Friday, September 21, 2018
Business

Why did Google Fiber pick Tampa? Credit the area's emerging tech and startup scenes

No question, Tampa getting picked as a likely city (and perhaps metro area) for Google to bring its super high-speed Internet service is terrific news. Google Fiber will bring a massive boost to the quality of Internet access here, competitively push down prices for both Internet and TV services in the market and send a message to the soon-to-arrive Charter Communications and Frontier Communications cable TV companies about to take over Verizon and Bright House Networks services that they will need to raise their game from day one.

But behind the Google Fiber coming-to-town announcement is a no less important event. Why did Google choose Tampa to be among the early wave of U.S. cities to be considered for ultra-high-speed Internet service?

Two big reasons. The city's gaining a reputation — beyond its own borders — as both an area of rising technology significance and for encouraging entrepreneurs to pursue their innovative start-ups.

Don't take my word. Consider the Wall Street Journal's headline in its story Wednesday covering Alphabet, which is the actual name of the Google company these days, and its latest expansion plan: Alphabet Considers Sending Google Fiber to Cities with Tech Cred.

Tech credibility. That's a global headline and Good Housekeeping seal that should prompt shouts and high fives in the hallways of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, which has set a goal of raising the profile of this metro area as an emerging tech hub. Well, Google seems to be paying attention.

This is no less a powerful Google endorsement of Tampa Bay's vigorous efforts in recent years to build an infrastructure for entrepreneurs to encourage quality start-ups that can help boost the economy with jobs and foster more innovative thinking.

Here's how Jill Szuchmacher, director of Google Fiber Expansion, tells it in her own Google blog posting on Wednesday. "From start-up-villages to hackathons, communities are coming together to accomplish great things with gigabit speeds. Still, less than 10 percent of homes in the U.S. are connected to Internet served over fiber-optic networks. As more cities have access to superfast fiber networks, entrepreneurs will be better equipped to drive the next wave of innovation.

"That's why today, we're inviting Oklahoma City, OK, Jacksonville, FL and Tampa, FL, to explore bringing Google Fiber to their communities, as we did last month with three other cities. These growing tech hubs have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to small business growth. Their list of accolades is long — from Jacksonville's title as a top 10 city for tech jobs, to Tampa Bay's #2 spot on the list of best cities for young entrepreneurs, to Oklahoma City's recognition as the #1 city to launch a business," Szuchmacher writes.

Obviously, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn gets this in his role as the city's relentless promoter. On Wednesday he said Google Fiber would give business in the city an edge enjoyed by just a small handful of American cities. "If we're going to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem here, we've got to have the ability to move data," he said. "And our ability to move data gives us a competitive advantage."

Google's not the only important player this week to publicly recognize the significance of growing entrepreneurial activity here. At the annual meeting Tuesday evening of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. — an economic development group traditionally focused on recruiting bigger companies to this area — incoming EDC chair Colleen Chappell broke new ground by saying the EDC would start reaching out to the area start-up community to encourage more entrepreneurship. Chappell, an entrepreneur and head of her own marketing firm in Ybor City, argued forcefully that making this area more attractive to millennials and others motivated to start innovative businesses makes good economic development sense.

So thanks, Google Fiber, for recognizing Tampa's technology and entrepreneurial ambitions and for picking this area as a contender to join the 15 other cities that are already Google Fiber cities or in the pipeline to become so. This should be considered a win-win for the area that goes well beyond the eventual delivery of superfast Internet access.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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