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Roundup 2-10-2012

February 10, 2012

This week’s Roundup is a bit longer because there are quite a few things happening.  Enjoy.

The Port – Well Past Time for a Plan

For a while now, we have been saying the Port needs a plan to diversify and expand its markets.  This week brought some interesting news on the container front.  ZIM lines provides the Port’s major container service, as the Port Director’s message on the Port website tells us:

Most notably, the fastest growing component of the port’s business is its container trade, driven primarily by the success of Zim Integrated Shipping Services’ weekly Asia-Gulf Express service, linking Tampa directly with Asia and providing connections across the globe.

Well, it seems that ZIM has some issues.  In this article, headlined “Shipping giant ZIM fighting for its life” we learn:

The Israel Corporation and other companies under the control of Idan Ofer have yet to pour the $100 million safety net they pledged into the group’s shipping company ZIM, Calcalist has learned.

The funds were to be poured into the company pursuant to the provisions of the debt restructuring agreement between the company and its bondholders in 2009, following the financial difficulties the company found itself in for the second time.

At the end of the third quarter of 2011, the company and its parent company stated they would activate the safety net. But although more than two months have gone by without any improvement in ZIM’s results, the company’s controlling shareholders have yet to pour the money they pledged into the company.

In the meantime, the shipping company continues sailing into choppy waters, ending the third quarter of 2011 with a $66 million loss and expecting to post heavy losses for the fourth quarter of the year.

We have no idea whether ZIM will work out its issues or not, but this news is a warning to the Port and, especially, the Board of Directors.  We will say it once again, the Port needs a stated plan to diversify its service and expand its market – especially its container business.  Complacency is not acceptable.

Port- Expand in Oil

In more news, the Governor announced that the Port will get a grant:

Gov. Rick Scott announced that a $45 million upgrade to the Port of Tampa will help Florida be more competitive in a global economy and create jobs

* * *

Scott said today during a luncheon at the fairgrounds in Tampa that the money will be used to build two new berths to handle petroleum at the port.

Scott says he has directed the state Department of Transportation to provide half of the $45 million for the project.

We are not opposed to the creation of jobs.  That is good.  But the Governor announced he is giving $22.5 million to the Port as opposed to the $77 million he is giving to the Port of Miami.  Miami’s project is to dredge the channel to help take advantage of the container traffic from the Panama Canal Expansion – which would make it truly globally competitive.  The money for Tampa is for petroleum?  It may create jobs, but we are not sure how this makes Tampa more globally competitive. Is the Governor planning for a Cuba opening?

High Speed Rail.

As most people know, about a year ago, the Governor of Florida rejected Federal funding for a proposal high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando before the analysis of the plan by the State of Florida was complete.  His rejection killed the plan for the foreseeable future.  In support of his rejection, the Governor wrote:

First – capital cost overruns from the project could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for an additional $3 billion.

Second – ridership and revenue projections are historically overly-optimistic and would likely result in ongoing subsidies that state taxpayers would have to incur. (from $300 million – $575 million over 10 years) – Note: The state subsidizes Tri-Rail $34.6 million a year while passenger revenues covers only $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating budget.

Finally – if the project becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion in federal funds to D.C.

Well, last week, the Tribune reported that the State sent the Federal Railroad Administration a report saying the rail line probably would have made money over time.

The high-speed rail project that Gov. Rick Scott doomed last February by turning down more than $2 billion in federal money would have made an annual surplus of $31 million to $45 million within a decade of operation, according to a state report.

* * *

The heart of the report is an analysis by two consulting firms of projected ridership, costs and the resulting surplus – or loss. If the project to link Tampa and Orlando would have gone forward, the research would have been used in determining an investment grade for bond sales.

* * *

The firm of Steer, Davis, Gleave projected Tampa-Orlando ridership of 2.5 million and a $9.1 million deficit in 2016, the first year of operation. By 2026, though, the high-speed rail would be carrying nearly 5 million passengers a year and generate an annual surplus of $31.1 million, according to the firm.

The projection by Wilbur Smith Associates was even rosier. The firm estimated 3.6 million riders in 2016, producing a $17.6 million operating surplus. By 2026, Florida’s high-speed rail would carry more than 5 million riders and produce a $44.8 million surplus, according to its analysis.

The state used the information from the two consultants to come up with a midrange estimate: 3 million passengers and $4.3 million surplus in the first year, and a ridership of nearly 5 million and an annual surplus of $38 million by 2026.

Tampasphere had some reservations about the actual plan for high speed rail and the fact that it went to the Orlando airport (rather than downtown Orlando) and did not go to TIA (and why most local leaders seemed to make no effort to get it to TIA).  However, that does not explain the opposition to rail evidenced by the Governor and others.  Shouldn’t the value of a transportation system be based on whether it accomplishes its goals and shouldn’t that be based on some sort of evidence?

