Tampa, hit hard by job losses at high-tech and call center operations early this year, is sticking with initiatives aimed at building its new-economy infrastructure, including a business incubator.
The city has released two working documents, "The Tampa Technology Initiative" and "Incubators: An Industry Assessment," meant to provide recommendations on how to support emerging startups. In addition, the University of South Florida has hired Dan Behuniak as executive director for the incubator and accelerated its search for 10,000 square feet of temporary space either on the perimeter of campus or in downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg. The university is finalizing a master plan for a new, on-campus R&D park, which includes a permanent site for an incubator.
Meanwhile, however, some think the quest for an incubator is overlooking an important piece of the startup puzzle: Matching seed money to business ideas.
Marty Traber, a partner at Foley & Lardner law firm, pairs promising tech entrepreneurs with angel investors, working on retainer for clients as well as on his own time, hosting informal gatherings to link players in Tampa's high-tech community.
"We're a bit disorganized," says Traber. "Tampa has a lot of capital available but is lacking the matching mechanism." Traber calls his idea an information clearinghouse, a repository of information about tech entrepreneurs and their new ideas. It would also identify available capital, allowing startups to tap into what he calls a "prodigious group" of angel investors who are "quite willing to stroke checks for a quarter-million, a half-million," he says.
As the incubator plans proceed, Traber continues matchmaking. "When the city is ready to actually put the playing pieces together, it will find a well-developed, well-linked tech community," he says.
People to Watch
Kim Scheeler, the new president of Tampa's chamber of commerce, has replaced Jay Garner, whose abrasive style and outsider status didn't sit well with Tampa's business community. Scheeler, who leaves his post as head of Hillsborough County's United Way, is considered an insider. His challenge: Mend fences and breathe new life into a chamber most agree needs an infusion of new ideas.
John Sykes, one of Tampa's premier philanthropists and CEO of Sykes Enterprises, contributed $38 million to the University of Tampa. But his company's stock price crashed last year, and both shareholders and Wall Street will be watching as he attempts to get his company back on track.
Businesses to Watch
Fun Holdings promises to bring more cutting-edge technology into the area, but the projects it will support have to be "fun." The brainchild of Hunt James, the son of Raymond James head Tom James, and Charlotte Baker and Vince Rocca, former 2nd Century Communications executives, it's essentially a holding company that will support tech startups, much like an incubator would. The company is keeping several deals in the works under wraps for now.
After several money-losing years, the Florida Aquarium has finished in the black for a second year in a row. It is one of the key attractions in the emerging Channelside district, for which the city has high hopes. CEO Jeffery S. Swanagan wants to continue to decrease the non-profit's reliance on city subsidies and ultimately do without them altogether.
Economists expect 25,667 jobs to be created in the bay area this year, down 18% from last year.
St. Petersburg: Economic Equity
Dealing with the lingering economic disparity between St. Petersburg's south central section and the rest of the city will be on the plate of whoever is elected to succeed outgoing Mayor David Fischer this year.
In 1996, riots in economically depressed and primarily African-American neighborhoods south of Tropicana Field opened the city's eyes to festering problems. Fischer launched a "Challenge" program, a partnership between the city and public and private agencies working to revive the south central area. Progress has been slow: 2,021 jobs have been created, and crime is down 11.4% in the Challenge area.
But critics such as Omali Yeshitela, leader of the African People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, say it's not enough. "Race relations," says Yeshitela, "are stuck due to economic disparity."
The city sees the inability to attract private investment as the biggest obstacle to changing the business environment of the Challenge area. Private agencies like the African-American Entrepreneurial Association are trying to jump-start new business development with micro loans of $500. But attracting bigger amounts of private capital into the Challenge area is still difficult.
The city is pinning its hopes on the Dome Industrial Park, 20 acres near Tropicana Field that the city is acquiring and cleaning up. It's a $7.5-million initiative on the city's part, but it's looking for an investor to help develop this part of the city's old industrial area.
The racial divide runs deep. Yeshitela blames the city's construction of Tropicana Field for killing south side business in the first place. He questions how private investors interested in lining their own pockets will help revive the south side economy.
Yeshitela says the real challenge for St. Petersburg lies in creating an economic interdependency between the south side and the city's traditional business economy.
People to Watch
Bill Habermeyer, who takes over at Florida Power after its parent company was acquired by North Carolina-based Progress Energy last year, will oversee hundreds of layoffs while trying to maintain the company's civic leadership role.
Vice President Bill Heller, often a voice for increased autonomy for USF's St. Petersburg campus, may finally be getting his wish. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Don Sullivan would provide the St. Pete campus with its own accreditation, governing board and budget. If the bill passes, Heller may find himself heading a much more independent campus.
