Friday, April 20, 2018
Business

Rival host cities of RNC, DNC vie for economic Holy Grail: more jobs

Tampa Bay and Charlotte often become archrivals when businesses are looking to relocate, expand and — today's Economic Holy Grail — bring new jobs to employment-hungry cities.

The two southeastern metro areas are also the 2012 host cities for national political conventions. After a blustery start, Tampa just rolled out the red carpet for this week's Republican National Convention. Charlotte's home to the Democratic National Convention, which begins next week.

Business and economic development leaders in both cities are pursuing aggressive plans to capture the attention of some of the tens of thousands of attendees, many of them influential business executives. The common goal: to present host cities in a favorable and dynamic light in hopes of recruiting (or at least acquainting) new business considering expansion.

Tampa Bay versus Charlotte: Who has the smarter economic development strategy? What can each learn from the other?

In Tampa Bay, several initiatives aim to raise its business profile. Front Row Tampa Bay is online and livestreaming daily through Thursday with interviews and discussions about what's hot in the regional economy. A social media command center also promotes Tampa Bay to an increasingly online audience. And economic development leaders — from Bob Rohrlack of the Tampa chamber and Rick Homans of the Tampa/Hillsborough EDC to Pinellas County economic development chief Mike Meidel, USF "Go Bulls" president Judy Genshaft and omnipresent Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn — are all out on the RNC circuit praising Tampa Bay.

Charlotte's business community seems equally enthusiastic to pitch itself during the DNC. In an interview Tuesday, Charlotte Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Morgan outlined a plan to target 32 specific companies that operate in markets that have declining air service. Why? Because banana giant Chiquita was successfully recruited from Cincinnati because of better air service in Charlotte.

Armed with $50,000, Charlotte's chamber even turned to a Washington, D.C., area consulting firm called Odell, Simms & Lynch as a corporate matchmaker to introduce DNC-attending business executives in energy, finance and health care to Charlotte's economic leaders. Another group, the National Democratic Institute, chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, has arranged a tour of Charlotte for 150 foreign dignitaries attending the DNC.

"This is an unprecedented opportunity to tell the Charlotte story," Morgan says.

Both Tampa Bay and Charlotte are aspiring second-tier metropolitan areas. Each has its own set of strengths to sell and weaknesses to underplay.

In the 1980s, Tampa briefly embraced "America's Next Great City" as its slogan but dropped it quickly when the city's future began to look anything but great.

Charlotte in the 1990s crowed it was the South's new Wall Street when two giant banking companies — Bank of America and First Union — had headquarters there. Then First Union stumbled and was bought by a California bank. And B of A remains in a long struggle to rebuild a reputation tarnished by sloppy management and the nation's mortgage meltdown.

Charlotte remains a metro area flush with large corporate headquarters, including Duke Energy, the recent buyer of Progress Energy. Tampa Bay's corporate profile is much lower and relies on a diversity of its mostly midsized and small businesses.

Charlotte's promotional video for the DNC is local footage with broad themes about diversity and opportunity. The Tampa Bay Shines promo video running during the RNC is animated and heavy on statistics to demonstrate the breadth of the region's economy.

Let's just hope the extraordinary efforts to host such big political conventions come with some longer-term rewards. And that there are good jobs ahead enough for both cities.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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