Thursday, May 24, 2018
Business

Amid jittery news, 20 ways the Tampa Bay economy keeps bulling ahead

Middle East chaos. Stock market jitters. Ebola. It's been a rough week (month and year, too). But take heart. There are still plenty of positive steps under way making the Tampa Bay economy and business scene stronger, more innovative and more confident.

Here are 20 examples from 2014 so far, ranked from small to big.

20. Wolf of Wall Street: It's the real Wolf, Jordan Belfort, not the Leonardo DiCaprio character from the movie, coming to speak at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Sept. 15.

19. Ulele. The native Indian-inspired restaurant, a creation of Columbia Restaurant guru Richard Gonzmart, opens Aug. 26 in Tampa Heights, just north of Tampa's Riverwalk.

18. Tech Data expands: Tampa Bay's biggest-by-revenue public company on Friday unveiled its $6 million, 45,000-square-foot facility adjacent to its corporate headquarters.

17. Deans list: USF has added three to watch, including USF Health VP and Morsani College of Medicine dean Charles Lockwood, College of Engineering dean Robert H. Bishop and Honors College dean Charles Adams.

16. Walmart steps up: It fills the critical supermarket gap when Sweetbay vacated Tangerine Plaza in Midtown St. Pete. Which grocer will commit to do the same at the Encore development on the edge of downtown Tampa?

15. Dolphin Tale 2: The movie hits screens Sept. 12 but can Winter the Dolphin propel Clearwater's new aquarium ambitions?

14. St. Pete Pier. With the Lens disappearing in the rear view mirror, can this peevish city focus anew on an affordable Pier 2.0 that pleases enough residents? Good luck.

13. MediFuture: Tampa Bay dreams of becoming a center of health innovation. A Sept. 16-18 conference in Tampa will test those competitive waters.

12. Incubators: Tampa Bay has added two business incubators this year in Pasco County, plus downtown St. Pete's TEC Garage and a planned 40,000-square-foot whopper near USF St. Pete.

11. Sundial: The revamped BayWalk is 90 percent leased and ready to strut upscale retail. Is downtown St. Pete ready to ante up?

10. USF bankrolled: A successful legislative session provided tens of millions of new dollars for USF to establish the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, complete construction of the USF Health Heart Institute and help fund construction of the USF St. Petersburg College of Business facility.

9. Rowdies: Can owner Bill Edwards' money and clout power his soccer team into a "real" stadium at the site of St. Petersburg's Al Lang Field and then become a "real" MLS level team? Don't underestimate Bill.

8. I-4 Connector debuts: In the works for 20 years, the toll road linking Interstate 4 and the Selmon Expressway in Ybor City opened in January. New ramps on it mean the Port Tampa Bay can triple the number of cargo trucks it handles daily. That's productivity.

7. Jobless rates easing: A year ago, Tampa Bay's unemployment rate hovered in the mid 7 percent range. Now it's 6.3 percent. Still not great, but trickling down to more acceptable levels.

6. Tourism regains mojo: Wasn't so long ago that cheap-job "tourism" was blamed for holding back a 21st century Florida economy. Now tourism is setting records, having saved Tampa Bay from a much more miserable recession.

5. Channelside resolved: It took way too long, but the recent auction that put Tampa's Channelside retail site into Jeff Vinik's hands at least clears away the legal mess for redevelopment on a grand scale.

4. Greenlight Pinellas: Can the county push through a bold mass transit plan to boost bus service and add a 24-mile light rail line? Lots of money and influence are behind it, but the real power lies with voters come November. Woe to the Pinellas economy if this plan fails.

3. Ambitious airport: It's not just the recent direct flights to Panama and Seattle that make Tampa International a winner. It's also the $1 billion master plan that includes a people-mover to get passengers to and from Westshore. Big thinking here.

2. Downtown fever: Our downtown city economies and populations are accelerating, led by St. Pete, then Tampa with Clearwater still wrestling with Scientology relations.

1. Vote: There's only 12-plus weeks left until the Nov. 4 election to suffer the clamor of campaign ads for governor of Rick Scott and Charlie Crist. An end to election fever may prove the best economic gift of all.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] or (727) 893-8405. Follow @venturetampabay.

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