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In 2015, six events stand out that will help propel Tampa Bay's economy

The rebounding economy of 2015 may be the "big" story of the business year. I like specifics, though, and you probably do, too. Here are six key events or trends that took place this calendar year that will do much to shape the future direction and momentum of our area economy.

Bottom line: It has been a pretty good year for the regional business scene.

• • •

1. Google Fiber

Seemingly out of the blue, Google came to town in October to announce it wants Tampa Bay to become one of its early Google Fiber metro areas. That means superfast Internet access, the equivalent of sorts of being nominated for technological sainthood. Once it arrives, Google Fiber promises ultra-speedy Internet connectivity for businesses, university research and homes. Its branding alone will help distinguish Tampa Bay as an elite Internet location. This is big.

2. Publix commits to downtown Tampa

Who cares, you say? After all, Publix already is building a second grocery store in downtown St. Petersburg. No matter. After years of lobbying, the supermarket chain's apparent decision last month to commit to Tampa is like the arrival of a missing piece of a complex jigsaw puzzle.

When the big Encore mixed-use project started going up with affordable apartments and office space, the builders left specific space for an unspecified grocery store. None came. When Tampa Bay Lightning owner and real estate developer Jeff Vinik unveiled his Cascade Investment-backed plan to create a 40-acre "live-work-play" space near Tampa's Channelside area, he swore he'd build his own supermarket if no chain would.

Publix's expected site at the corner of E Twiggs Street and N Meridian Avenue is strategic. It's close to the Vinik project but not too far from the Encore development. It's close to Port Tampa Bay's proposed 45-acre mixed-use Channel District project that currently promises 75-story residential towers, parks and waterfront access.

Publix's site selection decisions are watched by many kinds of businesses as a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. In this case, it means downtown Tampa's growth plans just passed a major test.

3. Johnson & Johnson chooses Tampa

Tampa and Hillsborough County hardly lack success stories lately when it comes to corporate job recruiting. But let's be frank. Some company arrivals are more equal than others. And Johnson & Johnson's decision in August to create its corporate "shared services" headquarters here will bring 500 jobs averaging at least $75,000 over the next three years and a capital investment by the company of $23.5 million.

Why fixate on this recruitment? Pharmaceutical and consumers products giant J&J ranks 37th on the latest Fortune 500 list and 11th on Fortune's list of the world's "most admired" companies. It's one of the fastest-growing "big pharma" businesses, with a stock market value of $281 billion.

It's taking space on the first five floors of 100 Hidden River Corporate Center One near E Fletcher Avenue and I-75.

Johnson & Johnson chose this market, in part, because another big pharma player, Bristol-Myers Squibb, set up a similar operation here nearly two years ago. Is a high-end cluster of drug companies in the works here?

4. Want it now, get it now

Folks will look back at 2015 as a pivotal year for Tampa Bay in the rise of same-day delivery services. In May, Amazon announced it would offer free same-day delivery in Tampa Bay and some other metro areas to customers who subscribe to its $99-per-year Prime service. Previously, Prime members in those cities had to pay $5.99 per order. This past summer, Alabama-based Shipt, a young grocery delivery company armed with a smartphone app, said it will offer same-day grocery deliveries from Publix stores to residents in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. And now comes Drizly, a mobile-app company based in Boston that is partnering with ABC Fine Wine & Spirits stores to deliver alcohol to your door.

Looks like we're about to witness an era that brings new meaning to the term "impulse buy."

5. TIA lands Lufthansa

The arrival of the inaugural flight to Tampa from Frankfurt by Lufthansa was a major coup in airline recruiting and a symbol that Tampa International Airport continues to be in aggressive expansion mode in building its overseas direct-flight business. In 1995, British Airways began flying to London. Then direct flights to Cuba started in 2011, with (Lufthansa-owned) Edelweiss Air flying to Zurich in 2012, and Copa Airlines flying to Panama City in 2013.

"The roles of airports in recruiting business are becoming increasingly important," says John Boyd, a site selection consultant bullish on the Tampa Bay market and head of the Boyd Group in Princeton, N.J.

6. Innovation districts better be innovative

They serve as compact geographical areas where anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with startup communities to create stronger economies, better jobs and more compelling neighborhoods. There are two such innovation districts to celebrate in 2015, one on each side of Tampa Bay. One aims to revive the tired neighborhoods near the University of South Florida in Hillsborough County. That effort is led by former County Commissioner Mark Sharpe and is backed by several big area players: USF, Moffitt Cancer Center, Busch Gardens and Florida Hospital, among others.

And in downtown St. Petersburg, the now-christened St. Pete Innovation District hopes to leverage the intellectual horsepower of closely located USF St. Petersburg, the All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine complex and adjacent Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, SRI International and a host of related marine science assets, as well as a rising presence of business startups and an anticipated business incubator.

Will these promising yet very different innovation districts gel and deliver? That may be a tale for 2016 and beyond.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

In 2015, six events stand out that will help propel Tampa Bay's economy 12/04/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 4, 2015 7:02pm]
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