12 Years Later, Tampa Now Perceived as Business Friendly, Proactive

November 24, 2014

Alexis Muellner | Tampa Bay Business Journals
We’ve often wondered about the intangible value of big global events like the Republican National Convention, Super Bowl and IIFA. Add to all that proactive benchmarking and business development trips by Tampa Bay’s top elected officials, and it might explain improvements in how business friendly the area is perceived.
The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. has made the relocation of a major brand name headquarters to Tampa Bay a big priority.
Perception of the region from CEOs with no connection to the market and CEOs that run local operations of companies based elsewhere has changed dramatically for the better, new research from San Diego-based Barry Quarles and his firm, Market Enhancement Group, shows.
He briefed EDC investors in person last week about the data.
“As we create websites and brochures and take people to dinner and lunch we know a little more about what is going in their head and how they view this marketplace,” said EDC CEO Rick Homans. The data follows on a similar set of questions asked in 2002, so it is comparison-rich.
Twelve years ago, the high cost of doing business here was a strong negative. Now, the area has a better rap, and even more critical is a pro-business attitude of local and state public leadership. That, combined with an absence of unnecessary rules and regulations and a lack of bureaucratic interference, dominated the perceived advantages of doing business here.
Tampa is rated No. 1 in areas where other markets are struggling, Quarles said, such as cost of living and expensive government.
“This is what I call the perfect storm,” he said. “This gives Tampa a unique opportunity to solve a problem. Why not fix it for them?”
For Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the briefing was pure affirmation.
“To know that we have completely changed the culture and perception of Tampa out there in the business community both from locals and those remotely familiar with us really is rewarding for us,” Buckhorn said.
Among other key takeaways:
Conventions, email blasts and brochures don’t cut it. Prospects want one-on-one meetings with top elected and economic development leaders.
A lack of transportation infrastructure is more of a factor than ever, providing more impetus for the region to find some way of making progress with a modern transportation system.
As much as 13 percent of the respondents are very likely to move to establish new headquarters in the next three years. Another 15 percent are somewhat likely. They are heavily concentrated in the Northeast: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
While Tampa is gaining ground in being seen as pro-business and local and state public leaders increasingly are viewed as proactive, that’s the not the case everywhere, and that can form the basis of a strategic outreach initiative. “Here’s things we don’t like about where we are, and here’s what we think is strong about Tampa, and those two things match up really well,” Quarles said. “That’s your marketing message.”