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Money, lots of it, called key to bay area growth

Tampa Bay counties need to spend a lot more money on infrastructure _ roads, water supplies, telecommunication networks _ if they are going to compete with the rest of the nation as an economic region.

And local business and government leaders had better start finding ways to better manage what infrastructure the region has _ and fund what it needs _ real quick.

That was the crux of a presentation made Friday by a Washington consulting group to members of the Metropolitan Tampa Bay Capi-tal Initiative, a group of business, government and civic leaders from eight local counties. The group _ which has members from Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties _ is trying to find new ways to fund infrastructure improvements.

"You just don't go to Washington and say you need money" for infrastructure needs, said Payton Adams, a former president of GTE South and chairman of the group. "You have to have a detailed plan that says what your needs are, what you've done for yourself and, if there's a gap, what (more funding) can do to help."

That's where a Washington consulting group, the Urban Institute, comes in.

On Friday, board members of the Capital Initiative group agreed with the findings of a recently completed, $30,000 study by the Urban Institute into the region's infrastructure shortfalls. The study was financed by a private grant.

They also agreed to pursue more funding, at least $150,000 more, to pay a full-time staff person who will manage the Capital Initiative group and oversee a second study by the Urban Institute. The second study will be aimed at developing a regional infrastructure needs plan and finding sources of funding to implement it.

"We don't know how to set up a plan . . . and we don't know where the money is," Adams said. "They (the Urban Institute officials) do. That's their job. That's their specialty."

Adams said he plans to present possible funding alternatives to Capital Initiative board members by as early as next week. He said money could come from private companies or from local or federal grants.

If the board agrees to pursue the funding and gets it, Adams said he would like to hire a staff person for the group and start the second study by the Urban Institute within the next several months.