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Roundup 11-21-2014

November 21, 2014

Economy – Of Booms, Basements, and Bombast

Last week, regarding economic development, we spoke of a culture of diminished expectations that has held us back. See “Economic Development – The Quest for an HQ”.  Diminished expectations are a private phenomenon that manifests itself in excessive hype and exaggerating accomplishments, saying that something which may be just good or ok is actually superlative, as well as settling.  (See exaggerated comments regarding the Amazon warehouse. See “Amazon – Time to Hunker Down”) While there are achievements, they are often portrayed as far more substantial than they really are.  While we understand the tendency to play up accomplishments, doing so interferes with our actual progress by distorting what is actually going on. (And it is all a sign of lack of faith in the ability and potential of this area.)

See what you can see in some recent articles.

— A Means to an End

This week, there were a few articles about tourism culminating in a Tribune editorial about the benefits of tourism.

It may not be readily apparent to those of us who call this place home, but Tampa is setting tourism records at a remarkable pace. A rebranding of the area and a concentrated marketing push, along with the fading recession, have propelled the number of visitors — and the dollars they spend here — to levels that might soon put Tampa in the same company as the state’s perennial top tourist draws — those being Disney World and the other theme parks near Orlando, and the famed international nightlife and beaches near Miami.

Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s publicly funded promotions engine behind the robust numbers, reports hotel revenues in Hillsborough County climbed to $524 million in fiscal year 2014, a 13 percent jump over the previous year. Hotel bookings, known in the industry as room nights, topped 760,000 with an estimated economic impact of $374 million related to those bookings.

It is good that tourism is up, though the comparison to Orlando (or Miami) is based on a state statute with a threshold to increase bed taxes, not pure numbers.

The tourism growth feeds a key economic engine in this area and in the state, and the counties that excel are rewarded. Counties generating $30 million in annual bed tax receipts are designated by the state as “high-impact” tourism counties and eligible to collect 6 percent bed taxes on hotel room stays rather than the 5 percent allowed for other counties.

Hillsborough is about $6 million shy of that $30 million amount, and Visit Tampa Bay is focused on a mission to cross that threshold in three years, joining Orange, Miami-Dade and Pinellas counties, among others.

Note that it is a goal of the Governor to have a hundred million tourists per year visit Florida and Orlando already has over half of that at 59 million.  Given that and that Miami, Pinellas and other areas are ahead of Hillsborough, clearly Hillsborough County is nowhere close to Orlando (and probably not close to Miami). Setting aside that hyperbole,

According to Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, the numbers show Tampa is fast becoming a destination for leisure travelers and conventioneers who couldn’t find the city on a map just 10 years ago.

“People used to ask me where in Miami is Tampa,” says Corrada, who served nine years in a variety of roles under two Tampa mayors and was hired to run the nonprofit Visit Tampa Bay about 18 months ago.

Apparently, all the Super Bowls and other events, marketing pushes, mayors, etc., back then were not successful.  Why didn’t the Tribune report about the failures back then?  In any event,

The area would not be setting tourism records had the community not made sensible investments through the years in developing such attractions as the Florida Aquarium, the Lowry Park Zoo, the Riverwalk, the Tampa Bay History Center, Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center. Historic preservation efforts, particularly in Ybor City, have also paid off.

Once again, it is good there are more tourists.  And the listed investments were useful, though when they were first proposed many were oversold as panaceas, which they were not.  (See “USF Med School – Rhetorical Rerun”)  Nevertheless, we’ll take it the increase, for now.

On the other hand, a dose of reality.  We are not alone setting tourism records.  In fact, it seems that tourism generally is on the rebound.  Some other places setting tourism records are Pinellas, Miami , Orlando, Jacksonville, SarasotaGalveston , Abilene, Georgia, Illinois , Louisiana, and the Alabama beaches. (Frankly, we got bored searching all the places setting records.)

The point is this: tourism is fine, and we are glad we are breaking records.  On the other hand, it is part of a state and national trend, so let’s not get giddy.

And getting back to that economic engine thing.  Yes, tourism is an economic engine (especially if you own the hotels) but it is way down on the list of accomplishments. Most hospitality jobs are low wage jobs, which is a recurring problem for our area. (See the next sub-item.)

