In Pasco County, Atlanta-based Mirant Americas Development is building a 480-megawatt power plant and will also have plenty of room to grow if it is allowed to compete with big utilities Florida Power and Tampa Electric Co.
All the plant activity is bringing with it new business for manufacturers and construction firms, and economic development leaders are hoping for even more. But if the Legislature does not take up the issue of deregulation by next year, the economic boomlet could slow as quickly as it started.
Key Trend: A decade ago, Tampa's economic development leaders began pushing the city's economy off the old three-legged stool of tourism, agriculture and construction. The diversification effort has paid off: The Tampa Bay area added jobs faster than any other urban area in the country from October 2000 to October 2001, up 3.8%. According to a study by economist David Friedman of San Francisco-based Catellus Corp. on how well cities are surviving the recession, Tampa ranked second out of 47 cities. But the city is almost built-out, and real estate sales in downtown Tampa have dipped. According to Cushman & Wakefield, the vacancy rate for downtown office space is at a four-year high at 17.7%.
Person to Watch: George T. Williamson, director and CEO of the Tampa Port Authority, has 400 acres of land to lease -- including office and retail space at the new Channelside District. Local businesses are counting on Williamson to attract international companies looking to ship their products to and from Central and Latin America.
Business to Watch: Business has spiked at Audio Visual Innovations, a video-conferencing provider, since Sept. 11. Revenues -- $94 million before the attacks -- have jumped by at least 50%. Among its new customers: The Pentagon and horror-story author Clive Barker.
Major Challenges: Transportation and water. Gridlock has accompanied Tampa's fast growth, especially on I-275, the main artery between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Tampa needs to continue to build and expand highways to support its growth. Drought conditions have had water officials scrambling to support the growing Tampa Bay area. Just as the area's first desalination plant, which turns seawater into freshwater, got back on track after months of financial problems, water officials began having problems finding both the cash and the location for a second needed plant. The first plant should be finished by the end of next year if the company constructing it can stay out of bankruptcy court.
Key Trend: The area along 18th Avenue South shows few visible scars from the riots that ravaged the Midtown section five years ago. With some $100 million in state, federal and local money, the city has embarked on an ambitious economic development effort, starting with improved streetscapes and plans to refurbish at least six historic buildings. The low-income, largely minority area still suffers from a "perception problem," says Mayor Rick Baker, but he points to new businesses, a falling crime rate -- by 22% in the past five years -- and rising incomes as reasons to hope.
Person to Watch: Goliath Davis, the city's police chief from 1997 to 2001, is now deputy mayor and Midtown's economic development director, responsible for boosting business in the area and building bridges between the city and residents. Davis brings a special appreciation for the challenges facing the area -- he grew up in Midtown.
Businesses to Watch: Ceridian Benefit Services, which handles employee benefits for other companies, had a big boost last year for new signups under COBRA, the federal law that allows laid-off employees to continue to receive healthcare benefits. The trend is likely to continue. ... Home Shopping Network laid off 120 employees late last year but is still expanding in Europe and Asia and has already seen an upswing in sales this year, especially with the launch of its new internet shopping service.
Major Challenge: Bridging the gap between the minority community and the rest of the city -- most visible in the Midtown redevelopment effort.
Key Trend: The new Polk County Parkway is helping to attract business. Publix is building a new 600,000-sq.-ft. headquarters; Lowe's has a 1-million-sq.-ft. distribution center in the works; and Rooms To Go is expanding its 1.5-million-sq.-ft. distribution center. Lowe's alone will create 400 to 600 jobs, says Jim DeGennaro, director of business development for Polk County's office of economic development. The Suncoast Parkway also is helping to attract businesses because it now connects the area directly to major corporations and manufacturers in Tampa. Businesses like the selection of cheap, undeveloped land and low taxes.
Person to Watch: Tim Eves, director of business development in Florida for Calpine Corp., is the industry's main spokesman for wholesale and retail deregulation in the state.
Business to Watch: Publix has just launched its new online grocery service, PublixDirect, in south Florida and will be expanding the service to Orlando.
Major Challenge: Convincing higher-paying employers that the workforce is skilled enough to support their businesses is a continuing problem. As the area grows, Polk County and Lakeland officials will have to watch out for big neighbors Orlando and Tampa. DeGennaro fears that the three communities will merge into one, leaving Polk County in the dust. "My fear is of being run over," he says.
Person to Watch: J. Michael Cheezem, CEO of JMC Communities, a St. Petersburg-based developer, is changing the Clearwater Beach skyline. Cheezem has been instrumental in winning city backing for his Belle Harbor project and the Mandalay Beach Club, an upscale condo project. A company spokesman says JMC will continue to look for opportunities in Clearwater.
Business to Watch: Aerosonic Corp., an aircraft parts manufacturer that sells mainly to the military and private plane owners, saw sales rise 18% to $20.1 million in the nine months that ended Oct. 31. The company struck a deal with Lockheed Martin to make high-tech instruments for the military's F-16s. With President George Bush's push to increase defense spending, Aerosonic should continue to see its revenues rise.
Key Trend: A boom in home sales in Pasco County has brought growth in construction, concrete, steel and other manufacturing industries, which make up about 5% of the county's businesses. With nearby Pinellas County built out, prospective homeowners are searching for lower-priced homes in Pasco. Hernando and Citrus counties are attracting businesses with the new Suncoast Parkway, especially at Hernando's Corporate AirPark and RailPark, but with a median age in Citrus of 52.6 -- second-highest in the state -- selling prospects on its workforce isn't easy. Mary Jane Stanley, economic development director for Pasco, says some 50,000 Pasco residents commute from the county each day to jobs in neighboring Pinellas and Hillsborough.
Businesses to Watch: TwinStar Optics Coatings and Crystals, a laser component, semiconductor and fiber-optic manufacturer, recently moved from Oldsmar to Port Richey because 75% of its employees lived in Pasco. Company executives say they expect their business to grow by 50% to 100% this year. ... Circle One International, an agricultural products company that grows bacteria to control nematodes that cause root damage, has sales of about $5 million a year and is rapidly growing. The company is moving from its 15,000-sq.-ft. headquarters into a 150,000-sq.-ft. building in the area.