When Florida landed such top-notch, job-producing companies as Merck in Tampa and SRI International in St. Petersburg, Robert Rohrlack Jr. was at the forefront of the negotiations. Later this month he'll be stepping to the fore in Tampa.
The new president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce starts April 27. He discussed his new job with the Times, which edited the answers for length and clarity.
How do you see your role at the Chamber of Commerce?
I've got to guide and lead the chamber to be the voice of business in Tampa and Hillsborough County. If businesses are succeeding, they're hiring people and paying taxes. It creates that financial interconnectivity. I'm going to work to create a strategic plan for the chamber so we'll be in the best position possible when the economy improves. There are so many resources available. The University of South Florida, the University of Tampa, the community college system, the sites and businesses already here, the port, the airport. How do you get them pulling together? That's the role the chamber has to play.
How do you identify and improve the area's weakness?
I'm going to reserve answering that question till I jump in with both feet. My first priority is to listen to the members to see what issues need to be worked on. We want to work closely with the government partners to keep things moving forward. We need to set an agenda and stick to it. But the key issue is we're all in this together. Just keep looking for the commonality. There's too much strength in the Tampa/Hillsborough market not to be successful. With this economy, everybody's taking the white board and wiping it clean. There will be some changes I'll want to make.
You've worked for years on statewide business recruitment. How do you adjust to the narrower focus of recruiting for the Tampa area?
There are pluses and minuses at doing economic development at the local and state level. Tampa's is a market I've worked in and seen success in, so there's a natural comfort level to that market. I wasn't looking to leave Enterprise Florida. The opportunity to come back and be the leader of the Chamber of Commerce was certainly attractive. I've got a unique perspective at Enterprise Florida of seeing how all the markets in the state position themselves. I can bring that experience to Tampa — and bring the chamber to levels it hasn't seen before.
What's your take on using incentives for job creation?
If the company doesn't feel the labor market fits, all the incentives in the world won't make it fit. But having the right kind of incentives on the books shows that the business community and government support economic growth. If you're shopping for a car and narrow it to two models, the dealer to throw in car mats and cruise control will win. It's showing they want your business.
You've worked many jobs over the past 20 years, including three stints in the Tampa Bay area. Are you restless?
In economic development, to move up you've got to move on. We're like migrant workers in suits. I had a boss who once said, reflecting on a previous job, that I'm the only guy who could fall into a pile of garbage and come out smelling like a rose.