Yes, tourism brings some money into the economy. But the best thing about tourism is that it provides exposure to people who could potentially chose to move here and build the economy and it allows us to grow things like air service and restaurants that can also help attract more lucrative businesses to the area.  To parlay tourism into more than just low wages jobs requires viewing tourism as a tool, not an end in itself.

Go ahead, build tourism and be happy that it is growing, but keep the hype in check because it is not the real prize.

— Yes, It’s Cheap, but Can You Afford It?

Economic development leaders like to tout the low cost of living and low cost of doing business to promote this area.  However, despite the hype, what that has historically attracted is companies focused on low wage jobs (to go along with the tourism jobs).  And that creates problems – for instance:

Stung by a median income that ranks dead last among the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas, middle-class families in Tampa Bay are unable to afford median-priced homes, according to a new study by financial adviser website

Tampa Bay’s median income this year is $45,880 — a full $4,000 less than the second-worst city, Miami, and nearly half as much as the highest-income city, Washington, D.C.

Home affordability isn’t the problem. In fact, Tampa Bay’s median home price of $156,000 is fourth most affordable among the biggest 25 cities. Only Pittsburgh, Detroit and St. Louis are more affordable.

But that median income figure is a major drag for Tampa Bay and leaves middle class families with incomes 3 percent short of the money needed to buy even the most average of homes. (The 3 percent shortfall is a slight improvement from last year, but still not much to brag about).

So the houses are not very expensive, but, because of low wages, they are still not affordable to the middle class. In other words, the low cost of living does not help much if you make even less money – which is the case for far too many here.  (Yes, the market is a roller coaster, like this, but the point remains). Aside from housing, that affects the market for other amenities, including everything from clothes to dining to cars.  It is all a result of policies that have pushed real estate, services, and hospitality as the key to growth.  As we have said for years, we need to focus on higher paying jobs to build up the income levels.  The spin-off effects will lift others, pushing the economy to a new level.  Yes, that is a common talking point now, but, based on the consistently poor rankings, the real successes are still not very common.

And then there is this:

Any spurts of job creation aside, it’s still hard to make a living in Tampa Bay.

The latest evidence of hardship comes courtesy of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which released data Thursday showing per-capita personal income rose a tepid 1.3 percent in Tampa Bay in 2013, trailing the nationwide average of 2 percent.

Bottom line: Tampa Bay residents, on average, made $40,425 in 2013, up from $39,903 in 2012, but far shy of the U.S. average of $44,765 and even more distant from the per capita income in all metro areas: $46,177.

* * *

Among area counties, income in Pasco grew at the fastest clip of 2 percent. But with per capita income of $32,975, Pasco has a long way to go to catch up to Pinellas ($45,574), Hillsborough ($40,680), and even Citrus ($34,380). Only Hernando, which also historically suffers from the highest unemployment rate in the region, posted a lower average income: $31,422.

Starting low and growing slow.  And “all metro areas” includes more than just “major” metro areas.

When people speak of our boom, keep in mind what that means – one of the lowest per capita gross metropolitan products and the lowest average income of major metros in the country is doing better than it had been (especially if you do not count pre-recession). But the numbers above make it clear, we are still not doing very well.

— Forever Blowing Bubbles?

Another place that there is boom talk, at least as far as proposals (though not yet in actual buildings), is in downtown Tampa.  Given our economic performance, that raises questions which we have raised and that were echoed by a column in the Times.

Not to pooh-pooh the growing celebration of more and more apartment and condo towers proposed or already under construction in downtown Tampa. But — please — let’s not become so euphoric that we end up in a real estate bubble in the core of this emerging city.

* * *

It’s the tower craze that begs caution. More than nine major residential towers are going up or preparing to do so with enough combined housing to add at least 10,000 new people to the downtown area. That number is practically the size of the city’s downtown residential population just a few years ago. Nor do those numbers include lesser-sized residential buildings in the works as well as those rising along Bayshore Boulevard or in the massive Encore project just outside the downtown core.

* * *

The question is how many towers — the vast bulk of them expecting to charge monthly rents ranging from $1,200 to more than $3,000 based on apartment size, amenities and view — can be introduced into a modest market all at once. 

For a variety of reasons, we are all for building up downtown.  But it is legitimate to ask who is going to fill all these buildings. (Probably not med students.)

