Saturday, May 19, 2018
Business

Trigaux: If Charlotte, N.C., thinks its name can stand alone, when can Tampa Bay say the same?

Though advancing in age, Hugh McColl still stands out among the South's great business revivalists and as a key builder behind Charlotte's rise from sleepy North Carolina city to one of the economic leaders of the Southeastern states.

Florida knows McColl best as the hard-charging North Carolina banker, the ex-Marine who pushed his North Carolina National Bank into the Sunshine State, purchased deer-in-the-headlight Florida banks by the bushel and ultimately created Bank of America as Florida's biggest bank — and based in Charlotte.

So it's notable to read in Tuesday's Charlotte Observer how McColl, who played a fundamental role in helping bring the Carolina Panthers NFL franchise to his city, views the regional impact of a still young football team. The Panthers, with the best record in the league, are now heading to the Super Bowl.

What does it mean for Charlotte? "We can now drop 'North Carolina' off of our address," McColl told the Observer. "People know where we are, who we are. I think it's been a tremendous recognition for our city."

It's hardly the only measure of broader recognition, but it's a great litmus test for any city to ask of itself: Are we well known enough to drop the state off our address?

Can Tampa drop "Florida" off its address? Can St. Petersburg or Clearwater? And what about "Tampa Bay" as the great metrowide brand? Has that earned the absence of "Florida" behind it?

My sense in covering the economy here for 25 years is we are getting close. We're getting there because this area is getting much more national and international attention than it did few years ago. The Republican National Convention, held in Tampa in 2012, helped a lot. The Bollywood glitz of the Indian Film Academy's "Oscars," held for the first time in this country in 2014, was another big plus. Multiple Super Bowls have played major roles. The buzz behind the rebound of downtown St. Petersburg and the promise of the same in Tampa is a factor. Record tourism, too.

So is the year-round barrage of sports news driven by the Bucs, Lightning and Rays — all employing "Tampa Bay" in their names — as well as other sports teams in the area, including Major League Baseball spring training.

People elsewhere watch these sporting events on TV or read about them in sports pages and online as they follow their teams. But they see "Tampa Bay" constantly when their teams play our teams.

Charlotte has it easy in the sense that it is one city with one brand to promote. Our tri-city metro area still wrestles with diluted branding, the natural tug of war between individual city and county desires for recognition versus the umbrella name of "Tampa Bay." Detractors to this day remind me that Tampa Bay is just a body of water.

So, to McColl and Charlotte — congratulations. No more "North Carolina" dependency to back up your city's name.

In this market, we're still pursuing that goal and making progress. We're not quite there.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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