TAMPA — The city of Tampa will continue its partnership with the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, funneling $1.2 million into the organization despite pushback from a city council member who for years has described the agency as inefficient and lacking transparency.
The agency — whose self-described mission is to “create a thriving local economy” in Tampa and broader Hillsborough County — is tasked with recruiting firms to the city and providing existing businesses with access to retention resources.
On Thursday, all but one city council member approved a 27-month contract under which the agency is expected to bring 22 corporate expansions or openings to the city and secure $100 million in capital investment each year.
Under the last contract, the city tasked the agency with bringing in 2,250 jobs per year. The new contract omits this goal but instructs the agency to “promote career training in underserved areas.”
It would cost the city two and a half times the contract amount to provide the same services internally, Tampa’s administrator of development and economic opportunity Nicole Travis said Thursday.
“There would be a significant gap in service and increased cost,” she said.
Council member Bill Carlson said the mayor’s administration should negotiate more transparency and accountability in the agency’s contract before sending public dollars its way. He also criticized past reports from the agency as error-ridden.
“We should not be investing at this level and relying on them to the extent we do without having more accountability,” he said at Thursday’s meeting. With the $538,000 being paid to the agency per year, the city could hire its own economic development officials, Carlson said.
Agency president and CEO Craig J. Richard said they provide annual presentations to the City Council in addition to meeting at least quarterly with the mayor and monthly with senior city staff.
“There is ample oversight,” said Richardson, who has previously accused Carlson of conducting a “smear campaign.”
The agency, which does not receive state funding, closed 21 projects last year, Richardson added, and attracted $189 million in capital investment. The agency, however, brought in just 58% of the expected 2,250 jobs — a goal Richard said was complicated by the expansion of remote work.
“By voting yes on our contract, you’re supporting building a strong local economy that results in a strong tax base,” he said. For every $1 the agency receives from the city, he said, the council leverages $7 from the private sector.
“We’re not throwing the money away,” Council chairperson Guido Maniscalco said in support of of the city’s partnership with the agency. “We’re getting a return on it.”