How the Bertram Yacht deal holds the key to Tampa Bay’s economic future

August 23, 2016

Margie Manning | Tampa Bay Business Journal

Foreign companies that acquire businesses and open new operations in Tampa Bay can be key to a stronger economic climate in the region.

That’s one of the messages analysts shared at the initial meeting of a key group of leaders in the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of the Brookings Instituteand JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM).

The initiative is designed to culminate in a strategy to attract foreign investment in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, with positive economic repercussions.

“Foreign-owned enterprises tend to pay more than domestic firms, they tend to export more … and they tend to invest more in corporate research and development than domestically owned firms,” said Benjamin Sio, project analyst for Brookings.

The predominant form of foreign investment in the United States is mergers and acquisitions, with the average size of the acquired company about 43 employees, Sio said.

“This is not something that gets a lot of headlines because these are not big firms, but this is where a lot of the action is happening,” Sio said. “In every community we go into, the firms that are purchased and begin to grow are those globally engaged firms that just needed a new owner, an infusion of cash, or a connection with a global supply chain, and they are doing better than they were before as a domestic company.”

The purchase of Bertram Yacht by the Gavio Group in Italy is an example of foreign investment in Tampa, said Lorrie Belovich, director, international business development, Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

With the backing of Gavio, Bertram relocated its corporate headquarters to Tampa and plans to create 140 new jobs with a $35 million capital investment.

Tampa was chosen in June as one of a small group of cities and regions for the Global Cities Initiative and the local steering committee for the initiative held its initial meeting Monday.

Brookings analysts, who are in Tampa through Aug. 24, talked with the steering committee, made up of representatives of Port Tampa Bay, Tampa International Airport, the Tampa Hillsborough EDC, Pinellas County Economic Development,Pasco Economic Development Council and industry groups, among others.

Over the next couple of days, roundtable discussions with organizations that represent foreign-owned companies and with the area’s colleges and universities are planned.

About half of the 30 planned one-on-one discussions with local leaders of foreign-owned firms have been completed. The rest are expected to be wrapped up by November, when the core team working on the project expects to present its initial findings.

“With that information we can begin to develop a strategy which we will tie in to our export initiatives, which we started back in 2012,” Belovich said. “So our aim, an aggressive timeline, by March 2017 is to have a regional global trade investment strategy for the first time ever.”

Both Craig Richard, the new president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough EDC, and Bill Cronin, who has been president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council since January, have had previous experience working on foreign direct investment initiatives, and Cronin said there’s strength in the area working together.

“The rest of the world doesn’t see us as Pasco or Pinellas or Hillsborough counties, but as the Tampa Bay region,” Cronin said. “The competition is really the Tampa Bay region against London, or another metro area.”

The Global Cities Initiative recently came under the spotlight nationally, when the New York Times published a report, detailing what it said are the sometimes blurred relationships between think tanks, their donors and the resulting research and events. Brookings has defended the program, according to theWashington Business Journal.

Here are some numbers from the Brookings report, based on 2011 data:
– 41,670 jobs in foreign-owned firms in the Tampa metro area
– 37,750 export-supported jobs in the Tampa metro area
– No. 28: Metro Tampa’s ranking (among the top 100 metros) for jobs in foreign-owned firms and export-supported jobs