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Roundup 5-2-2014

May 2, 2014

IIFA – The Review

So the IIFA awards event has come and gone.  You may have noticed that we have not said much about it.  That is namely because there is a general consensus that the IIFA was a good thing to host and, especially as most of the money used for it was private, there are not many issues.

So how did it go?  It seems to have gone fine.  Those involved seemed to enjoy it.  Traffic was not bad.  Great.

As for economic impact, obviously, there was some.  How much?  That is not clear.  Past IIFA hosts have seen 24,000 hotel room nights from the event.  It seems that in Tampa the awards took up somewhere between 10-12,000 room nights (at least in Hillsborough County).  Oh well.

The crowd at the actual main show was somewhere between 25-30,000. And, let’s be honest, no one really knows how much economic impact there really was (is it $30 million, $15 million, somewhere in between?)   Not a Super Bowl (not anywhere close, really), but that’s ok.  It is an awards show for a foreign film industry, after all.

One thing that is a little weird is this:

Unlike, say, the Super Bowl, there is no live television broadcast of the IIFA awards.

Instead, the program will be video recorded for televising in June on Star Plus, an Indian cable channel available locally to Verizon Fios and Dish TV subscribers for an additional fee.

IIFA claims the show will eventually reach an estimated 800 million viewers in 110 countries. Some markets are remote, many without systems of measuring viewership, so those numbers will be difficult to confirm.

Well, at least people will know we exist eventually.

While the short term impact was probably quite small but ok, we have no idea what the long term impact, if any, will be.  We agree with the Mayor:

. . . building an international brand for Tampa, he said, will take a focused effort over a period of years. “It’s not just one event,” Buckhorn said.

Exactly.  We are all for events. They are all nice and good and serve as a small advertisement, which is fine.  (And if we are given a similar opportunity, we would also support doing it, especially if private money was paying for most of it.)

The real problem with these events is that they are oversold by local officials (for instance, this event will not provide worldwide exposure, really.  It had a very specific target audience).  Moreover, building an international brand requires having substance, not just shows, which requires proper transportation infrastructure, proper planning, a proper educational system, and a diverse economy with a well-educated, innovative workforce.  These are still all issues left unaddressed by the show (though, once again, we are not opposed to the event).

Just like after the RNC, now we are back where we were with all the unsolved issues that we had before we got the IIFA awards (and actually before we got the RNC).  Maybe someday there will be some business that comes from the IIFA, but, right now, nothing has changed.

Transportation – The Bridge

So let’s look at some of the issues still unaddressed.  First, the Business Journal had an item clarifying what FDOT meant by the new Howard Frankland being “light rail ready” back in October.  Apparently, according to the Business Journal, it did not mean much:

The Florida Department of Transportation announced last year it had committed $25 million to build a substructure on the 3-mile replacement span that would support future light rail.

That fact has been simplified, or misconstrued, into a message that says the project will “accommodate” rail – which in turn suggests that you can add track and go.

But here’s the reality: In order to include light rail, the bridge would have to be widened; a causeway leading up to it would need to be built; the electrical component and other infrastructure would have to be added.

Or – another structure adjacent to the bridge could be constructed exclusively for the rail line.

The cost for either option: about $1 billion.

The new span, due for completion by 2024, is currently budgeted at $425 million.

First, it will be done in 2024?

Second, so they will spend $25 million to make the new bridge “ready” for the $1 billion investment? (The Governor wants to give Miami at least $50 million to add an “artistic element to a downtown exit leading to a bridge. See “Transportation – Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida”   We only get $25 million for an actual, functional element?)  Of course, this is no surprise given how the State’s transportation policy seems to be shaping up:

Florida House members on Thursday unanimously passed a vision of the state’s transportation future that calls for more toll roads. It would encourage more cellphone towers on state property to raise money to build roads in these days of declining gas-tax revenue. It also would allow businesses to put up signs on state nature and recreational trails to help pay for their maintenance.

But that’s not all HB 7175 would do. It also dissolves the state’s rail commission created in 2009 and rendered moot by Gov. Scott’s refusal of billions in federal dollars that would have built a high-speed link between Tampa and Orlando.

