Make us your home page

They're hiring: Four Tampa Bay area companies expand in weak economy

Just when we started to see a little daylight in the economic clouds, the jobs picture darkened again as Florida reported losing 22,000 jobs between June and July.

Yet some companies are hiring, expanding robustly in the Tampa Bay market. How can this be? Are they big risk takers? Or just nuts?

I prefer to call them smart opportunists. They are businesspeople in the right place at the right time with the right product or service.

Consider four very different companies that recently announced plans to hire more people here. Two — Xcelience and Savtira Corp. — are entrepreneurial firms in Tampa. Combined, they are adding more than 300 above-average-wage jobs to our regional economy. Two others — health care service provider Humana and big bank JPMorgan Chase — are national giants in their industries. Together, they're adding at least 400 positions now, but in the past year they have hired more than 1,000. They say there's more to come.

In interviews, top executives at each of these companies offered fresh insights into why they want to grow now, despite such rough economic times and the threat of another downturn.

• • •

Xcelience CEO Derek Hennecke runs a small firm, founded in Tampa, that helps pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms accelerate their drug products from development stage to market. Hennecke's firm said it will add 45 jobs, including openings for chemists, that will more than double the firm's workforce. Why? Because small biotech firms that had cocooned themselves during the worst of the recession are now back trying to get more drug products to market. And they want this company's assistance.

On average, it takes a whopping $800 million to get a drug to market in a process than can take as long as 10 years. Big and small drug companies are turning to firms such as Xcelience because they can help compress the time and cost of getting a new drug from the development stage, once animal testing is over, straight through clinical trials with people.

"What's good about Tampa is that we have a very loyal labor force," Hennecke said. In this line of work, "it's important to have people who have worked together a long time."

To its client drug companies, then, Xcelience is a cost-cutting and productivity tool. That's important. We'll hear a similar theme with some other companies.

• • •

Mel Martinez, a former Florida U.S. senator, now waves the flag for JPMorgan Chase, where he serves as the megabank's chairman of Florida, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. The hiring surge in Florida, he said, reflects a simple strategy. Chase Bank was not very big in Florida and, along with its presence in California, the bank wants to build up its presence here quickly — even in this slow economy.

"At a time when other financial institutions are retrenching, it's a wonderful time to grow our business in Florida," Martinez said.

Since 2009, after Chase bought the branches of Washington Mutual, the institution has added 4,000 workers in the Sunshine State. It plans to add between 500 and 1,000 jobs annually over the next several years.

In the Tampa Bay area, Chase already employs 5,000. It announced plans to add 30 auto loan collectors to pursue bad debts but also hire another 180 to staff its expanding branch network. Martinez says this pace will continue for a while.

"We are not near our saturation point."

• • •

At health service provider Humana, Dr. Scott Latimer, Central Florida senior products market president, makes a convincing argument that hiring more people in Tampa Bay now can save his company money in the long run.

Humana has added about 900 jobs in Tampa Bay in the past year. This summer, it's been hiring at its Tampa telemarketing operation, as well as at its Humana Cares operation in St. Petersburg, where nurses and social workers work by telephone with Humana's most fragile seniors.

The idea, Latimer explains, is that if Humana can provide preventive steps to help its patients avoid pricey hospital stays, then the patients win by staying healthier. And Humana wins by avoiding expensive hospital costs.

Humana's adding 200 jobs to its national Medicare service and operations center at NetPark by the end of September. Humana Cares added more than 200 jobs this year. And the company's national telesales call center at NetPark recently completed hiring 150 employees for this fall's Medicare annual election period, which starts Oct. 7.

Why expand in Tampa? According to Latimer, Humana's telemarketing arm is able to find plenty of strong employee candidates with experience at other established telemarketing operations here, including JPMorgan Chase. On the St. Petersburg side, Humana's found a good supply of nurses and social workers, mostly from this market.

"Knock on wood, we hope to grow more here," Latimer said. For Humana, Tampa Bay is its No. 1 growth market when it comes to adding jobs.

• • •

Tim Roberts, CEO of "cloud commerce" firm Savtira Corp., is so busy he resembles an executive sipping water from a firehose. His business — getting retailers and other companies set up with e-commerce systems on Savtira computers to better handle customers online — is positively booming.

