Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Business

After years of insecurity, Tampa-Hillsborough earns some economic swagger

TAMPA

"Swagger" is hardly the word that comes to mind to describe a metro area known for an inferiority complex.

Well, times are changing.

Economic developers here recently adopted "Think Big" as a mission statement. And they have delivered with corporate recruitments and business expansions that this past year have promised more than 4,000 jobs for Tampa and Hillsborough County.

Better yet, the pipeline of development deals is still full. More major announcements are coming soon — one may be unveiled as early as today.

Those accomplishments and a new sense of confidence were celebrated Monday evening in the Tampa Bay Times Forum at the annual meeting of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. The public-private group's task is two-fold — at least: To push for better jobs for Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City; and to better unite the Tampa Bay area into one competitive voice for the long run.

"Today, the energy in our community is tangible. We're thinking bigger, reaching higher and achieving more than ever before," Tampa Hillsborough EDC chief executive Rick Homans states in his organization's just released annual report. "Some call it confidence. Some call it swagger. But we just call it like we see it. And what we see now is just the beginning."

Bristol-Myers Squibb. Time Warner. Morgan Stanley. Amazon. Dart Container. These names are just some of the recent expansions into the Tampa-Hillsborough area.

Hence the annual meeting theme: Here Comes the Boom.

That's welcome swagger. Something is working well to draw bigger name companies and better job expansions. It helps that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is the Energizer Bunny advocate of economic growth, and gets along well with Hillsborough County Commission Chair Ken Hagan.

Certainly the EDC staff, well aware their economic track record is outpacing Orlando, Jacksonville or Miami, is feeling its competitive oats.

Homans arrived in early 2012 after running New Mexico's top economic development projects. He wasted little time reorganizing the EDC and injecting a can-do culture.

Homans credits Tampa attorney and business leader Rhea Law for taking the risk of recruiting him — a creative thinker. He appreciates the support of EDC chairmen, from Tampa Electric's Gordon Gillette and Florida Blue's Dave Pizzo to incoming chair and SunTrust Tampa Bay chief Allen Brinkman.

Private business investment in the EDC, another proxy of support, stood at a mere $306,000 in 2010. It rose to $1.2 million this past year. Homans wants to hit $2 million in the next three years.

And he hopes to raise the bar next by recruiting some actual headquarters.

Said Homans: "We think we are in a unique place at a unique time to make some big things happen."

Is this for real? Maybe everybody here ought to add just a little swagger to their step and see what develops.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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