Tampa Bay area suddenly basking in big economic wins

Published July 19, 2013

Listen carefully and you can hear a collective Ouch! from Tampa Bay business leaders.

They are pinching themselves today, making sure they are not dreaming amid the recent bonanza of very real economic development coups realized in the past days and weeks, along with some strong possibilities of landing some pending deals.

Bristol-Myers Squibb. Check.

Copa Airlines. Check.

Bass Pro Shop. Check.

Edelweiss Air. Check.

Amports. Check.

Amazon. Very promising.

Trader Joe's. Very likely.

Small wonder that economic development chief Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa/Hillsborough EDC said his whole organization is on "Cloud 9."

Call it karma, pent-up economic demand, recruiting talent or sheer hard work, it's been a long, long time since Tampa Bay's landed such a concentration of diverse business wins offering quality higher-wage job opportunities, international travel and trade reach, plus the likely arrival of some of the best known retail brands in the country.

Some deals, just on their own, may prove game changers to this region's economy. The decision by new-to-Tampa-Bay's Bristol-Myers Squibb, a major drug maker with a global brand, to open a high-end R&D and business support center here with nearly 600 jobs averaging $65,000 will greatly complement a biotech and medical industry cluster long in the making, and reinforce local aspirations to promote Tampa Bay as a medical innovation player.

And Copa Airlines' commitment to start direct flights in December between Tampa International Airport and its Panama City hub that connects to most major Latin American cities hints at great potential in extending the ties between Tampa Bay's tourism industry and the growing Latin America middle class, as well as facilitating business trade and travel.

Deborah Sutherland, the USF Health executive who runs Tampa's downtown CAMLS (Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation) facility that trains visiting U.S. and foreign surgical teams in robotic surgery, anticipates great value in the new Copa flights.

"We have just completed the feasibility study for a CAMLS-like facility in Panama City and anticipate moving to the design-build phase in the next month," Sutherland tells the Tampa Bay Times. "We will embark on a feasibility study for Brasilia and São Paulo, Brazil next and have already been receiving groups of physicians from Latin America for training at CAMLS. Direct flights from Panama City on Copa will make expanding our business model to other Latin American countries easier for faculty and learners alike."

Comments like that are music to the ears of economic development leaders. They point out that in the competitive process of recruiting Bristol-Myers Squibb, the drug company was introduced to CAMLS and its potential role in the larger regional health care economy. So, in that sense, the Bristol-Myers Squibb and Copa deals overlap and provide synergies for the area.

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Don't forget Friday's announcement that Edelweiss Air will expand its service from Tampa International to Zurich, Switzerland, broadening the airport's base of direct international flights.

Amports, in a new deal with the Port of Tampa, wants to start shipping cars made in Mexico through Tampa. And though we don't have a name yet, we do know that TECO Energy's Tampa Electric is negotiating a power deal with a large manufacturer that will have big electricity demands in its yet-to-be determined Tampa area location.

The three deals involving Bass Pro Shop opening near Brandon, Trader Joe's likely opening in South Tampa and giant Amazon's possible mega-warehouse operation coming to Ruskin also reinforce the arrival of top name retailers to the area. Bass Pro Shop, a hit with the outdoors shoppers, is expanding rapidly in Florida and elsewhere so this metro area benefits knowing it can attract a top tier sporting goods provider. The same goes for Trader Joe's, which is expected to open in South Tampa. The chain has been opening elsewhere in the Sunshine State so its arrival here will again send a message that the Tampa Bay region deserves its attention.

And then there is Amazon, another global brand. The online retailing giant seeks a 1-million-square-foot warehouse operation. If that deal comes through, as many as 1,000 jobs could be generated in a part of Tampa Bay that's sorely lacking employment opportunity.

That's a pretty heady list of economic wins and soon-to-be wins.

Aside from an improving economy, new economic development blood is no doubt a factor in Tampa Bay's recent renaissance of new businesses. Tampa International's Joe Lopano, Tampa/Hillsborough EDC's Homans, the Port of Tampa Port director Paul Anderson, Visit Tampa Bay's just arrived Santiago Corrada are all part of a refreshed team pushing for new business momentum to the area.

It's working.

Yes, in this round of economic wins, most are landing in Tampa and Hillsborough County. Other wins will appear in more congested Pinellas, and more rural Pasco and Hernando. But clearly, the latest signs of a big business driver going forward goes to Tampa and surrounding Hillsborough.

Contact Robert Trigaux at