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Veteran economic development leader Craig Richard named CEO of Tampa Hillsborough EDC

The vote in favor of hiring Craig J. Richard was unanimous.
The vote in favor of hiring Craig J. Richard was unanimous.
Published May 20, 2016

TAMPA — Craig J. Richard, an economic development veteran for such high-growth cities as Houston, Dallas and, most recently, Atlanta, on Thursday was named president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., the principal jobs and business recruiting organization for that core market of Tampa Bay's regional economy.

In an interview, Richard, 52, said he was drawn to the EDC position by the group's recent track record of successfully recruiting such high-profile companies as Johnson & Johnson, USAA and Bristol-Myers Squibb and by the apparent commitment to economic development expressed by area business and political leaders.

Richard said he had met with various leaders — he rattled off names including Tampa Bay Lightning owner and real estate developer Jeff Vinik, Tampa Electric chief Gordon Gillette, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Hillsborough Community College president Ken Atwater — who all voiced a similar mission.

"I can't help but get excited about joining a team all rowing in the same direction," Richard said. He expects to start work later in June once he relocates from the Atlanta area and finds a place to live. His wife, Verna, is a teacher. They have two boys: Cole, 18, and Andrew, 13.

Richard joins the EDC after serving as CEO of the Invest Atlanta development authority. He succeeds former Tampa Hillsborough EDC chief Rick Homans, who left late last year to lead the Tampa Bay Partnership, and takes over from interim EDC chief J.P. DuBuque, who has been running the economic development group while a national search was under way. DuBuque returns to his previous role as the EDC vice president of finance and administration.

"This is a pivotal time in our community's economic growth," said Tampa Hillsborough EDC chair Colleen Chappell, CEO of the ChappellRoberts marketing firm in Ybor City. "The selection committee believes Craig's proven economic development experience makes him the right leader to ensure Tampa and Hillsborough County continue to be the pacesetter for economic prosperity in Florida."

At first glance, red flags appear at Richard's last two executive positions. He was reportedly asked to resign from his job at Invest Atlanta in January after little more than a year. And before Atlanta, as CEO of Greater Louisville Inc., the metro area's chamber of commerce, he also stepped down at the board's recommendation in 2014.

Media reports at the time, though speculative, suggest that at Invest Atlanta, Richard got caught in city politics over his hiring of a chief financial officer. After that CFO quickly left, Richard soon followed. And earlier in Louisville, Richard had joined a financially strapped chamber whose fundraising efforts failed to improve the chamber's health while he was there.

Chappell said the EDC search committee and the Witt/Kieffer search firm hired to find a new CEO are well aware of the circumstances behind these resignations. They had discussed the matters at length with Richard and had done extensive vetting of the candidate. She said the committee was more than satisfied with Richard's standing after speaking with board members of the earlier economic development groups that he led, as well as business and political leaders in multiple cities where he worked.

The EDC board vote in favor of hiring Richard was unanimous.

"What we heard repeatedly from different people is that Richard is calm, unflappable, a consummate professional with a solid reputation and someone with a strong ability to motivate and collaborate," Chappell said. She declined to say how much in compensation Richard will be paid by the EDC. His predecessor, Rick Homans, was paid nearly $290,000 when he held the same position.

Richard, asked Thursday what potential he saw in Tampa, said he wants more time to "get on the ground" and to know the area. "But the key things corporations are looking for are talent, a great quality of life and a strong infrastructure to help companies move people, product and information in and out quickly."

He called the "bones" of Tampa and Hillsborough's infrastructure "very strong." And he praised Tampa International Airport, calling its latest round of investment and expansion "impressive."

Richard says he was born and raised in Houston, earning a degree from the University of Houston. After working with the Boy Scouts organization, he went on to earn a master's degree in urban and regional planning from Virginia Commonwealth University. He also served in senior economic development positions with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Greater Houston Partnership and the Dallas and nearby Arlington chambers of commerce.

Richard is also a longtime member and executive leader of the respected International Economic Development Council, a principal organization in the economic development profession. As current treasurer, he will serve as chairman of this group in two years.

Richard says his extensive work in Texas and the Southeast means he knows a lot about the major metro areas that often compete for jobs and growth with Tampa and Hillsborough.

"I am familiar with the best practices nationally," he says, "and I know what it takes to build a strong program."

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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