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Roundup 4-19-2013

April 19, 2013

Please note that there will be no Roundup next week.

Regionalism – Business Takes the Lead

We have often noted that the Tampa Bay area needs to learn to act (and think) more regionally.  Unfortunately, political leadership in that vein is usually lacking.  (See HART/PSTA or the Rays).  However, there are other kinds of leadership:

Leaders of the three major chambers of commerce representing Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater gathered like long-lost brothers Wednesday, sending a message that regional cooperation is starting to gel.

* * *

Starting last year, senior executives of the three chambers have met quarterly in what is called the Council of Chambers to share regional concerns and offer mutual support where possible. The briefing in St. Petersburg was meant to clarify the council’s ambitions and show the chambers do not operate only inside their own silos.

Why do we care? Because to the outside world, Tampa Bay is simply one metro area and economy, so locals better exhibit some signs they can work together. And because new and expensive economic pressures are rising — from funding mass transportation, a new baseball stadium and even a new aquarium — that may force regional sharing of such burdens.

Exactly.  The world sees us as one area.  If we cannot get our act together, they will just see us as an area that can’t get its act together.  Business leaders can see that and have an incentive to act because the market (for sales and labor) does not really care about political boundaries.  Hopefully, the business cooperation can get the political leaders to also act cooperatively.

Of course, from some of the comments, it is clear that this is still a new process:

“It’s okay to be individuals,” St. Petersburg chamber CEO Chris Steinocher said, but there are times when this area needs to act as one. “We have to build that kind of trust.”

It is ok, but it is less productive.  On the other hand, at least there is an effort underway, which is best summed up by this:

“We’re taking baby steps,” says Bill Carlson, president of Tampa’s Tucker Hall public affairs firm, a member of all three chambers and an advocate of geographic collaboration.

Yup.  But it is a start. If you put one foot in front of the other, soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor.

Port – What exactly?

This week at the Port:

Tampa Port Chief Paul Anderson’s discretionary spending limit is being increased to $100,000 from $15,000.

Port authority commissioners approved the change Tuesday, provided that such spending is within the port’s budget and reported to the board in a timely fashion.

Ok.  That makes sense.  What else?

In other business Tuesday, commissioners agreed to spend nearly $2.25 million on channel dredging and spoil island expansion projects that will help keep the port economically competitive for the next 20 years.

* * *

Anderson is lobbying federal officials to streamline U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations regarding such projects.

He said expedited permitting is an “oxymoron” regarding the Corps, with long-delayed dredging projects slowing economic development in Tampa and other ports.

We have no objection to dredging the channel and we understand the bureaucratic problems with it. (The Port Director’s thoughts were reported in the Miami Herald. )

However, what exactly is the plan and how will it keep us competitive in the post-Panamax era?  What is the real plan?

Urban v Sprawl – Cont.

A couple of weeks ago we discussed an article in the Daily Beast regarding the debate between advocates of the “creative class” (we actually favor the idea of “knowledge based industry” to the idea of “creative class”) and those of “sprawl” as economic models.

We pointed out that a diverse economy with diverse lifestyle choices is the best model for a metro area.  We also pointed out that the advocate of sprawl actually made the case for our position, rather than sprawl.  This week the sprawl advocate, in an article which focused on Houston, made our argument even more clearly.

Even as Houston has continued to advance outwards, the region has added more multiunit buildings over the past decade than more populous New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. With its economy growing faster and producing wealth faster than any other region in the country, urban developers there usually do not need subsidies or planning dictates to be economically viable.

Modern urban culture also is spreading in the Bayou City. In what has to be a first, my colleagues at Forbes recently ranked Houston as America’s “coolest city,” citing not only its economy, but its thriving arts scene and excellent restaurants. Such praise may make some of us, who relish Houston’s unpretentious nature, a little nervous—but it shows that hip urbanism can co-exist with rapidly expanding suburban development.

And Houston’s not the only proverbial urban ugly duckling having an amenity makeover. Oklahoma City has developed its central “Bricktown” into a centerpiece for arts and entertainment. Ft. Worth boasts its own, cowboy-themed downtown, along with fine museums, while its rival Dallas, in typical Texan fashion, boasts of having the nation’s largest arts district.

More important still, both for families and outdoor-oriented singles, both cities are developing large urban park systems. At an expense of $30 million, Raleigh is nearing the completion of its Neuse River Greenway Trail, a 28-mile trail through the forested areas of Raleigh. Houston has plans for a series of bayou-oriented green ways. For its part, Dallas is envisioning a vast new 6,000 acre park system, along the Trinity River that will dwarf New York’s 840-acre Central Park.

In other words, Houston is developing as a city.  Yes, the suburbs are growing, but so is the urban part of the city – especially urban amenities.  Moreover, even though the sprawl advocate does not approve, booming Houston (his model for growth) is rapidly expanding its rail system.    (And note this interesting idea of having HOV lanes which, if you are a single driver, you pay a toll to use.   To our eye that makes more sense than Lexus lanes.  Are you listening FDOT?))  Moreover, in the list of fastest growing cities cited by the sprawl advocate (see here) 12 of the cities have rail (many expanding), a thirteenth (Las Vegas) sort of does and is considering building real rail, two other have commuter rail, three (other than us) are considering rail while another sort of is. Then there is the Tampa Bay area – which is considering rail in part.