But the bill does call for relief for air travelers, authorizing the Florida Department of Transportation to finance “strategic airport investment projects” with private partners that promote international trade.

The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, puts a heavy emphasis on private money. It authorizes the DOT to help pay for future road projects by using money from leases with wireless companies that want towers near state roads.

Well, we know the State government tends to be road happy, so more money to road decorations than preparation for transit is not surprising. At least here (and we need more road money, but we have other needs too), the failure to spend now will just cost much more later.  Welcome to Tampa.

And then the Senate Transportation Committee Chairman:

“While it is true that I do not support raising the sales tax in Pinellas to the highest level in the state to pay for 19th century transportation options, this really isn’t about my opinion of the Greenlight Pinellas light rail plan,” Brandes said.

* * *

“As far as transportation options, as the Chairman of Senate Transportation I am on the record in support of bus rapid transit and other dynamic options to enhance our transportation network,” Brandes said.

But, apparently, it is ok for the State to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on SunRail AND take on the insurance liability for SunRail and TriRail, but not the streetcar, of course.  (On the other hand, on SunRail, Orlando did not have its own legislators fighting hard against the effort.)

This all takes us back to the question of whether rail is bad or just rail in the Tampa Bay area. (And what about that $50 million Miami “artistic element.”  Is that a good use of taxpayer money too? Why doesn’t Miami have to pay for that?)

As for the pithy comment that rail is a 19th century technology – roads are kind of an old technology (see the Appian Way), as are cars and buses, not to mention ferries.

Then there is this:

Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign has spent heavily in the market, which touches 12 counties. By the end of April, Let’s Get to Work, a committee aligned with Scott, will have poured $1.9 million into the Tampa market, according to publicly available media-buy data.

The numbers also underscore the importance of Central Florida more generally. Second on the list is Orlando, where Scott’s campaign has made $1.3 million. Those are the only two markets where Scott has spent more than $1 million.

There is good reason.

The two markets have larger populations than the more densely populated Miami and West Palm Beach media markets. In 2012 presidential race, 3.6 million people voted in the Tampa and Orlando markets, a number that was 2.5 million in the south Florida markets.

So that helps explain state money on SunRail, but it does not explain why we still cannot get what we need. (You may say there is a lot of road construction going on here, but we are years behind and there is also a whole lot of road construction in Orlando and Miami, which both seem to have no trouble getting rail money).

While spending time on and at IIFA is fine, it would be good if local officials spent more time pushing, very hard, for proper infrastructure spending.  The Howard Frankland Bridge has to be one of the most important infrastructure projects in the area.  (Maybe we should call being rail ready an “artistic element” and we would get the funding.)  Getting it built, making it rail/transit ready should be a priority, and all the lanes should be free – like they are now.

Why can’t we leverage our electoral power into more support?  That requires unified action by political officials in the Tampa Bay area, which is really why it doesn’t happen.

Transportation – Greenlight, Accountability, and Integrity

The opposition to Greenlight Pinellas says it involves the issue of raising taxes and responsibility in spending.  We are all for such responsibility.  This week, the Times had an interesting report that makes us wonder if it is responsible spending that is the issue or just an ideological opposition to rail.

Advocates for Greenlight Pinellas hope to persuade voters to pay a penny more in local sales tax for expanded bus service and light rail.

One of their strategies: Give back money elsewhere.

If voters agree on Nov. 4 to raise the sales tax from 7 to 8 percent, officials say the property tax that currently funds the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will be eliminated.

* * *

Local officials had hoped the Legislature would give voters an extra degree of confidence that they wouldn’t be taxed twice.

A bill that would have repealed PSTA’s authority to levy a property tax if the Greenlight referendum passes was passed two years ago, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it. Scott said the issue should be addressed at the local level. Opponents of the sales tax hike feared the bill would make it easier to pass the referendum.

Well, now that is odd.  PSTA sought to protect taxpayers and it was killed because opponents of Greenlight knew it was a good idea.  So, who is protecting the taxpayer?  And who is opposed to excessive taxation and spending?  Remember, the opponents go by the name “No Tax for Tracks” – it is all about rail here, to which they have an ideological opposition.  It is not about responsible government or protecting the taxpayer.  (And note that the Governor, gave the OK to SunRail)

Anyway, it seems like PSTA is determined to put the protections in place anyway.

