Several months ago, Fluent was doing good business as a medical marijuana supplier. It was growing, and still is.
The then-Miami-based, publicly traded company, with 586 employees, was growing its product in a Tampa indoor facility, and was distributing medical marijuana products, from chocolate to tinctures, to more than 30 of its branded stores in three states.
But one thing was bothering the C-suite in Miami: traffic and the high cost of living in Florida's snazziest city. Small trips of a few miles across Miami were taking too long to make. And average expenses elsewhere were much higher in Miami. An expensive soda. A $20 valet. Miami is a vacation destination and a Latin American banking capital. Does that make it a good place for a small company's HQ?
Fluent's main operations and production are in Tampa. The post-COVID business culture of using Zoom meetings made the situation bearable, says CEO Robert Beasley, but management knew sales growth would mean a decision would have to be made about the headquarters.
Executives began looking around, and like most decision-makers determined to relocate, decided to choose a different part of the state. Fortunately for Fluent's leaders, they were familiar with Tampa. They chose Tampa and the summer of 2023 was chosen as the timetable to move the headquarters.
"This year became the best year to do something that there was no perfect time to do, which was to move 40-plus people from the corporate office, and their families, to Tampa," says Beasley.
So in mid-July, Fluent started moving its headquarters to Tampa. A few families chose to remain in Miami.
Beasley scheduled the transition over the summer so it would not disturb the education of employees' children. While a few remained in Miami, Beasley was surprised to find many lifelong Magic City residents working at Fluent were ready to relocate, and that included employees with children in Miami-area schools.
Beasley himself mentions traffic as a good reason for the headquarters move. He notes sometimes 2.5 miles in Miami could take more than an hour to drive in a car. Later in the day, that trip might ease to 30 minutes. But the unreliability and congestion of Miami traffic were wearing on the company's nerves. It became one of the top reasons managers wanted to join Fluent in Tampa.
Beasley didn't think there would be many takers for Tampa, and that most executives would stay in Miami, causing attrition. Beasley allowed the executives and managers to take expense-paid trips to Tampa to scout around — especially to look at schools, which Beasley describes as a crucial piece of the decision-making puzzle. The vast majority of Fluent executives liked what they saw and heard.
And the economics began to force a choice upon Fluent executives and managers, Beasley says. Office space, for example, is 50% cheaper in Tampa.
"Miami is a great place to live if you're extremely wealthy," says Beasley.
Fluent was founded in 2016, and the founders were Miami-based. With a change in the regulatory environment, Fluent soon organized in Miami, and soon sought further funding through a Canadian over-the-counter exchange, where Fluent is publicly traded.
The in-door production plant was placed near an industrial zone in Tampa. The company sells the spectrum of products, from CBD oil to THC-containing products. The products can come in edibles, chocolate, flowers, "pre-rolled," and more.
Recently, Fluent opened store No. 33 in Florida, in Jacksonville. The company also does business in Texas, where it just started selling, and Pennsylvania.
Revenues in 2022 were about $100 million, with 2021 revenues exceeding $54 million. Beasley will not make predictions for 2023, but notes market guidance puts it at $120 million.
Fluent operates 130,000 square feet in Tampa, having just added 30,000 square feet to production. The company controls the entire process, from seed growth to production, then to trucking to retail.
As the company made its relocation intentions to Tampa officials clear, it got help from the Tampa Bay Economic Development Corp. One factor it didn't get help on was tax incentives — company officials were told there were none available.
"They gave us a lot of connections and guidance," says Beasley. "The No. 1 resource we could have used .... our most precious asset ... is kids. All the parents that were relocating, they needed help finding the schools. They needed help getting into the schools."
Primary issues, Beasley says, were quality of schools, enrollment dates and more. Beasley says he is not aware any EDC has resources to help in relocation for parents, regarding education for children.
But one thing Beasley could do was schedule a move outside of most of Tampa Bay's school years. Fluent started to move in mid-July, and landed at a building near the airport along Executive Drive. With its Texas and Pennsylvania operations, Fluent wanted to be near Tampa International Airport.
Reviews so far have been positive about Tampa.
"Tampa has all of the attributes what you find positive in Miami," says Beasley. "Professional sports, nightlife and restaurants."
But it's not Miami. Tampa is more family-oriented, Beasley says, and a place to raise a family in. It's a choice the business had to make.
"I'm not knocking Miami ... I'm very happy with the move to Tampa," says Beasley.