Once again – a key fact is the diversity of the economy of a place like Houston with oil, the port, biomed, education, old money, and on and on.  Moreover, there is great and growing diversity in lifestyles that allows a city like Houston to draw strongly from all segments of the potential workforce and provide them jobs and al lifestyle they can appreciate.

(And, as an aside, there is one other point – just because something is suburban – the article mentions 20 miles from downtown – does not mean it has to be built in a sprawling, unwalkable way. (It is just that the government does not care.)  There is a certain latitude in how developments are built.  Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay area has had a hard time realizing that.)

We find all this a bit amusing because (and we are still trying to find the articles in the archive but we remember it well) going back to the 1980’s Tampa and the Tampa Bay area has looked to Houston as model for our growth.  What did we miss?

Economic Development – DTCC

We received news this week that:

DTCC announced Monday that it chose Tampa over New Jersey and other sites to add up to 255 jobs to its existing pool of 590 employees in New Tampa. The jobs’ total compensation when including health insurance and bonuses will be nearly $100,000 apiece, said Eric Miller, managing director of DTCC in New Tampa.

We can’t break down the insurance and bonus value, but rough (and we admit it is rough) math gives you about $25,000,000 in wages/bonuses/insurance created by the new jobs.  Interestingly:

State and local governments awarded DTCC economic incentives worth more than $4 million to get it to expand here. The money included an upfront grant of about $1.2 million from the state’s Quick Action closing Fund and $1.78 million from a tax refund program paid after DTCC creates the jobs.

If you look at the numbers, the ratio of total payroll to total incentives is roughly equivalent to the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal, assuming everyone gets hired at the Estuary and everyone gets hired at DTCC.  ($4 million for a $25 million payroll versus $6.25 million for a $36 million payroll.)  Of course, the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal was all local taxpayer money and there were no guarantees that anything other than the Bass Pro Shops would be built (or jobs created) while DTCC was only $468,500 in County money and partially contingent on actual job creation.  (A much better return on investment for Hillsborough County.)  There is also the fact that the original DTCC deal, which also had incentives, attracted more DTCC jobs (and we would venture to guess other related jobs).  What will the low wage retail at Bass Pro Shops attract?

Economic Development – Another Deal

There was also news of another deal:

Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday will consider giving up to $729,000 in tax breaks for a financial services company to expand its local operation and create up to 1,215 high-wage jobs.

Economic development officials would not disclose the name of the company.

The tax incentives would be spread over nine years beginning in fiscal 2014, according to the commission agenda.

In November, the county approved a package of up to $973,500 in incentives for two firms – Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. and Digital Risk – to bring up to 1,000 jobs to the area.

Wednesday’s agenda item is unrelated, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. said.

We do not really have enough details to judge, but from the little we know, it sounds good – especially the 1,215 high wage jobs for $729,000.  Unless there is something really odd in the deal, it is almost guaranteed to be a better deal that the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal.

Economic Development – Just Because They Like Us

And in a little more news:

Synergy Health, the firm that bought SRI/Surgical Express, has relocated its corporate headquarters for the Americas to Tampa.

The company currently has about 90 employees at the former SRI corporate offices, at 12425 Race Track Road, and expects to hire 20 to 30 more over the next year, said Dr. Richard Steeves, founder. That doesn’t include workers at a separate operations plant in Tampa, he said.

Synergy (LSE: SYR), which provides specialized outsourced services to the health care market, has its global headquarters in Swindon, United Kingdom. The America’s HQ previously was in San Diego.

And they received no incentives.  Nice to hear.

Economic Development – The High Tech/High Wage Multiplier

While we do not have enough detail to fully evaluate the DTCC or the mystery deal, there is also this: During the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops debate we argued numerous times that high wage jobs should be the target for our economic development efforts because they have a much higher multiplier effect on the economy.  This week, the Economist had an interesting article about immigration, high tech jobs around the United States (which did not mention Florida, by the way), and the opportunities for cities other than the main tech hubs in the United States.  You should read it here.

For our purposes, the key point in the article was the following:

High-tech jobs matter not just to software engineers, scientists and the folk working in factories such as Bloom’s and View’s. They also have a broader impact on employment. Engine’s report estimates that for every job created in the high-tech sector, another 4.3 jobs emerge over time in the local economy. That is more than three times the local “multiplier” for manufacturing jobs. Well-paid techies shop a lot and hire others to iron their shirts (if they wear shirts, that is).

Please note they are not even comparing high tech jobs to low wage retail, they are comparing them to manufacturing jobs.  Quite a difference.   Additionally, they are saying that high tech jobs have this multiplier to a large degree because of the wages.

In other words, the high wage jobs are the type of jobs that support a Bass Pro Shops by creating customers with money to spend, not with a subsidy.

Given all of the above, hopefully, the Hillsborough County Commissioners revise their view of economic development accordingly.

