Economic yearbook 2010
High-speed rail will boost a slowly evolving turnaround.
Tampa/ Hillsborough County
Stuart Rogel, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, was ecstatic in January when President Barack Obama came to Tampa and announced that Florida will get a $1.25-billion federal grant to build a high-speed rail system from Tampa to Orlando. Rogel says the project, which is projected to bring 23,000 jobs, further confirms that Tampa Bay is “finding its way out of this pretty significant downturn.”
When Robert J. Rohrlack Jr. moved to Tampa about a year ago to become president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the talk on the street was: “Wow, things are bad. How bad is it going to get?” Now, he hears more optimism. Rogel will be watching the housing market for signs of improvement. He’s concerned, for example, by a 25% commercial vacancy rate in Tampa’s Westshore business district. “You don’t see a real turnaround until you see more stability in the residential and commercial markets,” he says. “Those are still harbingers for this economy.”
People to Watch
» The economic downturn has not slowed Gary Wishnatzki’s strawberry business. In fact, until a stretch of unusually cold weather last January and February, his sales had been up. He attributes the increases in part to an aggressive rebranding campaign, featuring a new name, Wish Farms, that replaces Wishnatzki Farms, and to a series of YouTube videos featuring the adventures of “Pixie Pete,” actually his son, Nick, dressed in a fairy costume complete with wings. “It’s working,” Wishnatzki says. “I might put on the wings next.”
Gary Wishnatzki, CEO of Wish Farms, and “Misty” at the company’s strawberry field. Wishnatzki attributes some of the company’s success to Wish Farms’ “Pixie Pete” YouTube clips. His son, Nick, also plays a role in the clip, along with pixie “Misty.” [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
» Ronnie Duncan, newly named chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, is taking a leadership role in finding solutions to Tampa Bay’s congested traffic situation. Forbes recently named Tampa the worst in the nation for commuting. Duncan says the region needs to take a “holistic” approach to public transportation, with each county’s system connecting to the next.
Businesses to Watch
» BlueGrace Logistics, a logistics and transportation management company, is adding 50 jobs following a move from a 2,000-sq.-ft. office in Apollo Beach to a 12,000-sq.-ft. facility in Riverview. The company has thrived in the down economy, says president and CEO Bobby Harris, by helping companies cut shipping costs. “With the technology I have, you can type in your origin, the destination ZIP, and it’ll give you multiple service options and the most up-to-date costs. We’re kind of like Orbitz.”
» The University of South Florida has teamed up with drug maker AstraZeneca to help bring a promising anti-depression drug to market. If the drug, called for now TC-5214, is successful, USF could reap millions of dollars in royalties.
» Food distributor Gordon Food Service has purchased a 1-million-sq.-ft. former Albertson’s distribution center in Plant City. The company plans to hire 350 workers at an average wage of $45,000.
» MacDill Federal Credit Union is hiring supervisors, tellers and administrative assistants.
» Hillsborough Community College is hiring instructors, accountants and human resources workers.
» Busch Entertainment is hiring sales clerks, performers and hosts.
» Raymond James Financial is looking for analysts, software engineers and compliance advisers.