Tampa Was a Finalist for Mercedes Relocation

January 8, 2015

Jamal Thalji | Tampa Bay Times
Rick Homans has been keeping a big secret, and now it can now be told: Tampa was one of the finalist cities for the relocation of Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. headquarters.
The German luxury automaker ended months of speculation Tuesday when it announced that it had picked an Atlanta suburb as the site of its new U.S. headquarters, which is currently in New Jersey.The Wall Street Journal reported that Tampa was a finalist, as were Charlotte, N.C., and Plano, Texas.
Homans, the CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., had been working on the deal under a confidentiality agreement since Aug. 1. That’s when Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm, told him that Mercedes wanted Tampa to submit a proposal.
“The fact that we end up as one of four finalist cities under consideration, I think, is a huge feather in our cap,” Homans said. “We’re competing with the best of the best for the best of the best.
“You have to get into the playoffs to get to the World Series, and we were solidly in the playoffs this time around.”
Getting a big-name company to relocate to the bay area is No. 1 on the wish list of every politician, business leader and economic development official in the region.
It’s also become the personal mission of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who plans to build a new corporate headquarters for a Fortune 500 company to be named later as part of his $1 billion redevelopment plan.
Vinik announced his grand design last month. But Homans said Vinik’s team joined Tampa’s clandestine pitch months ago and tried to sell Mercedes on his new development.
“There will be other opportunities,” Homans said, “but this validates that this is a community that’s worthy of consideration — serious consideration — for a brand-name corporate headquarters. It fuels our efforts even more.”
Later this year, Mercedes will reportedly leave its U.S. home of 43 years in Montvale, N.J., and move its 1,000 employees to a temporary location before setting up shop permanently in Sandy Springs, Ga.
The stakes for such relocations are high. Mercedes’ 1,000 U.S. jobs, for example, is a fourth of the record 4,532 the EDC said it helped bring to Tampa in fiscal year 2014.
But corporate relocations have also turned into an expensive arms race of sorts between municipalities who ply companies with public incentives and tax breaks. The New York Times estimated that Mercedes is getting up to $50 million from Georgia — and New Jersey countered.
The reality, according to corporate site selection expert John Boyd Jr., is that the Atlanta region was always going to be Mercedes’ top choice.
It’s closer to the southeastern U.S. auto industry, the automaker’s Alabama factory and its key shipping hub, Port of Brunswick in south Georgia. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is also a global hub with nonstop flights to Stuttgart, Germany, the home of Mercedes’ multinational parent company, Daimler AG.
Despite Atlanta’s advantages, Boyd said it’s still a good sign that Mercedes asked Tampa to apply and put the city on its short list. Homans said sources told him that Mercedes officials even made a clandestine visit to Tampa.
“They were kind of blown away by the beauty of the city,” he said. “They were surprised by the quality of the neighborhoods, the quality of life.”
Homans said it comes down to the right fit. Tampa didn’t fit Mercedes’ needs. That’s why it’s so important for economic development officials to understand the needs and psychology of companies they choose to go after.
“We need to look at the world through their eyes,” he said.
The kinds of companies that Homans said might be interested in relocating to Tampa may be those looking to “revitalize” themselves with a change of scenery.