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Moving Targets

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  • | 2:21 p.m. November 26, 2010
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What. Hillsborough County's recommended strategic plan for economic growth.
Issue. Fewer targeted industries necessitated by limited resources.
Impact. Employment begins to creep up, but 69,000 still looking for work.

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.'s list of industries it most desires looks like it's about to shrink.

Call it a less-is-more strategy with an emphasis on return on investment and re-branding the county with a new marketing push.

Targeted industries are typically those high-wage, high-tech job machines that every economic development organization in the country seeks to attract or expand.

The shorter list emphasizes medical, financial, defense and information technology with a focus on the traditional recruiting approach to economic development. Expanding local companies in those targeted fields, known as economic gardening, isn't mentioned in the plan.

The 200-page, $130,000 plan was prepared by Princeton, N.J.-based Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co., or BLS & Co.

“You can't be everything to everyone,” notes Keith Norden, the EDC's president and CEO. “You have to choose certain industry clusters to actively market to.”

The plan was drafted for the EDC working in partnership with the county's economic development department. It's a follow-up to the county's economic stimulus task force effort from the spring of 2009.

Bruce Register, the department's corporate business development manager, says the focus was on identifying the highest performing industries and those that could give the greatest return on economic development investment dollars.

With more than 69,000 unemployed in the county as of October, much is riding on the new plan. Creating jobs remains challenging because many businesses have figured out how to increase productivity with fewer workers.

“Job losses would tell you there's a real sense of urgency,” says Bob Abberger, the task force's chairman and managing director of commercial real estate developer Trammell Crow.

The county's 11.5% unemployment rate as of October is now better than the state's 11.9% unemployment rate, which was unchanged from September.

But it's still much higher than the 9.9% rate of March 2009. That's when the task force began drafting its report, publishing it three months later, and leading to the BLS & Co. study.

Hillsborough County and its three cities — Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City — funded the study after receiving the task force's recommendations.

The group was formed in February 2009 with five goals, chief among them being job creation. As part of its own strategic plan, during the next three years the EDC aims to create 6,000 new jobs with salaries at 15% or more above the state average, or recruit 35 new companies.

Marketing medical

Gone from the EDC's list of nine target industries — still shown on its website as of late November — are such industry sectors as agritechnology, port and maritime industries and sustainable energy. A little more than a year ago, the task force recommended five industry clusters including port maritime.

With the expansion of the Panama Canal due for completion in 2014, the Port of Tampa adding capacity to process more container shipments, and a new highway running to its front doorstep connecting I-4 to the Selmon Expressway, it may seem like an odd time to de-emphasize an $8 billion industry. The port's responsible for nearly 100,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the port's website.

Norden, however, says the EDC recognizes that the port is a key player in the region's economy and won't be forgotten.

Also, specifically not recommended in the proposed plan are hospitality and transportation along with agribusiness, and alternative energy and sustainability.

Times have changed, and so too has the EDC's $1.3 million budget — about half of what it once was with roughly $738,000 coming from taxpayers — requiring a more focused approach to business recruitment.

A new national and global marketing effort is central to the strategy.

Slated to get more attention are all things medical — from medicine to medical devices to medical management. Biotechnology remains on the list and so does financial services, though formerly listed as financial and professional business services.

One catalyst for the greater focus on medical related industry is the $25 million Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. Known as CAMLS, the 90,000-square-foot building getting underway in downtown Tampa is an advanced robotic surgery training center hoped to attract medical professionals and technicians from around the world.

It's expected to be completed by January 2012, according to Abberger, who says when it's complete it should generate 70,000-100,000 room nights, and “easily spin-off significant demand for office tenancy for related users.”

The strategic plan suggests exploring the feasibility of a downtown campus built around CAMLS, with links to the main campus by light rail if it were approved. But voters recently turned down a 1% transportation sales tax proposal to pay for it.

Steve Hayes, executive vice president for Tampa Bay & Co., the local tourism agency and also the EDC's landlord, sees CAMLS as a catalyst for medical industry conventions and a boost for the hospitality industry.

He's not particularly bothered by his industry not making the target list, seeing the challenge in recruiting a new theme park or hotel property. Still, he points out that tourism attracted 15 million visitors spending $2.9 billion in 2009.

Hayes also understands that more marketing, even if it's aimed at industry, is still marketing the Tampa Bay area, and can translate into tourism, trade shows and conventions.

The strategic plan calls for “place-building and branding” Tampa-Hillsborough. Recommended marketing strategies include mapping, themed signage, lighting and streetscaping on major inbound roads, particularly from Tampa International Airport as part of a broader branding campaign.

To build on the targeted defense and security industry, retired military at MacDill Air Force Base are recommended as assets to be tapped to promote the area to international and domestic markets. The plan notes that officers from 60 coalition nations are based at MacDill, and can serve as “virtual 'ambassadors' to investors in their home countries.”

One strategy calls for developing a profile of MacDill's workforce for prospective employers. The plan notes that the base workforce includes experts in linguistics, logistics, intelligence and counter-intelligence, security and information technology — fields “very much in alignment with the type of industry Tampa-Hillsborough seeks.”

More strategies, more hope

Other strategies listed in the plan include setting up industry specific task forces, conducting supply chain research of companies “to uncover additional targets,” and organize a Latin America networking campaign focused on growth markets such as Brazil and Mexico, and “latent opportunities” meaning places like Cuba and Columbia.

One area the plan falls short on is recommending specific regulatory fixes to local comprehensive plans or development regulations — a subject identified by the task force. Abberger and Norden say that will be addressed by a planned public-private collaboration group being formed.

As proposed, the plan recommends putting together an up-to-date inventory of sites ready for economic development projects, and inventorying developments of regional impact to determine which might handle more growth.

One strategy proposes developing a plan for the University of South Florida perimeter including a focus on adaptive use of the University Mall site. Another calls for putting land entitlements in place for the county-owned site in New Tampa and letting the commercial property market decide how to best put the site to use. The plan also suggests aggregating additional adjacent land

A key recommendation along those lines was included in the economic stimulus task force report a year and a half ago. That recommendation called for a “strategic focus on targeted industries for long term growth” by developing the I-4 economic development corridor plan.

That was a big plan, but that vision was blocked. “We couldn't come up with the plan the community was fully embracing that met the goals,” says Register.

So, the targets just keep moving. Maybe the new target list can stay still long enough to be hit.


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