The good news about the ever more complex Tampa Bay business scene? There are lots of people worthy of watching because more folks are pushing the area economy forward in new ways with new energy.
Consider these 10 to watch a sampling from the cream of an ambitious crop.
Ambassador of startups
Roberto Torres, serial entrepreneur, Black & Denim, Blind Tiger Cafe, The Lab, Tampa
Torres graduated from co-founding a hip clothing boutique (Black & & Denim) to opening an Ybor City and now expanding cafe (Blind Tiger). Next up is his coffee bar and roastery (The Lab) in North Hyde Park. Torres hopes it can help make an emerging Tampa Bay coffee culture what craft breweries are to the area's booming beer industry. Torres also represents some of the growing muscle of the entrepreneurial ecosystem starting to take root in the bay area. He is among a few seasoned entrepreneurs working with the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation and other groups serving as "ambassadors" to tell the Tampa "story" of business opportunity to talented millennials in other cities looking at relocating here.
Reimagining a Rays stadium
Skip Milos | Tampa Bay Rays
Melanie Lenz, senior vice president for strategy and development, Tampa Bay Rays, St. Petersburg
She's dreamed for years, as one Times writer recently put it, "of building a ballpark so iconic that fans would crave a memento." Hey, no pressure. Lenz, who joined the Rays in 2006, finds herself responsible for pushing development of a new ballpark, expected to rank among the metro area's highest-priced projects in recent years. So what would make a new stadium iconic? The Rays want something more casual and multi-purpose beyond 81 home games — and possibly without an upper deck. That means a smaller, more intimate and easier to fill facility. Throw in fresh technology for interacting with the game, and tickets that let fans roam the park. "It's got to cover the fan on a budget," Lenz tells the Times. "We cannot price out the next generation of fans. We can't."
Arriving as incentives exit
Tampa Hillsborough EDC
Craig Richard, CEO, Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., Tampa
The new EDC chief arrived at his desk on June 30 from Atlanta but already has spent plenty of time with government partners, EDC investors and his staff members. He's also closing on a new home and relocating his family. It's a challenging time for Richard to take charge. After an impressive corporate recruiting run by the EDC that attracted Bristol Myers-Squibb and Johnson & Johnson to Tampa, state political leaders are starting to dismantle some of the job incentives once used to lure such big name companies. That may put the EDC in a tougher spot when competing for new jobs against metro areas in other states whose taxpayer-funded incentives are not under legislative attack.
Federal grant adds stability
Sarah Combs, CEO, University Area Community Development Corp., Tampa
For the transient and economically challenged area around Tampa's USF, a single federal grant does not sound like a game changer. But a $3.8 million TechHire Partnership grant was recently won by a coalition of such can-do organizations as the Tampa Innovation Alliance, workforce training provider CareerSource Tampa Bay and the University Area Community Development Corp., among others. The grant arrived thanks to backing by Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor and a host of Tampa area tech businesses willing to hire residents who successfully complete a 10-week training program in the basics of information technology. "Residents can learn specific skills to start a career in IT work that many area businesses say they need people to fill," says UACDC's Combs. The CEO is a realist, though. The 3-year TechHire grant will only deliver if it trains people well enough to succeed at jobs after they are hired. Her group's approach is holistic. Once a TechHire grad gets a job, UACDC works to help them keep it by assisting with transportation, housing or other support areas. Combs stresses a key word: The importance of building more "stability" into a struggling part of Tampa. Progress is happening there.
Fast-rising beverage giant
Troy Taylor, CEO, Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, Tampa
Coca-Cola Beverages Florida is still young, having been established in May 2015 when the sales and distribution operations of Central Florida were acquired from the Coca-Cola Co. Yet 15 months later, CEO Troy Taylor is already busy expanding CCBF. Late last year the private company signed deals to expand its distribution to North and South Florida. That growth will effectively triple the size of the business over the next three years, boosting CCBF to 6,000 employees across the state and revenues topping $1 billion. Based on the size of Tampa Bay's private companies, revenues of that size will land CCBF among the top half dozen. Taylor's background includes executive positions at JP Morgan, commercial banks and co-founding a private equity firm called Spinel Investment Co. Look for him to take on leadership roles in the broader Tampa Bay business community.
Forecast: Tourist headwinds
Santiago Corrada, CEO, Visit Tampa Bay, Tampa; and David Downing, executive director, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, Seminole
Once again, two talented marketing chieftains of their respective Hillsborough and Pinellas county tourism industries find themselves enjoying another record year of tourist numbers. But they face fresh challenges to yet again break those records – especially now that Florida Gov. Rick Scott has set a new goal of 115 million tourists for 2016, up from the all-time high of 105 million reached last year. What new challenges? They range from the Orlando mass shooting in June at the Pulse nightclub, the tragic death of a youngster by alligator while visiting Disney, and the rising in-state incidence of the Zika virus to the weaker Canadian dollar and British pound (thanks to Brexit) and the stalling of Brazil's economy. What fresh mojo can these two conjure in latter 2016 and beyond to keep the visitor pipeline flowing to Tampa Bay?
Reviving a damaged brand
Matt Stein, Frontier Communications, Southeast regional marketing vice president , Tampa
After stints at such area companies as Catalina Marketing and Kobie Marketing, Stein saw an opportunity to really test his job skills. Frontier stumbled badly when it took over the Verizon FiOS business this spring in Tampa Bay — now Frontier's biggest market. FiOS consumers and businesses howled during the switchover to Frontier when their web and cable access failed and calls to the company were poorly handled or seemingly ignored. Stein himself was a FiOS customer. Now, after all of several weeks on the job, he says he's working on the basics — building trust and confidence, or rebuilding it where necessary.
Running TECO from Canada
Chris Huskilson, CEO, Emera Inc., Nova Scotia
Now that Nova Scotia-based Emera Inc. owns Tampa's TECO Energy, including its Tampa Electric utility and Peoples Gas business, what should Florida customers expect? TECO's retiring CEO, John Ramil, suggests Emera is a lot like TECO. Emera was once very dependent on coal as a fuel to generate electricity. Now it is keen on alternative energy under CEO Huskilson. The Canadian company is examining ocean waves as one source of power, and its Caribbean subsidiary is big on solar generation. Look for Huskilson to leverage those energy options in Florida when it makes sense. TECO is not just another deal for Emera. It's doubling its size, and taking on plenty of debt to pay for it. Says Huskilson: "I continue to be excited about the TECO Energy acquisition and the future growth potential it represents."
Search for Mr. Turnaround
George Awad, interim CEO, Walter Investment Management, Tampa
Here is the hard truth facing Awad. Walter's stock topped $21 in the past year yet shares sit today under $3 with little obvious prospect for a quick rebound. Lawsuits and federal inquiries still plague the Tampa mortgage company. In July, Awad is just starting his new role as interim chief of Walter. Former CEO Denmar Dixon stepped down June 30 after less than a year. Now it's Awad's job to stabilize Walter while getting a search under way for a new chief executive with serious turnaround credentials. Awad, a Walter director, is no newbie to consumer finance. His resume is full of past executive positions at behemoth firms like Citigroup and General Electric. He's also a principal of Gibraltar Capital Corp., providing investment and business advice to wealthy, internationally-based families.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.