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Why did cutting edge businesses like Shipt, Drizly and Carvana choose Tampa Bay?

Shipt launched in Tampa Bay last summer and delivers groceries from Publix to your door. Here, C.J. Hughes, one of the first Shipt personal shoppers in Tampa, loads groceries chosen via the app for his customers.
Shipt launched in Tampa Bay last summer and delivers groceries from Publix to your door. Here, C.J. Hughes, one of the first Shipt personal shoppers in Tampa, loads groceries chosen via the app for his customers.
Published May 26, 2016

Several things about Tampa Bay caught Bill Smith's eye last summer when he was looking to expand his cutting edge grocery delivery business Shipt.

The area was growing. It was getting younger. And rents and mortgages were reasonable, meaning people here had more money to spend on other things.

And while the community was becoming more tech-savvy, it wasn't awash in tech venture companies that clutter markets in the Northeast and California.

"We liked that Tampa wasn't so big that it would be too hard to cut through the noise," said Smith, whose company allows customers to order grocery delivery from Publix through a smartphone app.

Indeed, not long after, two other consumer-driven companies with tech appeal — Drizly, which delivers alcohol people order from an app, and Carvana, from which people order cars online — launched in Tampa Bay.

In choosing Tampa Bay and other mid-sized metros in the Southeast, these companies largely eschewed more high-profile areas known for a tech-driven youth culture with money to burn.

That they chose Tampa Bay is an acknowledgment that considerable buzz is building that this is an up-and-coming metro with a burgeoning crop of young professionals who are spurring new development and reviving downtown corridors.

"We love Tampa," said Smith, whose company is now in more than a dozen markets, mostly in the Southeast. "Think of someplace like New York City, where there's so much going on and there's new tech coming out all the time. It can be hard to connect with people."

Drizly, from which customers can order beverage deliveries from ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, launched in Tampa in November and expanded into St. Petersburg after just a few months.

Though Drizly operates in big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, it has found success launching in mid-tier metros like Tampa, St. Louis and Providence, said Justin Robinson, the Boston-based company's co-founder.

"We've been in those (bigger) cities for three to four years, and since then we've started to hone in to the type of markets that make the most sense for our business," Robinson said. "Tampa was interesting to us because of the rise of the craft beer market there pretty recently. We saw that Shipt launched there and was successful."

Carvana, an online buying, selling and delivery car service, debuted in Tampa Bay in April. Co-Founder Ryan Keeton said the company chose to build their warehouses in Atlanta instead of in a more tech-driven place like Silicon Valley because the real estate was cheaper and the marketplace was less crowded.

The company came to believe there was an under served "tech-forward" audience in the south.

"Our experience in Atlanta unlocked Nashville, Birmingham, Charlotte and now Tampa," Keeton said.

Even though none of these companies has offices here, their services are helping Tampa Bay stand out.

Travel website Orbitz recently included Tampa in a list "hotspots nobody cared about 15 years ago." Last year Money Magazine named Tampa the top city in the Southeast on a "best places to live" list.

Reach Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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