We have been here before (note that the County Center is a speculative building in a previous “boom” that never had a single tenant and was bought at a large discount by the County.  Also note that in the last boom there were a number of large proposals for downtown/Channel District that never came off (just look at the items on this list with proposal dates).  A fixation with towers, or even non-tower projects – really just fixation on real estate – alone is misplaced, as nice and exciting as they may be.  Without developing the full economy (including, but not limited to, real estate), the buildings will eventually struggle.  As we have noted many times, all these things are connected.

If we were in downtown Miami, city leaders would ridicule such concerns. Miami goes through real estate booms and busts like the Bucs go through quarterbacks. The glaring difference between Miami and Tampa is that Miami is the lucky recipient of a firehose of Latin American flight capital, money that gets plowed into its giant condo towers (even those still on the drawing boards) as safe investment havens beyond the reach of grabby Latin governments.

Tampa gets very little of that action. Miami might wince at only nine new towers going up in its downtown, where 1.25 acres of mostly vacant land along Biscayne Bay sold this summer for $125 million and where nine of 10 buyers are typically from abroad.

Tampa lacks those dynamics and may want to be a bit wary of a sudden surge of housing supply outstripping demand.

The fact is that Tampa has always lacked really strong dynamics.  Sure, some people have made good money in development, but there is a constant boom-bust cycle because the fundamentals of the market are based on real estate and other low wage industries, not a strong, diverse, relatively high income, business base.  Additionally, we start our booms late and begin our busts early because of that and, as has been noted a number of times recently, it takes a while for investors to decide Tampa is worth the risk. See here.  Though this is not an issue with the Lightning owner’s plans.)  We have no idea how long the boom, such as it is, will last, but until the economy is fully addressed, the boom-bust cycle will continue.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn surely would disagree with such concerns. “This is our time,” the state’s most gregarious politician likes to crow. 

We hope there is good amount of building downtown, which be an achievement – though years behind our competitors. (See a couple of Austin pictures here  and here and this Denver blog.  It should come as no surprise that the per capita GMP in Austin (29.8%) and Denver (53.4%) is much larger than that in the Tampa Bay area and the development is a result of that. See “Economic Development – How Are We Doing?”) However, we are not sure how having the lowest income levels of any major metro is “our time.”

Yes, there are successes – like getting Lufthansa and Bristol-Myers Squibb (and, though nothing has happened yet so it cannot be a success now but in the future, if built as advertised, the Lightning owner’s development). Yes, things have gotten better over the decades. Yes, the area has matured some. But other places have improved and matured more, which is the real issue. We are not competing with the 1995 Tampa Bay area.  We are competing with other similarly sized metros today and in the future, and, right now, we are not even average.

The reality is that, even though we may have a good line-up of potential assets, we are starting from so far behind – and lack some crucial things like proper transit and multiple, real urban areas in our cities (not just downtown) – that even some good accomplishments will not necessarily get us to where we need to be while other keep moving ahead.

Even if we get nice development downtown and an HQ (things we are all for), it will take a long, sustained effort to really get the Tampa Bay area to where it should already be – among the usual suspects.  And being among that group of cities should be the expectation.  Be pleased when good things happen, but know where we really stand and do not be satisfied.

— Half Lessons/Incomplete Analysis: Pittsburgh

Speaking of improvement, one of our consistent mistakes as an area is to latch onto an idea that may have merit and then treat it as though it were a magic key that will unlock amazing prosperity. Recently, it has involved the push to move the USF Med school downtown, an idea which has some merit.  We have documented how the idea been promoted in the same fashion as previous ideas that did not panned out as advertised. (See “USF Med School – Rhetorical Rerun” and “USF Med School – The Editorial”)  This week there was an article in the Business Journal regarding Pittsburgh as a model for our redevelopment.

Between the redevelopment of the Kress building and a potential medical school in downtown Tampa, there’s an undeniable buzz around the urban core. And yet the city has been here before — poised for a downtown renaissance that would make it the next great Sunbelt city.

You can say that again. When do we stop being next and actually get there? (and note that being a great city involves also looking beyond downtown.)

What could make this push a success goes beyond development deals. The key to revitalizing downtown Tampa lies in fixing a fundamental problem: Growing a highly skilled, highly paid workforce — the type of demographic that entices real estate investors and developers, because they have assurance that there will be sustained demand for their projects.

