Hillsborough faces hurdles luring big corporations

September 18, 2015

Steve Controno | Tampa Bay Times
Local leaders often paint Hillsborough County as a sun-drenched, low-tax, low-regulation paradise for businesses looking to relocate.
But on Wednesday, Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hills­borough Economic Development Corp., also bluntly described what’s holding the region back as it seeks to lure a major corporate headquarters that would transform the area.
In a presentation to Hillsborough County commissioners about corporate recruitment efforts, Homans said he hears three concerns from CEOs about the Tampa market.
The first should come as no surprise: transportation. It’s an issue the county has wrestled with for years and is hoping to address with the Go Hillsborough transit initiative.
But the other two roadblocks are discussed less publicly. One is a lack of “Class A” office space, meaning at least 100,000 square feet with the modern amenities a Fortune 500 company would expect in a new headquarters.
Larry Richey, senior managing director for commercial real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield’s Central and North Florida offices, said Tampa has just two available spaces of more than 100,000 square feet.
The low vacancy rate for Class A office space is a good sign that Tampa is retaining the corporations already here, Richey said. But it makes it difficult to recruit if an out-of-state company is looking to move fast.
But the outlook isn’t all bleak.
“Here’s the good news: Headquarter moves don’t happen quickly,” he said. “It’s very politically charged, financially charged, client-centric charged, and it’s not often they make those decisions and move in 12 months.”
Richey said a large office building could rise within two years in downtown Tampa and 18 months in the suburbs. That would meet the time frame for a large corporate headquarters move.
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is considering building Class A office space in his $1 billion development near downtown with the expectation that someone will fill it.
Ali Glisson, a spokeswoman for Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners, said the company “recognizes Tampa needs more Class A space to attract the types of companies we plan to attract, and that is very likely what we would build within the district.”
The third concern that CEOs have of Tampa is fear of being, as Homans put it, “too much of a pioneer.” There’s trepidation in being the new kid on the block — or the only kid.
“Some of them might want to be in a community that has a number of different headquarters,” he said, “where there’s ability to make lateral moves.”
While an obstacle, regional leaders say it validates the strategy of focusing on bagging one big corporate headquarters to get the ball rolling.
“We know that a corporate headquarters will put us on the map,” Commissioner Sandy Murman said, “that it will give us the leverage we need to bring in the spinoff effect.”