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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 1, 2021 6 months ago

Economic forecast: tech organization rethinks how it engages members

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Jill St. Thomas, executive director, Tampa Bay Tech
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Company: In 2020, Tampa Bay Tech, like many other industry associations, had to drastically rethink the way it presents its member programming. The idea that tech-sector workers are merely keyboard warriors, communicating via screens and webcams, couldn't be further from the truth, says Jill St. Thomas, executive director of Tampa Bay Tech. The nonprofit technology council — one of the nation's oldest and largest technology groups — was founded in 2000 and boasts more than 100 member companies. “The tech community relies heavily on meetups to engage with peers and connect with thought leadership,” she says. Leveraging its own network and the website Meetup.com, Tampa Bay Tech hosts, facilitates and promotes dozens of events each year, many of them in person. That all changed, of course, because of the COVID-19 crisis. “We had to shift our mindset,” St. Thomas says. “When you're in the space of putting on events, one of your key metrics is always how many people came, and so we had [to develop] this new kind of quantity metric. We’ve learned this year that some of our most successful events were smaller peer gatherings, like a [virtual] roundtable meeting of our CEO council with maybe a dozen members.” A consistently high level of engagement paid off for Tampa Bay Tech, St. Thomas says, as the organization added 23 new members and annual partners this year.  

Opportunities: Given the massive shift to remote work reshaping many industries, St. Thomas believes companies that specialize in online collaboration tools and data security will flourish in 2021 and beyond as prime candidates for investment and acquisition. Salesforce’s recent $27.7 billion purchase of Slack is a prime example of that trend. “What we're hearing from our bigger companies is that nobody is going back until mid-2021 to any kind of an office,” she says. Citing a survey of chief information officers that indicated at least 25% of workers will continue to work remotely in 2021, St. Thomas expects the new normal to stick around for quite some time. “That’s a higher percentage than I would have thought,” she says.

Threats: “One of the first things that comes to mind is budgets,” St. Thomas says. “We saw a lot of companies this year on spending freezes, which impacts internal systems and things like security and collaboration tools.” Continued cuts and freezes would also constrict the talent pipeline essential to the growth of the region’s tech sector, she says. “Hopefully in January some of those spending freezes will open up.” However, when hiring freezes come to an end, tech companies could have a larger pool of applicants to choose from if they’re willing to invest in training and upskilling laid-off workers from other sectors. “Unemployment hit so hard in Florida with so many people in the service and hospitality industries,” St. Thomas says. 

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