HART – The Governor Hates Rail – except in Orlando

In more rail related news, the Governor appointed a tea party and vehemently anti-rail activist to the HART board.

Today Governor Rick Scott named a major critic of the rail ballot measure, Josh Burgin, to the board.

Burgin now joins a HART board that includes Karen Jaroch, a Tea Party activist in Tampa who was a prominent critic of the one-cent sales tax proposal, which would have helped pay for the construction of a light-rail line in the county.

Burgin succeeds John A. Byczek and is appointed for a term beginning February 6, 2012, and ending October 31, 2012.

Well, we did not expect anything else.  So what qualifications does this new board member bring to serve the public?

You might recall that Burgin decided in 2010 to challenge County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, a fellow Republican, in his bid for re-election to the Hillsborough County Commission. Sharpe had alienated a swath of people in his own party for his unstinting cheerleading for the rail initiative, and Burgin answered the call of those who wanted to teach Sharpe a lesson.

It didn’t work, however, as Sharpe skunked Burgin in that August 2010 election.

Burgin, 35, of Plant City, once worked as vice president of information technology and social media for the Holtec USA Corporation. That’s the company run by prominent Eastern Hillsborough County Republican activist Sam Rashid, a prominent critic of the light-rail initiative in 2010, and a strong financial booster of the anti-rail effort. He also provided a generous severance package to Burgin when he left Holtec, a move that was written about extensively by Tampa media at the time.

So, the appointee couldn’t win a Republican primary but is now placed on the board of a public entity.  We wonder how the new appointee reconciles his anti-rail views with being appointed by the Governor who approved Sunrail in Orlando.  Maybe he just thinks the rail is ok unless it serves the Tampa Bay area.

Foreign Trade

This week saw a meeting with a Under Secretary of the Department of Commerce and local leaders regarding increasing international trade.

Tampa’s mayor, Under Secretary of Commerce Francisco Sanchez and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, agreed Monday to develop a plan to boost local exports. Also signing on were officials from the Tampa Bay area’s airport, seaport and economic development agencies.

For now, it’s not clear what the new plan will look like. The federal government will probably convene meetings over six or seven months to work out the particulars of how to market the region’s products and services abroad, Sanchez said.

There was no discussion either of which exports might play into the agreement. With Tampa’s proximity to phosphate mines, crude fertilizers are now the major export commodity for the Port of Tampa.

Even though it seems very embryonic, this is a good thing, though we think there needs to be an emphasis on manufactured exports, preferably in the field of technology. And what of Tampa’s proximity to the Panama Canal? In any event, we agree with the Mayor:

Buckhorn said the Tampa area has pushed exports in a “disjointed” fashion over the years.

“We’ve moved in fits and starts,” he said. “People get excited and then nothing comes of it.”

Indeed.

List #1 – No Wonder You Are Depressed

We have previously covered a number of lists that tell us that we are depressed. We get depressed when we read articles, like this one from 2008 about the Tampa Bay area being a bad place for young professionals.  There is much work to be done to attract and retain young talent, one of the Mayor of Tampa’s goals. The Mayor of Tampa has told us:

“We need to have a city that’s hip, that’s cool, that’s progressive,” he said.

“Creating a hip downtown requires thinking outside of the box,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. http://www.examiner.com/political-buzz-in-tampa-bay/mayor-buckhorn-provides-the-taste-of-tampa

“Food trucks are cool, they’re hip,” Buckhorn said.

(Ok, the last one is kind of off point, but are food trucks hip? [see urban dictionary definition of hip] We are not sure being “hip” is what it will take to attract and retain young talent.  Does the youthful target audience even say “hip”? [We’re sorry but every time we hear the Mayor say “hip,” we can’t help but think of this] There must be a better word.)

Here is another thing that will not attract and retain young talent, and surely is not “hip.” It comes from the first of our two lists this week – America’s Best Cities for Dating. Basically, the “best dating cities” are tech centers, “hip” cities and places you would expect, plus Miami and, inexplicably, New Orleans.  No Tampa Bay – maybe because the young professionals are seeking hipper locales.

List #2 – You May Be Depressed and Alone, but At Least You’re Not Miserable

For our second list this week, we find a list of America’s “most miserable” cities.  Once again, we are not big on the veracity of these lists, but, at least in this one the Tampa Bay area did not make the cut.  That’s right – Tampa Bay is not among the most miserable cities in America.

So, you ask, who is miserable?  Well, apparently southeast Florida is pretty miserable because the three major southeast Florida cities all made the list: Miami (#1), West Palm Beach (#4), and Ft. Lauderdale (#7). Maybe all that dating is a result of not being able to find that someone special, making them miserable.

