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21 predictions for 2021 from Tampa Bay’s business and community leaders

We asked experts what’ll happen in the next 12 months in the economy, medicine, education, entertainment and more.
Change is coming to Tampa Bay in 2021, as evidenced by this view of the Water Street Tampa development beyond Amalie Arena, as seen from the Presidential Suite terrace balcony of the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street on Dec. 18, 2020.
Change is coming to Tampa Bay in 2021, as evidenced by this view of the Water Street Tampa development beyond Amalie Arena, as seen from the Presidential Suite terrace balcony of the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street on Dec. 18, 2020. [ JAY CRIDLIN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jan. 4

Even with 20/20 vision, you couldn’t have predicted 2020. No one could have. It was the year of the coronavirus pandemic, great racial unrest, an unprecedented election and so much more. What lessons can we pull from the year that just happened? Well, that depends on whom you’re asking. We wanted to know what Tampa Bay’s business and community leaders predict will happen next year, based on the unpredictable year we just had. Here are 21 of their predictions for 2021.

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Luis Viera
Luis Viera

Luis Viera, Tampa City Council: “Maybe it’s more of a hope than a prediction, but I predict that the majority of Americans who want our national leaders to work together in a bipartisan fashion on core common ground issues will actually be listened to, if only for this year. And this will trickle down to state and local government.”

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Eileen Rodriguez is regional director of the Florida SBDC (Small Business Development Center) at the University of South Florida.
Eileen Rodriguez is regional director of the Florida SBDC (Small Business Development Center) at the University of South Florida. [ Florida SBDC ]

Eileen Rodriguez, regional director, Florida SBDC (Small Business Development Center) at the University of South Florida: “Small businesses have been hit very hard in 2020 and I believe their recovery will take longer than expected. The rate of their recovery will depend on how fast the population bounces back from the current COVID-19 spike. While some small businesses will start turning the corner fairly quickly, most will need additional time to replace lost revenues and personnel and rebuild their companies.”

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Gypsy Gallardo is CEO of St. Petersburg’s One Community Plan.
Gypsy Gallardo is CEO of St. Petersburg’s One Community Plan. [ Courtesy of Gypsy Gallardo ]

Gypsy Gallardo, CEO, St. Petersburg’s One Community Plan: “At the start of the year, we saw an undeniable growth trend for businesses owned by people of color in Florida. But like other states with large Black and Latino populations, we saw COVID take a devastating toll, particularly for business-to-consumer enterprises. I predict a resurgence of momentum in 2021, driven in part by the response to the global protest movement of 2020, and in part by the grit and resilience of businesses finding their new normal.”

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Will Weatherford is former speaker of the Florida House and managing partner of Weatherford Capital.
Will Weatherford is former speaker of the Florida House and managing partner of Weatherford Capital. [ Jeremy Scott ]

Will Weatherford, managing partner, Weatherford Capital; former speaker of the Florida House: “As I look out into 2021, I strongly believe that the meta trend of people moving from the Midwest and Northeast to Tampa Bay will continue to accelerate. In that light, I anticipate more distributed workforce-based companies and their employees making Tampa Bay their home. COVID has accelerated this trend, and I believe it will continue for years to come.”

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Susan Crockett is the president and CEO of Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Susan Crockett is the president and CEO of Ruth Eckerd Hall. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]

Susan Crockett, president and CEO, Ruth Eckerd Hall: “For the arts, I see a steady return of our audiences as comfort level grows. There will be an appreciation for gathering as a community for live performance that hasn’t been seen since before the digital age.”

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Mike DiBlasi is managing director with commercial real estate services firm CBRE in Tampa.
Mike DiBlasi is managing director with commercial real estate services firm CBRE in Tampa. [ CBRE Group ]

Mike DiBlasi, managing director, CBRE Group in Tampa: “Now that there’s a vaccine and it’s starting to be deployed, that then provides a little more clarity on the light at the end of the tunnel. Between now and when the vaccine gets rolled out en masse, which could be anywhere from one to nine months, you’re going to have people and companies and businesses start to think of that long-term plan. Up until now, they haven’t really spent a long time on it, because there was just no end in sight.”

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Timothy Beard is the president of Pasco-Hernando State College.
Timothy Beard is the president of Pasco-Hernando State College. [ Pasco-Hernando State College ]

Timothy Beard, president, Pasco-Hernando State College: “It is critical for Pasco-Hernando State College to start performing the necessary activities for our students to return to face-to-face instruction and services to foster their educational success. In 2021, we will start the necessary work to ensure their return in the safest way possible. Although PHSC and other colleges may strive to return to a greater face-to-face instructional modality on campuses in 2021, it will probably not exceed 50 percent for years to come.”

