Saturday, January 20, 2018
Business

Among the big wishes for Tampa Bay's economy in 2013: Less talk, more action

A couple of themes emerge from the wishes of the Tampa Bay business leaders that begin on this page.

Some leaders wish for tangible, specific things to happen this year, like Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's supermarket for his city's downtown. Or Bloomin' Brands CEO Liz Smith's desire for people to try lunch at her restaurant chains like Outback Steakhouse. Or Visit St. Pete/Clearwater tourism chief D.T. Minich's call for more boutique hotels in downtown St. Petersburg.

I like that. Real stuff.

Other business leaders seek bigger-picture wishes. Lawyer and longtime economic development supporter Rhea Law suggests we've done enough studies of this and that. Now it's time for everybody to cooperate to make stuff happen or, as she puts it in her wish, "break through the hindrances of the past." Recently arrived Regions Bank area chief Marty Lanahan calls for "people to get off the sidelines." And Tampa Downtown Partnership chief Christine Burdick urges building the political will required to "own up to our transportation needs."

Booyah. They all get it. Let's get out of this rut. They want 2013 to be a year for everyone to become more engaged.

Stop the talking. Start the doing.

Well, I've got some wishes of my own for 2013. My top half dozen:

6. Tampa Bay is still going to be a big destination for baby boomers in the coming decade as more folks choose to retire here. Many more will start coming in 2013 than we've seen in a long time. But nearly 70 percent of Americans nearing retirement age have about $30,000 in their retirement accounts. The grim message: Downward mobility in retirement is a looming reality for both middle- and higher-income workers. Almost half of middle-class workers will be poor or near poor in retirement, living on a food budget of about $5 a day, experts say. Will Tampa Bay suffer from this underfunded influx? My wish: Let's anticipate what may be coming our way.

5. Somehow, Tampa Bay needs to find a way to act with one regional voice on certain key issues. Like a multicounty mass-transit system. Like funding a new baseball stadium (no matter where it is built). The old whine of "why should Pinellas pay for something in Hills­borough" (or vice versa) is a vicious circle that only puts Tampa Bay further behind other metro areas that are able to move forward as one on important regional matters. My wish is for this area to make the political leap required to act regionally when needed. We're in trouble if we can't figure this one out.

4. I hesitate to ask for the obvious, but I want Tallahassee to create a state energy policy that's something better than "whatever the big utilities want." Clearly, one of the more shameful laws ever passed in modern Florida was the 2006 approval to let giant power companies like Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light charge captive customers hundreds of millions of dollars in advance for new nuclear power plants that may never even be built. I could wish for Tally to man up and repeal that sorry law. Since that's unlikely, my wish is for the state to approve an energy policy that produces a better balance of alternative energy, including solar, to prosper here. If our lawmakers can't do that, maybe they should just change Florida's nickname to something other than the Sunshine State. Perhaps the Lackey State?

3. We better be careful or 2013 will become known as the Year Florida Branded Everything. Startling numbers of campaigns are under way to put business brands on this state, this metro area and many of our counties and cities. What's wrong with that? The coming explosion of new logos, new slogans and new marketing strategies to promote business and the economy could be self-defeating. Florida's got a statewide branding effort under way to mix beach and business themes. Tampa Bay & Co., Hillsborough's tourism arm, is about to make preliminary branding suggestions for this area. Orlando's unhappy that it's just a tourism hot spot in the eyes of the bigger world and wants a brand to raise its biomedical and defense resources. Manatee County's new slogan — "Real. Authentic. Florida." — already sounds a lot like the ones I am hearing about in other campaigns. And those are just a few examples.

So what's my wish? That the millions spent on this tsunami of branding campaigns actually doesn't backfire.

2. Here's one of those practical wishes, like getting a supermarket in downtown Tampa. The Skyway bridge is too low to accommodate the new generation of super-sized cruise ships. Do we want Tampa Bay to remain a viable port for the cruise industry? So what do we do? My wish is to put this issue back on the front burner in 2013 and plan for another way to remain competitive in that industry.

1. Let me tell you a brief story. A high school teacher in Pinellas County had lunch recently with a friend who is a professor at a major university here. One of the teachers complained how her students had difficulty reading a fairly easy book, lacked the analytical skills to draw basic conclusions from their reading, and then handed in reports lacking structure or even complete sentences, awash in misspellings, bereft of original ideas and, too often, copied off the Internet.

Which teacher said such things? Both of them. Beneath the top tier of students, our schools at all levels are struggling to educate our kids. Businesses need to help more. And the state needs to spend less time bragging about the educational system and admit it needs assistance.

My wish is for everyone to show more honesty about our sagging schools that are trying to shape our future workers. The young will be challenged soon enough in demonstrating skills that get them decent-paying jobs.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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