Survey: To woo millennial talent, Tampa Bay must stand out from competing metros

June 15, 2016

Robert Trigaux | Tampa Bay Times

If Colleen Chappell had her way, she would run every person in the Tampa Bay area through a marketing boot camp to learn precisely what makes this region great now and even greater tomorrow.

Then she’d send them all out to those metro areas deemed arch competitors of Tampa Bay. In Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Dallas, they’d make their pitch directly to talented millennials on why the bay area is a more promising and affordable place to build a career and enjoy the lifestyle.

“We need to make everyone an economic development ambassador,” said an enthusiastic Chappell.

In concept, that goal is a smart one. Tampa Bay lately feels like it is on a path to growth. But business leaders suggest that path can become a major thoroughfare if this metro area can leverage its strengths and patch its weak spots to better appeal to the next generation of business talent.

Chappell, who runs her own marketing firm in Ybor City, is this year’s chair of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. On Tuesday afternoon, she hosted the unveiling of new survey findings that show Tampa Bay compared favorably in millennial appeal against the four peer metro areas.

“Tampa’s business climate, cost of living, affordability and desirability as a place to live were given the highest favorability ratings of all markets,” said the recently commissioned survey that is part of the EDC’s “Millennial Matter Project.”

The findings, presented to an invited audience of political and business leaders and area entrepreneurs, means this metro area needs to reach out to millennial CEOs and young talent and, said Chappell, “pump up the volume.”

One survey surprise: High crime rates ranked high among millennial concerns in cities like Atlanta and Dallas. Tampa boasts the lowest crime rate of the five cities surveyed, a factor that could play well in recruiting.

So does Tampa Bay’s foodie and craft beer scene, a big factor with millennials, the survey found.

“We have a hell of a case to make” to millennials, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at the survey unveiling. “This is a different city than it was five years ago. We are going to win this war.”

To recruit a millennial, use a millennial. That’s part of the EDC strategy, which has formed a “millennial council” with area entrepreneurs to share their insights. Roberto Torres, a founder in Tampa of the Black & Denim clothing line and the expanding Blind Tiger coffee shops, was among the young talent on hand Tuesday. He says he is committed to share his experience as a successful area entrepreneur with other millennial business leaders that want the inside scoop on why this metro area is worth their attention.

The survey also pointed to some area weaknesses. Of greatest concern was public transportation (or lack of it). It proved a sore point for discussion coming so soon after the recent failure by the Hillsborough County Commission to place the Go Hillsborough initiative on this fall’s ballot. The good news is Tampa Bay’s traffic, while criticized by those who must commute longer distances, would be considered mild in clogged metro areas like Atlanta.

Another concern voiced by millennials in the survey was a perception that they could not easily live and work in the same area. Chappell and Buckhorn said downtown Tampa had momentum on its side with new housing units being built by the thousands. And Jeff Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners’ plan to develop a live-work-play urban neighborhood near Channelside will appeal to many millennials – once it progresses.

The EDC survey findings are extensive. They will take time to be absorbed, debated and converted into strategies that might benefit Tampa and Hillsborough County, as well as the overall metro area.

Recruiting millennials is not a new idea. This is not the first time Tampa business leaders have commissioned a study to see where this metro area lands in the eyes of the next generation of young business talent.

A 2004 study dubbed “The Young and the Restless” revealed findings that differ sharply from this new 2016 survey. Twelve years ago, that study found that Tampa Bay was perceived as a place where you spend the last part of your life.

Ouch. At the least, that outdated perception is no longer high on anybody’s radar.

Contact Robert Trigaux at Follow @venturetampabay.