County and PSTA officials are hammering out a pact that aims to put as much teeth into that promise as possible. It includes safeguards designed to ensure the one-cent tax money will only be used to expand bus service and build a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The project is expected to cost $2.2 billion to build and $130 million annually to operate.

“The county doesn’t want to micromanage it,” said attorney Steve Miller, a consultant hired to represent the county in talks with PSTA. “However, if things go sideways or don’t go quite as planned, the county would have the ability to insert itself.”

* * *

The agreement, which Miller calls “the key to our accountability,” would also allow the county to hold back transit tax revenue or ask voters to reduce or eliminate the tax if:

• The system is built and officials determine the tax can be reduced.

• The PSTA board votes not to proceed with the plan.

• PSTA defaults on its debt or misapplies the funds.

• A catastrophic event, such as major hurricane, hits the region.

The agreement also sets major milestones taken from the Greenlight plan, such as starting the first phase of the rapid bus line by 2018 and completing light rail by 2024.

If PSTA misses a milestone, a consultant would mediate and make recommendations to get the project back on track.

“We’ve tried to make sure this agreement mirrors the plan and the message that is being presented to the electorate,” County Attorney Jim Bennett told county commissioners during a recent update.

PSTA has agreed to adopt conservative debt and investment policies similar to the county’s and would be required to reimburse the county for any impact to county infrastructure.

Another check on PSTA power is the makeup of its 15-member board. Four county commissioners hold a seat.

Good for Pinellas working to be responsible, even if the opponents of the Greenlight plan are not.  Hillsborough could learn something, again.

Transportation – Enter Megabus

This week it was announced that there will be new bus service between Tampa and Orlando.

The vision of light rail connecting Tampa to other Florida metros seems light years from happening.

Ok, stop right there.  It would be nice if at least the media would understand the difference between rail technologies.  Light rail is local rail transit.  It is not intercity rail, like All Aboard Florida. (As far as we know, no one has a vision of light rail between Tampa and Orlando, and confusing the two is not helpful to having this area making an informed decision about its transportation future).

Now that we have cleared that up, back to the bus:

Business and leisure travelers untethered to a car, however, will soon have another inexpensive, mass transit option for trips to Orlando or Miami. They can take a bus … a megabus, that is.

Megabus, a city-to-city express bus service company, is expected to announce today that it’s launching service out of downtown Tampa, shuttling passengers to and from Miami and Orlando. Its 81-seat, double-decker buses will run six daily arrivals and departures from the Marion Transit Center at 1211 N Marion St.

Service begins May 15.

Fine with us.  If a private company wants to try bus service, we have no objection.  Frankly, we hope it is successful.  Most major areas have various transportation options.  Moreover, since this area cannot get its act together as a region, it is unlikely that there will be intercity rail any time soon.

The biggest problem with the Megabus is how to get around after you get to Tampa.  You could take HART, but how long will it take you to get where you want to be? You use Zipcar, except you can’t.  You could try Uber or Lyft, but the PTC is working to kill those.  You could take a cab.

Once again, the real issue is that there are not many transportation options in this area, which makes connecting to other cities through anything other than cars (rented or owned) not particularly useful.  Transportation needs to be an integrated system, something that still does not exist here. (Though at least Pinellas is trying.)

Economy – The Left Behind Series

Transportation is one issue that still remains.  Another is our low wage economy, which we have been discussing for a while. So we were gratified that the issue was highlighted in a Times column this week (and last week’s Bass Pro Shops groundbreaking):

So where are all those better paying jobs? We covet them in Tampa Bay but can’t seem to get enough to stay competitive, leaving more and more area workers lacking the same opportunities they had prior to the recession.

We may covet them, but our officials, despite the rhetoric, adopt policies that do precious little to actually attract them.  Anyway,

Among 334 larger counties in the nation, Pinellas County registered the biggest annual decline in weekly wages — down 4.3 percent to $802 — from September 2012 to September 2013. So says the Bureau of Labor Statistics about its most recently available numbers.

While other local counties did not record wage declines like Pinellas, their puny increases offer little to cheer about.

