Make us your home page

Trigaux: Industry clusters could raise the bar on Tampa Bay jobs

A dozen years ago I got a phone call from an ambitious fellow in California weighing a job offer at Clearwater's Tech Data Corp., a major technology distributor and a dynamic public corporation.

Before committing, the caller thought it best to ask a business reporter how much bench strength Tampa Bay boasted in tech companies. Why? To be reassured, should he part ways with Tech Data, that other opportunities existed here that offered quality tech jobs and comparable pay.

His concern then is even more critical now to this region. Talent is a lot easier to recruit from afar or train locally when there are concentrations of businesses — be they tech companies, financial institutions or health care organizations. They can support each other and, together, sustain a substantial pool of skilled workers with similar pay and career expectations.

In other words, Tampa Bay's economy can become much more robust with "industry clusters" of like companies. Building a specific group of industry clusters to raise Tampa Bay's pay scale will demand a better trained work force.

That is exactly the goal of our regional economic developers at the start of 2011.

Of course, that's the same premise of better jobs and more competitive regional economies pursued by many metro areas. In recent weeks, Pittsburgh's talked of pursuing a water industry cluster. Milwaukee's bragging about a creative services cluster. And Denver's all about a clean-tech cluster.

And this isn't just an American trend. Toronto's abuzz about a new urban transportation cluster. Even Dongyang in China is excited about building a knitted underwear garment cluster.

Our cluster obsession coincides, of course, with one of the worst economic cycles in modern Florida history.

The latest and sobering jobless rates for Florida and Tampa Bay were made public Friday. Statewide, the unemployment rate remained stubbornly high at 12 percent — bad enough compared to the nation's too-high 9.4 percent rate. Tampa Bay's metrowide jobless rate actually fell from a painful 12.7 percent in November to 12 percent last month. Better. But not much.

Tampa Bay economic leaders want the region to come out of the recession not with a business-as-usual attitude but poised to support six better-paying clusters.

Two groups leading the regional charge, the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, hired SRI International and consultant Lynne Manrique to help identify those six clusters and move the process along.

But will it work? Critical to the success of this strategy is building a work force with the technology, scientific and math skills and work ethic to be the labor pool for these clusters. Regional work force boards, the University of South Florida, the major community colleges and vocational programs finally are starting to coordinate what skills they teach with the coming demand of these six clusters.

It could prove tricky. Churning out medical technicians or electronics designers ahead of demand will merely force local talent to find work elsewhere. But failing to feed the job demands of industry clusters can stall growth or discourage cluster companies from expanding here.

At the Tampa Bay Partnership, CEO Stu Rogel and business intelligence officer Dave Sobush suggest the geographic size of this metro region is just about right for encouraging clusters. The region is not too big, as an entire state might be, or too little, as one city might be, for clusters to prosper.

At Progress Energy Florida, CEO Vinny Dolan has been tasked by the Tampa Bay Partnership with making something concrete happen with the so-called "blueprint for regional economic development." Dolan's big focus is accountability.

"I'm a big believer you do not have a plan until it is written down," he says. "Then you can make things happen."

Part of that plan is to communicate Tampa Bay's cluster plan. On Tuesday, partnership officials will brief the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee in Tallahassee. Similar briefings will occur in the House and with Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Dolan cautions folks impatient over a slack Florida recovery that nurturing clusters, educating a work force, aligning the incentives and then carefully encouraging those ingredients will take time.

"We're not talking six months, but five to 10 years," Dolan explains.

In its advisory role, SRI says a key element of making specific industry clusters take hold will be marketing a brand new message for the Tampa Bay region.

The idea is to "convey to outside audiences a more unified vision of the Tampa Bay region as a well rounded, diversified place to live and do business," SRI states in one draft report on cluster strategy.

Can this happen? Or, as some critics wonder, is this another zero-sum business recruitment game in which Tampa Bay bolsters parts of its economy at the expense of others?

It's sure trendy. Regional cluster building is in vogue globally and is heavily encouraged not only by SRI but by other brainy consulting firms like Brookings.

The underlying promise of clusters is that they act as economic growth "multipliers." Bolstered by favorable taxes and other incentives, like companies can support each other, attract larger skilled work forces and encourage new businesses, spinoffs and startups to flourish.

Even SRI acknowledges Tampa Bay has its own set of hurdles to overcome. SRI even generated its own list of Tampa Bay's regional assets and the challenges confronting the region.

Naysayers might look at the list and say we're too balkanized, lack critical mass, are too old and just too distracted by sunny beaches to do the hard work to make industry clusters succeed.

Maybe. But at this can-do stage of cluster building, I'd say Tampa Bay's at least got a good shot at making its economy a real regional contender.

Contact Robert Trigaux at or (727) 893-8405.

Tampa Bay's regional assets, economic challenges

Weather, beaches/Relied on for too long, we're behind

Diversity of cities/Fragmented regional mindset, hard to centralize

Three airports, three sea ports/Not as connected as other city hubs

Mature work force/Older age here may be viewed as disadvantage

Historical growth/Recent decline lets us rethink how to rebuild

Mix of universities, colleges/Lack education "brand" for excellence

Lots of startup business/Lack of focus in supporting smaller firms

Active R&D, innovation/Region lacks reputation for innovation

Improving business culture/Regulatory hurdles at state, county levels

Economic dip offers pause/Recession especially rough on region

Source: SRI International, Recommended Target Sectors for the Tampa Bay Region

About the series

Robert Trigaux explores Florida's strategy to upgrade its economy and create better-paying jobs by building "industry clusters."

Jan. 16: Statewide, why Florida thinks six industry clusters can raise the economic bar.

Today: Why Tampa Bay's location, weather and quality of life can no longer deliver a 21st century, competitive economy.

Jan. 30: Two cities, St. Petersburg and Tampa, try to brand their distinct clusters.

Tampa Bay chooses six industry clusters

The region hopes these six will form a long-term economic foundation. They are:

• life sciences/medical services

• research/engineering services

• financial transactions/services

• information tech/electronics

• aerospace, defense and national security

• business services

Trigaux: Industry clusters could raise the bar on Tampa Bay jobs 01/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 10:25am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Home of Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman hits market at $3.45 million

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is back on the market for $3.45 million after a brief hiatus.

    The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is on the market for $3.45 million. [Courtesy of Hi Res Media]
  2. Trigaux: Halfway through 2017, a closer look at six drivers of the Tampa Bay economy


    We're nearly halfway through 2017 already, a perfect time to step back from the daily grind of business and ask: How's Tampa Bay's economy doing?

    Is there one theme or idea that captures the Tampa Bay brand? Not really but here's one possibility. The fun-loving annual Gasparilla "Invasion" of Tampa is captured in this photo of 
The Jose Gasparilla loaded with pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on its way this past January to the Tampa Convention Center. In the future a vibrant downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg may be the better theme. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  3. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where cCondominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  4. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy


    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  5. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]