Chappell: Millennials are ready to play a part in economic development

October 29, 2015

Chris Wilkerson | Tampa Bay Business Journal
Colleen Chappell‘s term started with a selfie.
Yes, she had to explain to a few of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. board members what she was doing ( Ellen? The Oscars? Remember?), but her move sent the message that there’s a new sheriff in town.
Chappell is the incoming chair of the EDC and as a woman, an entrepreneur and an executive in a creative industry, she is a departure from most of the chairs Tampa’s EDC has had in its six years.
She took that selfiereminiscent of one taken by Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars ceremony in 2014 that was retweeted more than 3.3 million times (see below) — minutes before Tuesday’s EDC annual meeting. There she would set the tone for an organization that she believes is now mature enough to integrate a whole new kind of corporate partner: the millennial.
“We can’t talk about them and around them,” she said. “We have to start talking to them.”
The EDC’s annual meeting presentation included several clues that the Chappell administration would focus on incorporating the next-generation business owner in ways that no previous president had attempted.
There was a five-minute video of entrepreneurs like College Hunks Hauling Junk co-founders Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman, and Roberto Torres, who runs the Blind Tiger shops and Black and Denim telling their stories and signaling they are ready to be a part of the economic development landscape.
There also was an acknowledgement from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn during his time on the stage that the brain drain Tampa once was famous for has been reversed in many ways and we are retaining the talent we once were losing.
Chappell’s plans about how to accomplish the goal of integrating the next-generation business owners and executives into economic development are still in an incubator stage, but they include dusty EDC terms like “advisory board.”
Her integration challenge is not a small one. The millennial generation has typically shown little patience for the plodding pace of economic development work. Economic incentives for projects like Brandon’s Bass Pro Shops regularly elicit tweets of “SMH” and even “WTF?” from the young entrepreneurs and the startup crowd.
Still, Chappell thinks they are ready.
“I want to activate this part of the community,” she said after the meeting.
An entrepreneur herself, Chappell’s advertising agency Chappell Roberts is full of young workers, so she has experience with this generation that is informing her EDC leadership.
That selfie included important EDC investors and partners like Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano; Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson; Interim EDC CEO J.P. DuBuque; University of Tampa President Ron Vaughn; new Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans (who only recently left his post as the CEO at the EDC); Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney Florida Offices Chair Rhea Law and others.
Look for that same selfie before next year’s annual meeting to include some of those next generation entrepreneurs Chappell wants behind her as she leads the EDC in a new direction.