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Xin Jin is an assistant professor of economics at the University of South Florida.
Xin Jin is an assistant professor of economics at the University of South Florida. [ University of South Florida ]

Xin Jin, assistant professor of economics, University of South Florida: “If there is no block from the Senate on the president’s spending, I’m very optimistic; I think the economy will take off. But otherwise, there might be a deep recession. It’s really an ‘if’ at this point. The economy and politics are really intertwined. And when politics get into the economy, economists feel so helpless, because we know what to needs to be done.”

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Neil Rauenhorst is president of NJR Investment and Development Company.
Neil Rauenhorst is president of NJR Investment and Development Company. [ NJR Investment and Development Company ]

Neil Rauenhorst, president, NJR Investment and Development Company: “What we’ve seen for 2020 is that almost all of the projects that have been under construction have continued with no work stoppages, which is great. So it seems as if there hasn’t been any significant impact as a result of the pandemic — either economic, or from a labor standpoint, supply standpoint or otherwise. That looks like that’s going to continue for 2021.”

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Orlando Davis is program director for Wild 94.1 in St. Petersburg.
Orlando Davis is program director for Wild 94.1 in St. Petersburg. [ Courtesy of Orlando Davis ]

Orlando Davis, program director, Wild 94.1: “I expect the meet-and-greet game to be less of what we’ve had and more of what 2020 has made of the artist experience. More artists will opt for virtual experiences, for the pricey, personal touch. Artists who were used to only engaging one market at a time, will now display a more global approach to fan experience, with what’s been cultivated and proven more cost-effective in 2020.”

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Lorraine Langlois is the CEO of Metro Inclusive Health in St. Petersburg.
Lorraine Langlois is the CEO of Metro Inclusive Health in St. Petersburg. [ Metro Inclusive Health ]

Lorraine Langlois, CEO, Metro Inclusive Health: “The pandemic brought awareness to the disproportionate impact HIV, diabetes, hypertension and other significant health disparities have within communities of color. While perhaps not a silver bullet, it is a silver lining that’s led a call for more substantive and quantitative health equity solutions. With the support of state and local governments, we’ll see an increased impact but it will require a focus on bringing education and resources into specific communities.”

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Eric Newman is president of J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Ybor City.
Eric Newman is president of J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Ybor City. [ RAFAEL MARTIN | J.C. Newman Cigar Company ]

Eric Newman, president, J.C. Newman Cigar Company: “I think the first half of the year is going to be slower than most people think. We’re so starved for the light at the end of the tunnel, which is the vaccine, but I don’t think that’s really going to benefit the population until the second half, where we start, once people are vaccinated, going back to a normal life. But the scientists are saying it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Our biggest concern as a society, in terms of employees, is complacency: You got a vaccine, you’re infallible, nothing’s going to happen to you. But there’s 300,000 people who thought they were infallible too, and they weren’t.”

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Craig Richard is president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council.
Craig Richard is president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council. [ Tampa Bay Economic Development Council ]

Craig Richard, president and CEO, Tampa Bay Economic Development Council: “The great Sunbelt migration has been put into overdrive, and I predict we’ll see more remote workers relocating to our area now that they’re not tethered to an undesirable location. I predict our project activity will increase as companies rethink their growth and real estate needs in response to the events from the past year. Distribution and industrial real estate will remain strong, and we will see the reshoring of logistics centers and some manufacturing because of the recent disruptions to supply chains.”

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Bob Rohrlack is president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Chamber.
Bob Rohrlack is president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Chamber. [ Tampa Bay Chamber ]

Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO, Tampa Bay Chamber: “We have forgotten about what the beginning of the year was like. We all truly were bordering on panic: What does this mean, what’s going to happen, every business is going to go under, everybody’s going to lose their jobs. People kept learning and gaining information. We had webinars with over 700 people participating, to learn about what’s going on and make adjustments. It just shows, like we did with the recession, how people found a way.”

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Jaideep Malhotra is president of Asia Pacific and Global Computing Components for Tech Data
Jaideep Malhotra is president of Asia Pacific and Global Computing Components for Tech Data [ Tech Data ]

Jaideep Malhotra, president of Asia Pacific and Global Computing Components, Tech Data: “We foresee low, single-digit growth in overall IT spend in 2021 and a bit of bounce from 2020. A lot of large, IT infrastructure projects that were put on hold this year due to COVID-19 will start to reappear as the economic situation stabilizes. The emerging markets in our region (Asia) will continue to see challenges, and the IT channel will be under credit stress, but there will be pockets of growth where digital transformation is essential to drive economic activity.”

