Hillsborough County on track for another record year of job creation, capital investment

July 20, 2017

by Craig J. Richard, CEcD, FM

Now that Florida’s tumultuous 2017 legislative session has concluded, it’s important to remind expanding local businesses and those considering moving to Tampa that our state’s economic development toolkit – which includes performance-based financial incentives – has been preserved.

Florida – and Hillsborough County especially – remains open for business.

I raise this issue because there is a perception that we’ve lost the business recruiting and expansion momentum we’ve worked so hard to achieve over the past several years. That our ability to attract and retain high-wage jobs and investment has suffered.

I can tell you that here in Tampa and Hillsborough County, nothing is further from the truth.

Our community is on track to have another record year for job creation and capital investment. Tampa remains the top producer of high-wage business, financial and professional services jobs in the state. Tampa also generates the highest number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs in Florida, thanks to our thriving, diverse tech industry.

But it’s the manufacturing industry that’s ready to break out and steal the economic development spotlight. There are as many manufacturing projects in the Tampa Hillsborough EDC’s pipeline as financial services and information technology – two of our largest job-producing sectors. And it’s the tremendous activity going on at Port Tampa Bay that’s helping to drive manufacturing industry growth here.

After months of hard work by its staff, Port Tampa Bay’s board last month approved a lease agreement with a steel manufacturing company called Steelco Florida, which will produce steel rebar and billets. Once operational, Steelco is expected to hire around 200 full-time employees. The company also plans to invest over $240 million in a new facility to be constructed on 30 acres of port-owned land.

Steelco, on its own, would be reason to celebrate. But after securing federal and state funds, Port Tampa Bay’s board also approved a project to deepen and widen the Big Bend Channel. As a result of the project, larger ships will be able to serve Port Redwing.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and board member Sandy Murman called the project a “game changer” that will create a manufacturing hub that could lead to 5,000 to 10,000 new jobs.

Steelco and the Big Bend Channel are just two examples of port projects that are fueling Tampa Bay’s growth. Already the largest economic driver in the region, with an estimated annual economic impact of more than $17 billion, Port Tampa Bay’s robust activity across multiple lines of business including cargo, real estate and cruise is resulting in positive gains for our community. And there are no signs of a slowdown.

In fact, Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson estimates that the port will hit $58 million in operating revenue for this fiscal year, ending September 30. That’s over $7 million above the previous record.

The increase comes as county tax dollars spent on capital projects at the port continues to decline.

Port Tampa Bay last year also added two new post-Panamax container gantry cranes. Until 2004, it did not even have cranes to compete with other ports for business. But now these new cranes will dramatically increase the potential capacity for the port’s containerized business and enhance its ability to attract greater carrier and cargo owner interest in the port’s services.

Having worked on multi-billion dollar economic development deals in Texas and Georgia, I know first-hand about the tremendous advantages a world-class deep water port adds to a region’s competitiveness. The shipping access Corpus Christi’s port offered was a key reason why Exxon and SABIC chose San Patricio County for its $10 billion ethylene plant – the world’s largest. Port Tampa Bay offers nearly 5,000 acres of developable land with deep water, rail, and interstate highway access, in a region that boasts one of the best talent markets in the US. And it’s an asset we’ve only just begun to exploit.

Thanks to Anderson’s team, the efforts of the Tampa Hillsborough EDC and our partners, and the pro-business leadership of our local elected officials, Tampa is competing for – and winning – manufacturing projects that will transform this region.

Together, we’ll keep winning.