Tampa Bay: Reaching New Heights
A reliable workforce and reasonable costs draw key sector industries to Tampa Bay.
Low business costs
Tampa Bay is ranked the nation's second most economical place to do business, according to KPMG's 2006 Competitive Alternatives Study of 23 major U.S. cities.
Low costs are helping to grow the region's northernmost county, Citrus, where the population has tripled over three decades. Undeveloped land lures residential developers and industry leaders alike: Citrus issued 3,309 building permits for new homes in 2005, one-third more than in 2004.
Progress Energy is the largest Citrus County employer with about 1,500 employees. Its Crystal River plant generates 3,140 megawatts, about half of the electricity used by the utility's 1.6 million Florida customers. Another large employer in Citrus County is Pro-Line Boats with 400 employees. In Hernando, the County Airport is a "hotbed of our economic development," says Michael McHugh, director of business development for Hernando. In the 2,400-acre industrial park area, Hernando has developed nearly 1.6 million square feet of speculative space because "it shortens the timeline for getting a building constructed," says McHugh.
CompuLink, whose 35 employees specialize in cable assembly manufacturing, recently leased a building in 60-company Airport Industrial Park. Century-old Emery Thompson, the world's largest maker of batch freezers, relocated from Bronx, N.Y., to the park after considering several states. To serve clients like Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs, Emery Thompson spent more than $750,000 on a 20,000- square-foot building. Lower costs and excellent transportation were among factors prompting Emery's move.
In Pasco County, projects "are larger than before," says Mary Jane Stanley, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council. "We're going from 20,000- or 30,000-square-foot projects to 75,000- or 100,000-squarefoot projects." Pasco is among the 10 fastest-growing counties in Florida and among the nation's top 40.
One big Pasco win is Opinicus, a flight simulator company that moved its headquarters and production facilities into a $5 million building here in mid-2006. More than 200 employees will build simulators for the Eclipse 500 "microjet" aircraft, and do work for Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, the U.S. military and dozens of clients. Says James Takats, president: "The Pasco EDC has been a lifesaver, allowing us to continue to do our business while we moved forward on the new facility."
Cash-register tape maker Eastern Ribbon & Roll invested nearly $4 million, relocating about 60 employees and creating 35 new jobs when it moved into 98,000 square feet of space in Pasco. Eastern received a reduction in county impact fees, a $300,000 Economic Development Transportation Fund grant to improve road access and a Quick Response Training incentive of $94,595. "Pasco County offered us the best solution for our growing business," says Blaise Collura, CEO.
Jupiter Marine International chose to expand to a 55,000-square-foot facility in Palmetto to build its centerconsole, inboard boat. One reason, reports Nancy Engel, executive director of the Economic Development Council, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, was the presence of 15 other boat builders nearby.
"We were trying to find a place where we would have room to expand, in an environment where the city was businessfriendly and there was a labor pool to draw from," says Carl Herndon, president.
At the eight-acre site near I-75 and the Manatee River, Jupiter can test and demonstrate its product, and also tap the experienced labor pool. Jupiter invested about $1 million in improvements and expects to add 50 workers to its initial staff of 25 by spring 2007.
CCB Credit Services, an Illinoisbased accounts receiving management firm, opened a call center in Sarasota County in 2006 where it expects to employ 40 people. "We believe the Sarasota office will play a significant role in the continued success of our company," says Ron Krech, president. "Sarasota was an ideal solution."
The surrounding area has proved ideal for many companies, according to Kathy Baylis, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County. Window and door manufacturer PGT Industries and FCCI Insurance Group are just two that have found homes here recently.
In Polk County, Coca-Cola Enterprises, franchise bottler for Coca-Cola Co., is building a 100,000-square-foot distribution center near I-4 to employ 100 people. The bottler already employs about 2,800 in Central Florida.
Also in Polk, MonierLifetile LLC is building a concrete tile plant, an expansion of 37,000 square feet of an existing Lake Wales facility. Southern Wine & Spirits of America, the nation's largest wine and spirits distributor, recently opened a 653,000- square-foot distribution center on 80 acres in Lakeland.
Jim DeGennaro, director of business development for the Central Florida Development Council of Polk County, reports 18 projects representing 994 new jobs and $213 million in capital investment since the beginning of fiscal year 2005. Much of that growth, he says, can be attributed to Polk's location.
"Within a 100-mile radius, there's a resident population of 8.5 million people, half the state's population. No place in the Southeast, not even Atlanta, can say that."
-- Fred W. Wright Jr./Gary Shepherd