This year's 10 people who made a difference in the Tampa Bay business community earn nicknames that capture what they do best, and perhaps lend a little humor along the way.
Two critical themes underpin these 10. Some excel as relentless "can do" personalities in a metro area not always eager to travel in the fast lane. Not only do they offer strong visions for the regional economy, they also generate the results to deliver on, or at least get closer to, their goals.
Others recognized great injustices foisted upon Floridians this year and stepped into the breach to try to fix those wrongs. To all 10, hearty applause.
Granted, Winter is not a person. But not every dolphin that happens to lose its tail becomes a global phenom and marketing marvel. Winter delivered a tourism mega-boost to both an aging Clearwater Marine Aquarium and all of Pinellas County. Winter's appeal planted many thousands of seats in theaters (and in front of TVs with DVDs) to enjoy the Dolphin Tale movie — and soon, its sequel. And it was Winter that underpinned a campaign that so successfully won over Clearwater voters last month to move ahead with a multimillion-dollar campaign for a new aquarium on Clearwater's downtown waterfront. The original TV dolphin, Flipper, would nod in approval. In business lingo, Winter proved even a dolphin can "flip" celebrity into serious economic clout.
This past Monday, the first direct Copa Airlines flight to Tampa from Panama City, Panama, landed at Tampa International Airport. That's historic. But the WOW factor will come our way when many thousands of Latin Americans hop on Copa flights in their home countries and beeline to Tampa Bay via the new Panama City gateway. Kudos to Copa's 25-year chief executive officer, Pedro Heilbron, for seeing the same longer-term potential as economic development leaders here. Keep this in mind: There are more flights and more cities served out of Panama than any other airport in Latin America.
The Alarm Clock
She is the wakeup call on bad flood insurance legislation that our Beltway-insulated congressional representatives need to hear. Implementing the new flood insurance rules is a disaster for Florida beach communities, businesses and the real estate market. Fix it! If it were only that easy, says Robin Sollie, president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce. Progress is slow. She says Washington officials lack urgency and have yet to grasp the consequences of soaring flood insurance premiums. "In some instances our elected officials appear to forget how they made it to Washington," scolds Sollie. "These homeowners sent them there to do a job and they are failing." Imagine how unresponsive the feds would be without the Sollies of the world sounding the alarm.
"This is our time." Tampa Mayor Bob "Rah Rah" Buckhorn should copyright that remark and others, including the tale of how much he wants his young daughters to find compelling career opportunities in Tampa rather than in Charlotte or Atlanta. It is rare to cover economic development events without hearing an upbeat pitch by Mr. Mayor. This is one serious city and regional cheerleader. He understands the political salesman's handbook of sticking to the script and saying it over and over again. It's working. The business community generally loves Buckhorn for his energy, humor and unwillingness to let Tampa or Tampa Bay sit on its laurels.
When a Sweetbay Supermarket opened in 2005 to anchor a brand new shopping center in St. Petersburg's Midtown area, a largely minority neighborhood, developer Larry Newsome helped make it happen. And in 2013, after a struggling Sweetbay chain called it quits in Midtown, Newsome, chief executive of Urban Development Solutions, was among the A-team that persuaded Walmart to open a grocery store in Tangerine Plaza in the space Sweetbay left. So why is a basic swap of grocery chains such a big deal? Because a chain grocer is probably the most important economic stabilizer any lower-income community could ask for. Don't assume wooing Walmart was easy. In Tampa, Mayor Buckhorn's team has tried for years to lure grocery stores downtown, either to anchor the emerging Encore development on the city's northwest edge or to the more upscale Channelside district.
The 'New, New Thing' Guy
What else would you expect from a guy who once ran New Mexico's commercial space exploration project under the vision of high-octane billionaire and entrepreneur Richard Branson? Ever since Rick Homans arrived here to run the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., he has operated as if wearing jet packs scouting for the "new, new thing" — the next economic ambition for Tampa Bay. What he has picked is now dubbed MediFuture, a daunting, long-term project that aims to make all of Tampa Bay a global leader in progressive health care. It is taking furious shape under the radar with a debut uber-conference coming in June.
Starting a business is the corporate equivalent of giving birth. That makes business incubator veteran Tonya Elmore the midwife of entrepreneurial start-ups. The CEO of Largo's Tampa Bay Innovation Center took on two proposed projects this year: creating business incubators in both downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg. The St. Pete project will be first out of the blocks (Tampa goes back to the drawing board for now) with a temporary location open by March until a permanent, 30,000- to 45,000-square-foot "mixed use" incubator rises. "There doesn't seem to be enough in health care or marine sciences alone to support the project," Elmore says, so a wider range of startups will be encouraged. The St. Pete incubator-to-be also now has a name: the St. Petersburg STEAM Center, which stands for "science, technology, engineering, arts and media."
What's that whining noise in the ears of Tallahassee's lazy lawmakers who lip-synch the virtue of a 2006 law that lets power companies like Duke Energy charge Florida customers vast sums now for nuclear power projects that may not ever happen? How fitting that state Rep. Dwight Dudley, elected in 2012 on a platform to end such abuse of Florida consumers, has earned a nickname honoring one of Florida's most pesky species. Beware, Tallahassee: Where there is one mosquito, more usually follow.
Credit Pasco County mortgage broker Pam Marron for leading this year's charge that may save many Florida homeowners from being blackballed from getting a mortgage for years. Marron realized short sales consumers pursued were often misidentified as foreclosures by the national credit bureaus. That coding mistake meant short-sellers would have to wait for up to seven years before becoming eligible for a new mortgage to buy a house. Marron led a campaign to get Congress to fix this credit bureau coding error. Under the revised plan, such consumers may be able to qualify for a mortgage in just two years.
Can't close this 2013 list of 10 without a final salute to Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who passed away this fall at 82 after serving for more than four decades in Congress.
Young probably did more than any other individual in the past 50 years to elevate the Tampa Bay economy. On behalf of this region — thanks, Bill.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]