Boston-born Rick Homans lived half his life in New Mexico, working as a city magazine and business journal reporter, editor and publisher, before ex-Gov. Bill Richardson tapped him to join his state cabinet. ¶ Homans, 56, started as secretary of economic development, then switched hats to secretary of taxation and revenue. In July 2010, Homans resigned to be executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. ¶ Among his successes was recruiting Virgin Galactic, owned by Sir Richard Branson, to the $200 million Spaceport America, a commercial space travel facility being built in the southern New Mexico desert. ¶ In January, the head headhunter himself was recruited to be chief executive of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. Seven months into the job, it's showtime. He has a captive audience this week as the eyes of the world focus on Tampa's assets during the Republican National Convention (and a storm named Isaac). Tampa Bay Times reporter Amy Scherzer caught up with Homans to ask about his sales pitch to corporate America, his friend Sir Richard and biking around the bay area.
Albuquerque is hot and dry; Tampa is hot and wet. How are you and your wife, Jan, acclimating to our weather?
We were ready to throw everything up against the wall and have a very different kind of adventure and this fits that objective. You look around the country and there are a lot of places that are a lot hotter than Tampa. If this is the worst part of the year, I'm thrilled.
Everyone said from Day One, you won't be able to stand August, and I have found August to be very enjoyable. I love the drama of the weather, and I'm very impressed with the meteorologists here. I have new vocabulary . . . flood zones, sinkhole insurance.
How has attending the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston shaped your expectations for what you might accomplish at the RNC?
What I saw at the DNC is that the heavy hitters, CEOs and corporate titans come with a very focused mission of meetings and events with political figures. They make a fairly quick entrance and exit. The bigger picture, the most important part, is the hundreds of millions of people watching and reading about Tampa (this) week. I want to work alongside the media with interesting and accurate stories to portray to the world as positive an image of Tampa Bay as can be.
We've worked to define and project the area, and the word is authentic. In its culture, its genuinely hospitable people, its cooperative attitude. The power structure here is horizontal. You can get to know the players very easily. I've never been in a community so friendly, with a mix of cultures without regular conflict. New Mexico is a place where if you weren't fifth generation, you were not entitled to have a say in the activities. I think that's a huge selling point when we're talking to people about moving here.
Sometimes I think the natives are far more critical than the outside world. I am always stunned by the beauty of this community. Clearly there are places you won't call beautiful, but we have some centers of activity that rank right up there, like Curtis Hixon Park with the bridges and the minarets all lit up.
You've been a candidate yourself, running for mayor of Albuquerque in 2001. Did you enjoy campaigning, selling your own qualities — rather than the city's?
I loved it, and my family loved engaging with so many different people every day trying to fill a very vital role in the future of the community.
I participated in close to 60 debates, and the first one was a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender group and I was petrified. The questions that came at me were pretty bizarre and I did my best. It all got easier from that point forward.
It (the election) wasn't close at all. I came in fifth out of seven, thankfully not last.
You worked closely with billionaire visionary Sir Richard Branson. Have you invited him to visit Tampa? Is he as cool as we've heard?
It would be great to hopefully find a reason to have him come to Tampa Bay. We communicate periodically and I follow his company closely. A big part of my life was spent on the ground floor of that industry. Working with his team was one of the greatest opportunities of my lifetime. The brilliance of his senior managers, the disciplined yet entrepreneurial and spontaneous spirit, was a great learning experience for me.
Tampa's recent marketing and development hires include yourself, Kelly Miller at Tampa Bay & Co., Joe Lopano at Tampa International Airport, and the search is on for a new Port Authority leader. What are you seeing in your crystal ball?
I'm excited about that. Kelly Miller and I started the same week. We hit it off and became great buddies. He's gotten me bike riding about 30 miles now. I don't think I could go 31. And I've really been challenged by Joe's high energy and big vision.
This week, with all the temporary structures, we'll get a glimpse of downtown on steroids. We'll see where we want to be in terms of vibrancy and energy. It's a clean, attractive slate, ready to come to life, not destitute or crumbling like so many American cities.
I see a really solid core. Everything has been done in a very classy, creative way. Tampa's very much at a tipping point.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.