When it comes to the issue of water, Tampa wears a regional hat these days. Faced with mandated stoppage of groundwater pumping and the prospect of a water shortage that the Southwest Florida Water Management District says will hit the entire region in 2003, Tampa has little choice but to act regionally.
Groundwater pumping in northern Hillsborough and Pasco counties over the years has caused significant environmental damage. Tampa Bay Water, the governance board comprised of representatives from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, as well as the cities of Tampa, New Port Richey and St. Petersburg, has the task of identifying and bringing new water sources online. It has three projects slated to begin over the next two years:
- An Enhanced Surface Water System involving the Tampa Bypass Canal, the Hillsborough River and construction of a reservoir -- a first for the region -- in southern Hillsborough County.
- New groundwater wells in Brandon.
- A seawater desalination facility at TECO's Big Bend plant on Tampa Bay.
Tampa/Hillsborough will host all three projects; it has the natural water resources its neighbors do not. And Tampa also will reap the lion's share of economic impact from the projects, which combined involve more than $600 million in capital investment and the creation of more than 350 jobs during construction phases. The desalination plant alone will add $10 million to $24 million annually to the Tampa Bay economy.
The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has put its weight behind Tampa Bay Water. The city is making available federal funds from an existing grant for the development of alternative water sources, which will be used to help finance the reservoir project. David Oellerich, president and CEO of Tampa-based Mathews Construction and chairman of the chamber's water task force, says Tampa's business community understands the ramifications of a water shortage, from strangling real estate development to scaring away potential business relocations. As a strong growth center, Tampa can't afford not to take a regional stance. Says Oellerich: "Just imagine the negative effect of having the stigma on our local community of not having enough water.''
People to Watch
Jack Wilson, president and founder of real estate development firm The Wilson Co., continues to run with the city's movers and shakers. A past chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, he's charged by the chamber with two key tasks this year: coordinating the city's hosting of the 2001 Super Bowl and spearheading the search committee for a new chamber president.
Hillsborough County administrator Dan Kleman is credited with forming a citizen's panel, the Committee of 99, which came up with recommendations for the transit needs of Tampa/Hillsborough County. He now faces the task of moving the recommendations through an unfriendly board of county commissioners.
Businesses to Watch
Intermedia Communications, a communication services firm, started the year with a financial vote of confidence from industry and investment powerhouses. New York City-based Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. will invest $200 million to support expansion of Intermedia's services. Microsoft and Compaq are each investing $50 million in Intermedia's web-hosting subsidiary, Digex. The company will also move into new headquarters in Tampa's Highwoods Preserve office park.
Tampa Electric is recovering from a rough year that included a deadly explosion at one of its plants and a federal lawsuit that gave credence to its long-fought moniker as one of Florida's worst polluters. The lawsuit alleging the company failed to install sufficient pollution control devices at its coal-fired plants was recently settled. The deal: Tampa Electric must pay a $3.5-million fine for breaking the law, spend $1 billion to clean up its Big Bend and Gannon plants and pay for environmental damage, and adhere to strict deadlines. The federal deal supercedes an earlier agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection calling for the cleanup, but which imposed no fines.
Butting up to tony Bayshore Boulevard is south Tampa's most-in-demand neighborhood, Hyde Park, where three bedroom, two-bath homes start at a minimum of $250,000 if you can find one for sale. Realtors say they go fast. This is pushing prospective homebuyers into north Tampa, where you can get more home for your money, but you lose the prestigious address and proximity to downtown and increase your commute. The median price for a three-bedroom, two-bath house is $250,000 in south Tampa and $175,000 in north Tampa. Monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment averages $1,075 to $1,282.
St. Petersburg: Jobs for City Hall
St. Petersburg continues to see a flurry of development that's slowly changing the city's small-town feel -- and perhaps its parochial thinking. Three upscale waterfront condominium towers, a downtown cinema/retail/restaurant complex called BayWalk, the USF/All Children's Hospital Pediatric Research Center and a new convention center at the Marriott-owned Vinoy hotel are the major projects under way. Pockets of smaller activity include facelifts to buildings along downtown's main thoroughfare, Central Avenue, and the rehabilitation of some older shopping centers.
