Tampa's well-being has a hand in fate of Hillsborough County

Far from Tampa City Hall and cultural miles from the hustle and bustle of downtown, I saw a yard sign for mayoral candidate Dick Greco.

It looked out of place, and not because Greco has an eye-catching five-digit hand on his sign. No, for a Tampa mayor sign — any sign — to be in front of a business on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Seffner initially strikes me as odd.

But it shouldn't.

More than ever, Hillsborough County residents who live outside the city limits should care about who will guide the county seat and the regional center of Tampa Bay.

However, I get the feeling some in unincorporated Hillsborough couldn't care less. It's as if they view Tampa as some kind of disconnected fiefdom surrounded by a moat.

Mistake.

It seems obvious that as Tampa goes, so goes the fortunes of the entire county and region. Sure, once upon a time we fretted about county tax dollars boosting city projects over needs in the outlying areas, but those concerns should be giving way to the fact that in this expanding global economy, city and county no longer can afford to be divided.

Heck, all of Tampa Bay needs to think as one.

Instead of having competing interests drive us apart, shared interests should pull us together. Many of us outside Tampa commute every day to the city. We may not live there, but we should want the place where we work to thrive.

Another reason we should care? As governments continue to shrink, it's quite likely Tampa and Hillsborough County will begin to consolidate services. Don't you want to know where the next mayor stands on that issue?

Or what will the next mayor do about the regional issue of light rail? Although the initiative failed last November, it's not going away.

Opposition to the proposal stood on antitax sentiments or the belief it's not needed.

But some opponents also suggested it only benefited Tampa, as if helping the city would be tantamount to the Rays helping the Yankees.

Seemingly lost in that argument was this statistic: For every $1 invested in light rail, cities have realized an economic development return of at least $4.

To think such a return wouldn't benefit the entire county is folly.

The mayor also could play a role in bringing economic development to the county, even if it's just as a cheerleader.

For example, Raymond James Financial wants to expand its St. Petersburg-based operation and is considering Hillsborough. Another possibility on the horizon? Jackson Laboratory, in a new partnership with the University of South Florida, will choose a site between Hillsborough and Sarasota for a new biomedical research center.

If either company chooses, for example, Ruskin or Lutz, that's a win for the county and an indirect win for the city. And it would make sense for the Tampa mayor to be part of the sales team even if the location would be in unincorporated Hillsborough.

If you recall, it was Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio who made the winning pitch when Tampa Bay successfully persuaded NFL owners to bring the 2009 Super Bowl to town.

In the end, county residents should care about who's going to be in the room during such important meetings.

We should care about who will be one of the leaders influencing policy that impacts the entire county, and we should know the candidates in contention.

Even if we can't vote, we might even consider taking steps to influence the outcome if we're so inclined. Early voting starts Saturday, and you don't have to live in Tampa to wave a sign or make a campaign contribution.

That's all I'm saying.

Tampa's well-being has a hand in fate of Hillsborough County 02/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 17, 2011 3:30am]

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