Businesses to Watch
Danka Business Systems has a new CEO and a new agenda for boosting the copier company's sagging fortunes. Atlanta businessman P. Lang Lowrey III took the helm in March. His top priorities will be reducing the company's debt and restructuring the company's information technology system, which was blamed for billing problems. Danka was delisted from Nasdaq last year, and its shares now trade for less than $1.
Echelon is hunkering down to face the prospects of a softening economy and the effects that may have on its Carillon office park and some of its other planned developments. The developer at one time had bigger plans for the Carillon development -- including a hotel, theater and retail complex -- but has since scaled back plans locally as well as in other markets.
New-home prices in Pinellas County were up 19.4% in 2000, averaging about $200,000.
Lakeland: Expanding Boundaries
Last year, some residents in unincorporated Lakeland came home to find a 10-inch sapling on their doorsteps, along with a brochure outlining the benefits of annexation into the city. The education effort was the preliminary phase of an aggressive 10-year plan the city rolled out last year to annex a number of unincorporated areas.
The point: Increasing the city's population will add muscle to economic development efforts, officials say. "From an economic development standpoint, until you're at 100,000 (population) you're not considered a player," says chamber President Kathleen Sperry. While the population within the city limits is only 80,000, that number swells to more than 200,000 when the metro service area is included.
Located along Florida's High Tech Corridor, Lakeland is particularly interested in boosting its appeal to high-tech businesses. With a bigger population, the city will have a better shot at state and federal funding, and at attracting larger employers. Annexation would also increase the city's tax base and add land for new residential construction in a city that's already built out.
The city, its commission and its chamber of commerce have initially targeted nine areas for annexation. Already, voters in six of seven areas where referendums have been held approved joining the city. A 5,500-acre tract owned by the Williams Co., the Oklahoma company trying to bring a gas pipeline into the state, will be annexed within the next six months. In all, this round will add nearly 5,000 residents to the city's tax base. The goal: 100,000 by 2010.
"At the rate we're going, we'll bounce the population by 3,000 to 5,000 every other year," says Jim Studiale, director of community planning. The challenges for the city, says Studiale, are to explain to residents the benefits of annexation that will come along with taxation as part of the city. The city must also absorb the growth efficiently with infrastructure improvements in newly annexed areas. "Developers don't want to be in the utility business," he says. "They want to provide city services in their new developments and get to market as fast as possible."
People to Watch
High-profile attorney and current chamber chairman Ron Clark chairs a multiyear visioning task force. Clark is now charged with implementing initiatives that came out of the task force's first phase.
Anne Furr, a former 12-year city commissioner and the new leader of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority (LDDA), is charged with revamping the LDDA's laissez-faire focus on residential land use to a more aggressive recruiting effort. The plan: Boost downtown Lakeland's residential offerings with market rate apartments and condominiums, encourage residential living above commercial and formally designate areas for residential development.
Businesses to Watch
Los Angeles-based OceanAir Environmental has purchased Nopec Corp.'s facility and plans to manufacture biodiesel, an alternative fuel made from vegetable oils.
GC Services is building an 80,000-sq.-ft call center expected to add 800 to 1,000 jobs to the local economy. The teleservices company expects to have the center at the Lakeland Interstate Business Park operating by the summer.
Since 1970, Lakeland's population has increased 87% -- from 42,800 to 80,000 this year.
Clearwater: Redevelopment Revisited
A failed referendum last fall for a $300-million pedestrian-oriented master plan to revamp Clearwater's dormant downtown appeared to squelch the city's redevelopment efforts. Yet quietly running parallel to the downtown effort was a beach project that has gained both momentum and the City Commission's approval.
The "Beach by Design" redevelopment project has priority status. "It's out front of downtown in terms of consensus in the community," says City Planning Director Ralph Stone.
Tourism is an important driver for Clearwater, employing about 15% of the city's population. More than 1.45 million tourists visit its beaches each year, spending an estimated $2 million a day. With that kind of impact, the city is looking at how to leverage its beaches. "We're interested in repositioning the marketability of the beach," says Stone.
The plan includes both public and private investment. The centerpiece: A new, 250-room, 13-story Marriott Seashell resort. The $75-million project includes restaurants, retail and an 800-space garage, 50% of which will be public parking . Two other projects in the wings, but not as far along as the Marriott resort, could add as many as 600 rooms.
The city's piece of the project includes eliminating a public parking lot; changing a thoroughfare into a serpentine road with dedicated bike and pedestrian/running lanes; and transforming 10-foot-wide sidewalks into 30-foot promenades for outdoor cafes.
The city will have to continue to calm concerns about overcrowding and walling off the beach with high-rises. But Stone says beach redevelopment isn't plagued by the same lack of support that doomed the downtown referendum.
The Church of Scientology, active in the development of the city's downtown, is not expected to be a player in beach redevelopment.
People to Watch
Interim city manager Bill Horne inherited a divided city after a failed referendum on downtown redevelopment led to City Manager Mike Roberto's forced resignation last year. Since then, Horne has recommended scrapping Clearwater's old redevelopment slogan "One City, One Future" to focus instead on the city's infrastructure needs. Insiders say Horne is likely to make the short list for the position after a national search is completed this summer.
