Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Business

East Tampa’s THAP looks to rebound with new vision from interim director

EAST TAMPA — On a recent Thursday night, a large crowd gathered at the Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan’s warehouse on its sprawling East Tampa campus.

Inside, about 200 people, mostly business professionals, bustled about, sampling hors d’oeuvres from catering companies, exchanging business cards, chatting around standing tables. Later, VoltAir Consulting Engineers CEO Julius Davis talked about branding and other entrepreneurship topics.

The nonprofit organization houses a business incubator called THAP 5508 CoWorking and Collaboration Exchange that consists of about 31 budding ventures, so networking events aren’t generally a big deal. But six months ago, it was unclear if the nonprofit would remain in operation.

The THAP board ousted longtime CEO Jeanette Bradley last fall after it learned that the 31-year-old organization was spending $40,000 to $55,000 a month, and that money set aside in investment funds was being used to support programs.

Bradley — who was a consultant to the nonprofit before formally joining as director in 2013 — blamed lackluster fundraising on the board, saying it failed to do its part to raise money as required in the nonprofit’s bylaws and rebuffed her fundraising ideas. She has since revived her own membership-based nonprofit, What We Could Be Exchange, Inc.

The Action Plan now is led by interim director Derrick Blue, who was the executive director of the organization’s Coastal Bay Properties, which offers home retrofitting and weatherization programs.

While a search is on for a permanent director, THAP board chair Liverno Williams said Blue’s leadership is what the organization needed at such a crucial time.

Blue offers a "hands-on" approach and a communication style that vibes well with board members, he said.

"Not only do I see a difference, I feel a difference," Williams said. "The way (Blue) does business, he doesn’t leave any room for questioning."

Since taking over, Blue has made some noticeable changes to the organization including a revamping of its website, adding more restrooms to the campus and upgrading the signage. There’s also been a lot of changes done behind the scenes, including a staff reorganization and some layoffs.

All of it was done to return the Action Plan back to its original purpose of providing a haven in East Tampa where businesses could launch and thrive, Blue said.

"If we’re not helping those entrepreneurs, we’re not doing our jobs," he said.

Founded in 1987 by local civil rights activist James Hammond, the Action Plan supports a number of initiatives in the areas of health care, housing, and entrepreneurship.

The entrepreneurship component consists of the 5508 CoWorking and Collaboration Exchange, a shared work space and business incubator program that’s part of the nonprofit’s mission to support economic development and create a culture of entrepreneurship in low-income areas of East Tampa.

Created from a former storage center, the five-acre property houses about 30 businesses including a coffee shop and law offices and features a 10,000 square-foot events hub that has hosted networking and entertainment events.

Events help draw in more attention to the nonprofit, but they can’t substitute for sustainable revenue sources, which continue to elude the organization, said Albert Lee, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation, which hosted the networking event.

"That’s Derrick’s challenge right now," he said.

Blue said he is focused on just that and recognizes that renting out the warehouse and courtyard for events can only go so far.

"If there’s no money, there’s no mission," he said. "Everybody is doing more."

As the organization has grown, so has its needs and the needs of the businesses in the incubator program, he said.

There’s been a re-evaluation of 5508’s policies and practices and that has resulted in some businesses moving on because owners needed larger quarters or couldn’t meet the financial requirements of running a business.

Blue said the changes he’s implemented came at the request of business owners following a meeting with them in the weeks after he took over.

"We still have a long way to go," he said. "But if you make a promise, you keep a promise. We’re trying to do that and stay consistent."

Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]

Comments
Dining events: Bolts Brew Fest, Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month

Dining events: Bolts Brew Fest, Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month

BOLTS: BREW FESTI was going to list all the craft brewers whose wares will be on offer at 7 p.m. Friday at this year’s Bolts Brew Fest, a Tampa Bay Lightning benefit for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. But with 50 local breweries alone, and another ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Royal Caribbean will no longer allow emotional support animals on cruises

Royal Caribbean will no longer allow emotional support animals on cruises

In a recent policy change, international cruise line Royal Caribbean has announced it will not allow emotional support animals on its cruise ships effective immediately.The cruise line said emotional support animals, also known as therapy animals, we...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tampa ranked third best city in U.S. to retire; St. Petersburg is 23rd

Tampa ranked third best city in U.S. to retire; St. Petersburg is 23rd

Tampa Bay has been named one of the best places for people to retire in the United States, according to a new ranking by credit-monitoring website WalletHub .The financial advice website released its ranking after comparing data collected from more ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Is the future of department stores off-price? Macy’s Backstage opens in Tampa

Is the future of department stores off-price? Macy’s Backstage opens in Tampa

TAMPA — Kishia Gainey pushes a blue shopping cart while eyeing a wall of shoes.The mother of four is back-to-school shopping at a Ross Dress for Less in a Citrus Park plaza. She’s already nabbed a pair of D.C. brand sneakers for her teen son that are...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Retail sales rising at strong clip

Retail sales rising at strong clip

Associated PressWASHINGTON — Americans shopped at a healthy pace in July, buying more cars, clothes and appliances, evidence that confident consumers are helping drive robust economic growth. Retail sales rose at a 0.5 percent annual rate in July, af...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Girl Scouts announce new gluten free cookie flavor

Girl Scouts announce new gluten free cookie flavor

Move over, Thin Mints — there’s a new cookie in town. And this one is gluten free.Girl Scouts of the USA announced a new flavor Monday. Available during the upcoming 2019 cookie season, Caramel Chocolate Chip "features rich caramel, semi-sweet chocol...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General Hospital was ranked as Florida’s second-best hospital in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Hospital Rankings released Tuesday, while Moffitt Cancer Center was named the country’s eighth-best cancer hospital.The rankings, which analy...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Wells Fargo to close two Pinellas County banks as part of nationwide closure

Wells Fargo to close two Pinellas County banks as part of nationwide closure

Wells Fargo will close two of its branches in Pinellas County as part of a nationwide closure that reflects a continued shift toward online banking.The two branches — one in Redington Shores and one at the Dunedin Plaza — are the only ones in Tampa B...
Updated: 3 hours ago
State Vacuum and ‘Bernie Apestein’ may be waving goodbye to longtime location

State Vacuum and ‘Bernie Apestein’ may be waving goodbye to longtime location

For nearly 40 years, while wearing an eclectic mix of fashion, a mechanical gorilla has stood outside State Vacuum of Tampa, waving hello to Kennedy Boulevard motorists.His name is Bernie Apestein. "That gorilla has been a mainstay" said David Epstei...
Updated: 5 hours ago
State launches investigation, assesses $800,000 in damages against SunPass contractor

State launches investigation, assesses $800,000 in damages against SunPass contractor

After months of inaction, Florida Department of Transportation officials announced today that they are assessing nearly $800,000 in damages against the SunPass contractor responsible for the state’s tolling chaos.At Gov. Rick Scott’s direction, the d...
Updated: 6 hours ago