That’s what makes a University of South Florida medical campus in downtown Tampa so compelling; the potential ripple effects are enormous. It would be an anchor for Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik’s plans for downtown, if a deal comes to fruition. But it would also likely spin off ancillary businesses, as biotechnology and health care companies want to cluster near the medical school — and the talent pool there.

If the USF medical school’s downtown campus comes to fruition, it would lay the groundwork for a new era for Tampa — the era of the knowledge-based economy.

Setting aside that the article ignores what happens to all the existing institutions near USF’s main campus that were supposed to build the knowledge based economy there (for instance see here) and about which there is no apparent plan if the med school leaves, we are all ears.

Today, Pittsburgh has a technology workforce that includes more than 600 Google Inc. jobs and has racked up innumerable “best place to live/eat/work” accolades from national media outlets. But it wasn’t always that way — the city was on a steady decline from the mid-1980s until the early 2000s, with Murphy serving as mayor from 2000 to 2006.

There’s a parallel between Pittsburgh’s crisis and the effects of the housing market crash on Tampa, though Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Pittsburgh was in a much more dire situation than Tampa. There’s also a similarity between the two mayors, with Buckhorn’s unyielding emphasis on downtown Tampa mirroring Murphy’s approach, characterized in the Pittsburgh Business Times as ” hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners” leadership. (Though it’s important to note that Murphy wasn’t without his critics, who opposed the amount he spent on downtown projects, some of which failed.)

Here the article – and whatever point it is trying to make – loses direction.   It started off talking about developing downtown, then goes to knowledge based economy, then to Pittsburgh and Google.  So what is the problem?

It says that Pittsburgh was worse off than Tampa, and in many ways that is true – weather, loss of a main industry, population loss, etc.  On the other hand, regarding the knowledge based economy, Pittsburgh was much better off (just not downtown).  Pittsburgh is home to Carnegie Mellon University, which is not downtown but has long been an innovation hub. (see here, here, and here)  It also has the University of Pittsburgh, which is almost immediately adjacent to Carnegie Mellon – a real knowledge cluster (just not downtown).

As for Google, it first came to Pittsburgh to be part of a Carnegie Mellon center.  It then moved to a renovated Nabisco factory and expanded.    (And note that the factory is even farther from downtown than the Carnegie Mellon campus.)

Moreover, Pittsburgh already had and infrastructure to reinvent itself: large local benefactors, a large corporate presence, the Carnegie and other long established institutions, transit, and strong local loyalty.  Also, the redevelopment push in Pittsburgh began decades ago with things like the Pittsburgh Technology Center, work on which started in the 1980s on the site of defunct steel mills.  (You can read more in this 10 part blog series that was referenced by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And note that the Post-Gazette portion indicates the failures of the mayor referenced in the Business Journal article.)

So why is that relevant?  Because the discussion about using Pittsburgh as a model for downtown redevelopment is not based on facts.  Moreover, the areas are not really comparable.  (If you are talking about region wide development, they may be a bit more comparable.) No doubt, there are things to be learned from Pittsburgh (and other area brought up in the USF med school discussion).  But to learn those things, you have to deal with the facts as they are, not as you want them to be.  And you have to set aside the hype. And that has simply not been done.

While we agree that developing nice, urban neighborhoods is a key to attracting talent and higher paying jobs and we are all for developing downtown – and we are not even opposed to moving the USF med school provided it is a done with a good plan for the related institutions it is leaving behind on and near the main campus (of which we have heard nothing) – it has to be remembered that the promises made about USF med school have been made over and over again about other developments (the failure to meet those promises is made clear by the perceived need to move the USF med school). And there are other factors to building the economy and creating sustainable growth for a whole area (including planning how to maintain momentum in the institutions on the main campus).

We believe the Tampa Bay area has many assets and a great amount of potential.  However, to maximize those assets and reach that potential requires a broad-based approach and dealing honestly with what we have done wrong and what needs to change.  And, while we need a good downtown, it goes far beyond that.  The real lesson of Pittsburgh is that developing a sustainable economy requires decades of sustained effort based on a sober assessment of reality.

TIA – Breaking Ground

The airport broke ground on its very large, master planned, expansion project this week.

A well-tilled box of soil took center stage atop the economy parking lot at Tampa International Airport today as aviation officials, politicians and local economic gurus celebrated the largest expansion in the airport’s history.

