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In 2015, watch these people in a rebounding Tampa Bay economy

Look for 2015 to kick-start the Tampa Bay economy from the get go, with a flurry of announcements of new business expansions and promises of more jobs. Watch these folks in particular, all focused on making things better in the new year:

1. Suzanne McCormick, CEO of United Way Suncoast. Since her Tampa arrival from Maine in September, she's put an unapologetic spotlight on corporate giving here, publicizing companies that are big United Way givers and, by omission, those that do less. Several United Ways in the state also issued an important report in November that found a startling 45 percent, or 3.2 million, of all households in Florida cannot afford basic housing, child care, food, health care and transportation. In a seven-county Tampa Bay area, that affects more than 600,000 households. What steps might McCormick conjure in 2015 to help ease the plight of such a large and overlooked portion of the community?

2. Brian Lamb, chairman, Tampa Bay Partnership. Within days of Lamb stepping in as 2015 chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership, this metro area's regional business marketing organization, longtime Partnership CEO Stuart Rogel agreed to step down after 20 years at the helm. Now Lamb, a regional president here of Ohio's Fifth Third Bank, and the Partnership board will pursue a national search to find a successor who can refresh the marketing group's relevance. With strong ambitions by other area groups to grow and attract corporate headquarters, 2015 will be a critical year for the still vaguely perceived Tampa Bay metro area to sharpen its definition in the eyes of Corporate America and beyond.

3. Bryan Cranston, actor and pop culture phenom as Walter White character in Breaking Bad TV series. Not only is the actor starring in a thriller movie to be shot (in part) this spring in Tampa and Hillsborough County. But the film itself — The Infiltrator — features Cranston's role as former Tampa federal undercover agent Bob Mazur, based on his compelling book about infiltrating the Medellin drug cartel as an international banker with money laundering skills. Cranston's cultlike following will elevate public attention for Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission chief Dale Gordon's push for more films and more state funding — whichever comes first.

4. Tod Leiweke and Jac Sperling, top advisers to Jeff Vinik's massive redevelopment project in downtown Tampa. Here are two smart advisers that have Vinik's ear. Leiweke may be CEO of Vinik's Tampa Bay Lightning but he is no less involved in the vast 40-acre redevelopment project for downtown Tampa. Sperling is part of Vinik's Strategic Property Partners LLC group leading the redevelopment effort. Combined, this is the core triumvirate.

5. Debbie Dooley, co-founder of Atlanta Tea Party and Green Tea Coalition. The activist for energy choice in Florida will hold four town halls in praise of solar energy in January and February and push for competition in an industry of monopoly electric utilities. Dooley also will consider a ballot initiative to open up the market for solar and may seek to repeal the tangible property tax on solar, restructure the Florida PSC and push for third-party financing/leasing of solar. Also on the 2015 agenda: Developing a "Utility Customers Bill of Rights." That's just for starters. Look out, Duke Energy Florida. Look out, Florida PSC.

6. Brian Auld, president, Tampa Bay Rays. The ink on his new business cards as Rays team "president" had barely dried before he alienated the St. Petersburg City Council. That flub required the soothing political intervention of veteran predecessor Matt Silverman, who's now supposed to be focused on building a viable Rays team on the field. Let's chalk up the performance of Auld, with his Harvard and Stanford degrees, to early jitters in a new gig. Look for sharper Auld leadership on the hunt for a new stadium in 2015.

7. Sandra Murman, chairwoman, Hillsborough County Commission. In November, she was sworn in as chairwoman of the commission and now faces a year with a long laundry list from her community. What happens when the desire for funding for another try at a mass transit plan bumps up against money needs for a possible Tampa Bay Rays stadium or the financial demands for a host of projects spawned by bullish county and Tampa leadership? It helps that the economy is on the upswing, but Murman will need to be very creative to keep diverse constituents reasonably happy.

