The name “Tampa Bay” should be used to represent us all—Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Unfortunately, political boundaries are often barriers to regional collaboration and partnership. This division can seriously limit our results, especially when it comes to issues where a regional strategy will and could provide the greatest return. There are now two examples spotlighting this disconnect.
First, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation announced it is changing its name to the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council. This group does not represent Pinellas or Pasco counties and their specific and unique identities. This name change was developed without much thoughtfulness about the repercussions and implications of this decision on the rest of us who live, work and play in Tampa Bay.
Neither the economic development chief of Pinellas or Pasco counties had been contacted by the EDC in Hillsborough County. This is certainly not a model for communication and partnership.
Second, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce announced its name change to the Tampa Bay Chamber. Members of both the St. Petersburg and Clearwater Chambers of Commerce are concerned this will create confusion and were not consulted about the new direction.
One of the most important characteristics of a brand is that it has to deliver what it promises. If an economic development organization is going to call itself “Tampa Bay,” then it has to deliver Tampa Bay – not just one county.
How is this a representation of Tampa Bay? We in Pinellas are Tampa Bay and we want a strong Tampa and a strong Hillsborough County. Tampa Bay is business and beaches. It’s urban and rural. It’s young and old. It’s sports and culture and educational institutions. It’s modern and historic. It’s dozens of special communities all bound together by our common geography. That diversity is what makes us strong. That diversity is why companies and people want to be here. This region is, and has always been, bigger than just one county – and the use of our brand by one county alone will only make us smaller.
We can and should do better than this deceptive and disingenuous approach. Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties shouldn’t be competing against each other. We should be working together to compete against other major metro areas that have already figured out how to do this so well, such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Raleigh-Durham.
We’ve seen tremendous success with initiatives like Global Tampa Bay, which saw the three counties working together to market Tampa Bay for foreign direct investment opportunities. The model is there. We know it can be done and we should demand it.
I hope that public and private leaders in the region can use this mistake to create a big opportunity. Let’s join forces and deliver new jobs and investment for all of Tampa Bay, by working together as Tampa Bay.
Janet Long has served on the Pinellas County Commission since 2012.