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New group markets South Shore's assets to bring jobs

RUSKIN — When the county's Economic Stimulus Task Force came out with its report in June detailing what could be done to add jobs and increase development, the art on the cover gave Fred Jacobsen pause.

The caricature of Hillsborough County seemed to end at the Alafia River, he thought, and the South Shore region didn't appear to exist.

To Jacobsen, the former president of the Ruskin Community Development Foundation, that hinted at a greater problem: South Shore needs to market itself, he said.

Last month, Jacobsen and Riverview demographics expert Jim Hosler started the South Hillsborough Economic Development Council to market the region to developers and businesses.

"There's a lot of infill that can happen down here, and the biggest, glaring example of us not being found is the South Shore Corporate Park," he said.

The corporate park, on 30th Street SE, between 19th Avenue NE and College Avenue, will offer millions of square feet of industrial and office space. Spots are available now, but few businesses are biting.

That might be largely because of the economy, Jacobsen said, but he also blames the lack of marketing.

"Brandon and Tampa and points north have pretty good organizations that market outside the area, but looking down here, it doesn't seem like much of it's coming this way," he said.

Jacobsen hopes local businesses and chambers of commerce will join the council. It will be member-funded, and the $50 fee will cover a Web site and fliers that tout the region's benefits.

Melanie Morrison, executive director of the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce, said she doesn't know if the chamber will join. That decision is up to the board, which will probably discuss the council at its November meeting.

She said the chamber has begun work on a similar goal. It formed an economic development team this year that has been meeting with county commissioners.

"We want people to know that we are for smart economic development," she said.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, whose district covers most of the southern part of the county, said the county's economic development department already works to lure businesses south. Another group could only help, he said.

"The more people who are sharing the good news of Hills­borough County, the more it helps in building our success," he said.

One of the South Shore region's draws is its natural spaces. Mangroves and protected land line the coast, and much of its interior is rural. Local environmentalists historically have been opposed to large developments in the region. They fought the Resort & Club at Little Harbor, in Ruskin, and now some oppose a planned 2.6 million-square-foot warehouse off U.S. 41 in Sun City.

Jacobsen said it is possible to bring high-wage jobs to the area without disrupting the environment.

"There's two extremes: Build nothing down here or tear everything up," he said. "Somewhere in the middle, there's a way of preserving the environment, preserving the way of life down here and creating pockets of employment."

For now, the council is part of Hosler's business, Demographic Decision Dynamics, which he started in 2008 to provide demographic research.

Hosler said one of the council's aims is to draw agriculture and ecotourism.

"We aren't out to change anybody's lifestyle," he said. "We're just trying to bring some jobs out to southern Hillsborough County."

Hosler said he hopes to add more information to the Web site and start actively marketing in early 2010.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

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New group markets South Shore's assets to bring jobs 11/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 12, 2009 3:30am]
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