The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation is changing its name. It will still serve Tampa and Hillsborough. But it is adding “Tampa Bay” to become the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council.
The move has upset some of its economic development counterparts around the area. They wonder why the group wants to sound like it represents the whole region when it doesn’t. They call the name change deceptive, disingenuous, a step backward, a power play disguised as regional cooperation.
“This isn’t the right way to do things,” said Mike Meidel, Pinellas County economic development director. “Businesses looking to relocate will think they are getting Tampa Bay when they are only getting Hillsborough County.”
Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said he was disappointed that the Hillsborough group didn’t consult the other development corporations in the region. He also didn’t like that he had to hear it from the Tampa Bay Times, which found a copy of the name change documents in state records.
“My eyebrow is raised,” he said. “I don't think that any one of us should claim ownership of that name because none of us represent the whole area.”
Tampa Bay is a great brand, Cronin said, and he understood why a group would want to capitalize on it. The region is getting national and international recognition as a place to live and do business.
“But this clearly adds confusion into the market,” he said.
All of our local counties — and some cities — have an economic development organization. They market their area, advocate for businesses, and help companies that want to relocate to the area. Some are funded by tax dollars; others have private investors, or a combination of both.
They compete for leads on businesses that want to move to the area or open more locations. Other times, they team up to promote global trade to the region or to land a big deal. When Amazon was looking for a city to build a second headquarters, several local development agencies collaborated on what was ultimately an unsuccessful pitch.
Craig Richard, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, defended the change, saying the new name would help “provide and develop more compelling campaigns to businesses outside the market.”
Most outsiders think of the area as one place, at least at first, he said. They don’t know the county names. That comes later, so starting with a more all-encompassing name makes sense, he said.
The development corporation will still focus on Tampa and Hillsborough, Richard said.
“I’m not sure why anybody would think that we’re trying to elbow anyone out,” he said. “We’ve proven ourselves to be a really good regional partner.”
Richard didn’t think the name would cause confusion. He pointed to several other Hillsborough organizations that have changed their name to include Tampa Bay, including Film Tampa Bay, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and Visit Tampa Bay, which promotes tourism. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is in the process of changing its name to the Tampa Bay Chamber.
“We’re just joining a family of brands,” he said.
But most of the information and marketing on those sites focus on Tampa or Hillsborough. For instance, Visit Tampa Bay has a campaign called “Make it Tampa Bay." The examples of cool places to live and play are in Hillsborough County. So are the entrepreneurs and business owners featured on the site.
Tampa is the region’s largest city and the main jobs center. Hillsborough is by far the largest county with 1.4 million residents, about the same as Pinellas and Pasco combined. And Hillsborough is expected to grow quickly in the next decade.
In some circles, the name changes are seen as a power grab, the bigger players stamping their footprint on a region that has struggled for decades to get along. The critics see this as doubling down on division, which could push everyone back into their silos, just as they were starting to play nice.
They also wonder whether the name change will undermine the efforts of organizations that genuinely represent the whole region like the Tampa Bay Partnership, a business-supported group that focuses on big issues like transportation and building a skilled workforce.
The partnership’s chairman, David Pizzo, said in a statement that this is an opportunity for community leaders to have a “meaningful conversation about what a regional approach could look like.”
“A regional brand suggests a regional approach — one that encompasses more than a single county — and if we’re going to say it, we need to do it,” said Pizzo, the West Florida president of Florida Blue. “We hope that this is a step in that direction.”
The Tampa Bay moniker is what economic development groups from the region have used to pitch area-wide projects. Now that one group has taken it, Meidel said it will be harder to find a label to rally around. If they still use “Tampa Bay” for regional projects, the business leads and web traffic will flow mostly to the Hillsborough group, he said.
“The name change will undermine the powerful Tampa Bay brand that we have developed over the last 25 years,” he said. “I don’t see how that helps any of us.”
Meidel also worried that out-of-towners will come to the “Tampa Bay” site thinking they are getting a look at the entire region, when they are really being sold on just Tampa and Hillsborough. If they don’t find what they are looking for, they could quickly move on to the next metro area, not knowing to contact the economic development groups in Pinellas or Pasco.
“They might say, ‘There’s nothing here for me,’ when what they need is next door in another county,” he said.
Both Meidel and Cronin said their organizations have enjoyed a good relationship with the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. They trade information and try to help each other out. They both hope that the cooperation will continue.
“This is a distraction that doesn’t need to be there,” Meidel said. “It doesn’t serve a useful purpose, unless they really are trying to dominate.”