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CEO survey: To recruit headquarters, tell companies you want them

Published Nov. 21, 2014

A long-term project to recruit a brand name corporate headquarters here took a key, early step Thursday when survey results capturing the perceptions of this area by 350 CEOs and senior executives nationwide were delivered to local business and political leaders.

In a 47-slide PowerPoint presentation, market research consultant Barry Quarles outlined his findings to several dozen executives, as well as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, at the downtown Tampa Club.

In the end, it all boils down to this: "Companies want to move where they are wanted."

Sounds simple enough. It's good news, because the survey results found CEOs much more positive about Tampa since Quarles conducted a similar poll in 2002.

A task force to recruit the headquarters of a corporation with national name recognition was recently launched by the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. The effort is a sign that this area finally feels confident enough to pursue bigger game.

The survey found CEOs increasingly perceive Tampa and its public officials as having a pro-business attitude. That, Quarles stressed, is critical to eventual success in headquarters recruitment.

But the consultant also shared executive perceptions that show this area has some gaping holes to address.

"Transportation is your greatest vulnerability," warned Quarles, who heads Market Enhancement Group. It's the latest reminder that the mass transit referendums rejected earlier this month in Pinellas and Polk counties will need to be reconsidered to make them more appealing to tax-wary area voters.

Given all these survey findings, what's next for the task force?

Identifying the types of corporations most likely to consider an HQ relocation here.

Among the 350 CEO survey participants were 50 executives running companies that are based elsewhere but have existing operations in the Tampa Bay area. These are businesses, many of them based in the expensive Northeast and New York metropolitan areas, already familiar with this metro market.

Among this group are prime targets for relocation, Quarles urged. They operate in expensive states, many of them considered to be unfriendly to business.

The key to reach these executives, Quarles said, is to make the sales pitch for relocation as personal as possible.

Visit these executives. Assemble seven top leaders, pitch a relocation face to face, he said. Be prepared to answer every conceivable question.

Show these companies they are wanted.

For Tampa, I can already picture a headquarters recruitment dream team. How about Mayor Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commission Chair Sandy Murman, EDC chief Rick Homans, USF president Judy Genshaft, CEO Chuck Sykes of Sykes Enterprises, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Hillsborough public school superintendent MaryEllen Elia?

Who's on your Dream Team?

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.