What’s coming down the economic pike for Tampa Bay? Who’s driving this metro economy into 2018 and beyond? Change — people, issues, business focus — can be a good thing. It keeps places like geographically challenged Tampa Bay nimble with fresh blood and challenges amid the constant pursuit of growth. It’s the Florida way.
Here are some area business leaders well positioned to help shape this metro area in the coming year or more. This is a fluid list — certainly not a comprehensive one of the many people leading the charge to be better. Make your own list. Consider this one a starting point.
• Nancy Tower. In the coming week, Tower will open new doors. She will become CEO of Tampa Electric, becoming the first "outside" leader of what is Tampa/Hillsborough County’s longtime chief electric utility based in downtown Tampa. She succeeds veteran Tampa Electric executive Gordon Gillette. She will also be the company’s first woman CEO. Tower was chief development officer for Emera, the Canadian power company that acquired TECO/Tampa Electric and its subsidiaries. If history is any guide, anyone who runs Tampa Electric will likely rise in the ranks of regional business leadership.
• Marc Blumenthal. The serial Tampa area entrepreneur recently began talking publicly about Synapse, an effort he’s heading to create an online and eventually interactive search tool to connect entrepreneurs, investors, service providers, educators — anybody, in theory — in Tampa Bay’s startup community. This area is weak in startup "connectivity" and — done right — Synapse holds great promise to speed up and improve the networking power of this area’s "entrepreneurial ecosystem." There’s big potential here. Look for more in March.
• Liz Smith. The CEO that’s been promising a turnaround for some time for Tampa’s Bloomin’ Brands just encountered an activist investor — Jana Partners — that took a nearly 9 percent stake in Smith’s company and already is talking about a possible sale of the restaurant firm. Bloomin’ owns Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s but has had trouble reigniting sales in an industry bloated with dining options. If Bloomin’ does not start making greater headway, will we see it on the sales block down the road?
• Matt Silverman/Brian Auld. What beats a president of the Tampa Bay Rays? Try two presidents. Silverman’s left the baseball operations side of the Rays and returned to his business/administrative title of president of the Rays. That Auld already held a president’s title matters liottle to Rays owner Stu Sternberg. The Rays are entering what will be a far more demanding era that will mean pinning down a new stadium site, perhaps near Ybor City, and then trying to figure out how to pay for that stadium. So there’s the rub. The Rays are toying with a $150 million contribution for a stadium price tag that may cost between $600-$800 million (or more if time flies by). Tampa and Hillsborough County love luring the Rays from Pinellas but already have indigestion over how to pay for a stadium that’s nice enough to draw more fans than the paltry few that typically watch games at the Trop in St. Petersburg. Maybe two presidential heads are better than one.
• Marie Chinnici-Everitt. "DTCC" rolls off the tongue more easily than Depository Trust and Clearing Corp., but we are starting to see a rising public profile of its managing director. DTCC expanded to Tampa off I-75 years ago to lessen the risk of being a financial firm in New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Chinnici-Everitt is now in the formal pipeline to chair the Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. in a couple of years. She is a rising player here.
• Troy Taylor. The head of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida is assembling a task force in Tampa Bay whose mission is to try and improve the talent pool in this metro area’s workforce. Talent was identified earlier this month in the first "Regional Competitiveness Report" as a weak spot in Tampa Bay’s ability to compete against 19 similar metro areas across the country. If the quest for regional improvement goes as planned, Taylor’s’ task force will only the first of many to come aimed at recruiting the best folks around to find ways to strengthen weak links but also feed Tampa Bay’s strengths —including job and population growth and a relative affordability as a place to live.
• Jeff Vinik. He already runs the risk of media overexposure but it’s foolish to underestimate the influence Vinik continues to exert on the Tampa Bay region — but especially downtown Tampa. Yeah, yeah, we know he’s tamed up with Bill Gates’ money to develop the 50+-acre, $3 billion Water Street Tampa area. Yes, he’s owner and CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning — a pro sports team whose performance looks better than ever as both the Bucs and Rays search for ways to rebound. Vinik’s also emerging as a formidable player in the startup community, recruiting New York’s Dreamit here to assemble an "urban tech" specialty business accelerator and personally investing in all sorts of intriguing startups himself through his so called "family office." And he’s helping fund USF projects. (Yes, he’s also invested —modestly by his bank account — in the company that runs this newspaper). Name someone else here with that kind of proactive economic profile.
• Judy Genshaft. Turning 70 in January, she’s become a fixture that says "USF" even better than university mascot Rocky the Bull. Genshaft’s everywhere, from pushing for a higher quality sports profile and a possible Bulls football stadium of its own to hitting a $1 billion fundraising mark and elevating USF to an elite, formal level of "pre-eminence." Now she’s re-emerging in various economic development groups as well, including the Tampa Hillsborough EDC which she is in line to chair in another year. If there’s a regional bump in an otherwise smooth road, it is the perception that Genshaft likes to keep USF St. Petersburg’s leadership from getting too comfortable. USF St. Pete seems to run through regional chancellors (the title of its university chief) like Confederate soldiers during Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. Still, there is no denying that under Genshaft, USF — already a big engine of the Tampa Bay economy — has plenty of horsepower left in the tank. Like it or not, though, the day is not too far away when a search for a successor will begin.
• Richard Corcoran. The Florida House Speaker is beginning to take on a "He Who Shall Not Be Named" reputation among our economic development community. Corcoran earlier eviscerated Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida — statewide economic development organizations for recruiting jobs and tourists, respectively — as potent players. Now he’s gunning for regional and county economic groups, demanding greater transparency and personal data on officials and board members alike. It may sound like good oversight but it comes with a heavy hand and has some area leaders worried that top business talent now participating on such boards will not bother to return if Corcoran persists in his purge of his mislabeled "corporate welfare."
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.