A 'thank you' to 20 people who made Tampa Bay a better business place

Published March 24, 2012

Folks don't always get the acknowledgment they deserve for their everyday acts of generosity. So indulge me while I say thanks to 20 people whose contributions, some big and in plain sight and some more subtle, helped make Tampa Bay a better place to live and work. In alphabetical order, thanks to:

1. JD Alexander, term-limited state senator and Florida's new icon of self-absorbed power grabbing, for motivating Tampa Bay's business community to rally around the University of South Florida in time of need. His worst brought out our best.

2. Ken Atwater, Hillsborough Community College president, for undertaking a regional challenge from CEOs for Cities to raise Tampa Bay's four-year college graduation rate by just 1 percent and thus add billions to the area economy. On Monday, a "Graduate Tampa Bay" campaign gets officially launched, accompanied by the heads of USF, St. Petersburg College, Saint Leo University, DeVry University and area community colleges.

3. Sara Blakely, Clearwater native, Florida State University grad and founder of slimming garment maker Spanx — for just being recognized by Forbes as the world's youngest (at 41) self-made female billionaire. Wow.

4. Colleen Chappell, head of the Ybor City ChappellRoberts marketing firm, for offering staff time and creativity to help launch a Tampa Bay Shines campaign to highlight the best of this metropolitan area in time for the Republican National Convention.

5. Jim Cramer — yes, that crazy CNBC Mad Money host — for recognizing major leaps in earnings and global innovation at Jabil Circuit and calling the St. Petersburg electronics manufacturer's stock "one of the greatest performers" of our era.

6. Diane Egner for her 83 Degrees website, because while funded by economic development groups to tell "positive" stories about the greater Tampa Bay area, the site has avoided most traditional puffery by telling compelling tales with fresh insight.

7. Jeff Gordon, the CEO of Tampa's Syniverse (not the NASCAR driver), for continuing the company's streak of success, which is reflected in his 2011 compensation of $10.3 million. There's money in mobile phone network accounting.

8. John Hadden II, CEO of New York-based cancer drug firm IRX Therapeutics, for making get-to-know-ya rounds at Moffitt Cancer Center, USF and the Florida Venture Forum, as the small biotech business prepares to relocate to St. Petersburg later this year with state help.

9. Ken Hagan, chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission, not for his willingness to trash the Tampa Bay Rays' ties (legal and emotional) to St. Petersburg, but for his desire to end the silly Kabuki theater over baseball's future here and spur some real talks about a new stadium out in the open.

10. A.B. Hudson, No. 26 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy 2011 list of the nation's 50 "most generous donors," for leaving $60 million of his estate (from oil) to the Shriner's Hospital for Children in Tampa.

11. Moez Limayem, USF's just-named College of Business dean in Tampa, for taking on the challenge of trying to get the school to rank somewhere on Bloomberg Businessweek's 2012 rating of the best 124 undergraduate business schools (which already includes UF, Miami, FSU and Florida International University).

Follow trends affecting the local economy

Follow trends affecting the local economy

Subscribe to our free Business by the Bay newsletter

We’ll break down the latest business and consumer news and insights you need to know every Wednesday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

12. Kurt Long, serial entrepreneur and founder of the health care privacy firm Fair Warning, for financially backing the soon-to-debut Next Generation Entrepreneurs program for high schoolers via the business community-supported Pinellas County Education Foundation.

13. Jeffrey Mezger, CEO of KB Home, for offering a "ZeroHouse 2.0" home model (at Emerald Oaks in Brandon) that comes close to eliminating monthly electric bills. That's big.

14. Tim Ramsberger, general manager of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, for running this annual event now under way, which brings such international attention to this city. Now, about those mufflers …

15. Michelle Robinson, Verizon's most visible Tampa executive, who's now relocating back to Atlanta in order to be more centrally located to her government affairs duties in other Southern states. She was a regional rarity: an African-American woman, backed by one of the country's biggest corporations.

16. Bob Samuels, a retired banker in Tampa and author of his recently published Don't Tell Me I Can't civil rights memoir about breaking the African-American color barrier in the 1960s banking world, and also for his advocacy on behalf of the fight against prostate cancer through prevention and research.

17. Greg Stemm, co-founder of Tampa underwater treasure hunter Odyssey Marine Exploration, for bringing a heavy dose of cool to the area, despite losing an epic fight against Spain over hundreds of millions of dollars worth of salvaged silver coins.

18. Paul Wahnish, founder of the Career Technical Education Foundation, whose vigorous pushing of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs at Pinellas County's East Lake High and other Florida high schools is starting to make more things happen statewide.

19. Robin Warren, head of Tampa-based Florida Council on Economic Education, for engaging high school students from across the state in a challenging business ethics competition (disclosure: I am one of the judges) at a time when the ethics of students (and plenty of other folks) are being sorely tested.

20. Don Zimmer, cuddly bald baseball icon and Tampa Bay Rays consultant, for allowing his likeness to be represented in an upcoming game giveaway on June 29 as the "Zim Bear" — one of the more bizarre baseball chachkas in team history. I'm sure it will be a hit.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at