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  1. Opinion

Column: Charging up Hillsborough's redevelopment efforts

Economic development is at the epicenter of our daily lives. It affects where we live, work and play. The prosperity of this community depends on thoughtful investment of our tax dollars to create jobs and foster a culture of private reinvestment that will continue for generations to come.

We are dedicated to economic development, which delivers critical jobs to our citizens. Hillsborough County is exploding with growth, and in the last few years of recovery from the recession, county government has focused on directing economic incentives and investments that promote a vibrant, thriving local economy.

Hillsborough County has a key leadership role in economic development. Over the past 10 years, the county has invested more than $258 million in economic development initiatives. These investments help create the "product" that we market to businesses.

Make no mistake about it, the county is serious about economic development, and our budget reflects that. We see several major drivers of economic prosperity in the community — targeted industry recruitment and retention, and my favorite, corporate headquarters recruitment — while also selling the marketplace to businesses.

Our economic development strategy is robust and diverse to give our citizens a return on their investment of tax dollars, and to offer a high-quality community and a talented workforce. Together we are the rainmakers that draw in new corporations.

The timing couldn't be better as we leverage this public-private partnership with the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and team up for a home run, landing Johnson & Johnson, which brings its North American shared services headquarters to Hillsborough County along with 500 new jobs.

Beginning this year, a new initiative of the county's economic development effort focuses on redevelopment. Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace all have defined redevelopment programs and are similarly focused on improving their communities. Hillsborough also has unincorporated areas that need our redevelopment attention. Unincorporated areas account for 84 percent of the entire county land mass, and nearly 800,000 residents live in such areas, easily making the unincorporated county the largest "city" in Hillsborough.

Hillsborough County staff has proposed a pilot program that focuses on specific unincorporated areas of the county to address signs of distress. This program has specific criteria. First, the geographic areas are located in the urban service area and meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's low-to-moderate income criteria. Second, the program will focus on office and industrial job creation. Third, staff will evaluate the current land value and the potential to encourage the private sector to reinvest in those properties, thereby allowing for growth in the tax base. Fourth, and perhaps most important, the program will require a private sector partner to leverage any county investment.

Using these criteria, we identified four areas for our initial focus: Palm River Area, University Area, 56th Street & Hillsborough Area and North Airport Area. We will work to make improvements that will enhance and strengthen the economic vitality of the county.

Recently at a board meeting, we introduced our first area for redevelopment, the Innovation Alliance for the University Area. The time is right to craft a development strategy that builds a sustainable community around:

• innovation and technology;

• a recognized tourism destination at Busch Gardens;

• a major university at the University of South Florida and world-class research at Moffitt Cancer Center;

• nationally significant health care services.

This area has more than 48,600 workers, compared to downtown with more than 48,500 workers and Westshore with 97,200 workers. It's uniquely positioned to be our first economic development area, and with the excitement of the redevelopment of our urban core with Jeff Vinik's plan and the Tampa Port Master Plan, it gives us two dynamic plans across our market.

To sustain this trend, we need to strategically locate projects in redevelopment areas where people can live, work and play; to monitor land-use policies with development; and to have a robust incentive program for projects that deliver a significant return on investment to taxpayers.

This county is my home, and never have I seen us as committed to economic development as over the last two years. Now, with the addition of redevelopment, we are truly instituting a comprehensive program that aligns our initiatives, provides increased opportunity for jobs, enhances existing infrastructure and furthers the opportunity for greater prosperity in Hillsborough County.

Sandra L. Murman chairs the Hillsborough County Commission. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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