by Art Levy
Updated 4 yearss ago
"To be successful, companies pretty much have to be innovative. It's universal. I don't see anyone immune from that pressure."
-- Mike McHugh, Hernando County Office of Business Development
HIGH-TECH FOCUS: The entire region should benefit from SRI International's arrival in St. Petersburg and efforts between the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and
Merck to create a cancer research venture near the University of South Florida. "We need to help the SRIs and the Mercks of the world fulfill the promise that exists from attracting those kind of facilities to Tampa Bay," says Stuart L. Rogel, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
JOBS: According to a Tampa Bay Partnership report, which includes Manatee and Sarasota counties, the region generated more than 37,000 jobs in 2006 and created more than three times as many jobs as Charlotte, N.C., in the first quarter of 2006.
CHALLENGES: There are concerns over insurance rates, property taxes, transportation and the availability of affordable housing. The answer? "I don't think you can just sit there, be stagnant and press out widgets every day and survive," says Mike McHugh, director of the Hernando County Office of Business Development. "To be successful, companies pretty much have to be innovative. It's universal. I don't see anyone immune from that pressure."
ECONOMY: "We certainly have some challenges, in terms of the insurance issue and the property tax issue, but both of those are being worked on," says Kim Scheeler, president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. "Our economic development folks are still working projects. It's not going to be as easy as it used to be, but I still think we're in a strong economy."
JOBS: Tampa attracted more 0"higher-paying" jobs than in past years, and the city succeeded in creating more "higher-skill-set" jobs, Scheeler says. That means more jobs in "life sciences, biosciences and financial services" -- and fewer call-center jobs.
LOOKING AHEAD: Scheeler points to the joint venture between the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and drug maker Merck as an example of where Tampa's economy is going. "In a nutshell, they're going to make it easier and quicker to bring drugs to market, which means a much lower cost to the drug companies, which ultimately means a much lower cost to all of us," he says. "And then other companies are going to want to be a part of that. It has the potential to put us on the map and become a real engine to drive growth."
? Network World magazine has named Persystent Technologies, a Tampa software company, one of its "10 management companies to watch." Founded in 2002, the company creates software that automatically fixes operating system problems when the computer is rebooted.
? The Tampa Bay Technology Forum gave its 2006 Quantum Leap Technology Award to Creative Recycling Systems, a Tampa firm that extracts useable materials from obsolete computer and electronic equipment.
? Researchers at the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute have developed a vaccine made from specialized blood cells that reverses memory loss in lab mice with Alzheimer's. The Tampa facility was created in 2004 to find a cure for the disease.
? Researchers at the University of South Florida have developed a simple-to-use biosensor that can detect pathogenic organism and microbial toxins in food, water, air and surfaces.
CONSTRUCTION: A slew of construction cranes still frame St. Petersburg's skyline, indicating that, despite the housing and condominium slowdown, the city's economy is still growing. "The super boom era has probably come to an end, but we still are seeing projects get out of the ground," says Dave Goodwin, St. Petersburg's economic development director. "We're still seeing a nice pace as far as the value of permits being issued during the first quarter of 2007. It didn't keep up with last year, which was far and away our record year, but it's pretty much on par with 2005, which, until 2006, was a record year."
COMMERCIAL: The city's office vacancy rate was at 7.9% during the third quarter of 2006. In 2005, it was 7.2%, which is way down from 16.5% in
2002. "Our office vacancy rate is very low. The inventory is just not there," Goodwin says. "We would love to see someone build a new office building in St. Petersburg."
CHALLENGES: The rising cost of housing is turning some prospects off. "There are probably certain companies, with certain wage rates, that probably aren't going to be looking at St. Petersburg, anymore," Goodwin says.
TARGET: Officials are setting their sights on attracting more high-paying jobs. "Our target industries include advanced manufacturing, IT and the financial services," says Mike Meidell, director of Pinellas County Economic Development.
Innovators (St. Petersburg)
? SRI International, among the world's leading independent research and technology development institutes, opened its St. Petersburg marine technology unit in January. The facility will focus on developing technologies related to marine technology and ocean science. Local officials hope SRI will attract research, development and manufacturing firms to Tampa Bay. Over the past decade, the California-based institute has sponsored more than $2 billion in research and development.
? The Tampa Bay Technology Forum named Kurt Long its 2006 entrepreneurial leader of the year. Long is founder and CEO of EpicTide, a St. Petersburg maker of healthcare industry software.