8. Chris Minner, vice president of marketing, Tampa International Airport. He's one of the "can-do" guys behind TIA chief Joe Lopano, helping deliver new direct flights to Tampa Bay's primary airport. The latest coup is Germany's Lufthansa, which will start flights to Frankfurt in 2015. Other wins include Tampa flights to Cuba, Switzerland, Panama City (Panama) via Copa Airlines, and even Seattle. Every flight not only sweetens TIA's appeal to more passengers, but also catches the eye of nonstop-fixated corporations contemplating where next to expand.

9. Sri Sridharan, managing director, USF's Florida Center for Cybersecurity. What's one of the fastest rising skill sets in demand in this country? Just ask the folks at Target, Home Depot, Neiman Marcus, Bebe Stores and, most recently in the news, Sony. There are dozens of other business victims and federal, state and local governments are plenty paranoid about safeguarding their computer files. Sridharan's challenge is to secure enough funding and develop a depth of expertise for USF to justify its "Florida Center for Cybersecurity" name. It's fast becoming a very competitive game.

10. Susan Martinez, executive vice president and Florida regional president, IberiaBank. The rare woman bank CEO, Martinez honed her skills at major area banks for years before leading an impressive turnaround as top executive at the seriously struggling Florida Bank in downtown Tampa. Now comes Louisiana-based IberiaBank Corp., which paid $90 million to buy Florida Bank, grabbed a toehold in this metro market, and chose Martinez to build its fresh presence in Florida.

11. Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the USF Morsani College of Medicine. Talk about timing. Soon after he was named med school dean, USF opts to move its medical college and other health assets from the main Tampa campus to downtown Tampa as part of Jeff Vinik's ambitious redevelopment project near the Amalie Arena. That relocation, still a few years off, should empower Lockwood to recruit doctors keen on a cool, urban live-and-work habitat. And it should strengthen ties between the school and Tampa General Hospital. TGH soon will be a brief water taxi's ride away from the school's new location.

12. Peter Kageyama, urban activist and author. His For the Love of Cities book of 2011 was a hometown hit. On Jan. 6, he unveils his sequel — Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places. Kageyama, who has counseled mayors on both sides of the bay and beyond, calls it a practical "how to" book for community leaders, a playbook for building roads, public spaces, even public art. It is, he says, a way for folks to be "intentional" about emotional engagement and translate their city passion into real outcomes.

13. Dr. Jackie Dixon, dean, USF College of Marine Science. Two little letters: BP. Five little words: Largest spill in nation's history. The college recently won a $20 million grant by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to analyze the ongoing effects of the 2010 BP oil spill. USF smartly wants to take a lead role in this long-term disaster, as it should. "Data, analyses and models of the fate and effects of the (BP) and similar oil spills will enable the nation and the world to be better prepared in the advent of a similar oil well blowout," says Dixon. Big picture? Look for "marine science" to become a major St. Petersburg industry in the coming years.

14. David Downing interim CEO, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. He's still competing for the actual CEO job (we're down to two candidates with more interviews this month) left open by departed chief D.T. Minich. Let's go out on a limb here and presume Downing, who grew up in St. Petersburg, gets this important job as chief of tourism marketing for Pinellas County. Pinellas tourism keeps rising thanks to clever advertising and state backing of the many "Come To Florida" messages playing up north this winter. Just remember: It's tricky becoming CEO of an organization already setting tourism records. What do you do for an encore?

15. Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire investor. It's hard to stress often enough the role of Gates' distant but formidable influence on the Tampa Bay economy. His willingness (through his Cascade Investment firm) to fund a significant portion of Jeff Vinik's 40-acre downtown Tampa redevelopment project is an influential marketing coup for the Tampa Bay area. Nor is it his only stake here. Via a $100 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Hillsborough public schools are revamping their teacher evaluation system. And in December, Pinellas public schools secured $560,000 from the Gates Foundation to train educators in a new "personalized learning" way of teaching. All of that amounts to a whole lot of Gates' commitment to the Tampa Bay area. People and businesses will notice.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8405. Follow @venturetampabay.

In 2015, watch these people in a rebounding Tampa Bay economy 01/02/15 [Last modified: Friday, January 2, 2015 11:35am]
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