Trigaux: Three top Tampa leaders recently went to Connecticut to recruit businesses

March 9, 2016

Robert Trigaux | Tampa Bay Times
On the heels of GE’s big January decision to yank its longtime headquarters out of tax-heavy Connecticut in favor of Boston, three Tampa guys flew north last week.
Their mission? To meet, face-to-face, with winter-and-tax grumpy business executives in Connecticut. The trio enticed them with visions of palm trees, balmy winter temperatures, low taxes and lower costs, a good workforce and, perhaps most of all, a probusiness culture right here in Florida.
The three locals — Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.interim chief J.P. DuBuque, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commission Chair Les Miller — held back-to-back-to-back meetings with senior executives at 11 Connecticut companies. They included IT, manufacturing and service firms ranging in size from small to those big enough to make the Fortune 500.
The much-publicized discontent of giant GE, so eager to find a new headquarters outside of Connecticut, sensitized many other companies in that state to rethink whether they might be better off operating elsewhere.
“GE’s decision to leave signified to some other companies that it can be done with a financial benefit at the end of it,” DuBuque said in a recent interview. The trio won’t identify the names of the companies they visited, but the Tampa leaders plan follow-ups and possibly return visits to the more interested firms.
DuBuque said all but one small firm had issues with Connecticut’s tax burden.
The companies had varying levels of awareness of the Tampa market, he said, but many executives asked two specific questions.
1. What incentives are available in Tampa to support a possible relocation?
2. What is the quality of mass transit in the region?
Ouch. Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Enterprise Florida, the state’s job recruiting arm, suffered a recent setback in Tallahassee in their pursuit of $250 million in specialized “quick action closing” incentives to help make job recruiting deals happen. State legislators have refused so far to approve such funding.
“Not having a closing fund puts us at a disadvantage with other states,” DuBuque said. Still, Florida, Hillsborough County and Tampa can offer other incentives based on meeting job and wage goals.
The other question on mass transit crops up often and frustrates area economic developers. Companies want to know what — other than roads and cars — helps move people around a region? Light rail? Timely bus service?
Costly rail proposals have met a firestorm of regional resistance. And while better bus service has broader backing, improvements are slow. The reality is this metro area remains sorely dependent on driving — which is widely noticed in corporate recruiting circles.
Having Buckhorn and Miller on the recruiting trip was crucial. As top officials, they helped provide clout and credibility, assuring Connecticut executives that red tape and bureaucracy would be minimized in any relocation to the area.
Economic development and corporate recruiting are long-term efforts. Trips by EDC officials and others to call on other specific companies like those last week in Connecticut will become more the norm, officials promise.
Said DuBubque: “Going directly to these C-Suite (senior) level executives will pay big rewards.”
Contact Robert Trigaux at Follow @venturetampabay.

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