Among larger metropolitan areas nationwide, Tampa Bay ranks among the 10 with the lowest average increase in wages and salaries from 2009 to 2012. In 2009, Tampa Bay wages averaged $40,590. By 2012, they averaged $42,230, an increase of just $1,640, say BLS data.

Only seven larger metro areas, led by Detroit, reported a smaller gain in those years.

Granted, this is hardly the economic news you would hope to hear. Our unemployment rate is pretty low. We just wrapped up the fun weekend with Bollywood. We keep hearing bits of news of more companies expanding here with better than average wages.

So far, that’s not adding up to enough to raise overall wages. And when more people earn less, they spend less. It can become a vicious cycle.

Not only are we growing slowly, we started low in the first place.  Most of that is a result of longstanding policies favoring real estate development, sprawl, call centers, and other low wage jobs. And the vicious cycle extends to brain drain, because why should people stay when they can get amenities not available here and also get paid more (often much more) by going somewhere else?

It is not enough to say you want higher paying jobs.  You actually have to create an environment that creates and/or attracts them.  This area has done a few things in that vein, but not enough and fewer than other areas with which we compete.  (And we keep doing things that harm that effort, like focusing on sprawling development as the main economic driver; failing to build a comprehensive, integrated infrastructure; failing to change how we build our area except for in small, isolated areas; and failing to create an overall environment that favors real achievement and proper economic development over the traditional Florida land rush mentality.)

When I visit area businesses, I ask how they are doing as the economy improves.

Too often, they don’t offer an answer but a question: Is it really getting better?

Not if Tampa Bay’s wages are stalled or falling behind.

The status quo is not acceptable.  That is the bottom line.

— A Side Note

This week we also learned:

Express Scripts, the nation’s biggest pharmacy benefit manager, is planning to cut hundreds of jobs across the country. But the 390 employees the company plans to fire from its Tampa operation constitute the largest layoff in Tampa Bay in 2014.

That’s more than half of the company’s 720-person workforce at 5701 E Hillsborough Ave. The layoffs include nearly 150 high-paying pharmacist positions. The company said it told those employees about the cuts Tuesday and filed the required layoff notice with the state.

The cuts are due to losing an account, and those things happen.  Nevertheless, it is not good news. (Nor is this news about defense spending. )   Just another reason to work to diversify the economy.

In A Park Down by The River – Cont., Some More

The City is going to hold a public meeting on Julian Lane Riverfront Park:

City officials have scheduled their first community meeting to talk about Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s plans for redesigning Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

The meeting is set for 6 p.m. May 6 at Blake High School, 1701 North Blvd.

What is the purpose of the meeting?

Denver-based Civitas Inc. design firm will lead the public discussion as a way of getting input for its re-imagining of the 23-acre Julian B. Lane park.

“The community’s ideas and input will determine what the park will become and will help us bring their vision into reality,” Buckhorn said in a statement.

Good enough, but the Mayor already has a plan.

Buckhorn has called for redesigning the 37-year-old park with an eye toward removing the earthen mounds originally created by architect Richard Dattner and realigning Laurel Street to get more use from land sitting between the street and Interstate 275.

Frankly, we have no problem with most of that, though at least the big mound/vertical element should be retained in some form because vertical elements are almost nonexistent in this area. (See “In Another Park Down By The River” and “In a Park Down By the River – Cont”)

Clearly, from the layout of the park right now, there is no view of the river:

From InVision Tampa – click on picture for website

But it is not because of the vertical element – it is because of the trees, tennis courts, buildings, and poor layout of the park.  And the park is so big that views of the river and a vertical element can coexist – the vertical element actually creates unique views of the river. (The biggest mound is that small circle in the upper left hand section just to the right of the tennis courts between the trees – about the size of the infield of the softball field – but, we admit, small as it is, the Mayor’s common quips about the mounds make good sound bites.)

It will be interesting to see how much input the community actually has or if the park gets the Bro Bowl treatment.

Downtown – One Suit Down

This week the lawsuit seeking to block the Residences at the Riverwalk was dismissed:

A judge Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit from a Skypoint condo owner who said a planned nearby high-rise tower would block his “sweeping views of the Hillsborough River.”

