Never underestimate the momentum promised by the two new co-chairs of Emerge Tampa, the business group that offers young people from 21 to 35 access to career networking, a better understanding of the Tampa area they live in and the ability to influence public policy.
At the tender business age of 23, an enthusiastic Carissa Caricato not only is director of marketing and communications at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay but already has earned the stripes to co-lead Emerge Tampa. Joining her is Ryan Freking, 33, who, at Tampa's Studley Inc., represents tenants in commercial real estate deals.
They have plans that range from refreshing the 6-year-old Emerge Tampa brand to rebuilding membership that's suffered a bit (it's down to between 300 and 350 members) in an admittedly tough economy. They also want to work on getting out the young vote in a November election that happens to deal with growth management issues and a penny tax toward Hillsborough County's goal of a light rail transportation system.
Caricato graduated from the University of South Florida in 2008, while Freking relocated to Tampa from Chicago in 2001. Now the two want to build the group larger and stronger but insist they are looking for "quality, not quantity."
Here are excerpts of their conversation, over calamari, sauteed fish and the Columbia Restaurant's famous "1905" salad.
You're coming off a weekend of strategy meetings for Emerge Tampa. What's up?
Caricato: Emerge has had a lot of planning meetings about events, and we are reducing that to be mindful of people's time. There used to be meetings for every segment. (Emerge is built on four segments, down from five: Voice, Connect, Grow and Interact. See box, at right.) So we're moving from seven nights to one night a month. We've gotten good feedback on that.
Freking: We also want to make sure our programming is attractive to people 21 through 35, hitting on things for people right out of college to people who are more tenured and might be managing people. It is a challenge, and we are discussing ways to achieve this.
Has Emerge always been a "get out the vote" kind of group?
Caricato: I don't think so. But if we are going to get people engaged here and effective in Tampa Bay, they have to know what is going on and coming up on the horizon. There are a lot of decisions being made now that will affect us 20 and 30 years down the road.
You mean like a transportation tax for a light-rail system?
Caricato: We have a "Stroll and Roll" event coming up for members to take public transportation and listen to folks at TBARTA (Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority) and HART (Hillsborough Area Transportation Authority) to get everybody's side of the transportation story. Emerge is about getting information to our people.
You mentioned plans to rebrand Emerge Tampa. What's that all about?
Caricato: We're asking lots of questions. What is our mission? Our goal? Our values? What does Emerge mean to members and the community and why is that important? A lot of this we know in our heads but want to communicate it to the community. It will be reflected in our programs and our Web site (www.emerge tampa.com), and on Facebook and LinkedIn social networks, too. We'll unveil it at Emerge Tampa's seventh anniversary party on May 13.
In recent years, I had the sense Emerge Tampa was getting heavy on socializing and less on public involvement. Given this recession, it sounds like things are getting more serious. True?
Caricato: We have a lot of people who need to sell Emerge Tampa to their employers so they understand why an employee is leaving early one day or arriving late another. Emerge is an organization that contributes to you as an individual and to the community. There will be a stronger focus on networking and development and an emphasis on what will help make this community grow.
Freking: We want to build cohesiveness. We want people to come to more than social events.
All this sounds very ambitious. This must be a huge time commitment to both of you?
Caricato: It won't be as busy once we get all the other chairs of the segments in place.
Freking: (laughs) I'm finding I am much better organized.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]