But threatening to stall the momentum are understaffed municipal agencies, a contentious, often hostile city council, and zoning restrictions. City Hall has taken notice and is ramping up the services it offers builders, developers and businesses.
Its first task: Beef up staffing in the Construction Services and Permitting Division of Development Services, the city department that processes all construction permitting applications. Last year the city permitted $277-million worth of construction, considerably more than it is staffed to handle. Says Rick Mussett, economic development administrator for the city, "They were overburdened; their fingers were in the dike." The city council has earmarked $500,000 in its 2000 budget to improve its permitting process. The overhaul will include adding 12 employees and adopting a caseworker approach where staffers will individually shepherd applications through the bureaucratic approval process. Smaller projects and homeowner applications will be handled separately from larger projects.
Another job for City Hall: Take a more mixed-use approach to zoning in some of the neighborhoods surrounding Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Bay Devil Rays play ball and a much-heralded harbinger of downtown rejuvenation. Areas like the Grand Central district, 150 acres of residential and commercial property just west of Tropicana Field, have not shared in St. Petersburg's development momentum and would benefit from a change of zoning regulations.
Mayor David Fischer sees the city of St. Petersburg as a delicate balance between residential and commercial. "We're not wholesale rezoning by any means, but we're trying to get that desirous mix of living among businesses."
One issue that may be more difficult for City Hall to address is the character of the city council. Fischer, whose own relationship with the council can be described generously as strained, says many in the business community don't like to appear before the council because they tend to get grilled. Although it should be noted that the council hasn't turned down any major projects.
People to Watch
State Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, in the second year of his first term, has proven to be a get-the-job-done kind of legislator. After convincing Gov. Jeb Bush to take a helicopter tour of Tampa Bay's congested rush-hour highways, Sebesta secured $980 million in funding that accelerates the timetable to complete interstate improvements and projects linking secondary roadways, such as the Veterans Expressway, to the interstate. Business leaders see Sebesta as "bridging the bay" in his regional approach to issues.
Sue Brody, president of Bayfront-St. Anthony's Health Care, the city's major indigent care facility, must steer the hospital's finances back into the black, manage layoffs and high-level departures, and quell an uproar that could lead to a lawsuit by the St. Petersburg City Council. At the center of the controversy: the hospital's membership in the BayCare alliance, which includes two Catholic hospitals and which critics and the city council assert has let religious doctrine determine aspects of obstetric care, specifically abortion. Bayfront sits on city property that it rents for $10 a month.
Businesses to Watch
Gannett-owned CBS affiliate WTSP-Channel 10 awaits the arrival of incoming news director Jim Church from WJXX in Jacksonville, who says viewers can expect a new look. But compared to other local network affiliates such as WFLA, which recently built a state-of-the-art facility it will share with sister company The Tampa Tribune, WTSP has lagged behind in upgrading its operations and going digital.
Jabil Circuit started the year with strong revenues and global expansion that continues at a brisk clip. The electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider recently purchased an industrial park in Hungary and an information technology firm in Brazil. Its acquisition of GET Manufacturing, a China-based EMS provider, significantly extended Jabil's global reach. The company employs 2,500 in St. Petersburg and more than 12,000 worldwide.
The market in gentrified areas near downtown and the bay is hot, with many homes now selling within days of coming on the market. But while home prices in high-demand areas like the Old Northeast have risen substantially, most other neighborhoods have seen only modest increases. Working-class families will find no shortage of good homes for well under $100,000, for example. Rents are likewise reasonable in most areas. Good two-bedroom apartments downtown with a view of the bay rent for around $850, with rents elsewhere for similar apartments averaging under $1,000.
The dollar value of new construction in St. Petersburg in the past three years has exceeded the six-year period at the beginning of the 1990s.
