Political, business and civic leaders throughout Tampa Bay have spent years promoting collaboration and building a regional identity. That necessary progression from the unproductive petty parochialism didn’t happen overnight, and the benefits are undeniable. The successes range from a surge in business and tourism to greater regional understanding to a common mission in areas such as transportation, the environment and higher education. Tampa Bay is a brand, and with that regional brand comes an obligation to have a regional vision.
That’s why the name changes of organizations that traditionally have not had regional responsibilities raise concern. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce plans to change its name to the Tampa Bay Chamber, even though most of its members are in Hillsborough County. Similarly, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation will become the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, even though it still will focus on Tampa and Hillsborough. It’s understandable that some folks in Pinellas and Pasco counties aren’t thrilled and wonder whether this is misleading advertising that could undermine regional cooperation and confuse businesses looking to relocate to the area.
In the best light, these re-branding exercises are confirmation of Tampa Bay’s rising profile on the national and international marketplaces. They are expressions of ambition by local business leaders and reflect the growing value of the Tampa Bay brand. The organizations involved say they are not big-footing similar organizations in other parts of the region but looking to maximize their roles as portals to Tampa Bay, even if they deal with only part of the overall market. And they argue that promoting even one locality benefits the bay area by creating greater regional mass.
But the Tampa Bay brand carries with it larger, regional responsibilities. Those most affiliated with the Tampa Bay name are recognized for the scope of their work and the impact they have on the entire region, whether that’s Port Tampa Bay, the Tampa Bay Partnership, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority or Tampa Bay Water. The Tampa Bay Times changed its name from the St. Petersburg Times in 2012 to reflect the regional audience and coverage area it began building decades earlier. The area’s professional sports franchises are regional draws, which explains the cross-county effort to keep the Tampa Bay Rays. And if its identity reflected its reach, Tampa International Airport would be named Tampa Bay International, a gateway closer to parts of Pinellas than to many Hillsborough suburbs.
It would be counter-productive for organizations that help companies navigate the local landscape to foster confusion in the marketplace — or to unintentionally rekindle outdated rivalries. The Tampa Bay brand carries a unique mission and certain expectations for those who embrace it. There is nothing that prevents civic and business groups in any corner of the region from contributing to the larger civic good. That contribution, after all, is what prompted a regional spirit across Tampa Bay that has delivered on a range of fronts. If they don’t have it already, organizations that call themselves “Tampa Bay’’ should quickly build a regional vision and mission that earns the broader name.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news