That's why Savtira said it will more than quadruple its staff by adding 265 mostly technology workers by the end of 2012. Average wages will top $80,000. That pace of growth will spur company executives to relocate to downtown Tampa from their current offices in Ybor City.

Disruption from digital change is coming fast.

"Almost every industry we see is being turned upside down," Roberts said. "It does not matter if you are a print publisher or retailer or a broadcast syndicate. All are being disrupted like nothing I have ever seen before. Companies are racing to reinvent their digital and commerce strategies."

• • •

Four businesses with aggressive hiring plans in rough times are surely bucking the norm. Their hiring numbers alone will not bring down the state's rising jobless rate. But there are some lessons here.

Companies such as Savtira or Xcelience that help business clients save money or improve their own quality of service can find themselves in big demand even in Florida's challenged economy. And national players such as Humana and JPMorgan Chase that have the financial muscle and longer-term strategies to hire now are aiming for bigger payoffs later.

They are part of a small but solid core of companies expanding right now in Tampa Bay. Perhaps they can inspire a few others to test the hiring waters.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at

A sample of who's adding jobs now

Savtira Corp., Tampa: Adding 265 jobs as the "cloud commerce" firm sees big demand for its "e-commerce" platforms.

Humana: Adding hundreds of jobs at its Tampa telemarketing site and its Humana Cares patient telephone service manned by nurses and social workers in St. Petersburg.

Xcelience, Tampa: Adding 45 jobs because the firm, which helps companies speed the pace of drug development to market, sees a "business rebound" by small biotech firms.

JPMorgan Chase: Adding more than 200 Tampa Bay jobs because it wants to rapidly build its modest presence in Florida and California by expanding its branch network.

Nielsen, Oldsmar: Adding about 300 jobs to its call center after relocating from Dunedin.

Ceridian, St. Petersburg: Adding more than 200 HR/payroll/benefit jobs over this year.

Macy's, Clearwater: Adding up to 400 call center jobs, but only for the holiday season.

Hilton hotel chain: Adding 50 reservations service jobs in a work-at-home program.

Source: Companies, area job fairs

They're hiring: Four Tampa Bay area companies expand in weak economy 08/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2011 9:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Former Sen. Greg Evers, advocate for law enforcement, dead at 62.

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Former State Sen. Greg Evers, the Baker Florida strawberry farmer and veteran politician, was killed in a single car crash hear his home in Okaloosa County. The Florida Highway Patrol confirmed the death late Tuesday, but deferred any further information pending an investigation. He was 62.

    Former Florida Senator Greg Evers, R- Milton, was a passionate advocate for law enforcement and corrections officers. He was found dead Tuesday afternoon in a car crash. He was 62. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. Foundation Partners buys Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home


    ST. PETERSBURG — Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, the Tampa Bay area's largest family-owned funeral company, has been sold.

    Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, the Tampa Bay area's largest family-owned funeral company, has been sold.
[CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  3. Water Street Tampa unveils video showing downtown's transformation


    TAMPA — Water Street Tampa, the sweeping, 50-plus acre redevelopment project in Tampa's urban core, has unveiled new images and video of what the downtown district will look like upon completion.

    Strategic Property Partners released a conceptual image of what the Tampa skyline will look like once its redevelopment of 50-plus acres of downtown will look like. [Photo courtesy of  of SPP]
  4. Florida ranks high for workplace equality between men and women

    Working Life

    When it comes to the workplace, Florida ranks fifth in terms of gender equality, a WalletHub study released Tuesday found.

    Florida ranks high in terms of equality between men and women in the workplace. Pictured is Sandra Murman, county commissioner in 2015, talking about the differences in pay between men and women. | [Times file photo]
  5. Treasury secretary's wife boasts of travel on government plane, touts high fashion


    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's wife, Louise Linton, boasted of flying on a government plane with her husband to Kentucky on Monday and then named the numerous fashion brands she wore on the trip in an unusual social media post that only became more bizarre minutes later.

    Steven Mnuchin and his then- financee Louise Linton watch as President Donald Trump speaks during Mnuchin's swearing-in ceremony as  treasury secretary in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 13. [Mandel Ngan | AFP via Getty Images]