Lakeland: The Next Level
Lakeland's growth over the past 20 years has taken it from a traditional agricultural and mining economy to one driven by manufacturing and warehousing. Following an influx of call centers in the 1990s and a key location along the I-4 High Tech Corridor, the city now hungers for jobs at the next level -- administrative services and computer and information technology. But a significant shortage of skilled labor stands in the way and has local government, businesses and educational institutions worried. If the county doesn't start educating its people more effectively, it won't get the jobs it covets.
This year, Lakeland tackles the issue head-on with federal funding for worker training and a controversial proposal realigning community colleges and technical centers. The Polk County Workforce Development Board recently won a nearly $1-million job-training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. One of 10 such grants nationwide, it was the only one awarded in Florida. The funds will go toward a pilot program administered by the workforce board for hands-on, short-term training. About 250 dislocated workers, 350 incumbent workers and at least 16 local companies, including Publix Super Markets, Pepperidge Farm and ButterKrust Bakeries, will participate.
Another workforce training initiative will focus on post-secondary education. Key community and business leaders have a plan to move adult workforce training to the county's community college and transition its two technical schools, Ridge Technical Center and Traviss Technical Center, into four-year vocational high schools. Local leaders have been watching Palm Beach County, which has taken similar steps. The proposal is expected to go before the school board in April.
The initiative is controversial among vocational/technical school officials who don't agree that adults who want to learn a trade should be routed to the local community college. But J. Larry Durrence, president of Polk Community College, supports it and is confident it will be approved. According to Durrence, the key to resolving the county's workforce and education issues lies with the business community. He says it's important "to regard (companies) as customers and to be customer-driven in that relationship."
People to Watch
It's likely that Roger Haar, Lakeland's assistant city manager, will take over the city's top executive seat sometime in November, when the current city manager retires. Right now, Haar is the only candidate for the job, and he's popular in many circles, including the Board of County Commissioners, which fills the position. As for top priorities, Haar has his sights on modernizing Lakeland Electric, the city's electric utility.
Community banker Greg Wilkes has only been in Lakeland five years, but he's making his presence known. Chairman of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce, Wilkes is also president and CEO of FloridaFirst Bank. In 1999, he took the bank public. This year he plans to add three branches to its existing nine. A strong advocate of community banking, Wilkes wants the former First Federal Florida to remain a strong, local entity.
Businesses to Watch
Lakeland's own "little slice of Silicon Valley," Highlander Engineering combines consulting services and products in a narrow computer industry niche known as embedded computer technology. President and founder Ken Black grew up in Lakeland and started his 6-year-old business here, but the company now has marketing and sales representatives in California and in Texas. While it posted $2 million in revenues in 1999, the company projects revenues of $6 million this year. It's also expanding its R&D effort and will add 20 employees locally.
Heritage Equities Incorporated is changing downtown Lakeland's office landscape. The Atlanta-based developer, in Lakeland five years now, is meeting a growing demand for more Class A office space with its 80,000-sq.-ft. Heritage Plaza; construction will begin this spring on downtown's biggest upscale office project to date. Heritage also redeveloped the 350,000-sq.-ft. Town Center, a retail and office complex, and has completed and fully leased its Heritage Center, a three-building industrial complex on U.S. 98.
Emerging as a bedroom community east of Tampa, Lakeland boasts lower home prices and lower taxes, making it an attractive place to live. New home construction is booming, with average prices for a three-bedroom, two-bath house ranging from $95,000 to $110,000. But if you prefer the older architecture of the city's popular historic downtown neighborhood, Lake Morton, be prepared to pay as much as $300,000, plus renovation costs. Monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment averages $415 to $600.
The Florida Department of Labor predicted that from 1995 to 2005 there will be an almost 20% job loss in two declining industries: agriculture/citrus and mining/phosphate -- historic cornerstones of Polk County's economy.
Hillsborough County is reaping the rewards of targeted business development and image enhancement efforts many years in the making. Tampa, the county seat, showed up on many national lists in 1999. Forbes rated the city one of the best places to live in the country; Newsweek ranked it No .10 nationally for where the jobs and dollars are; and the U.S. Department of Labor ranked Tampa No. 1 in job growth among metro areas with an employment level of 1 million or more.
