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From free marketers to millennial ambassadors: Here are the Tampa Bay business people to watch in 2017

"Disruption" ballooned into an overly used word to describe business change. But looking ahead at 2017 and a clearly unorthodox Donald Trump presidency, it's the best single word to characterize what the Tampa Bay economy and its business leaders will likely confront.

That's why this column — profiling people whose impact in the new year on the state and our regional economy may prove especially compelling — starts off with potentially the biggest disrupter of all to the Sunshine State economy.

Meet Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the conservative Republican from Land O'Lakes. If he delivers on his so-called "free market" approach to governing, he may in the next two years single-handedly influence the future of how the Sunshine State recruits businesses and jobs and how Florida sells itself to tourists — especially if he later runs for governor, as some folks expect.

Corcoran's reach will be long, but let's focus on two critical economic arenas. The state's public-private job recruiting agency, Enterprise Florida, has long relied on using tax incentive packages aimed at corporations that "shop" themselves among metro areas before choosing the best deal in picking an expansion site.

Last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott sought $250 million (10 times its current allocation) in corporate incentives. Corcoran said no and this year is keen to end all public funding for Enterprise Florida. Scott will ask for $85 million this year.

Corcoran takes the same no-more-public-money stance with Visit Florida, the state's tourism promoter and the organization generally credited with delivering multiple years of record tourist numbers in Florida. He suggests state tourism would do just fine without all that taxpayer-backed advertising.

Not all agree. Especially Gov. Scott, who built much of his economic strategy around funding Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. Neither does Republican lawmaker and a senior Senate force Jack Latvala of Clearwater.

"I don't think we can stick our heads in the sand and just quit advertising and quit doing things to bring people to Florida, bring businesses to Florida," Latvala has stated.

How might this play in Tampa Bay? Well, Enterprise Florida is joined at the hip with the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. Plant City has a young EDC still finding its way. And St. Petersburg is just launching its own EDC. All these EDCs depend on state-backed incentives when competing against other metro areas in the country to attract new businesses — think of powerhouse companies like Johnson & Johnson or Bristol-Myers Squibb in recent years.

Similarly, the two principal tourism marketing agencies in Tampa Bay — Visit St. Pete Clearwater in Pinellas County and Visit Tampa Bay in Hillsborough— coordinate with Visit Florida's advertising messages.

Unless, of course, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida simply stop their incentives and shrink their ad budgets.

That is Corcoran's mandate: to wean more of Florida's economic engine from public funds. It may prove the Grand Economic Experiment of 2017. Florida and Tampa Bay should be prepared for the potential consequences.


Here are other businesspeople to watch in 2017.

2. Duke Energy Florida president Harry Sideris

Anyone heading Duke Energy in this state wields a lot of influence. But like his predecessors, Sideris may face some heat, as well. Duke's quiet funding of the Amendment One solar initiative on the November ballot (defeated by voters) left a sour taste as Floridians learned more about the amendment's deceptive tactics. In Florida, Duke still has a legacy (based on years of J.D. Power customer satisfaction surveys) as a provider of poor service. It would be striking to see Sideris, who succeeds Alex Glenn as state president, make service improvement a more visible priority.

Sideris has been with Duke Energy or its predecessors for nearly 21 years. He's relocating from North Carolina, where he most recently served as the power company's environmental executive, defending Duke against claims by some that its coal ash basins are hurting water quality in nearby neighborhood wells. Earlier, from 2000 to 2006, he was in Florida running the Bartow Power Plant on Weedon Island in St. Petersburg.

3. HSN CEO Mindy Grossman

Can one of the top retailing executives turn HSN around? The St. Petersburg TV/Internet and catalog seller of housewares, fashion, electronics and all sorts of other feel-good and helpful products was in a serious funk last year. Its share price in 2016 dropped more than 30 percent and now trades under $35 — a level not seen since 2011.

As CEO, Grossman took HSN public in 2008. Lately, she has trimmed slower-selling businesses and HSN's workforce. Over the course of 2016, she variously described HSN's strategy as "course correcting" or "restoring top-line (meaning sales) growth" or recapturing viewers distracted by the Summer Olympics and "disrupted" by the unusually partisan presidential election. Is Grossman up to the task?

4. Enterprise Florida CEO Chris Hart IV

The organization responsible for recruiting more and better jobs to Florida suffers from a lousy administrative reputation. As for its foggy future, Enterprise Florida is a primary target in Tallahassee of new House Speak Richard Corcoran (see top of this column), who wants to gut the agency's ability to provide tax incentives as a corporate recruitment tool. So why is Hart stepping into this minefield? Well, he's a former Florida legislator, so he may be able to soothe the current legislative drive to purge Enterprise Florida of much of its clout. That may prove a tough task.

