Hillsborough County’s Black Leadership Pipeline is Robust – But We Can Make it Better

February 24, 2021

As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s exciting to see how far Tampa Bay has come in terms of the diversity of our business and community leadership. Last year, Florida ranked 3rd among the best states for Black entrepreneurs according to FitSmallBusiness. Entrepreneurs Troy Taylor of Coke Florida and Oscar Horton of Sun State International Trucks have built legendary companies, earning the #4 and #28 spots respectively on the list of largest black-owned businesses in the country, according to Black Enterprise. Dr. Ken Atwater of HCC and Dr. Tonjua Williams of SPC lead two of the largest higher education institutions in the region, serving over 120,000 students combined. Black leaders are also well represented in Tampa Bay among our local government and state legislative elected officials.

Now is the time to capitalize on the momentum we have. New and emerging programs have been established to help bring the next generation of Black leaders forward. The Mainframe focuses on Black IT professionals and entrepreneurs; the Tampa Bay Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator is helping Black and Latino business owners to attract capital and scale their operations. But we still have a tremendous source of untapped potential in our community – and some great programs that are working to address that.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Gwen Myers is championing the ACE (Apprenticeship to Career Empowerment) Program. This program is designed to reach young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 from low-income households, those exiting the foster care system, and those escaping human trafficking, and connect them to training and industry certification programs and ultimately, a career with a local employer. Similarly, the Tampa Bay Economic Prosperity Foundation, an initiative of the Tampa Bay EDC, is focused on creating inclusive economic growth by bringing jobs and investment to targeted Opportunity Zones and Community Redevelopment Areas (CRAs). Working together with our partners in the City, County, and business community, we will make a difference.

In the wake of last year’s civil unrest, many organizations took a sobering look at the persistent inequities that hold back minority achievement and implemented programs that seek to close racial wealth gaps and improve diversity among their ranks. Several of these organizations have a presence in our community. They are making meaningful investments in workforce development and transforming challenged neighborhoods. This renewed sense of urgency and real action inspires me, as a Black business leader and father of two promising young men. When we work together to achieve greater prosperity for all citizens of Hillsborough County, we exponentially improve our quality of life and quality of place for everyone.