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As Tampa Bay chases corporate relocations, these are the region’s strengths

A new Tampa Bay EDC study offers insights on what the region does well, and how it can beat out others for business.
Water Street Tampa is among the region's new developments vying for corporate relocations and new hubs. A new study by the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council highlights some of the region's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to attracting new companies.
Water Street Tampa is among the region's new developments vying for corporate relocations and new hubs. A new study by the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council highlights some of the region's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to attracting new companies. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Apr. 27

The corporate relocation world sees Tampa Bay as a low-cost destination with a high quality of life. The rising cost of housing, though, is looking like a problem. And so is the local workforce’s relative lack of advanced degrees.

These are among the findings of a new study commissioned by and presented to the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council on Tuesday.

The study was designed to provide a deeper, drilled-down look at what site selectors and corporations in targeted industries value in cities like Tampa. Unlike many other competitiveness surveys, which look at an area’s overall attractiveness, this study focused on specific sectors that local economic leaders say are key to region’s continued growth, such as defense and security, financial services and life sciences.

“A lot of times, these types of competitive analysis are just based on certain indicators, and the competitors are all the same,” said Tampa Bay EDC president and CEO Craig Richard. “This is done through the lens of the site selection consultant, and it’s done on an industry-by-industry basis.”

That meant comparing the region not only to peer markets like Charlotte and Nashville, but larger cities like Dallas and Atlanta that would compete for businesses in those target industries.

On the whole, Tampa Bay fared well, said Barry Matherly, president and CEO of Hickey Global, the site selection services company that conducted the report. The area compares especially well to other markets in the financial services industry, and also when it came to corporate headquarters relocations.

But it’s become clear that one of Tampa Bay’s key selling points — the area’s relative low cost of living compared to other popular relocation sites — may not be a selling point forever.

“Tampa has done really well with this combination of a high quality of life at a good cost, and it’s been a great pitch to companies for a long time, and it’s a great pitch right now,” Matherly said. “But as people move here and the costs go up, and as rents continue to climb in this area, and with some of the real estate pricing, the cost of living is going to go up here.

“What we’re really pointing out is where the weaknesses are going to come down the road,” he added. “At what point would the EDC not be able to sell ‘low cost?’ Is that in two years, in five years?”

The other issue is a long-range talent pipeline, which Matherly said is “the major cost of companies, and it’s the biggest driver.” One of Richard’s takeaways was that the EDC should engage employers and local colleges and universities to try to boost the area’s pool of workers with bachelor’s or graduate degrees in areas like research, technology and health and life sciences.

“We know that we currently don’t have all of the skill sets that we need in some certain industry sectors,” Richard said. “We have to be competitive in attracting that type of talent.”

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The study will inform the EDC’s next three-year strategic plan, which is in development now. Matherly said it should add an “innovative” layer of depth to the agency’s growth and recruitment strategies.

“There’s positive things you see, and there’s not-so-positive things you see,” Matherly said. “To actually want to know where you can improve and what’s not working over the horizon is a big step.”

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