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Trigaux: A 'shovel ready' list for the president

Memo

To: President Obama

From: Tampa Bay's "Shovel Ready" Economic Developers

Mr. President: Respectfully, let's cut through the clutter. We know you're about to be bombarded with thousands of lists of bazillions of economy-jumpstarting projects asking for money from your $825-billion stimulus package. We think you'll like our ideas.

Our goal: To generate 50,000 Tampa Bay jobs — enough to shrink our unemployment rate to about 5 percent.

I'm not keen on the phrase "shovel ready" to describe the types of projects that are, literally, almost ready to start digging and building. The phrase can conjure negative political images of people "shoveling" more than dirt. But the term is now the coin of the realm.

We know how badly Florida and Tampa Bay are hurting. Friday's numbers — state unemployment jumped to 8.1 percent last month from 7.4 percent in November — are getting brutal.

So far, we've got a Tower of Infrastructure Babel in the making. Area cities have their wish lists of projects. So do our counties and schools, health care and transportation industries, and our many chambers of commerce.

How will Washington and Tallahassee thoughtfully sort through it all?

The regional, seven-county economic development group known as the Tampa Bay Partnership wants to help. It's collecting area project lists to offer one regional set of priorities. Now there's a guaranteed minefield of competing interests, but I salute the group for trying.

So far, they've tallied about 350 potential area projects here costing $4.8-billion.

President Obama wants the federal stimulus package to create 3-million jobs nationwide. Tampa Bay wants 50,000 of those jobs to be born here.

"I think we need to do some of these projects and we need to do them pretty quick," says Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Stuart Rogel. "Otherwise, there will be little impact."

Broad-based infrastructure projects boosting the Tampa Bay region with lasting jobs are more likely than narrow-interest deals to win the attention of state and federal leaders empowered to dole out big bucks rather quickly.

What kinds of projects are we talking about? Here are just three possibilities:

• Moffitt Cancer Center wants $317-million to build a LEED-certified research, clinical and administrative center. Building it creates 3,000 jobs. Once it opens, add 1,200 researchers averaging $100,000-plus.

• I-4 Crosstown Connector Project would reroute truck traffic from the Port of Tampa directly to the highways and out of downtown Tampa. Why care? Because it would boost the port — a major economic engine — just as the Panama Canal expansion is finished in 2014. Project cost: About $450-million.

• Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority wants $25-million to build a Bus Rapid Transit Line along Central Avenue in St. Petersburg to aid mass transit.

If we're organized, the feds will listen. If we're a mob, we lose.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Trigaux: A 'shovel ready' list for the president 01/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 24, 2009 3:31am]
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