What two things do 7-Eleven, Jiffy Lube, Sweetbay Supermarket, Blinds To Go, Jenny Craig Weight Loss Centers, PCL Civil Contractors and the owner of Legoland have in common?
Answer: All of them have operations in the bay area and all of them are owned by a foreign company.
Nearly 500 foreign-owned companies employing 41,500 people are operating in the Tampa Bay area, with firms from the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Japan dominating the list, according to a study released Tuesday.
The report from the Tampa Bay Partnership identified 480 foreign-owned companies from 41 nations within the eight-county bay area. That's up from 394 companies representing 34 countries identified in a similar study conducted in 2009.
Dave Sobush, who led the partnership survey, discouraged making too many direct comparisons between the two reports. He said the 22 percent increase in foreign companies may be due both to improved methodology and increased foreign participation.
Major international firms active here include Bankers Financial, Nielsen, Sweetbay, Firmenich, Gerdau, BIC Graphics and CAE USA Inc. Among the newcomers: Legoland operator Merlin Entertainments.
All told, the 480 foreign-owned companies here have 1,821 locations in the region.
Sobush acknowledged he was surprised by some of the findings.
"I was a little dismayed to learn that John Hancock (Life Insurance Co.) is owned by a foreign firm (based in Canada)," he said.
Stuart Rogel, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, said the study shows how adept the region is at attracting significant and varied investments from around the globe.
"These companies employ thousands of residents and contribute greatly to the economic vitality of our communities," he said.
Rogel downplayed any negatives associated with owners who are not based in the United States, let alone Tampa Bay.
Asked if foreign-owned firms may be less likely to be vested in the community and employees here for the long term, Rogel cited several foreign firms that have been very engaged here, such as Nielsen, Sweetbay and Gerdau.
"Whether (community involvement of foreign firms) is more or less than domestic firms, I really can't speak to," he said.
Tampa International Airport CEO Joseph Lopano said the survey gives him more ammunition to lobby for international flights to locations like Germany. Plus it further justifies recently announced flights to Switzerland (which has 36 companies operating here).
"It's really important for us to be aggressive (seeking business) whether through the Tampa Bay Partnership or Tampa International Airport," Lopano said. "We will never grow out of this malaise unless we get aggressive and smart with what we're doing."
In a survey of 50 of the foreign companies, about half said they are in the bay area because they bought a company based here already.
Executives who were polled cited several advantages to locating in the region, including weather, a large consumer market, easy distribution of products and services, a centralized location, favorable cost of doing business, and the port and airport.
The partnership plans to incorporate survey results into its regional business plan, an ongoing effort to identify and act on the most promising growth opportunities in the area.
"Our ability to reset our economic conditions relies on our actions to expand the types of investments made into our region from these types of companies," Rogel said.