? St. Petersburg College will open a building for its College of Orthotics and Prosthetics this fall. "This is a crucial program because of an increase in diabetic patients and injuries from the Middle East war," says Carl M. Kuttler Jr., the school's president. The college is also working to boost lagging enrollment among men. Just 37% of SJC's students are male, compared to state and national averages of 43%. Its Man to Man program aims to change that.
? Housing Slowdown (St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater)
53,183 -- Realtor sales for single-family homes in 2005
34,322 -- Realtor sales for single-family homes in 2006 (down 35% from 2005)
13,094 -- Realtor sales for existing condos in 2005
8,510 -- Realtor sales for existing condos in 2006 (down 35% from 2005)
Source: Florida Association of Realtors
Lakeland / Polk County
DISTRIBUTION: Because of its central location, the county is home to numerous distribution centers for major companies, including Wal-Mart, Haverty's, JC Penney, Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Rooms To Go and Southern Wine & Spirits.
JOBS: "The unemployment rate this year is running in the 3s, compared to
the 20s back in the 1980s. Here we are today, basically fully employed. We came out of the doldrums because of our place in the state. We have Tampa Bay on one side and the Orlando region on the other. How can we fail? We'd have to work at screwing things up," says Ron Morrow, executive director of the East Polk County Committee of 100.
LOOKING AHEAD: Jim DeGennaro, director of business development for the Central Florida Development Council of Polk County, says his office is working with several other major companies interested in opening facilities in Polk County. "Within a 100-mile radius, we have 8.5 million people," DeGennaro says. "Atlanta can't say that." ... Polk's overall industrial vacancy rate for the first quarter of 2006 was 3.8%, placing it second in the nation behind South Los Angeles, which had a vacancy rate of 2.7%. Tampa's rate was 4.6%, and Miami's was 6.7%. "It's an active time for us," DeGennaro says.
? Marshall Goodman, on the job for less than a year as vice president and CEO of the University of South Florida's Lakeland campus, was singled out in the November 2006 issue of Campus Technology magazine as one the nation's five best "tech-savvy chief academic officers." Goodman had been provost at San Jose State University. He is helping to oversee the university's long-range plans to build a campus at the intersection of I-4 and the Polk Parkway in northeast Lakeland.
? In 1981, Kegel operated out of a garage and manufactured one product: A bowling lane cleaner called "The Key." Now, the Lake Wales firm has more than 74,000 square feet of high-tech manufacturing space, where it makes lane-conditioning machines and other machinery.
? Hanson Pipe & Precast plans to open its new $45-million plant in Winter Haven by this summer. Executives say the plant will use robots to help build concrete pipes for drainage projects. The 171,000-sq.-ft. facility will employ 50.
? Plans are moving forward for CSX's $100-million Integrated Logistics Center on 1,250 acres in Winter Haven. The sophisticated hub, one of only a few like it in the nation, will transfer and store cargo.
ECONOMY: While the economy isn't as robust as it was a couple of years ago, it is still pretty strong. "We still have a lot of big projects coming out of the ground," says Geraldine Campos, Clearwater's director of economic development and housing. Some of those large developments include the 25-story Water's Edge condominium being built downtown by Opus South Corp. and Station Square, a 15-story condominium project on Cleveland Street being developed by Amon Investments.
CHALLENGES: The housing market slowdown, along with concerns over insurance costs, is forcing local companies to come up with new ways to do business. "In this market, companies have to innovate to survive," says Campos.
GROWTH: Of the six counties that make up the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas is growing the slowest, with a population increase of just 0.5% from 2002 to 2006. But Mike Meidell, director of Pinellas County Economic Development, says there's a lot going on behind the numbers. He says, for example, that the county's population grew by 6,000 last year, but that amount includes 45,000 people moving in and 39,000 people moving out. "That's a rapid churn of population, which is bringing a lot of new people to our area," Meidell says. "And that's where most of the new workers are coming from -- from the recent arrivals."
JOBS: The county created 18,000 jobs from December 2005 to December 2006. ... SRI International's arrival in St. Petersburg is expected to expand opportunities for everyone. "The match between SRI and our installed, diverse base of industry is just really tremendous," Meidell says. "We should see new products, new companies and ultimately whole new industries sprouting up right here in Tampa Bay."