With such newfound notoriety, the county finds itself facing the usual stresses that accompany growth, such as transportation. Motivated in part by its Florida 2012 pitch for the Olympics, the county has named transportation its top priority and implemented one of its largest community consensus building efforts ever, which could result in a referendum for the voters. At issue: whether to raise the sales tax to help fund road widening and new road projects, bus transit services and possibly even light rail. But pushing a sales tax increase through could prove tricky since taxpayers here are demanding property tax relief and light rail remains controversial at best.
Business to Watch
Uniroyal Optoelectronics, a Tampa-based business segment of Sarasota publicly held company Uniroyal Technology Corp., has been expanding its operations and workforce in Sabal Park as it ramps up production of its high brightness light-emitting diodes (LEDs) product. The company plans to make its first shipment of viable product this spring, although the plant has already been shipping some product to customers for testing. The LED industry, less than six years old, is projected to grow 35% annually. The optoelectronics division is one of only four companies worldwide manufacturing blue and green LEDs, a high-demand product.
Pinellas County, essentially built-out, lacks a dynamic "go out and get 'em" program to attract new business. Instead, economic development focuses on retaining and nurturing current industries, particularly biomedical and high tech. The county hosts nearly a quarter of all high-tech companies along the entire 13-county I-4 corridor and is the leading recipient of medical patents statewide. Economic development officials, who pride themselves on being proactive, have helped to build in Pinellas a strong business/education partnership that is beginning to pay off. This fall, St. Petersburg Junior College (SPJC) will break ground on a new College University Center, the result of an alliance between SPJC and Florida's four-year universities, designed to offer more courses that address the workforce needs of local employers.
Business to Watch
Digital Lightwave, a publicly held company, rolled out another industry first last year: its second portable touch-screen computer for fiber optic testing, with expanded capabilities. The 185-employee Clearwater company continues to gain ground in the high-speed telecommunications market, winning customers such as Lucent Technologies, MCI WorldCom and Nortel Networks.
The company received national recognition in January when it was featured in a front-page Wall Street Journal article on "overvalued" tech stocks. This year it plans to add product offerings in integrated and embedded technology.
With its diversified economy, Polk County is beginning to look more like its neighbors now that it's no longer distinguished by high unemployment. The county, like most of Florida, hit record unemployment levels last year, reaching an all-time low of 3.8% in December. But labor remains a problem. While the county's population still grows faster than the national average, due in part to the large influx of retirees, its labor force isn't keeping pace. In addition, the county faces a critical shortage of the skilled labor necessary to attract employers that pay a higher wage, such as information technology firms. Its traditional economic engines -- phosphate mining and agriculture -- no longer drive the local economy, and Polk, midway between Tampa and Orlando on the I-4 High Tech Corridor, wants to draw the better-paying technology jobs.
Business to Watch
Calpine Corp., an independent power producer based in San Jose, Calif., recently announced plans to build a $250-million merchant plant to sell wholesale electric power. The company is sure to face objections from the state's large utilities, which are fighting a similar plan by North Carolina's Duke Power in New Smyrna Beach. Calpine also announced a $500-million plant for Vero Beach.
Pasco and Hernando counties have economic and commuter ties to Hillsborough and Pinellas while offering less congestion and more land for development. For both counties, the Suncoast Parkway, which extends Tampa's Veteran's Expressway through Pasco and Hernando up to Citrus County, should spur commercial and industrial development when it's completed in 2001. Pasco County will still need to focus on east-west connector roads to keep up with skyrocketing residential development. Construction of single-family homes rose 10% last year, while construction of multi-family dwellings jumped 59%. To the north, Hernando County is looking at stepped-up industrial activity around the county airport in Brooksville. Hernando is developing new infrastructure, such as local roads, water, sewage and drainage, to support planned as well as future industrial development.
Business to Watch
Optima Technologies L.L.C., a Port Richey-based manufacturer of components for laser printers, projects 400% growth and sales of $10 million this year. It has been named one of the Tampa Bay area's top 50 fastest-growing technology companies and holds the state contract for ink jet cartridges.