Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are taking another positive step by collaborating to attract new trade to the region. By working as partners and not as competitors, the two counties bring a host of assets to the table to present a more attractive pitch to foreign investors. This regional approach should help job-development efforts and inspire area leaders to tackle even bigger challenges together.
The two counties announced Friday they have formed the Tampa Bay Export Alliance to take the lead on international trade missions. The move brings together the top economic development agencies from each county, and it gives a boost to Pinellas, which has been underrepresented in recent years as Hillsborough officials have dominated the exchanges.
Combining forces will present a much more robust picture of the bay area to the international community. Having business and political leaders from both sides of the bay represented on trade missions will make for a more efficient use of local marketing dollars, and it will give overseas presentations more depth by providing a broad perspective of life in Tampa Bay. The arrangement more aptly reflects what is happening on the ground, as the two counties push across a wide front to collaborate on everything from tourism to the management of the region's water supply. And the alliance will provide a foundation for the two counties to work together in other ways as the region assesses what it takes to seal development deals.
Most immediately, officials hope to increase the sale of local goods and services internationally. According to the Tampa Bay Partnership, the regional development group, exports in 2012 accounted for 8 percent of the area's economic output; by reaching the national average of 12 percent, the bay area could add $8 billion and up to 40,000 jobs to the local economy.
This is a focused effort with real potential for payback, and one with spin-off impacts that could bring benefits for years. The first joint trade mission, to Chile, is scheduled in December, with a trip to Canada expected next year.
Beyond burying old rivalries, this partnership could build confidence as the region undertakes larger initiatives, from addressing transportation to diversifying the workforce. The leaders of the region's 10 biggest public companies say employers would have trouble attracting top talent unless the region invests more in mass transit and better roads. The new strategy on trade is the latest example of how area leaders are pursuing a shared vision for the future.