Buckhorn and other local lawmakers say NYC financial companies pleased with their Tampa operations

June 24, 2013

Mitch Perry | Creative Loafing
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commission members have often talked about recruiting new companies to the region, particularly ones in the high-tech and/or biotech industries. But they’d also like to see the various financial and insurance companies based in the Tampa Bay area remain in the region, and perhaps even boost their workforces as the economy begins to slowly improve.
So for three days last week, a high-level group of local leaders — including Buckhorn and County Commission Chairman Ken Hagen — visited the executive offices of JPMorgan Chase, Citgroup and Time Warner in NYC to thank them for doing business in Hillsborough County, and to see what they could do to make conditions even better going forward.
“The reason we went there was to express our appreciation to these companies, and to remind them as they go through their re-organizations and as they expand or contract … that this community has a long relationship with them … and is standing by ready, willing and able to accommodate more,” said Buckhorn at a news conference on Monday morning at the headquarters of the Tampa/Hillsborough County Economic Development Corporation (EDC). “I think you’re going to see more as the tax burden in the Northeast gets increasingly higher, and the cost of doing business is increasingly larger and tougher, and Florida becomes an even more welcoming alternative for them.”
Though the trip wasn’t about recruiting new businesses, ECD head Rick Homans said contact was made with one company that he’s hoping to lure to Hillsborough County, but he left it at that.
An estimated 74,000 people are currently employed in finance and insurance in the Tampa Bay area, and recently some of those corporations have expanded, while others have reduced their workforces. In January, Morgan Stanley said it would hire up to 110 people and open a new office in Temple Terrace, taking advantage of tax incentives offered up by the state and county.
In April, the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) announced that it had chosen Tampa as the expansion location for up to 255 high-wage jobs with a total average compensation at more than double the regional average salary of $46,000.
But on the flip side, just two weeks ago JPMorgan Chase announced it was laying off 435 employees at three offices in Tampa.
Temple Terrace Mayor Frank Chillura said some of the organizations the group met with wanted to know more about the Tampa Bay area’s schools and transportation systems, which have at times been barriers for economic redevelopment.
Even though Mayor Buckhorn has said the lack of a mass-transit system has been a negative in terms of what makes the area marketable, he said he heard no such criticism about transit or anything else last week in Manhattan. “But at the same token we are not sugarcoating our shortcomings,” he said, adding that the executives they spoke with were “very, very satisfied with the workforce in particular.”
And why wouldn’t they be? Part of the EDC’s own marketing campaign boasts that Tampa has the lowest cost of living among leading financial markets, with a graph showing Tampa below regions like Miami, Atlanta and Dallas.
Although local officials enthusiastically discuss how events like last summer’s Republican National Convention brought a new, positive spotlight on Tampa, there are always detractors. A recent review of George Packer’s The Unwinding contains four separate chapters about the Tampa Bay area that prompted New York Times critic Dwight Garner to write that Tampa seems like “hell on earth now.”
Buckhorn said there was no reference at all to that depiction in his trip to Manhattan, “If anything, it was the exact opposite.” The mayor said he hasn’t read Packer’s book, but joked that if Tampa is hell, “I’m getting an asbestos suit. Because I’m staying! I’m going to skip purgatory and go right to hell.”