Buckhorn, Lopano and EDC head, Rick Homans, debrief the press on their business trip to Germany

April 22, 2013

Mitch Perry | Creative Loafing
Before he was elected two years ago, Bob Buckhorn made it known that he would travel far and wide to do what it takes to sell Tampa to the world. According to himself and other local business officials who recently returned from a business trip to Germany, it makes a difference that he is at the head of the table taking meetings.
“The level of success we had (would not have been possible) if the mayor had not been with us at the end head of the table, leading the delegation. This signaled a very strong commitment from the political leadership of the community that they were behind these kinds of operations,” said Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (EDC) President and CEO, Rick Homans, on Monday morning. Homans was commenting on the just completed trip that the EDC organized last week with local political and business leaders in Nuremburg, Munich and Frankfurt, Germany, as well as Zurich, Switzerland, all in an attempt to drum up business for the Tampa Bay area.
“When he’s at the meeting, you tend to get a higher level of people to listen to you,” added Tampa International CEO Joe Lopano, regarding Buckhorn’s stature in the meetings.
Local officials would not name any of the companies whom they met with, though Lopano admitted in the news conference that they met with Lufthansa Airlines, Germany’s biggest airline. We do know though, that some of the officials in attendance at the meetings were from aerospace, health care, computer software, and water recycling industries.
Homans said eight of those companies have agreed to visit the Tampa Bay area within the next two months for “site visits,” where they will meet with political, academic and business leaders. They’ll also investigate real estate and workforce opportunities during those visits.
Germany is the third highest visitors market in the Tampa Bay area (behind Canada and the U.K.), but according to Mayor Buckhorn, cities like Miami and Orlando come up first with Germans when discussing Florida, and thus a large part of the trip was to get Tampa introduced onto that worldwide stage.
“Business doesn’t just come to you, you have to go get it,” said Mayor Buckhorn, explaining that it’s a long process that may not see fruition for a number of years, a comment later echoed by Lopano.
The mayor said part of such meetings included highlighting the area’s strengths, but don’t deny the region’s weaknesses.
“But we make the case that this is a great place to do business,” he said. He added that the fact that Tampa is now the headquarters for the Florida branch of the German American Chamber of Commerce doesn’t hurt either.
Homans said there are generally two types of business trips. The first includes trade missions, which he said are like sales meetings, with the goal being to recruit foreign companies to relocate to one’s area and create jobs. But he said that wasn’t the intention of this trip. This week long visit, he maintained, was designed to attract German companies to come back and make site visits in the Tampa Bay area.
When asked who the city was competing with in their negotiations with the companies they met with, Homans said the group had a “high degree of confidence in our ability to attract these companies, and in none of the cases are we competing with anyone else.”
Previously, Buckhorn has traveled to Panama, Israel and Columbia in order to drum up business for Tampa.
The EDC is planning its next foreign business trip to Brazil this fall.