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Lack of diversity on Hillsborough's Economic Stimulus Task Force noticed

TAMPA — The people behind a Hillsborough County task force whose charge is to spur the economy have emphasized a need for creative thinking.

But they weren't so creative in deciding the membership of the Economic Stimulus Task Force.

Not a single woman is serving with the group impaneled by Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan. The lone African-American member hasn't shown up to either of its first two meetings and is now saying he won't be able to serve.

Nor are there any small business representatives on the task force, even though its goal is to spur job creation.

This hasn't gone unnoticed among people who have shown up for the meetings to watch. The result, some of them say, is an exercise that seems stuck in the past, focused mostly on luring companies with high-paying jobs from other communities.

"Some of those things were hip and happening in the 1970s, along with disco," said Ken Evans, who does consulting work in emerging technologies. "It's like nothing has really changed in the last three decades."

The 13-member panel largely includes representatives of large companies, as well as the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and University of South Florida. Its chairman — Bob Abberger, an executive with the Trammel Crow development company — said efforts were made and continue to be made to create a diverse panel.

"There were a lot of people we contacted who couldn't show up for the meetings," Abberger said. "We tried very hard and are still trying."

The first meeting of the task force focused on setting goals over the next 90 days on how to prepare recommendations to spark the local economy.

Task force member Bill Dalton, chief executive for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, suggested Hillsborough team up rather than try to compete with other Florida communities to attract business. He also has emphasized looking at federal stimulus legislation to see if it favors some industries as the group decides what sorts of businesses to go after.

But much of the dialogue through two sessions has been familiar territory.

Friday's meeting was dominated by county economic development director Gene Gray, who described financial incentive programs available for luring companies. In making the presentation, Gray said the county has been most successful with the state Qualified Target Industry program, which rebates tax dollars mainly to companies that create 100 jobs or more.

Elizabeth Belcher, a resident who attended the meeting, said the group should be looking for ways to promote small, homegrown businesses if they want to create jobs. Otherwise, the county is simply seeking to take jobs from other places.

"This is not job creation," she said. "It's moving the chess pieces around."

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Lack of diversity on Hillsborough's Economic Stimulus Task Force noticed 03/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2009 11:07pm]
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