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Shaun Drinkard is senior director of public programming and operations for the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
Shaun Drinkard is senior director of public programming and operations for the Tampa Downtown Partnership. [ STEHLIK FOTO | Tampa Downtown Partnership ]

Shaun Drinkard, senior director of public programming and operations, Tampa Downtown Partnership: “The biggest lesson learned from public events that we have seen, that can actually be a silver lining and an amenity moving forward, is the ability to pre-purchase and schedule or buy a timeslot for something in advance. For the general public, it used to be really hard to sell something in advance. People were always much more spontaneous and wanted to just show up and do what they were going to do, whenever they felt like doing it. I think that people have now trained themselves to think in advance and prepare a little more.”

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Maryann Ferenc owns the restaurant Mise en Place in Tampa.
Maryann Ferenc owns the restaurant Mise en Place in Tampa. [ Tampa Bay Chamber ]

Maryann Ferenc, restaurateur, Mise en Place: “We’re seeing people look at their northern locations and saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to get out of here and go someplace else,’ and the west coast of Florida is an ideal place. We’re seeing people move to Miami and such. I think the west coast hasn’t seen the best of that, and I think we’re going to. People are going to discover the west coast, they’re going to come here — and then we’re going to have a different set of challenges. How do we assimilate? How does that happen?”

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Singer Alex Harris is the co-founder and CEO of the Arts Conservatory for Teens.
Singer Alex Harris is the co-founder and CEO of the Arts Conservatory for Teens. [ Alex Harris ]

Alex Harris, singer and co-founder and CEO, Arts Conservatory for Teens: “There is already a paradigm shift in how we engage each other. I think that’s not going to go away. What I’ve been hearing, and what I also predict, is that live shows with the masses, particularly at big festivals, won’t happen until 2022. We can still look to still do small gatherings, or find out ways to do them as a series, while streaming them at the same time. As for the not-for-profit sector, we should be prepared, at least in the first six or seven months, to continue to refine our virtual engagement, and find more creative ways to engage the population that we’re serving, be it students or adults.”

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Steve Hayes is president and CEO of Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater
Steve Hayes is president and CEO of Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater [ Visit St. Pete Clearwater ]

Steve Hayes, president and CEO, Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater: “For the travel industry, 2021 will end up being better than 2020. Whether that happens the last half of the year, or the last quarter of the year, maybe that’s the unknown part. But we know a vaccine’s coming. We know through national research that the consumer is looking to resume normal travel. We’ve also heard for corporate business travel and meetings and conference travel, the last half of the year looks to be that pivot point.”

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Nathan Bruemmer is the president of St Pete Pride.
Nathan Bruemmer is the president of St Pete Pride. [ Jake Stevens ]

Nathan Bruemmer, president, St Pete Pride: “We will bring a uniquely reimagined and enriched series of events to St Pete Pride 2021. While respecting the impact of this pandemic, the restructured events will showcase why USA Today named us one of the top three cities in the country to celebrate Pride. Like all Pride celebrations, our history is one steeped in adversity and protests, like the Compton Cafeteria Riot and Stonewall. We have learned a lot from 2020, and these lessons taught us to be more intentional. 2021 will reflect St Pete Pride’s place in LGBTQ+ history and will also preview what we hope will be a brighter and more equitable future as we plan for our 20th anniversary in 2022.”

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Stephanie Gularte will take on the role of producing artistic director at American Stage in St. Petersburg on Feb. 24.
Courtesy of American Stage
Stephanie Gularte will take on the role of producing artistic director at American Stage in St. Petersburg on Feb. 24. Courtesy of American Stage

Stephanie Gularte, artistic director, American Stage Theater Company: “I think that it’s going to be a year of the scale of so much of what we do being smaller but the quality being a really significant focus. A lot of businesses, and especially in the arts world, really had to scale down in significant ways. But in that scaling down, it’s very difficult to ramp things back up to where you were. It’s also not likely that will go from 0 to 60 overnight. It’ll be a progression. So in that slow return to where we were, we’ll be on a smaller scale, but it will really be with a great emphasis on relationships and equality. I think what we have potentially in 2022 is to start to see the foundations of organizations that have withstood this time being potentially stronger than ever. I don’t think that’s too optimistic.”