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Foreign direct investment is paying off in Tampa Bay

High-level Tampa officials are making big-dollar pushes to woo foreign companies to town. The push is paying off.

  • By Laura Lyon
  • | 5:00 a.m. July 5, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Oli Davies, operations lead; Lucas Jopp, program manager (seated in chair); Sarah Donetta, account executive; Richard Parkinson VP Americas
Oli Davies, operations lead; Lucas Jopp, program manager (seated in chair); Sarah Donetta, account executive; Richard Parkinson VP Americas
Photo by Mark Wemple
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The global reach of Tampa Bay is getting longer. 

How long? More than 40% of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council's project pipeline was from international companies last year, according to the organization's annual report. Some companies found Tampa while doing market research, while others met members of the EDC through industry events.

Tampa Bay EDC President and CEO Craig Richard says an international strategy is good for those coming to the area and the companies already established here. The EDC assists the migration through what it calls foreign direct investment (FDI) initiatives. 

“You want foreign companies to see your community as an opportunity to do business in the United States to maybe establish a regional or national headquarters," Richard says. "Then you want local companies to identify other markets that they could sell their goods and services at and we [work with] both of those.”

Once companies have located, the EDC works as an ambassador during the transition to ensure companies have connections to the local talent pool through hiring and personnel agencies; infrastructure needs handled through their network of real estate brokers and the permit office; and awareness of grant opportunities for workforce training. 

The EDC has help in the mission from Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's office — which sometimes joins the EDC out in the world to get eyes on Tampa. “I think what excites me the most about it is as we grow that we do it very thoughtfully, very intentionally and inclusively,” says Castor, in an interview with the Business Observer. 

Castor notes investments in infrastructure like wastewater treatment and mass transit help make Tampa even better to for companies facing a choose of U.S. cities. “To be able to bring in companies from around the world and expand our reach and meld them into the fabric of the Tampa Bay area is always so exciting for me.”

That's also why Richard believes the FDI program is so important. “There are so many other markets internationally and globally that we haven't tapped into," he says. "So discovering those markets, helping people discover Tampa as a business destination is exciting.”

The Business Observer spoke with three companies that recently made the move from one of the most heavily-invested in markets — Europe — to see what their experience was and what they’re bringing to Tampa.


Clarify is a B2B marketing firm based in the UK. “We’ve worked globally since our inception” in 2003, says Richard Parkinson, Vice President of the Americas for the firm. “But we've worked specifically with technology companies, so the U.S. obviously has a massive market for us as the largest market by far. So we made the decision to make the sort of foray into moving into the U.S and having a proper HQ within the U.S.”

The company, which has annual revenue of $10 million pounds, or $10.7 million, narrowed down its choices to Austin, Raleigh and Tampa for its U.S. headquarters. The team spoke with each of the EDCs and ultimately made the decision based on tax benefits, a growing tech sector, sunshine and “a great place to be in a growing city,” says Parkinson.

Clarify currently has 140 employees in the UK and 15 in the U.S., including four that moved across the pond, but its numbers scale according to project load. Although its done well with 12% of revenue owed to locating in the States, it has come with an adjustment period. “There's a lot of difference in culture, differences you have to be very aware of, and how we run our business,” Parkinson says, citing a heavier reliance on networking than the UK. In addition to resources at the EDC, Clarify, he says, formed a market advisory board to “make sure that when we're taking messaging when we're taking new potential ways of doing business, different contracts and we're utilizing them to make sure we're not just thinking about it from what we've always known.” 

The Tampa Bay EDC introduced the firm to the broker found it office space and banking and legal contacts. Parkinson recalls, “Once we got into Tampa, they invited us to some events to do some networking and building some relationships off the back of that. So we were sort of like ‘Tampa is going to be like a good option for us.’”

Strive Sales

Strive Sales, a hiring firm specializing in Software as a Service, had two offices in the UK and located to three other countries (France, Germany and the Netherlands) when it decided to open an office in the U.S. With 65% of its business being based in the States, it was the next logical step for the company, which was founded in 2018.

“We always knew we're going to expand into the US. Our client base is heavily based there. And so I think it was toward the end of 2021 we decided to put what we needed in order to start the research project,” says Operations Director McKenzie Powell. She led a team on a three month project to find its North American hub. Austin, Charlotte and Tampa made the shortlist based on tax incentives, local talent and business trends like net migration and economic growth. 

Austin is a larger, more well known tech hub, but that was not a benefit in this case. “Austin had this massive wave of big tech companies moving there. But that wasn't necessarily attractive to us because, you know, really big players were there who could pay massive salaries. And here's a smaller company coming in that couldn't necessarily compare to them,” Powell says. 

Tampa was the winner based on scoring metrics. “That's where the EDC came in really useful because we did use very data specific research information,” Powell explains, “So for example, like net migration, [with] the EDC all that kind of information came about really easily, and they have that data on hand. So they did help with some elements of the search criteria.”

Powell had words of wisdom for anyone considering the same path. “My biggest advice for anybody looking to expand into Tampa is to utilize the EDC. I am such a big advocate of them. They can open doors, introduce you to people that you didn't know that you needed introduced into. And they're just a really good support network to utilize.”

JSWD Architecture Firm

JSWD, an architecture firm founded in 2000 in Cologne, Germany, has had a collaborative presence in projects all over the globe resulting in $31 million euros of annual revenue, or $33.2 million. But it was familial ties to the Tampa Bay area that brought it stateside. In a statement to the Tampa Bay EDC, Founding General Partner Olaf Drehsen said, “We have been looking to expand our business into the U.S. market, and Tampa was on our radar because of a professional connection with the University of South Florida, and a personal connection because my wife is from Tampa.” 

Drehsen has been teaching since 2000 and joined USF’s School of Architecture & Community Design as a Scholar-in-Residence in 2019. He’s already brought a few USF students into the firm, both locally and abroad. “I make only advanced we prepare the students for the real life and real jobs we are doing in this world, ” says Dreshen, who notes he had an illness that slowed the pace of the Tampa firm’s growth but is looking forward to bringing in more students now that he’s better. 

Despite the previously established local connections, it was an ambassador at the chamber of commerce in Munich who introduced him to the Tampa Bay EDC. “We got connected through a meeting in Frankfurt. There were people from the EDC with the German ambassador in Munich. And he has direct contact with the EDC and he said, ‘We can help you to do business’,” Drehsen recalls of the meeting about a year ago. 

Drehsen looks forward to using the new office to bring his experience to cities in the States. He cites Europe’s older established cities with a focus on public transportation and connectivity as inspiration for future design. “I can bring this knowledge and I'm open to collaborate with every American architect.”



Laura Lyon

Laura Lyon is the Business Observer's editor for the Tampa Bay region, covering business news in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties. She has a journalism degree from American University in Washington, D.C. Prior to the Business Observer, she worked in many storytelling capacities as a photographer and writer for various publications and brands.

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