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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. June 4, 2004
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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Ahead of the curve

Relocation, relocation, relocation.

That's just about all Tampa Bay area economic development officials used to talk about. Bringing businesses from elsewhere was seen as more prestigious than helping startups here.

Local attitudes have changed somewhat. A new mantra of growing your own seems to have replaced de facto dissing your own. But, perhaps as a concession to the old thinking, the Tampa Bay Partnership flew in a handful of corporate-relocation consultants for a panel discussion at its May conference in Sarasota.

Overall, the consultants were disappointedly short on fresh insights. Maybe that was due to the simple fact that few have ever advised a single business to move to the Bay area.

"Tampa has never been on the radar screen," confessed Clark Gillespy of Fluor Global Location Strategies, who works with engineering and pharmaceutical clients that prefer congregating in and around Boston or San Francisco in the U.S.

The panel had a little better grasp of the Bay area's push to establish financial services and biotechnology clusters after a whirlwind tour the day before the consultants spoke. But they were there primarily to paint the big national and international picture for the audience.

The not-terribly-startling consensus among the speakers was that the overriding consideration in a move is reducing the cost of doing business. Nice beaches are nice, but they'll only break a tie between two cities at the very end of a relocation search.

Del Boyette, southeast practice leader for credits and incentives in the Atlanta office of Deloitte & Touch USA LLP, says his clients are increasingly looking for last-minute concessions from state and local governments to close a deal.

One of the few on the panel to put an actual client in the Bay area (Hillsborough County), Boyette says 11th-hour concessions might involve taxpayers footing the cost of items such as moving key employees from another state.

With the exception of a county or two, Florida has a good reputation for working with people like him, says Boyette.

Boyette says the life sciences, which the Bay area is trying to promote as a new regional economic engine, are everybody's current holy grail of tech. Curtis Johnson, president of Citistates Group, noted that every successful biotech center boasts at least one world-class university.

What sounded to Coffee Talk like the best advice of the conference came from Boyette, a former state economic development official. Instead of following fads, he urged area leaders to get out in front of a new trend.

"You should concentrate on what is next," he says. "Focus on what is next, not what is now."

Sam and France

On June 6, 1944, eight hours before the U.S. invasion at Normandy, France, Army Capt. Samuel Gibbons parachuted from a military aircraft and landed behind enemy lines with the 501st Parachute Infantry.

"Like most people I was dropped in the wrong place," recalls the Tampa attorney and retired congressman. "My first instinct was survival. I had a lot more Germans than I needed.

"We were so heavily engaged we weren't able to join together until about three nights later," he adds. "At that time, it looked like we had casualties greater than 50%."

Now 60 years later, the French government honored Gibbons for his contribution. On June 5, at the tomb of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Gibbons will receive the French Legion of Honor medal - the nation's highest military honor. The French government paid transportation costs for Gibbons and his son, Cliff, to attend the ceremony.

True to his character, Gibbons will accept the award with humility.

"I don't deserve it, but I sure appreciate it," he says. "I will accept it on behalf of all the heroes who fought with me."

Despite the opportunity, Gibbons doesn't plan to attend the June 6 D-Day commemoration ceremony. He has attended ceremonies in the past and says they are just too crowded for him.

"I'll go back later when I can absorb it all," he says.

Putting off the Ritz

What do you do if you're the Tampa Bay Partnership?

For six years now, the region's hands-across-the-bay economic development group has been staging an annual conference for regional leaders. The last two conferences have been held at the swank Ritz-Carlton hotel, fronting Sarasota Bay.

Should the partnership try another locale for 2005 or stay in a luxurious rut?

After the Ritz, they say, what else is there?

Well, there's the Westin Innisbrook Golf Resort or Saddlebrook Resort Tampa? Been there and done that, was the reply from a partnership executive. (Ahem. Couldn't the same be said for the Ritz? The hotel's beach club annex on Lido Key was a new twist this year, but still.)

Surveying the long list of movers and shakers registered for the latest Sarasota conference, Coffee Talk couldn't help wondering. Assuming they didn't commute to each of the conference's three days, would this crowd show the same intense fascination with the latest thinking on economic development if they had to bed down overlooking mere championship golf courses in Palm Harbor or Wesley Chapel?

From the public sector, drawing the long straw at their respective government bodies were, among others, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor, Manatee County commissioners Joe McClash and Jane von Hahmann, Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel, Pasco County commissioners Peter Altman and Pat Mulieri, and state House members Kevin Ambler of Lutz and Donna Clarke of Sarasota.

Supplementing that roster was a bumper crop of Sarasota County commissioners, including Paul Mercier, Nora Patterson, Shannon Staub and Jon Thaxton, who were probably close enough to home that they didn't have to crash at the Ritz.

Decisions, decisions. Oh, well. The partnership has a few months before the planning must begin for next year's conference


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