Former Clearwater Mayor Rita Garvey is attempting a political comeback after a DUI arrest in 1998 led to the end of her 18-year political career with the city. Since she left office, she's stayed involved in civic activities; she spearheaded fund raising for a Community Pride childcare center, and served on the boards of Partners in Self-Sufficiency, a welfare-to-work program for single parents, and of Florida 2012, the region's Olympic bid.
Businesses to Watch
IMR Global, one of the region's top 25 companies and a local high-tech success story, has been sold to the CGI Group of Montreal for $438 million. Just three years ago, IMR received incentives worth $1.8 million to build its headquarters in downtown Clearwater, where it employs 400 and became a cornerstone of the area's revival. CGI is considering moving its U.S. headquarters from Andover, Mass., to Clearwater.
Brand new Jibe Inc. is taking Napster technology and applying it to B2B e-commerce. The high-tech startup just received funding early this year and counts BrainBuzz.com founder Tom Wallace as one of its initial investors. CEO Greg Schmitzer says the software will enable buyers to do real-time searches of suppliers' information by connecting directly to suppliers' computers.
In 1999, Clearwater drew 1.45 million overnight visitors, staying an average of 71¼2 days. The economic impact is estimated at $2 million a day -- more than $1.3 billion annually in direct and indirect spending.
When Anne Bokneberg moved her international distribution business catering to the oil-drilling industry from Miami to Lakeland in 1993, she didn't realize just how lucrative the move would be. This year her company, Ocean International Suppliers, will hit $5 million in revenues and, thanks to Polk County's International Trade Association (ITA), is about to tap into new markets.
Polk County is aggressively courting overseas trading partners. International trade accounts for $3.3 billion in gross sales annually for the county, about half of which is attributed to the phosphate and citrus trade. But the county boasts about 200 exporters, trading goods ranging from plastic fishing lures to outboard motors and Ocean International's pipes, tubing and flanges for offshore oil rigs. ITA is trying to help diversify the county's trade base by educating companies about international trade opportunities and potential trading partners.
Bokneberg participated in a trade mission to Trinidad and Tobago last year, a joint venture of ITA and the county's Small and Minority Business Development Center.
"If we had gone down there on our own, we would not have gotten one-tenth of the meetings we had," she says. Bokneberg left with solid leads on new projects related to the BP/Amoco merger. Amoco has a significant presence in Trinidad and Tobago.
Other initiatives the ITA is sponsoring include an educational and business partnership between Polk County Community College and the University of Tabasco in Mexico. It's also sponsoring an eight-week international trade seminar at Florida Southern College geared to business executives. The association is even exploring possible trade ties with Cuba as well as establishing a sister city relationship with a Cuban city.
Boosting international trade "is a way of protecting the local economy," says ITA Vice President Wayne Kline, by helping absorb the shock of downturns in the phosphate and citrus industries. But the other half of the battle is making potential trading partners see beyond the county's agrarian/mining image as well as the state's tourism and retirement reputation.
Business to Watch
The Mulberry Corp. faces troubles on both the financial and environmental fronts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepped in to run the struggling phosphate company's fertilizer plant after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The EPA feared the idled plant might inadvertently dump toxic water into the Alafia River. The company is seeking new financing to ride out the phosphate industry's recession.
Citrus, Hernando, Pasco
More than 40% of Pasco's 132,000 workforce leaves the county for work. Pasco officials want to change that percentage and see brighter prospects for doing so now that the Suncoast Parkway has opened.
The parkway opens a 32-mile north/south corridor (which will extend 42 miles when the final stretch opens this summer), linking rural Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties to Tampa and St. Pete, giving the three counties easier access to airports, the port and downtown Tampa.
So far, only Pasco appears ready to take advantage of the new markets, with an economic development staff in place and a marketing plan on the table.
Hernando and Citrus counties are having to regroup. Late last year, both counties got rid of their economic development directors. Citrus has an outside consultant helping it, while the Hernando County Commission is reviewing its EDC's mission.
Pasco's biggest challenge, says Pasco Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mary Jane Stanley, "is to create high-value jobs to keep people living in Pasco employed in Pasco." She touts the county's proximity to Hillsborough and Pinellas counties; available industrial land; competitively priced housing; and impact fees and taxes that are lower than in neighboring counties.
But Pasco's existing business base consists primarily of small companies. It's jealously guarding results from a recent target industry study it commissioned, which Stanley says will help the county pinpoint recruitment efforts. "We're a county that's ready to happen," she says.
Business to Watch
The Wesley Chapel Corporate Park is Pasco's first Verizon SmartPark, which county officials hope will be a draw for high-tech companies. Verizon is talking with other companies about developing similar parks in the area.
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