Plaintiff John P. Baker bought his 15th-floor condominium in 2012 for $255,000. He had complained the 400-foot-tall Residences at the Riverwalk would be only 600 feet away.

Baker also contended that the 36-story apartment tower would be out of scale with surrounding buildings, inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan and incompatible with the rest of the city’s arts and cultural district.

As the judge noted:

But Hillsborough Circuit Judge James M. Barton II concluded Baker failed to establish that he had standing to sue the city and the developers. Even if what he claimed were true, Barton wrote, Baker wouldn’t suffer injuries different from those of the community at large.

Moreover, the judge said, Baker’s assertion “that his view will be obstructed” is not a reason recognized by the law as sufficient to bring the case.

That all makes sense to us.  Of course, it was a legal ruling and not this:

Mayor Bob Buckhorn welcomed the dismissal as “a confirmation of our shared vision for an active, vibrant riverfront.”

Nevertheless, it still opened the way for the initial road work to start, which is a good thing.  Unfortunately, the Channelside suits are still around.

Transportation – The Connector Works

First reports on the Selmon/I-4 Connector look good:

Almost four months after it opened, officials estimate about 24,000 vehicles use the 1-mile toll road every day, and about 1,900 of those vehicles are trucks.

That is not particularly surprising because:

The idea for the connector was conceived more than 30 years ago, and the road cost $421 million to design and build. The elevated road provides access between the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and the east-west stretch of I-4 that cuts through Ybor City.

In other words, the need was known, just nothing happened for decades – like most transportation in this area.  Now, there will be changes in Ybor:

This fall, the state will begin repairing and enhancing the two one-way roads between Adamo Drive and Hillsborough Avenue, narrowing them and adding more on-street parking spaces, landscaping, benches, a bicycle path and other aesthetic improvements. The work will take about two years to complete. Then the Department of Transportation, which now oversees 21st and 22nd, will transfer management of the roads to the city of Tampa.

When that happens, city officials will be able to ban truck traffic there altogether, said Vince Pardo, manager of the Ybor City Development Corporation.

That’s fine because there is an alternate route – namely the connector.

Hopefully, transportation fixes will not take so long anymore, but with something conceived 30 years ago just becoming reality and all the obvious needs throughout the area, one wonders.

Meanwhile In The Rest of Florida

— SunRail

SunRail, the commuter rail system in Orlando started service this week.   While, as commuter rail (as opposed to light rail or intercity rail), it is not really what is being discussed initially for this area, it is still an achievement for Central Florida – especially given that leaders from all political parties and different counties got together and the state kicked in money (unheard of here).  Interestingly, though not a full quote, even HART’s resident bus expert – who previously has spoken against rail in this area – thinks it is viable:

Charlotte residents had the same unease as Orlandoans about commuter rail not going where they wanted it to go or as frequently as they wanted, and why the heck there were no trains during the weekend. There were big doubts about whether enough people would ride the train, Hooks said.

Here’s what happened: “People went gangbusters. Sometimes I couldn’t get on the 5 o’clock train because it was full.”

Steven Polzin, director of the Mobility Research Program at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research, expects the same will be true for Orlando.

All the concerns and uncertainties are legitimate, but it will be the practical application that determines whether the train attracts the number of riders to make it viable, he said: “You have to let the performance of the system play out and see how it works for folks.”

Why wouldn’t the same be true here?

— Microsoft

To achieve multiple stated goals, like being the/a gateway to Latin America and increasing high paying/tech jobs, it would be nice to have something like Microsoft’s Latin American headquarters in the area.  Sadly, it is in Fort Lauderdale, as noted in this article from the Sun Sentinel.

Microsoft chose South Florida for its Latin America headquarters about two decades ago. It moved to its current locale in Fort Lauderdale in 2002. The lure: proximity and easy access to Latin America, “perspective” to lead the entire region from a South Florida location and the availability of diverse talent both from South Florida and Latin America, executives said.

The company’s presence and expansion serves as a selling point for business in Broward County.

“For Microsoft to have their Latin America headquarters in Broward is a huge vote of confidence for our area,” said Bob Swindell, chief executive of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the county’s economic development partnership.

“For Broward, it’s a huge bragging right.”