? Morton Plant Mease recently opened its $52-million, 174,715- sq.-ft. Morton Plant Mease Morgan Heart Hospital in Clearwater. The facility features the latest in heart-treatment technology. Operating suites, for example, have video equipment suspended from the ceiling that will allow surgeons to tap into the hospital's computer system. The equipment includes voice-activation technology that will allow doctors to view X-rays on flat-screen monitors during surgery. The equipment will also allow doctors to hold teleconferences from the operating room. "In terms of innovation and technology, Morton Plant really is on the cutting edge," says Geraldine Campos, Clearwater's director of economic development and housing.
REAL ESTATE: "The residential market is down," says Mary Jane Stanley, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council. "But commercial, office and light industrial are up, so we really haven't seen an overall slowdown."
TRANSPORTATION: The county grew faster than its roads could keep up -- and now it's time to catch up. "The county needs to increase fees somehow," says Stanley, "whether it's transportation impact fees, ad valorem taxes, whether it's a gas tax or whatever. We're going through a whole process of evaluating what it costs now to build roads and how we're going to cover those costs."
? Hudson-based Rubber Resources makes landscaping mulch out of old tires, which, in itself, isn't all that innovative. Companies have recycled tires that way since the 1980s, but many have failed because tires are formulated to reject paint. "Tire rubber doesn't want to be colored," says Dale Hawker, the company's owner. "But we've figured out a way to do it and do it quickly." The mulches, sold under the name Everlast RubberMulch, are produced in red, gray, brown, green, blue, and, most recently, camouflage. Hawker has a deal to sell tire mulch to a planned theme park in the United Arab Emirates.
? Jim Guedry purchased the old Pasco Beverage property in Dade City, cleaned it up and renovated it. Within a year, he had leased out 700,000 square feet of business, industrial, warehouse and office space. In April, Guedry opened a citrus museum on the property as well.
GROWTH: Hernando County's population has grown by nearly 4% each year since 2002, making it Tampa Bay's
fastest-growing county. Mike McHugh, director of the Hernando County Office of Business Development, says the economy is expanding quickly, too. "The trend is certainly toward higher-skill-level jobs and multitasking," McHugh says. "People are constantly having to innovate to reach higher quality standards, to be more efficient and to be more productive."
? Duratek Precast Structures has plans to build a 75,000-sq.-ft. facility in the Hernando County Airport RailPark off U.S. 41. The company, which employs 125, plans to spend $11 million on the facility, which will result in 90 jobs. The plant will use highly automated "state-of-the-art European technology" to produce precast concrete products, including hurricane-resistant housing and other structures.
? For many years, Brooksville's Sims Machine & Controls created machinery that enabled other businesses to solve manufacturing problems and produce products. Now, Sims has become part of Composite Motors, a maker of motor-controlled modules and other high-tech equipment used for industrial and medical equipment applications.
? Aaron Kinkaid, an engineering, manufacturing and drafting teacher at Nature Coast Technical High School, is leading a 37-student team at the 2007 FIRST Championship robot-building competition this month in Georgia. The team's 120-pound robot will be asked to follow a tracking light, stack inner tubes and lift other robots.
POWER PLANT: The big news from Citrus County is about what the county didn't get in 2006: Another nuclear power plant. Rather, Progress Energy Florida chose a site in Levy County to locate its proposed facility, which officials say could start producing electricity within a decade. Brett Wattles, former executive director of Citrus County's Economic Development Council, is unfazed. He says the proposed site is just eight miles north of the county's existing Crystal River nuclear plant -- and he believes Citrus County will still see plenty of positives. "The impact of this will be phenomenal," Wattles says. "It's going to bring in several hundred more workers, and they're all going to need places to live and places to buy food, and some of those people are going to live in Citrus County."
CHALLENGE: The county's economy is strong, Wattles says. In fact, one of the area's biggest challenges is finding enough sites and commercial buildings to accommodate new employers, he says.
? ASFI, a Crystal River company that creates metal-framed, tension-fabric structures, will design a domed soccer stadium this year in Russia. The company has created numerous other major structures, including a 250-foot-wide hangar for the space shuttle in Cape Canaveral, part of the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York and the Ford Amphitheater in Tampa. Another recent project required ASFI to create an enclosed 70-foot-tall building for a Washington state company. The trick was the building had to be portable. "Our niche is to provide generally unique, functional and cost-effective solutions to an owner, a general contractor or an architect's needs," says Tom Leahy, the company's vice president of finance and administration. "We don't do repetitive buildings."