As troubling as Tampa Bay's economy may seem, there's good reason to look closer. Efforts are under way to make things better. Some tasks may seem modest or long term. Others are more tangible and may produce startling results soon. Here are 10 people taking steps to improve Tampa Bay's business scene. I only wish I had cause and space to chronicle 100 more.
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10. Opening an entrepreneurial pipeline.
Daniel James Scott, 33, helped found the rising Gazelle Lab "business accelerator" at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, where he also teaches entrepreneurship. This summer, he and his Gazelle team are plowing through nearly 100 applications received by people wanting to start businesses and seeking the lab's assistance. The goal? Boil those 100 down to about six finalists by Aug. 22. Then put pedal to metal to make those startups take shape in time for their November pitch to folks who might fund them. The larger goal, says Scott (who's started his own businesses), is to grow more entrepreneurial roots in the business community here and involve USF business students in the nitty-gritty of creating a business from nothing but an idea. What's Scott's team looking for in interviewing each applicant team? Passion to make something happen. Cool stuff.
9. Chasing a $1 million talent dividend.
Ken Atwater, 51, took on the task as president of Hillsborough Community College of organizing greater Tampa Bay's regional competition against 50 or so other U.S. cities. The goal? To win the $1 million "Talent Dividend Prize" awarded by CEOs for Cities, an urban leadership group trying to raise the economic-education bar. The prize goes to the metro area that exhibits the greatest increase in post secondary degrees through 2013. What does this have to do with business? In Tampa Bay, increasing college attainment by 1 percentage point will produce an annual talent dividend of a whopping $3.06 billion for the region. That means this area must add just over 28,000 new graduates. The Atwater-led project is part of One Bay, an education arm of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
8. Helping bring robotic medical training to life.
Debbie Sutherland, 58, carries more titles than can fit in this column, but suffice it to say she is a big player at Tampa's University of South Florida. She's on the "to watch" list for one specific job: She's CEO of CAMLS — Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. The $30 million project now under construction near Tampa's downtown and Channelside will help change how health care professionals and surgical teams learn, making cutting-edge medical technologies (notably robotic surgery) safer for patients. CAMLS is also a for-profit business, which adds a bottom line responsibility on Sutherland. USF says she's up to it. She built USF Health's Continuing Professional Education into a successful business. And that made CAMLS possible.
7. Opening our eyes with new research.
Jason Woody, 41, runs Tampa's Lions Eye Institute, providing eye transplant tissue and corneas for most of the surgeons in Florida. But Woody makes this list because he's also got Lions Eye researchers at the converted cigar factory in Ybor City working on some cutting-edge science. Their goal is to grow "back of the eye" cells that may help in providing sight to more people. Stay tuned on this effort.
6. Channeling the horsepower of Johns Hopkins.
Jonathan Ellen, 49 and a Johns Hopkins Hospital doctor, is generating some early excitement as recently arrived physician in chief at St. Petersburg's All Children's Hospital. The recent affiliation of All Children's and Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins has Ellen talking about the startling collaborative medical, research and educational possibilities of the two hospital partners.
5. Setting the region's next economic strategy.
Matt Silverman, 35, gets plenty of attention as president of the Tampa Bay Rays, but we may start to see a more commanding role for him in economic development circles here. He's now in charge of the Tampa Bay Partnership's 2012-2014 strategic plan — a metro-wide "where do we go from here?" project. The partnership is so big on "Tampa Bay" acting with one voice that Silverman jokes he may get a dog and name it "Regionalism."
4. Recharging Tampa's economic battery.
Bob Buckhorn, 53, wasted no time as Tampa's new mayor to shape his image as Mr. Economic Development. That's not easy to do in lean budget times and a slow-crawl economy. But Buckhorn is frequently found waving the civic flag at promising Tampa projects — recently including USF's CAMLS site (see Debbie Sutherland, above). And he's already assembled an 18-member committee — including developers, real estate executives, architects, lawyers and engineers — that aims to make Tampa more competitive by recommending ways to reorganize City Hall and streamline city rules and permitting.
3. Pushing Tampa International Airport into a bigger world.
Joe Lopano, 56, must like truth in advertising. After seven months running Tampa International Airport, his mandate remains adding "international" flights to TIA. Anyone who travels a lot can see how many airports are newer looking than TIA and feel more cosmopolitan. But TIA's efficient layout is still tough to beat. Nobody has to scurry staggering distances to get from one flight to another. Still, TIA has big competition and Lopano's trying to rebuild a budget hurt by the economy and even the BP oil spill. For now, if he gets his main wish — connections to places like Panama, Germany, Mexico, Brazil or Colombia — he will be a happy guy.
2. Fighting to keep our Major League Baseball team.
Robert Byelick, 60, is an Abbey Adams law firm partner in St. Petersburg who finds himself chairing the 75-member Clutch Hitters group. The local business advocacy group used to just urge folks to support the Tampa Bay Rays by attending games. Now it's amped up to lobby political leaders (notably St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster) and other business groups to figure out a way to keep the Rays franchise happy and here beyond the Tropicana Field era. Don't confuse the Clutch Hitters with another pro-Rays business group, recently formed Baseball Stadium Financing Caucus. But business is mobilizing.
1. Injecting a defense industry view into regional economic development.
Greg Celestan, 49, runs Celestar, a small defense contractor that provides military intelligence and other anti-terrorism services to clients like MacDill Air Force Base. His rise to chair the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, scheduled for 2013, is a rare combination of (1) small-business owner, (2) defense industry executive with top-secret clearance, (3) an African-American and (4) a West Point graduate with some serious frontline experience. Example: In 2003, then Army Lt. Col. Celestan worked military intelligence in Qatar as U.S. forces sought to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. One of Celestan's concerns at the time: Iraq's paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam militia, so vicious that it scared Iraq's people from siding with Americans. Now here's a guy in the regional pipeline with a very different resume.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.