South Florida long has worked to lure corporate headquarters for Latin America. Those offices typically offer jobs paying above average salaries based on staff with language and cultural skills.

Their overseas links also often lead to greater trade of goods through South Florida ports. It also tends to bring in staff, customers and others from Latin America and other world regions, helping lift business at area hotels, restaurants, nightspots and retail shops, said Swindell.

All that sounds very familiar, except there it is closer to reality.  Maybe we should study what they did.

— Tech Festivals

There is also a big tech conference in Miami this week:

Kicking off Friday with a summit of local and Latin American mayors and a hackathon, the conference’s main event opens Monday for two days of panels, presentations, contests and — this being Miami, parties — designed to promote South Florida as an emerging technology hub.

In addition to mega players such as IBM and Accenture, about 100 early-stage companies — nearly half of them from Latin America — will exhibit at the show.

The idea is an Art Basel-like tech conference that will showcase South Florida and draw startups to the region, accelerating the area’s ingrained entrepreneurial spirit and its sprouting tech scene.

Once again, the reality of the situation is that these events are happening elsewhere, putting the focus elsewhere.

Another example is One Spark in Jacksonville, which drew 260,000 attendees to downtown Jacksonville – which is a bit more (between 10 to 26 times as many, depending on whether you are counting the awards show or the highest estimate of people at the downtown party.  We bet the Mayor would trade 10,000 for 260,000 any day – though why can’t we do both?) than the IIFA.

Rivas teamed up with Peter Rummell, who created Disney’s planned community in Celebration, Fla., to put together the first One Spark festival last year. Rummell pointed out that, unlike many cities around the country, Jacksonville is not rushing to copy the tech ecosystem of Silicon Valley.

“We’re not the next Silicon Valley,” Rummell said. “Jacksonville wants to be the best version of what we are.” That means showing the world that the city has interest, excitement, and money to support innovative new ideas, he added. Also important: celebrating all ages.

Rivas secured sponsors for the event, who donated toward funding projects ranging from art and music to science and technology. He got local venues to manage the pitching of projects to audiences. He designed an app and kiosks to help attendees navigate the whole festival. (They could also donate to their favorite projects through these touch points.) And, most importantly, he put in place a voting system so that everyone who attended could vote on which projects received money, in addition to donating to the projects themselves.

Rivas expected a few thousand people might attend; he underestimated the response, by a lot. More than 150,000 showed up to One Spark’s first event. Venture capitalists flew in from around the country, and presenters from around the world turned up to pitch their projects.

So Rivas, Rummell, and their team of eight did it again this year, and the response doubled.

Talk is good. Action is better.

List of the Week

Our list this week is Forbes’ Best Cities for Jobs 2014.  You can see the methodology here.

Coming in first is, unsurprisingly, San Jose, followed by San Francisco, Austin, Raleigh, Houston, Nashville, NYC, Orlando, Dallas, Denver, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, and Seattle.

It reads like a list of the usual suspects, and we are not there.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2014 7:20 AM

    Having worked in the tech industry for years there is no mystery as to why Microsoft”s Latin American Headquarters is in Miami along with those of virtually every other big tech company in the U.S. but with the right attitude and changes in our viewpoints we could begin to see regional offices select Tampa versus Miami. I think Joe Lopano can be a big driver in making that happen as he executes on his vision for TIA.

    Regarding One Spark, I was selected to be one of three technology jurors at the event which was nothing short of amazing. The One Spark team work diligently to execute and I am not sure any of there slept the entire week. They have a vision and they are executing. They also have the backing of the wealthiest members of the community who are putting their money where their mouth is. Peter Rummell is outspoken and on point. We are always so concerned that Tampa appears on some list and they are concerned with building something that is sustainable, unique and they can be proud of.

    • May 2, 2014 8:24 AM

      Both points are well taken. Of course, if we had HQ’s and had events like One Spark, we would have a much better chance of being one of the usual suspects on the lists.

  2. B. Wills permalink
    May 2, 2014 9:04 AM

    The impotence and lack of sophistication exemplified by the Tampa Bay political and business establishment is profoundly depressing since, as a result, our competitors continue to eat our lunch (and breakfast, and dinner).

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