Sunday, February 18, 2018
Business

Tampa Bay's biggest public companies enjoy strong year

The billionaire's club is back.

For the first time in four years, the 10 biggest public companies based in the Tampa Bay area each posted revenues north of $1 billion.

Unemployment is still high; the bay area has reclaimed the unwanted throne as king of foreclosures; and financial distress among Tampa Bay residents remains at an "emergency crisis" level, according to one analysis.

Yet the region's corporate community — at least based on its relatively small cluster of public companies — is doing just fine.

Nine of the top 10 public companies here enjoyed rising revenues, with six of them relishing double-digit percentage increases. The sole exception was TECO Energy, which, unlike those companies in tourism and construction, does not do as well financially during milder weather due to the related lower electric bills.

Does that corporate resurgence bode well for the area's overall economy?

Raymond James Financial chief economist Scott Brown, whose company happens to be among the Top 10, said a rebound in corporate revenues and profits "certainly doesn't hurt" the area's economy. But he hesitated to draw a corollary between how well businesses do compared to the average citizen.

"You'd probably expect to see more job growth relative to strong sales activity, but you're still seeing an emphasis on cost-cutting," Brown said.

"Corporate profits have done pretty well. Real wages haven't really done much at all. Hopefully, we'll see raises this year, but I'm not counting on it. My sense is there is still a lot of downward pressure on wages unless you are in a high-skill field, certain technical fields."

The leaders of Tech Data and Jabil Circuit — by a broad margin the two biggest public companies in the bay area — say their good fortunes globally are having a broader impact in giving the community a lift.

"I think a rising corporate tide will help the local economy," Tech Data chief executive Bob Dutkowsky says, "but it may take a little time."

Adds Jabil CEO Tim Main: "The better the company does globally, the better the staffing payroll and stability and employee growth will be locally."

Jabil is the region's biggest public company by market value; Tech Data is No. 1 by revenues. Both devote most of their focus and manpower far away from Tampa Bay, however.

Out of Tech Data's 8,500 workers in 100 countries, only 1,700 live in the bay area; Jabil, with a much grander global workforce pushing 121,000, has nearly 2,000 local employees, including about 100 hired over the past six months.

Jabil has significantly expanded product development and design locally, although its defense business out of St. Petersburg has not done as well as hoped, Main said.

During the recession, Jabil tabled plans for a major headquarters expansion that promised to bring as many as 2,000 more jobs in return for millions of dollars in tax incentives. Last week, Main said there still is no news about the expansion, but "we'd sure like to decide sometime in the near future, in the next three to six months."

Regardless of the verdict on the expansion, Main indicated that companies like Jabil are already having a positive impact in spending more locally. "When the companies do well, they hire additional corporate staff, product development," he said. "They spend more and they invest more."

Tech Data's Dutkowsky said a desire to focus on community building spurred this month's launch of the Tech Data Foundation, an enterprise created to invest in education and health initiatives.

It was long overdue, Dutkowsky said. "In almost 40 years in business, we had not had a charitable organization here at Tech Data."

The charitable foundation will support community efforts everywhere the company does business.

"But we have the single biggest concentration of employees anywhere in the world here in Tampa Bay," Dutkowsky said. "Chances are, employees are more involved here than anywhere else."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8242.

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