Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.’s CEO talks opportunity, strategy
May 11, 2018
- What’s the biggest deal you have in the works right now? There are different types of big deals. There are big deals that employ a lot of people and then big deals that have a lot of capital investment. We have several projects that do both. We have several projects in the pipeline that will produce more than we announced so far this year.
- What are the region’s best selling points? At the macro level it’s the business climate and regulatory climate. We have no state income tax. That automatically puts us ahead of many of our competitors. The feature that separates us, the Tampa Bay market, from some of our brethren in parts of Florida and the Southeast is the quantity and the quality of the talent we have because we have academic institutions that are cranking out talented folks. When we’re able to demonstrate that to people, we typically come out ahead in many of these deals. The third point is we’re kind of this hidden gem, this best-kept secret and when we get people here to see Tampa, Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay area, it sells itself. Our goal is always to get people here to experience it.
- What are some of our opportunities? The No. 1 thing is going to be transportation. That’s probably no secret. We’re on a trajectory to be a top-tier city, and to reach that we have to develop a comprehensive transportation system. Here’s a real-life example from speaking with a company executive. He indicated that his son chose to live in Chicago because he wanted to have that urban experience, but the compromise was that it’s very expensive. He decided to move into downtown Chicago, pay about $600 more a month, but he wouldn’t need his car. So he pocketed the note that he was paying on his car and the insurance and the parking and the fuel costs and he actually came out ahead. That’s an example of how we need to be thinking about how this next generation of Tampa Bay is going to look. Are we going to be able to compete? You’re starting to see the fuel costs creep up. It hasn’t reached a pain point, but when that happens, are we going to be ready?
- What are your marketing strategies? We don’t have millions of dollars to do massive advertising campaigns, so we have to be very smart and strategic. We leverage every partner we can. Social media has become such a pervasive marketing forum, we’re now starting to ramp up efforts in that regard. We have a full-time staffer working on social media. It’s working well. We’re increasing our followers. Last year we did a lot of our promotional work for our annual meeting through social and had the highest attendance we’ve ever had. Our investors loan us their marketing professionals so we’re able to exponentially increase our marketing capabilities. One Wall Street Journal ad would blow our whole budget so that’s why we have to be smart and strategic.
- What lessons did you learn from the Amazon HQ2 bid? One, now we have a very solid format and template for our proposal responses. Two, we now have a model that we can use when we’re working with our friends in Pinellas County. That alone is priceless. This is unchartered territory for us in partnering with another EDC on this caliber of a project, but now we’ve done it and we need to know what needs to happen to be successful in the next go around.