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Leaders of Tampa Bay's biggest public companies cite mass transit as priority

As the corporate titans of Tampa Bay, they run companies that demonstrate the diversity of the region's workforce.

Selling laptops in Europe; building electronics and other goods out of more than 50 factories from Poland to Vietnam; providing Medicaid and Medicare plans to millions; operating one of the top independent brokerage firms outside Wall Street.

Yet when the leaders of the region's 10 biggest public companies were asked what Tampa Bay should do to improve its business climate, a majority echoed the same suggestion: make it easier for people to travel between work and home.

"It's hard to get around Pinellas and Hillsborough if you don't have a car," said Mark Mondello, CEO of Jabil Circuit. "Compared to Chicago, Dallas, L.A., Boston … it's night and day. If we're going to attract progressive types of workers and progressive types of corporate businesses, mass transit is an issue."

Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of Tech Data, the area's biggest public company by revenue, said businesses will continue to have trouble luring top talent unless the community invests more in roads and bridges, as well as mass transit.

"When people ponder if they want to move to Tampa Bay, they ask, 'Can I get to work from my house?' " he said. "We're blessed to have one of the beautiful places on the planet, but we have to make that more accessible. … It needs to get better if we're going to keep up … whether it's (investing) in roads or buses or light rail.

"We have the greatest airport in the world, and we just have to make sure you can get to that world-class airport."

TECO Energy CEO John Ramil said the bay area has stepped up before, cooperating across city and county boundaries to fix issues like available water. It should do the same, he says, to tackle transportation woes.

"There is no silver bullet to fix this growing challenge, but we can work together to improve it," he said. "We need to plan for the future. Which roads will be key in decades to come? How can we adapt mass transit to improve traffic? How can rail augment our existing mass transit in a sensible way?"

Interest in mass transit has ebbed and flowed through the years, but there has been neither the political will nor community push for making costly investments.

That could be changing. Both Ramil and Raymond James CEO Paul Reilly point to growing support for Greenlight Pinellas, an initiative on the ballot in November that would replace property tax revenue earmarked for transit with a 1 percent sales tax to fund dramatically increased bus service and future passenger rail service linking downtown St. Petersburg, the Carillon area and downtown Clearwater.

Reilly said his brokerage firm supports Greenlight Pinellas "because we understand that the most successful metropolitan centers rely heavily on public transportation to put talented workers together with the business community. Education and transportation are critical to Tampa Bay's long-term business future."

Executives cited several other pressing issues to stimulate the business climate. Among them: improving ties between local businesses and universities; getting more national and international flights out of Tampa International; and finding a way to keep major-league baseball in Tampa Bay.

Dutkowsky of Tech Data, however, indicated the region should take heart that its promise trumps its problems.

That's why, he said, Tech Data recently decided to expand its headquarters in Tampa Bay.

"Putting a new building in the ground is a massive commitment. … We could have moved somewhere else (but) we chose to stay," he said. "We can be really critical, but we should step back and realize we have a lot of good things here. … That's why we doubled down and invested in Tampa Bay."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434.

The Top 10 Public Companies in Tampa Bay

Company Fiscal year revenues
1. Tech Data Corp. $26.8 billion
2. Jabil Circuit $18.3 billion
3. WellCare Health Plans $9.5 billion
4. Raymond James Financial $4.6 billion
5. Bloomin' Brands $4.1 billion
6. HSN Inc. $3.4 billion
7. TECO Energy $2.9 billion
8. Cott Corp. $2.1 billion
9. Walter Investment Management $1.8 billion
10. Masonite $1.7 billion

Priorities from the boardroom

Beyond mass transit, the heads of Tampa Bay's biggest public companies offered plenty of other suggestions for improving the business climate: strengthen partnerships between schools and businesses to train certain in-demand skills in information technology and health care; do a better job marketing to out-of-state companies, touting the region's beaches, beautiful weather and lack of a state income tax; do what's necessary to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in the area; and increase national and international flights out of Tampa International Airport.

"One key challenge we have as a result of our growth is in recruiting qualified people, specifically health care professionals — such as nurses — and information technology professionals. Some suggestions that would help our ability to recruit would include enhancing the partnerships between local corporations and private and public learning institutions; positioning the Tampa Bay area as a health care "hub" on a national scale; and increased incentives for on-the-job training programs."

— Dave Gallitano, WellCare Health Plans chairman and interim CEO

"Nicer hotels. When we bring high-level executives into town and we're putting them in B class hotels, they're not anxious to fly down here and see us again. When in town, they want to go to great restaurants, and we have great restaurants. We have great beaches. We have great theater. We have a lot of things for people to do here. We have to make sure every one of those (amenities) stays around."

— Bob Dutkowsky, Tech Data Corp. CEO

"What we need to do next is expand the pool of business-ready professionals and graduates that companies require in order to grow. Local and state universities should continue to invest in training and partner with employers to better prepare our workforce for the demands of global companies."

— Paul Reilly, Raymond James Financial CEO

"We need a marketing campaign that goes beyond oranges and tourism. And we need to market the area, Hillsborough and Pinellas, together. We have an opportunity unlike other cities to talk about what a tremendous place this is to live as far as a healthy lifestyle. … I think our airport is fabulous, but it's very limited on flights. Trying to get to the West Coast of the country from Tampa is very limited and trying to get (directly) to any international location is nearly impossible."

— Mark Mondello, Jabil Circuit CEO

"Fundamentally, the way to make the business climate better is to continue to maintain and improve the things that make this community so desirable in the first place. Continue to improve the schools, continue to reduce crime, continue to upgrade the infrastructure (roadways, in particular), continue to support the arts — in short, continue to make Tampa Bay a great place to live so that we can retain our home-grown talent and incent new talent to relocate when we cannot find it here."

— Mark O'Brien, Walter Investment Management CEO

Times 10 highlights

In: Walter Investment Management; Masonite

Out: Sykes Enterprises;

Brown & Brown

Notable switch: Raymond James Financial overtook Bloomin' Brands to become fourth-largest public company

Highest-paid CEO: Mindy Grossman of HSN at $13.8 million

Lowest-paid CEO: Robert Dutkowksy of Tech Data Corp.

at $1.74 million

Biggest jump in CEO pay:

Grossman of HSN, up 145 percent

Biggest drop in CEO pay:

Liz Smith of Bloomin' Brands,

down 92 percent to $1.9 million

after a big payout in 2012

when the company went public

Leaders of Tampa Bay's biggest public companies cite mass transit as priority 05/09/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2014 1:17pm]
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