How four companies have tapped the Tampa Hillsborough EDC toolbox

August 22, 2016

    By Margie Manning, Tampa Bay Business Journal (Subscribers may view the story online here)   The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. plans a 10 percent increase next year in visits to local companies as the organization puts a laser focus on business retention and expansion.   The EDC, the lead designated economic development agency for Hillsborough County and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, wants to make sure businesses know there are plenty of tools available to help them grow, in the wake of the highly publicized move by the Florida Legislature to slash a $250 million incentive fund proposed by Gov. Rick Scott from the state budget.   That eliminated the Quick Action Closing Fund, used in the past to seal prominent deals such as new local offices for Bristol Myers-Squibb, Johnson & Johnson and Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.   “One of the perceptions of the EDC is that we are purely here to attract companies from outside the state. Although those are the headline grabbers, what we spend the majority of our time doing is working with existing businesses,” said Steve Morey, vice president, business development, Tampa Hillsborough EDC.   EDC staff will visit 144 firms in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The goal for the next fiscal year is to visit 158 companies, said Morey, who views existing businesses as similar to an investment portfolio.   “We’ve got blue chip businesses, smaller high-growth businesses, old businesses, new businesses. We’ve got a great diversity of businesses with different needs,” he said.   Among the financial incentives that remain is the Qualified Target Industries tax refund, a financial incentive that state and local governments can offer businesses that creating good-paying jobs.   Sunera, a cyber risk management company, qualified for up to $164,000 in QTI incentives in 2015 after the company expanded its downtown Tampa headquarters so it could hire 40 additional workers.   Joel Schleicher, chairman, talked to representatives from at least three other states, but was influenced by the low-tax, low regulatory environment in Florida. The price of talent was another key: “I can hire someone here for $65,000 to $75,000 a year, where in Manhattan it might cost $100,000.”   QTI was also a factor for Integrity Express Logistics, which qualified for up to $150,000 in QTI incentives based on a promise to hire 50 people at a branch office in Tampa. Since the early January announcement, the freight brokerage firm has hired 20 people. It now has 45 workers on site, and is adding two people a month, said Peter Ventura, co-owner.   “Ambitiously I think we could get to 100 by the end of 2017,” he said.   QTI wasn’t a deal-maker or breaker, Ventura said. Integrity Express, headquartered in Cincinnati, looked at several markets, but Ventura was drawn to the housing, quality of life and workforce in Tampa.   Integrity Express also is beginning to tap workforce training resources from CareerSource Tampa Bay, one of many additional incentives available to existing and expanding businesses, Morey said.   CareerSource’s Florida Flex program has been important in attracting tech talent to Nitro Solutions, said Pete Slade, founder and CEO of the software and technology development firm. The company is adding up to 35 new high-wage jobs by 2018.   Florida Flex is designed for the higher-end, better trained tech worker, something many tech firms are unaware of, Slade said.   When Nitro moved from its suburban New Tampa site to downtown Tampa earlier this year and encountered what Slade called “permitting gridlock,” the company tapped the fast-track permitting help the EDC offered.   “It seemed like we were being perpetually delayed ... but from when the EDC took it on, we started to see progress within the week that we talked to them,” he said.   SunView Software also took advantage of expedited permitting and job training after announcing plans to create 45 new jobs in a $1 million expansion of its Tampa headquarters. The fast-track permitting shaved weeks off the build-out time, key for a company that was “busting at the seams,” said Seng Sun, CEO.   Sun, who moved here from Fort Lauderdale 13 years ago, wants to build more local connections, and said the EDC has helped with that as well, introducing SunView to its legal firm, Shumaker Loop & Kendrick, and to Bank of America.   Business retention and expansion isn’t as sexy as recruiting corporate headquarters, Morey said, but the two goals are tied together.   “Companies coming here want to know that once they are here, it’s the proper business environment to continue to grow,” he said. “It’s priceless when we have companies saying, ‘you want to be in Tampa.’”   INCENTIVES: Selected incentives available through the Tampa Hillsborough EDC - Qualified Target Industries tax refund (QTI): Available to companies that create high-wage jobs in targeted industries. Local communities contribute 20 percent of the total tax refund. - Florida Flex (formerly known as Quick Response Training): Statewide program administered by CareerSource Florida (locally CareerSource Tampa Bay). Designed to help companies grow and expand by providing a reimbursable grant that helps cover part of direct training costs for new hires. Reimbursable expenses that can be included are instructor’s wages, curriculum development, materials and textbooks - Fast-track permitting: Offered by all municipalities in Hillsborough County. Helps get permit applications at the city or county moved up to the front of the line. Export assistance: Staff can assist with entering/increasing export initiatives. - Research: Includes a real estate database. - Recognition: Press releases, contact with business and community leaders on the EDC board.