ST. PETERSBURG — They came. They saw. They celebrated Tampa Bay's tech momentum.
On a blustery Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of technology executives, entrepreneurs, economic developers and others converged on the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg to hear 18 area speakers share what's got the region's tech community feeling pretty good these days. And they learned what needs to be done to take to the next level what the area tech sector likes to call "Florida's largest and fastest growing tech hub."
The half-day event, dubbed the "PoweredUp Technology Festival," yielded a record turnout of more than 500 for the hosting Tampa Bay Technology Forum. The group's closing in on a quarter century as this greater metro area's tech advocacy organization and looks ready to exert more influence in the direction of the Tampa Bay economy.
The Tampa Bay economy employs close to 50,000 tech workers (one of every 89 in the country) and still has more than 5,000 openings to fill — a sign of success and a challenge in building a talent pipeline of tech workers for the future, said current TBTF board chairman Jeff Alagood, whose day job is chief operating officer at the Tampa customer software firm AgileThought.
Alagood praised the success of the Exploratory Lab Boot Camp, a collaborative effort by Tech Data staff, Pat Gehant and St. Petersburg College to expose non-technical students to tech opportunities in the area. Alagood said many of the young people in that young program have gone on to tech jobs, and the commitment by JPMorgan Chase to commit $250,000 to the program will help it grow even more.
Among the afternoon highlights? A panel of executives from area companies involved in three separate mergers and acquisitions worth an estimated $3 billion discussed the pros and cons of becoming part of another business.
Someone asked the sticky question: Better to be the buyer or the acquired? The diplomatic answer: Either one suggests market strength and a recognition of local talent.
Valpak, represented on stage by chief operating officer Chris Cate, was just purchased by private equity firm Platinum Equity. Cate said the challenge for Valpak (which is transitioning to a new CEO) is to preserve its strong culture while figuring out how to grow faster with the added resources of a more aggressive owner.
Also on stage was John Kuemmel, chief information officer at Triad Retail Media. That company was bought last year by a multinational conglomerate which, Kuemmel said, made it more challenging for Triad to communicate its new role in such a bigger organization.
And Gerard Purcell, head of global IT integration at Tech Data Corp., said his company's recent purchase of an Arizona tech distributor will push Tech Data annual revenues to $35 billion. Of the merging companies, Purcell joked one company is now known for starting a little later than the other.
TBTF executive director Daniel James Scott hopes the PoweredUp gathering can become an annual event — befitting a regional tech industry eager to flex its muscle.