5. StandUp Tampa

Okay, this is not an individual but rather a group of extraordinary young individuals. They make up a recently formed group called StandUp Tampa composed of millennial entrepreneurs and managers who will serve as ambassadors for the Tampa Bay area as an arm of the Tampa Hillsborough EDC. The goal? To reach out to young talent elsewhere with young talent here and say: Tampa and Tampa Bay can be a good place for your business, skills and innovative thinking. StandUp Tampa members and their businesses include Roberto Torres (Black and Denim/Blind Tiger Cafes), Ruan Cox Jr., Ph.D. (Moffitt Cancer Center), Stevie Morgan (CaterMeFit), Saxon Baum (WeVue), Omar Soliman(College Hunks Hauling Junk), Erin Meagher (Kelapo/Beneficial Blends), Taylor Wallace (WeVue), Jonathan Davila (DiamondView Studios) and Ryan Clarke (SiteReady).

6. BlueGrace Logistics CEO Bobby Harris

One of the great myths that gets repeated over and over in mid-sized metros like Tampa Bay is that we need just one breakthrough small company to become big and well known to put this area on the entrepreneurial map. It has not happened yet. But BlueGrace Logistics in Riverview, which can quickly solve once-numbing transportation logistics problems, is an emerging candidate. This past summer, New York-based private equity giant Warburg Pincus committed a $255 million investment to BlueGrace. That's serious money for a small company. BlueGrace CEO Bobby Harris said he wants to use that money to hire up to 700 employees in the next few years and look for a new headquarters, possibly in downtown Tampa. From currently $200 million in revenue, "by 2020 we'd hope to be at $1 billion," Harris said.

7/8. Johns Hopkins All Children's president Jonathan Ellen/Moffitt Cancer Center CEO Alan List

Ellen's empire is growing fast under the Johns Hopkins medical brand in downtown St. Petersburg. So, too, is List's expanding anti-cancer kingdom in Tampa. They are the medical Twin Towers of Tampa Bay — two powerhouses whose names and influence will only further serve as health care cornerstones in this metro market. In St. Petersburg, the 225,000-square-foot Johns Hopkins All Children's Research and Education building broke ground in November 2015 and will eventually house 200 people, including physicians, scientists, residents and fellows in research teams. At Tampa's already crowded Moffitt offices, an $800 million expansion will include a new hospital wing, two research buildings, a clinical support building and additional outpatient facilities. Imagine the role these two mega-medical brands will play here in the future.

9. USF St. Petersburg Kate Tiedemann College of Business dean Sridhar Sundaram

The dean and the brand new building on campus that houses the once-homeless business school hits 2017 running with a full agenda. After a Jan. 17 ribbon cutting at the new building, Sundaram will focus on building stronger relationships with the business and St. Petersburg communities. Sundaram came to this country from India at age 21 and helped his father's cleaning business before going on to get his MBA and Ph.D. Now he's reaching out with his own ask to Tampa Bay: Put his faculty members on area boards or special projects so they can better understand community needs. Asks the dean: "How can we partner with you?"

10/11/12. USF senior vice president Paul Sanberg/Tampa Bay WaVE's Allen Clary/TiE Tampa executive chairman Kiran Patel

From these three funding sources will come the much-needed wave of early-stage "seed capital" for area business startups that have long hungered for local money. USF's Innovation Enterprise, the economic and business development arm of the university, will create Seed Tampa Bay to invest in high-growth-potential tech startups. A $250,000 federal grant sets in motion the two-year plan to create the $5 million seed fund. Clary, Tampa Bay WaVE's entrepreneur in residence, will help build on $50,000 provided in December from the U.S. Small Business Administration. And longtime investor and philanthropist Patel is providing $1 million, half of a planned $2 million fund, to serve as a TiE Tampa angel (early investor) fund to support young businesses.

13. Johnson & Johnson vice president of global services Erin Champlin

It was a regional coup for Johnson & Johnson in 2016 to open its North America Global Services Center in Tampa with a promise of 500 jobs. And it will be an ongoing win if Champlin can become an actively involved advocate in Tampa Bay's economic development circles going forward. We've seen this work well before. When Bristol-Myers Squibb opened its North American Capability Center near Tampa International Airport, executive director Lee Evans added his voice to the economic development message that this metro area had the depth of skills that work for even the biggest companies. Here's hoping Champlin, who has a strong IT background who started her career at Ernst & Young, will follow. One of her early remarks to the Tampa Bay Times touches the sensitive topic of state and local incentives received by J&J in picking Tampa. Said Champlin: "The tax incentive was absolutely a factor."

Contact Robert Trigaux at Follow @venturetampabay.

From free marketers to millennial ambassadors: Here are the Tampa Bay business people to watch in 2017 12/27/16 [Last modified: Friday, December 30, 2016 5:58pm]
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