Friday, June 22, 2018
Business

Sue Carlton: Where's the love, Joe?

Maybe it's a bad sign that the hot shot we got to run our beloved Tampa International Airport, a guy you can't help but like and hoped to keep around awhile, does not own a home here two years into the job.

Joe Lopano, who has done good things at TIA but may be in play for big jobs elsewhere, rents. (Harbour Island, with his wife.) Say it ain't so, Joe.

Why should we worry? Currently open is the job of CEO at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where Lopano worked for 14 years. Naturally, he says, being head guy there was something he thought about back then. Now they might try to coax their high-energy former vice president home, something a Fort Worth newspaper has already suggested.

For the record, the retiring Dallas CEO made more than $400,000 a year. Lopano is getting $315,000 here. And his name may well come up for other major airport jobs.

So at a special meeting today, the board that oversees our airport tackles this dilemma: enhance Lopano's compensation package to keep him, or expect him to keep going on the already-sizable sum he agreed to.

Where's the love, Joe?

Actually, Lopano isn't saying much about the possibility of leaving, and has from day one made clear that he likes it here. He has talked with contagious enthusiasm about kayaking Honeymoon and Caladesi islands, morning walks along the waters off Davis Islands and downtown, even finding Mazzaro's market for his Lopano-made marinara and meatballs. Soon after he got here, he told me the weather in Texas had been "sunny, with a chance of death," but you could tell he loved it there, too.

A nature photographer, he seemed particularly fascinated with our fierce-looking ospreys, the ones you see carrying wriggling fish over the water. He could not say enough about our ospreys.

Last year, he told a reporter he and his wife were looking at places on the water and talking about a boat, and I'm sorry, but a boat in Dallas hardly seems the same.

Possibly Texas does have sunsets, too, but I doubt they amount to much compared to what you get atop the TIA parking garage.

Most important, though, is that Lopano quickly understood the borderline-freakish pride we have in our airport, undeniably one of the best in the country. He brought likability and drive to the job, adding overseas flights and upping our profile, overseeing an airport master plan and talking about a vision for its future. So far, so good.

So what happens if it comes time for him to decide?

Well … you want him to finish what he started and honor the contract in place. You don't want to be in the position of throwing out more money every time another town comes sniffing around.

And … you can't help but get why a guy might leave for more money and a big city he already knows.

Even those against ponying up a penny at the moment don't want Joe to go.

These are the growing pains of a little big town: Leaders you bring in to make the place more desirable and cosmopolitan may leave you for places deemed, well, more desirable and cosmopolitan.

Today's a tough one for the board. What's a reasonable amount to keep talent? Given a contract and an agreement, is any amount reasonable?

And maybe it won't matter. Maybe in the end, Texas just has bigger ospreys than ours.

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