At first glance, the Tampa Bay business community seems 100 percent focused on managing, if not just surviving, the ugliest recession in recent memory. Peel a few layers back, though, and new initiatives, ideas, collaborations and visions are going full bore in anticipation of more bullish times. In searching for just the right "10 People to Watch" this spring, what themes emerged? Super-regionalism. First collaborations. Upgrading management skills. Swapping solar for coal and electricity for gasoline. Embracing entrepreneurship. Just to name a few. Meet 10 high-energy people sure to make a difference for the better in 2009 and beyond. They're laying the groundwork for some great leaps ahead.
1. SID MORGAN, 43, Central Florida president for health care giant Humana Inc., will become next year's chairman of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. That title typically earns a polite nod of accomplishment and an establishment yawn. No more. Morgan's already talking about "regionalism" during his upcoming chamber role, meaning talking to and collaborating often with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and others on topics of common interest. That ranges from supporting political stands in Tallahassee to regional mass transit, a rapidly accelerating topic Morgan wants to be sure includes the voice of St. Pete's business community. Yet Morgan lives in Odessa and also serves on the board of the Tampa chamber.
Morgan talks often with Sykes Enterprise CEO Chuck Sykes, who will chair the Tampa chamber when Morgan takes over in St. Pete. "We are absolutely committed to working together," Morgan says. Heresy? Hardly. It's about staying in the critical loop and playing in the bigger leagues — all key in these tough times and in an era when so many new challenges demand more than just a local solution. Morgan's also gung-ho with Humana's mandate to expand services and health care membership in Central Florida. That's a full plate.
2. MICHAEL BLASCO, 26, chairs Emerge Tampa Bay, the Tampa chamber program started in 2004 to empower business professionals ages 21 to 35 to get more engaged in their city, the business community and the chamber of commerce. The program, with 565 members as of last year, started as Emerge Tampa but became Emerge Tampa Bay in 2007 when it expanded to include the Clearwater market. Blasco says the networking potential of Emerge Tampa Bay is especially useful in this recession when members are looking for work or sharing tips on opportunities. He should know since he was laid off last week from Garcia Seufert Architects and got a new job within days at Creative Recycling Systems, an electronics recycling firm. Sounds like a pretty good testimonial for joining Emerge Tampa Bay.
3. HELDA RODRIGUEZ, 48, president and co-founder of NovaCharge LLC in Tampa, sees a coming boom in building an infrastructure for electric vehicles thanks to a national urgency to cut foreign oil and a White House eager to promote alternative, cleaner energy. NovaCharge deploys the ChargePoint Network of public plug-in stations that will let electric vehicles recharge in public parking spaces. People can even invest in recharging units, priced under $5,000, and earn revenue from their use. One-year-old NovaCharge supplies recharging systems developed by California's Coulomb Technologies. Rodriguez, a Tampa native, says to look for the first recharging units in the Tampa Bay area within the next few months.
4. BERNARD "BUD" CHERRY, 69, president of Energy 5.0 in West Palm Beach, hit a home run when Tampa Electric signed a 25-year deal to buy the electricity from a proposed 25-megawatt solar power generating station his company will build and operate on old phosphate mining land in Polk County. Cherry goes way back in the energy world. He developed and ran the creative $1 billion financing plan for the cleanup of the Three Mile Island 2 nuclear facility three decades ago. Cherry obviously had no model to follow, so he thanks Three Mile for revealing his entrepreneurial spirit in the process. The Polk solar station turns on in 2011. And the price Tampa Electric will pay for the solar power? For now, says Cherry, it's a secret.
5. JULIA GORZKA, 38, founder of the 900-member Brand Tampa business/social network, was tracked down last week in Chicago, where she was awakening insurance agents to the potential of reaching customers via Web-based social networks. She's a mile-a-minute saleswoman, so convinced of the power of online social networks that she and Nancy Walker of Tampa's Walker Brands are teaming up next month to start the Social School on Kennedy Boulevard to teach businesses how to make their marketing more Web savvy. She calls it "social media boot camp." As for Brand Tampa, the ex-Manhattan resident, who likes to use the phrase "local awesomeness," says she created the business/social network because "she fell in love with Tampa."
6. STEVE RAYMUND, 53, former CEO of Tech Data Corp. and chairman of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, is kind of the Catch of the Year for the Tampa Bay business community. When Raymund ran Tech Data, an international corporation with $24 billion in sales (largest by far in the area), local economic development officials lamented how great it would be to get a leader of his experience into the regional leadership mix. Well, Raymund moved on and agreed to chair the chamber this year. He's got plenty of compelling initiatives. Here's one potential winner: an institute anchored at the Innisbrook Resort, led by University of South Florida and other business professors, plus a business coaching firm called Action Coach, to build the skills of mid- and upper-level managers of larger businesses. "We want to be competitive on a national scale," Raymund says. Look for details by summer.
7. CARMEN PEREZ, 22, graduating senior and finance major, USF College of Business in Tampa. Earlier this semester, Perez won first place and $1,000 in an elevator speech contest riding the Regions Bank elevators with a real human resource officer from an area business. She won, she says, because she knew the predictable approach the other two dozen competing students were likely to take — and, she adds, because other business students were simply too lazy to get up on a Saturday morning, dress in business attire, and compete. So, any life lessons here? Differentiate yourself and get off your backside are two. No wall flower, the Tampa native says she had a job offer locked up but it was rescinded in this ugly recession. Now she's focused on law school (and an internship, anyone?) so she can work in a business and be sure she's offered a position doing something that really interests her.
8. STUART ROGEL, 54, CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, is one of those economic development officials behind a Think Bigger movement under way. The partnership's typical annual meeting this spring on metrowide issues will, instead, be replaced by a "super-regional" meeting on May 7 encompassing challenges confronting both the greater Tampa Bay and Orlando areas. It's a first for the partnership and its counterpart in Orlando, and the meeting fittingly will occur halfway between the two at a Polk County hotel. "I think people are realizing we are connected together and becoming more so, and that we need to work on common areas," he says, like transportation and political positions favorable to Central Florida. Rogel has come a long way from the 1990s when just getting Pinellas and Hillsborough interests to talk to one another was a big challenge. Jokes Rogel: "It still can be."
9. MONICA VARELA, 46, store manager of the soon-to-open, 353,000-square-foot Ikea in Tampa, better have plenty of stamina. Recession or not, a new Ikea store of home furnishings is one of the few retail events that can create a stampede of interest and opening day customers. The 400-employee Ikea store — expected to generate sales equal to two busy Home Depots — opens May 6. Born in Cuba, Varela relocated to the Tampa area after serving as deputy store manager at South Florida's Ikea Sunrise store. But she has also worked for Ikea in New Jersey, France and Spain. Hey, she'll fit right in.
10. BURTON WIAND, 62, attorney at the Fowler White Boggs law firm in Tampa, is not someone to mess with. While Sarasota's accused Ponzi scheme fraudster Arthur Nadel, 76, sits in a Manhattan jail, court-appointed receiver Wiand is busy seizing control of Nadel's assets. That includes a 453-acre mountainside tract of land in North Carolina that Nadel and wife Peg planned to develop, plus airplane hangars, bank accounts and, lately, Nadel's partners' holdings. Court-appointed receivers are in demand as this recession exposes more fraud. As Wiand told Reuters: "If you do it well, you can feel like you've benefited some people" — like the hundreds of people Nadel scammed for several hundred million dollars.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.