The folks in charge of Tampa and Hillsborough County's tourism world might not be mad as hell, but they are plenty steamed. And they aren't going to take it anymore.
They are tired of all the salesmanship among the state's economic development elite who bellow the "old Florida" based on cheap living and low-wage tourism and agriculture jobs is passe and that the Sunshine State needs to diversify its economy into "21st century" industries and higher-paying employment.
Tourism begs to differ. It's still critical to Florida, so much so that without tourism revenue, Florida might have a state income tax.
What tourism really wants is a little more respect.
"The average wage in Hillsborough of people in hospitality is around $44,000 a year. So don't think we are an industry of just a bunch of lowlifes sneaking by," growls Paul Catoe, CEO of Tampa Bay & Co., the former Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"Tourism is here and has a lot of value," adds Maryann Ferenc. She chairs Tampa Bay & Co. this year but is better known as the owner of Tampa's Mise En Place restaurant and as a big supporter of independent area retailers.
Ferenc, Catoe and Tampa Bay & Co. marketing chief Dianne Jacob gathered at Mise En Place to protest what they see is an increased dissing of tourism by economic development peers and to explain why tourism should grow hand in hand with all those fancy industry clusters like biotech and nanotech that Florida so covets.
Where, they argue, would Florida and Tampa Bay be without all those tourists who pour into the state and pay a hefty share of the sales taxes used to fund state programs?
Where, they ask, would we be without all the visitors and conventioneers who stay in hotels and pay the "bed" taxes that help fund debt payments on Raymond James Stadium and the St. Pete Times Forum, and cover some of the upkeep on Tampa's downtown convention center, the zoo and the performing arts center?
As Ferenc astutely notes, it sure would be hard to recruit any significant business here if these cultural, entertainment and sports facilities were not around to make this place a competitively interesting place to live and work.
Besides, she says, tourism plays a critical baseline role by supplying a wide range of jobs to area residents who may not — or may not yet — have college or advanced degrees.
The bottom line? Don't label tourism as a second-class economic citizen just because Florida's trying to build more momentum for higher-end industries. There's room (if not subsidies) for both. Encouraging all industries to prosper just makes good common sense.
As if to prove their point, Tampa Bay & Co. and the reconfigured Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Council — the former Committee of One Hundred group once affiliated with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce — on Wednesday stated the two economic development groups will soon share the same office space. Yes, it is a cost savings for the two groups to "co-locate." But it also acknowledges they boast complementary mandates: To draw people and businesses here, whether it is for a Super Bowl, a World Cup or the next new nanotechnology thing.
I can respect that.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]