Built Environment – Sidewalks

The Tribune also ran an article on fixing/building sidewalks in Tampa – which has a bizarre lack of sidewalks in many places. http://www2.tbo.com/news/news/2012/feb/05/east-tampa-sidewalk-project-paved-by-death-ar-355225/ You can read the article for all the details.  We want to highlight the following:

“The reality, whether we like it or not,” he said, “is Tampa is not a particularly pedestrian-friendly city.”

Buckhorn says Tampa is doing the best it can with what it has. Tough economic times have only made that harder, he said.

“We’re in a position of holding together, sometimes with duct tape and spit, what we have,” Buckhorn said. “Given our financial constraints, we’ve got to measure the benefits of every dollar we spend.”

Expanding the city’s meager sidewalk budget means cutting money somewhere else. That’s not going to happen, Buckhorn said.

“At best, until this economy turns around, we’re going to be putting Band-Aids on wounds,” he said.

First, we agree, Tampa is not a pedestrian friendly city.  Part of that is the lack of sidewalks.  Part of it is a development pattern that focuses on cars.  Also, we will grant that it may be expensive to build sidewalks, and the City probably does not have the money to build that many (though the County apparently has money to make sure Bayshore is color-coordinated but no money to put street lights on Waters, Linebaugh, Gunn Hwy, Ehrlich or Sheldon.  We won’t even go into Brandon or other county roads in Tampa.).

Even worse is that most sidewalks that are built do not really go anywhere because most of Tampa is not built for people to walk to anything. Tampa is not pedestrian friendly because over the years the City government has chosen to allow Tampa to be not pedestrian friendly.  The Mayor should take the inexpensive step of changing the code that governs construction and design in the City so that buildings have to be pedestrian friendly, with entrances on the street, with urban design.  That is the first step while the City waits for money to build more sidewalks.  And it would be hip.

USF – Moffitt

This week also brought news that the Moffitt Cancer center may finally get money from the State to build a large expansion project.

Money for a long-proposed expansion of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center could come in the form of a new jobs bill created last week in Tallahassee.

It’s been three years since local legislators first proposed using existing cigarette taxes to build a clinical and research facility near the burgeoning Tampa campus. Leaders say it would address demand at the comprehensive National Cancer Institute center, one of just 50 in the United States.

“This campus is Moffitt’s future,” said Jamie Wilson, Moffitt’s vice president of government relations.

But shoveling money toward health care isn’t politically popular lately, and this year Moffitt revised its pitch to focus on the economics of expansion. The Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Moffitt launched a sophisticated website — jobsforthecure.com — to highlight the potential 3,000 construction jobs and more than 1,000 permanent health care jobs.

From the Tampa Tribune - click on picture for full article

You can read the article for all the details.  For some reason it seems very hard for the Tampa Bay area to get money for needed projects.  It is well past time for Moffitt to get this money.  It is an asset to the Tampa Bay, but also the State, that will actually help make us globally competitive.

USF Poly – “Things” Happen

In an episode as amusing as it was expected, the legislature has come up with a surprise bill to make USF Poly an independent school immediately, to be shepherded by the University of Florida.  Why was it expected? We did not think the State Senator (the grandson of the person for whom the football stadium at the University of Florida is named.) pushing the independent school would give up.  He didn’t.

What is amusing?  The explanation of how the bill came about (we apologize for the long quote but it really tells the story):

The bill was sprung on unsuspecting lawmakers minutes before the start of a late-afternoon higher education budget meeting.

“Is this the procedure, to get one piece of paper to create a new university?” asked state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Alachua.

“This is the language already established by the Board of Governors,” said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, the committee chairman and a Republican from Ormond Beach.

* * *

Why not allow the Board of Governors’ plan to run its course?

Lynn said it wasn’t happening quickly enough.

“I think there’s generally a feeling that, you know, you’re taking too long,” Lynn said after the meeting. “I think there was a desire by some people to, if you’re going to do it, either do it or don’t. Don’t drag it out.”

* * *

Senators discussed the bill for about 15 minutes. Only a few spoke.

Oelrich wondered why the bill wasn’t vetted in the Senate’s higher education committee, which he chairs.

Because it’s a budget issue, Lynn said.

“So we’ve established the need for another university?” Oelrich asked.

“It’s been talked about,” Lynn answered, referring to the Board of Governors’ November meeting.

* * *

Wednesday’s bill earned quick disapproval from Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. Fasano has been critical of the push for independence for USF Poly.

“This is so irresponsible, this move by Chairman Alexander and anybody else that’s behind it,” Fasano said.

Asked where this bill came from, Lynn said she and her staff wrote it.

And why go this route?

“Conforming bills appear, you know,” Lynn said. “And things happen.”

We know what kind of “things” we think happen. You can decide for yourself what you think. Apparently some lawmakers and university board of governors have concerns about these “things.”

The bottom line is, if there is a good reason for spending the people’s money and making USF Poly an independent school, make the argument and see if you can convince people of the merits.  If there is not a good reason, leave the people’s money alone.

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