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Global Tampa Bay initiative seeks to grow direct foreign investment through expanded regional teamwork

Pinellas County Commission chairman Kenneth T. Welch (left), Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn discuss trade missions during a rollout Friday of the Global Tampa Bay initiative at the University Club in downtown Tampa. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
Pinellas County Commission chairman Kenneth T. Welch (left), Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn discuss trade missions during a rollout Friday of the Global Tampa Bay initiative at the University Club in downtown Tampa. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
Published May 21, 2018

TAMPA — A decade ago, the Great Recession put Hillsborough and Pinellas counties' efforts to grow their foreign exports on hold.

But since then those efforts have returned, gained support and momentum, expanded the range of their ambition and are now being organized under an initiative known as Global Tampa Bay.

Previously known as the Tampa Bay Export Alliance, Global Tampa Bay now consists of the economic development organizations in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. It still aims to increase local companies' overseas sales. But also has a second goal: To attract more direct foreign investment to the bay area.

"We know the world's economic map is changing," said Michael Baughen, executive director and market manager for JP Morgan Chase & Co., which sponsored Friday's rollout of the initiative in downtown Tampa. "In the next decade, we expect 80 percent of consumption growth around the world to occur outside of the U.S. and Europe."

So five years ago, JP Morgan and the Brookings Institution launched a global cities initiative to help metro leaders become more internationally aware and savvy. The Tampa Bay area was one of 28 U.S. communities selected for the effort.

"One of the findings of that study that really caught our attention is if Tampa Bay could just become average in the percentage of our regional product that is devoted to exports, we could add $8 billion to our economy and 40,000 new jobs," Pinellas County Economic Development director Mike Meidel told a crowd of about 200 at the University Club.

Pinellas and Hillsborough launched the Tampa Bay Export Alliance in 2014, and soon thereafter the bay area joined Enterprise Florida on a trip to Panama. Later that year, the bay area organized its first joint trade mission and went to Chile. Trips to Canada and Costa Rica took place in 2015. In 2016, Pasco's Economic Development Council got involved on an informal basis.

Global Tampa Bay last month returned from a trade mission to Mexico, and plans to return to Chile in September.

EARLIER THIS WEEK: Tampa Bay mission to Mexico expected to generate $35 million in trade, but Trump was a topic, too

"We have to grow up in our thinking and catch up with the rest of the world," Pinellas County Commission chairman Kenneth T. Welch said. "The rest of the world views us as a Tampa Bay community."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn likewise said the bay area needs to work together to be not a regional player, but a global competitor.

It's why, he said, Hillsborough officials have supported investing nearly $2 billion in improving Tampa International Airport, where officials are pursuing more direct international flights, $24 million more so that Port Tampa Bay can handle larger container ships and nearly $400 million to create an elevated connector to speed truck traffic between the port and Interstate 4.

And finally, he said, it's why local businesses should sign up for trade missions abroad.

"You get the business not by sending emails," Buckhorn said. "You get the business by getting on airplane and flying as long as it takes, as far as it takes, as uncomfortable as it is, in coach, with your head up against the restroom (wall) ... and you get off that plane and you put on your A-game and you go get that business. Because you won't get it sitting on your a-- around here."

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times