- or enviously -- on petty economic gains and losses. Both the Tampa Bay Partnership and its counterpart, the Central Florida Partnership, seem sensitive to their constituents. But the truth is, while these two metro areas wink and hold hands on their first date, other economic strongholds in this country and overseas are moving along at often faster paces to build infrastructure -- mass transit is the most obvious -- that will make those areas more competitive in the coming decades. At Thursday's meeting, Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer emphasized that the recent failure to win state approval of the SunRail commuter transit line does not mean the deal is dead. Just postponed. But if SunRail can't fly, what are the prospects for Tampa Bay's mass transit goals with TBARTA?
If all Tampa Bay and Orlando leadership can accomplish is to expand Interstate-4 into a 12-lane traffic jam, then we have all failed. And our children and grandchildren will choose to live somewhere else where smarter people with more economic will made some quality of life choices in 2009 and 2010.
One of the beauties of Thursday's tango between Tampa Bay and Orlando was the chemistry. Each metro area seems well balanced and a good fit with each other. Neither proved dominating or bossy. Both have aspiring and growing universities led by presidents who "get" the critical notion of using their schools as economic development engines. The Tampa Bay Partnership, led by Stuart Rogel, and the Central Florida Partnership, led by Jacob Stuart, want to work together.
Let's not forget there is a road map of sorts for central Florida collaboration already. The Florida High Tech Corridor, a group dedicated to encouraging technology development in the 23 counties stretching from Tampa Bay to Orlando to the Space Coast, has been around since 1996.
It's a start.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist