TAMPA — The Wednesday morning event, featuring a roster of top economic development leaders in the region, was billed as a job creation summit. It morphed quickly into a job creation wish list of what the bay area needs to reduce its 10.1 percent unemployment rate: more microloans for small business; greater community and political support for mass transit; more strategic alliances among development groups and companies. Top of the list: more money.
Mike Meidel and Gene Gray, the heads of Pinellas' and Hillsborough's economic development units, respectively, said their budgets were being slashed by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
That shortfall makes it doubly hard to fund business growth at a time when state incentive money has dried up. As economic development leaders noted, the state's innovation fund to entice research and development businesses here has no money available, and a "quick-action closing fund" to help Florida compete against other states has only $13 million left.
The event at the Pepin Hospitality Centre was hosted by the Tampa Bay chapter of NAIOP, a trade group representing the commercial real estate industry, a sector particularly hard-hit by job loss.
In a sign of the times, chapter membership has fallen from 240 last year to fewer than 200 now. About 100 attended the summit.
Here's what some economic leaders are saying:
"I do sometimes worry about how Florida is perceived as not being as competitive with incentives."
Keith Norden, executive managing director of the Committee of One Hundred in Tampa
"I don't think any of us would kid ourselves that we're a well-oiled machine."
Bob Abberger, managing director for the development and investment group of Trammell Crow's Florida division
"There's $8 billion to $13 billion (in federal funds) out there to spend on high-speed rail and Florida has done more work on this than any other state. … We need a leader from the state to step up."
Stuart Rogel, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership
"There's a lot of interest (in expanding) from a lot of companies. The fundamental problem is they're not able to pull the trigger because they can't get the money."
Gene Gray, director of the Hillsborough County Economic Development Department
"What we need is broad-based growth, and that's not going to happen until the credit markets open up."
Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development