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Tampa Bay, Sarasota become alluring options for financial services

With Miami and New York becoming more expensive, a number of firms are looking at Tampa Bay for locations and talent.

Mary Tran, associate vice president of investment management for Selby Jennings.
Mary Tran, associate vice president of investment management for Selby Jennings.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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The Tampa Bay and Sarasota regions could be the "next frontier" for financial companies, as costs soar in larger U.S. cities known for harboring such industries.

The cost factor, the lower cost of doing business, has led some finance companies, even those within Florida, to eye Tampa Bay and Sarasota, according to economic development officials.

While Tampa Bay and Sarasota will likely not immediately attract the headquarters of major banks and financial services agencies —  especially "client-facing" operations —  the Tampa Bay and Sarasota regions are already attracting public investment managers, private investment firms, wealth managers, hedge funds and even secondary operations of major players, according to Mary Tran, associate vice president of Selby Jennings, a global talent partner for the banking and financial services sectors.

Tran and regional economic development officials say the Gulf Coast of Florida is ready to absorb the companies or their divisions, and ready to offer up local financial talent as those companies grow.

Normally, in relocation and growth matters, major companies assess whether an experienced and educated workforce is available before making the leap. Economic development officials across Tampa Bay and Sarasota say talent is not an issue for the financial service sector.

"That's not something we are hearing about," says Anne Core, vice president of marketing and communication for the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp.

And Tran points to major banks such as JPMorgan Chase eyeing more operations in Florida.

In March, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told Bloomberg TV that his banking giant would open more services in Florida. Tampa and Orlando, he told Bloomberg TV, are adding "major operations."

"We love Florida," Dimon told Bloomberg in March. "We're growing in Florida left and right."

Tampa Bay booms as Miami wanes

So what is driving more and more financial services to Tampa Bay and Sarasota? It's not just the talent the Gulf Coast has to offer. It could be the costs of doing business in New York City and now even Miami have led some banks and financial service providers to the more affordable Gulf Coast.

Miami, the finance capital of Florida, has especially seen the cost of living hurt its retention. Costs and other factors led to a net loss of 38,200 people from Miami-Dade in one year —  from 2021 to 2022 —  according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In that same time, Tampa Bay —  specifically Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties —  had a net gain of 70,000 people. Sarasota County added 16,500 people, and Lee County added 29,100 people.

So as Miami once seemed like an attractive place for Northeastern businesses to relocate, costs soon caught up with a growing demand. The "cost gap" between living in New York City and Miami is shrinking, Tran says, and that has some companies looking west across the state.

"I think that's why Tampa Bay is going to be the next frontier in Florida, just because ... their employees are starting to realize that the promise of the lower cost of the living area is not as great as they initially thought," says Tran, speaking of Miami.

Tran acknowledges Tampa is growing but says the living-cost gap between Miami and Tampa is significant, in favor of Tampa.

But a question arises: If financial companies come to Tampa Bay and Sarasota, does the region have the talent to fill roles? And will talent from outside of the region want to locate to Tampa Bay or Sarasota-Bradenton? After all, while Tampa Bay is no financial slouch, it's generally not considered a "Tier 1" or global capital for finance.

Still, Tran specializes in finding talent at her Tampa office, and reports few problems in recruitment.

Tran manages eight employees whose job it is to have candidates ready for interviews should a financial service company lose a CFO or some other high-ranking official. 

The challenge is to have enough candidates ready in the region, or to be able to attract such candidates to the regions of Tampa Bay or Sarasota. And then to tap the pipeline when needed.

Craig Richard, CEO of the Tampa Bay EDC, says the talent pipeline is strong.

"Talent is already moving here in droves," says Richard. "Florida and Tampa Bay are among the top relocation destinations in the country. For example, last year, 96 people moved to Hillsborough County per day. Our graduates from local universities are also staying in the area because of the plentiful job opportunities and excellent quality of life they enjoy here. The talent pipeline here from our universities and from those relocating is what’s attracting companies to the area."

A little help from the environment

Florida, of course, already had some built-in attractants —  such as the weather, lower living costs and no state income tax — that were attracting professionals and financial companies. And as the 2010s progressed, some companies saw the benefit in relocating in Florida, helped along by aggressive recruitment even by the state's then governor, Rick Scott, who would call Northeastern-based CEOs on his personal cell and urge them to relocate.

The COVID-19 policies of Northeastern states only accelerated a trend that was already happening.

Core can list a few major financial-company scores her EDC made in St. Petersburg. In 2019, the city attracted Dynasty Financial Partners, then with 40 workers, from New York City. Since then, the firm has grown to 70 people.

After COVID-19, a "celebrity" recruitment success occurred when Ark Investment Management LLC —  a firm that specializes in publicly traded "disruptive" companies such as Tesla —  announced it would leave New York City for St. Pete in October 2021. Cathie Wood, with her 1.6 million Twitter followers and billions of dollars under management, is considered one of the St. Pete Area EDC's major successes.

But Tampa Bay has always been a financial region, Core says, noting Raymond James, founded in the 1960s in St. Pete, has grown to be one of the largest U.S. financial service companies. That has helped fill the regional ranks with experienced financial professionals.

And one regional EDC official says placement organizations have been located in Tampa Bay and Sarasota for years, noting that as the money and financial services companies come, so comes the demand for experienced workers. Joshua Ewen, vice president of economic development for the Sarasota County EDC, says he is seeing a steady stream of interest about finance firms setting up business in Sarasota County.

Ewen says he often sees financial service departments looking around for space, even if that means they will be separated from headquarters in New York City or Miami. Big financial firms can do back-office accounting, sales development, software development, and advertising technology in Sarasota, Ewen says.

In fact, big firms based in the Northeast and elsewhere are taking advantage of Sarasota now.

"We know those companies are already here, and there's certainly room for additional employers to come to Sarasota," Ewen says. 



Jim Stinson

Jim Stinson is the Business Observer's Tampa Bay business reporter and editor, having previously written about business and policy in Washington, D.C.; Rochester, New York; Gary, Indiana; and Daytona Beach. He attended Boston University for business and Indiana University for journalism.

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