Real Priorities

As an example of what is wrong with Hillsborough County’s strategy of economic development through real estate subsidies, we saw an article on a proposed Wal-Mart in Lithia.

More than 100 people packed the community room at the Bloomingdale Regional Library Tuesday night to devise a strategy for fighting a big box store slated to go in next door.

Traffic and the impact of the proposed store – widely believed to be a Walmart – on schools will be huge, they said, not to mention the homes that back up to the site, whose owners will see the parking lot and the proposed apartments when they sit on their patios.

Several plan to speak during the county commission meeting Wednesday and will meet again soon to further tweak their plan for fighting the development.

* * *

The property is zoned to allow a big box store and apartments, bordered by Lithia-Pinecrest Road, a failed roadway, and by Bloomingdale Avenue, which is daily jammed with cars heading both east and west.

So the County is considering allowing a big box on a failed road.  All the while they are giving taxpayer money to developers to build big box shopping plazas, some of which have not even broken ground.

We have an idea: before handing out subsidies to low wage retail, fix the roads for the people who are already here.

Riverwalk – Moving On

This week:

Tampa City Council gave the final OK to the next phase of the Tampa Riverwalk, an $8.8 million project that will run beneath the Kennedy Boulevard bridge.

The council approved hiring Johnson Bros. Construction to do the work, which will require building over the Hillsborough River from MacDill Park to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

Johnson Bros. built the Riverwalk segment beneath the Brorein Street bridge that opened last summer.

The new segment, known as the Kennedy Boulevard Plaza, is scheduled to open late next year. Designs call for a path wider than other stretches of the Riverwalk, with four shaded seating areas.

Moreover:

A last part of the Riverwalk remains: a land-based route from Hixon park to Water Works Park, north of Interstate 275. That phase is being designed and will come to council for a sign-off next week.

That is all good.  We like the Riverwalk and want it finished. As a City Councilman said:

“This may be one of the most consequential things the city has done for generations,” said Councilman Harry Cohen, whose district includes downtown.

It may be.  Of course, it depends on what else happens around it.  There is progress, but it is still tenuous.

South Howard – What is it, What Will It Be?

This week there was an article in the Tribune regarding parking issues in the South Howard area.

Parking already is in high demand in SoHo, a popular commercial district that parallels the Hyde Park neighborhood.

“It’s clearly a very big problem,” said council member Harry Cohen, who represents District Four in South Tampa. He voted at the February hearing to deny the saloon’s request.

More than 20 restaurants and bars are squeezed onto the southern end of Howard Avenue. On weekend nights, particularly, parking is hard to find.

Many people compete for the existing spaces, while others use taxis or take advantage of sometimes-complimentary valet service at the different venues. Regular SoHo patrons post advice about the best places to park – for free and without getting ticketed — on online message boards.

As the economy improves, more people will want to open bars in the popular SoHo district, and some owners of businesses already there want to expand. But under city law they would have to create more parking on a stretch where there isn’t much undeveloped space remaining.

We completely understand the complaints about parking (and noise) in the South Howard area.  On the other hand, it seems that every time there is a successful entertainment district in Tampa, people complain about noise and parking and rules are put in place that eventually stifle the area. (Ybor had/has noise issues – though not really parking) We admit there are no ready-made solutions at this point.

The real issue is how to create a balance, which is very difficult.  The problem is that the way Tampa is laid out, there are not that many areas that people can park, walk around, and bar hop (It could have been done on Kennedy, but that is not really laid out properly right now).  Moreover, there is no area designated for this kind of activity, where people know what they are getting into before they move there.  We also know transit is not really an option either.   And some people just do not want to go to a bar at the mall, and downtown will not draw everyone (anyway, people complained about noise when Channelside was busy.  There are complaints about noise in downtown St. Pete.).

The City could build a parking garage, but that is expensive.  The area around Hyde Park Village, especially on Swann, could have been like South Howard is now, but aside from the Old Hyde Park Village development, there is not much built around it to support bar hopping.

This perpetual problem is the price to be paid for poor planning and allowing poor development patterns.  Hopefully, the City will learn for the future.

We Found Gamera’s Hideout

This week, the first building at Florida Poly was topped out.

With the placement of a final stanchion alongside a symbolic tree and a rousing round of applause, Florida Polytechnic supporters and officials celebrated the “topping out” of the campus showpiece – the $134 million Innovation, Science and Technology building.

When done, it will look like this:

From WTSP – click on picture for article

http://www.wtsp.com/investigators/article/307831/34/Times-editorial-calls-for-end-of-Fla-Polytechnic

Oblong, high tech, arching building in a pond.  It doesn’t seem practical for an academic building, but it is a great place for a giant flying turtle to hide.

List of the Week

Our list this week goes to economic development.  It is the Moneywatch list of Best US Cities to Grow a Business.  Austin is first, followed by Boston, Houston, San Jose, Portland (OR), DC, San Francisco, Bridgeport (CT), Salt Lake City, and Raleigh.  (Just as an aside: 8 rail systems, one rail connection, and one plan for rail). Florida is shut out.

Makes you wonder.

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