In fiscal-cliff-dominated 2013, 10 businesspeople to watch

If the fiscal cliff does not toss us too far down the mountain … if we avoid another recession … then keep a close eye on these 10 businesspeople in 2013 and how they will influence the future of the Tampa Bay area and Florida.

10 Gray Swoope

Few public officials would be happier to see Florida's unemployment rate continue its rapid fall into 2013. Swoope's mission, as Florida's secretary of commerce and CEO of Enterprise Florida, is to generate jobs for work-hungry Floridians. (Of course, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, with his political eye on a second term, also would be delighted.)

An additional 1.5 percent drop in the coming year would put the state's jobless rate around 6.5 percent. But is 6.5 percent likely in the Sunshine State? Not in 2013. It's easier to drop the unemployment rate when it's so high; it started 2012 at 9.6 percent. But it gets tougher when it approaches the more normal range of 7 percent or lower. As readers well know, the formal unemployment rate masks the swaths of people who stopped looking for work or took lower-paying jobs by necessity. That is Swoope's hurdle: flat household wages. Still, let's not rain on this parade too much. A dropping unemployment rate will boost Floridians' confidence. And that is the way to build economic momentum in 2013.

9 Rick Baker

He never looms far from Tampa Bay's radar, and his latest move just might push him back on the A list of movers and shakers around here. The two-term mayor of St. Petersburg from 2001 to 2010, looking for a place to land and flex his dealmaking skills, took a new "innovation partnerships" job at the University of South Florida paying $250,000. But Baker chafed at his USF post, away from the mayoral spotlight and limited in staff to an administrative assistant instead of a stable of powerful minions.

Baker helped USF build some joint venture ties with the Pensacola-based Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition. And he was front and center in recruiting New York's cancer-fighting research firm IRX Therapeutics to this area.

But those deals were done in 2011, while 2012 has been quiet. And IRX? It still has not relocated here.

Now comes Baker's new job, this month becoming president of the Edwards Group. That's Bill Edwards, the money-man-about-town who's busy doing everything from revamping the BayWalk retail center to running the Mahaffey Theater and managing the Club at Treasure Island. This may be more to Baker's liking, assuming Edwards' thirst for expansive deals remains undiminished.

8 Linda Olson

In 2013, the FirstWaVE Venture Center opens for business as an innovation and incubation center in the cylindrical "Beer Can" office tower in downtown Tampa. Powered by a $1 million "i6 Challenge" grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, plus matching local funds, the center will offer collaborative work space as a hub for business startups and entrepreneurial support for an eight-county region. The ambitious project is the work of many, but Olson — founder and executive director of the startup organization Tampa Bay WaVE — was key in making this center a reality. Right there with Olson are two other women: Heather Kenyon, who heads the Tampa Bay Technology Forum (which will relocate to the center), and Tracey Swartz, assistant director for USF CONNECT's Tampa Bay Technology Incubator.

Will FirstWaVE Venture Center succeed? This will be no easy task, though the Tampa Bay region's "entrepreneurial ecosystem" would be smart to rally around this effort. The startup infrastructure for Tampa Bay has shown periodic if scattered promise. But nothing yet boasts regional clout.

7 Paul Anderson

He's taking charge of one of Tampa Bay's biggest and most critical business engines: the Tampa Port Authority. After the exit of port chief Richard Wainio, former Jacksonville port executive Anderson comes aboard to exert his own can-do style. He will remain the highest-paid port director in Florida. And what will Tampa Bay get for that? The top priority for the politically connected Anderson is to grow Tampa's fledgling cargo container business.

6 Mark Mondello

Can't say I envy the incoming CEO of St. Petersburg-based global electronics manufacturer Jabil Circuit. He succeeds longtime CEO Tim Main, who not only propelled Jabil revenues toward the hefty $20 billion-a-year mark, but evolved Jabil from a competent electronics maker for brand names like Apple and RIM into a sophisticated designer. Jabil also pushed into health care and solar tech.

So how will Mondello maintain Jabil's fast-lane business, a complex, global operation that employs more than 100,000 and whose biggest expansions recently ranged from China and Vietnam to Mexico?

5 Michelle Rehwinkel

Vasilinda

Is this state representative prepared for a true David-versus-Goliath battle? Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, wants to repeal the advance fees collected from Florida customers by Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light to fund the building of new nuclear power plants in the state. Her argument? The advance fee is nothing but an unfair tax. And the state has no business picking winners and losers by forcing Floridians to subsidize the building of nuclear plants. Vasilinda deserves a groundswell of consumer support — if only such a grass roots movement could ever occur in this state.

4 Jeff Vinik

No regional "people to watch" list for 2013 should exclude the Tampa Bay Lightning owner. Yes, Vinik is busy spinning his wheels as a team owner trying to get the NHL season back on the ice. But Vinik's role as strategist and investor in assembling real estate for development in Channelside also interests us this coming year. He seems stymied for now in his effort to acquire the Channelside Bay Plaza retail complex adjacent to Tampa's cruise ship dock. Does the future of Channelside, so critical to downtown Tampa's future, really depend on distant developer Ben Ashkenazy of Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. and his option to match any offer for Channelside? Or can Vinik find a way to make his redevelopment plan come to fruition?

3 Alex Glenn

Newly anointed president of Duke Energy-owned Progress Energy Florida in St. Petersburg, Glenn must watch two predecessors step down from jobs at his company. Vincent Dolan and Jeff Lyash, both former heads of Progress Energy in the Sunshine State, are leaving the company. Now Glenn must make nice with the Tampa Bay economic development community. But he also serves as Duke's local face just as the tough-acting utility decides what to do with its long-broken nuclear power plant in Crystal River.

2 David Miller

Any real estate company that buys and manages single-family rental homes these days is a risk taker. But any company in this economy that then goes public in an initial public offering must have titanium nerves. Led by CEO David Miller, a former U.S. Treasury Department official and Goldman Sachs executive, Silver Bay Realty Trust Corp. went public this month, raising $245 million. Why do we care? Because Minnesota-based Silver Bay uses those funds to support a portfolio of nearly 3,000 single-family properties in Florida and six other states. Of those properties, more than 600 are in the Tampa Bay area purchased for a total of $79.2 million at an average price of $126,000. That's somebody betting on this housing market.

1 Alex Sink

First and foremost, our sincere condolences to Sink and family on last week's sudden passing of husband Bill McBride. It's premature to say whether McBride's absence influences Sink's political thinking. But it is in 2013 when Democrat Sink, who lost a close Florida governor's race in 2010 to richly funded Republican Rick Scott, may decide to try again for the state's top political job. Sink has deep Tampa Bay ties as a longtimeongtime resident who built a lengthy banking career here before serving as Florida's chief financial officer in Tallahassee. Lately, Sink has worked with Hyde Park Capital in Tampa while trying to make her Florida Next Foundation in Tampa a viable political platform of ideas. The next campaign may be coming fast.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

In fiscal-cliff-dominated 2013, 10 businesspeople to watch 12/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 3:30am]

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