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Can latest plan to boost regional economy spur genuine action?

Your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you decide to accept it, is to take this latest report's recommendations on how to boost the greater Tampa Bay regional economy with better jobs, stop talking about it and start making it happen.

(Cue the Mission: Impossible theme song.)

• • •

Another report came out Monday that offers the latest strategy for the Tampa Bay area to diversify its economy and focus its economic development firepower on those few industries deemed most likely to succeed here and generate better-paying jobs in the coming decades.

We've asked Mission: Impossible's Mr. Phelps to take on this assignment because it really is starting to feel like an insurmountable task for this area. How do we stop issuing reports — even a gold-tipped one like this $500,000 beauty from the consultants at SRI International — and take the plunge to make it happen?

The economic development powers will frown at my impatience, but many in the business community may appreciate it.

Two presentations were delivered Monday, in Lutz before about 40 people and later in St. Petersburg before about 75, by SRI senior economist and project manager Katherine Johnston and Progress Energy Florida chief Vinny Dolan (representing the Tampa Bay Partnership).

Here's the crux of the 131-page report:

1. Stand united. We have a better chance of growing higher-paying jobs in this region than each city and county pursuing its own divided ambitions.

2. Research Triangle Park in North Carolina? Silicon Valley in northern California? Such economic success icons succeeded by working in collaboration. That means city, county and state governments pulling as one with the regional business communities. Can Tampa Bay learn that lesson?

3. Clawing our way out of a recession, Tampa Bay has fewer resources today than it had a decade ago. Now the region must act more efficiently than ever to leverage its limited economic assets.

4. Tampa Bay still lacks a regional economic identity, something universal that people here can rally around and people elsewhere recognize when they think of this region.

5. As a region, we still seem to lack basic and common sources of key information — about what skills our universities offer, about what skills our businesses need and about what skills our workers should possess. Compiling and sharing that kind of data would help make our jobs market less fragmented.

Haven't we heard versions of this study before? After a flurry of reports with names like "cornerstone" or "blueprint" or "six pillars" it's all starting to blur.

Maybe this SRI report — "A Regional Business Plan for Economic Development in the Tampa Bay Region" — has stronger legs. Maybe its 16 initiatives, designed to build up medical, high-tech electronics, business and financial services and marine and environmental industries here makes the best sense yet.

There was no standing ovation Monday after SRI unveiled its report. Nobody balked at the results, either.

Like any sweeping plan for this regional economy, the buy-in will be formidable. But hopefully not impossible.

Good luck, Mr. Phelps This column will self-destruct in 5 seconds.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

How SRI would boost
Tampa Bay's economy

• Build a regional economic brand identity beyond beaches and weather.

• Support innovation with business incubators, grants, venture capital and access to university research.

• Support existing local businesses instead of rolling the dice for "big corporate relocation."

• In applied medicine, promote Tampa Bay as the capital of clinical trials.

• Build a network for marine, medical and defense businesses to swap ideas.

• Sharpen Tampa Bay's image as a hot spot for outsourcing HR, sales and marketing services.

• Support aquaculture and alternative energy, especially algae-based biofuels.

Source: SRI's May 2011 report: A Regional Business Plan for Economic Development in the Tampa Bay Region

Can latest plan to boost regional economy spur genuine action? 05/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 9:59am]
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