With construction set to begin in just a few short days on a $1 billion expansion at the airport, CEO Joe Lopano couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. “I can’t stop smiling,” he said as he took the stage to kick off the ground breaking event, which drew several hundred to the sixth floor of the parking garage. 

So let’s review.

The new consolidated rental car facility — which will be called the Tampa Gateway Center — will be built south of the main terminal at budgeted cost of $318.7 million.

The new 2.6-million square-foot facility will allow TIA to move the car rental counters out of the terminal and the rental cars out of the short-term parking garage. That would extend the life of the airport’s roads and also give it a new revenue-producing building for shops and restaurants.

The new rental car center will be connected to the main terminal by a 1.4-mile automated people mover, a $417.5 million project that will build a bigger version of the shuttles that now whisk passengers from the terminal to the airsides and back.

The main terminal itself will also undergo a $122.5 million renovation. The third-floor transfer level will be gutted and replaced by a sleeker, wide-open space. New outdoor terraces will be created for dining and drinking, and the third-floor’s footprint will be expanded by 55,000 square-feet by extending the four corners outward.

All the concessions in the terminal and airsides will also be redone, and the airport is soliciting bids from local brands — restaurants, bars, breweries and shops — to bring more local flavor into TIA. Those contracts will be awarded next year.

The Taxiway J bridge, which drivers pass while traveling on the George J. Bean Parkway, will also be replaced at a cost of $30.7 million. Other projects include $21.4 million in road improvements and a new concession warehouse that will be built for $17.2 million.

The project is expected to have an economic impact of $370 million on the area, according to the airport, and is also expected to create or preserve about 9,000 short-term construction jobs.

That’s all good.  The airport is really a model for other organizations in the region.  It began as a well-planned, innovative, forward thinking, and expandable facility.  The new master plan works off that excellent, original model.  The present administration runs the airport well and aggressively seeks out business without excessive hype.  It is sober and deliberate.

Said board chairman Robert Watkins: “We all know Tampa International Airport is the crown jewel of this community.”

It is, and really nothing in the area rivals it for that status.  Why is that?

Buckhorn said the project would benefit all of Tampa Bay, and that a bipartisan effort helped make the project possible.

“We’re not Democrats or Republicans, we’re not Pinellas or Hillsborough,” said Buckhorn. “We’re not divided by these bridges … We are the bay area and if we stand together and we don’t let them divide us nothing — nothing — can stop us.”

A bit rhetorically excessive, but there is a truth there.  Getting money for the airport was a regional effort that was not impeded by officials’ personal political considerations, unlike most other issues in this area.  It is local division that holds up transportation.  It is local division that holds up economic development.  (We won’t even mention the Rays.) The airport transcends those divisions.  It is just unfortunate that it is about the only thing that does – and it shows.

Seminole Heights – Interesting

There was an announcement of a development proposal in Seminole Heights.

Wesley Burdette, a partner in Access Capital Mortgages, is planning to redevelop an old warehouse at 4375 Florida Ave. into 46 apartments, ranging in size from 475 to 1,224 square feet.

The Warehouse Lofts is slated to cost $5.5 million to $6 million and will begin construction in January. Burdette is the equity investor, putting down $1.5 million, and has secured a construction loan from Sunshine State Federal for the remainder of the costs.

Smaller projects like the Warehouse Lofts can help create the type of urban density that most neighborhoods in Tampa lack. It’s typically entrepreneurial developers like Burdette, whose day job is in mortgage banking, who pursue them.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

For us, while much smaller, this is far more interesting than many of the projects around downtown.  To be a real city, urban, walkable areas must be developed in various neighborhoods, not just downtown.  Not everyone can afford rents downtown and not everyone who wants an urban neighborhood wants to live downtown.

His pro forma is conservative: He’s projecting rents of $1.55 per square foot. Most new multifamily construction in Tampa’s urban neighborhoods is built on projections of at least $2 per square foot. 

Seminole Heights is ripe for this kind of development, especially with so much underused land on Florida (think used car lots).  Areas with lower rents should be where more innovative, less established and start-up companies can find space and still provide urban amenities, creating lively culture (such as in food, retail, and even tech companies) and, ideally, economic clusters. The workers for these companies should be able to have an urban experience near those jobs.

Moreover, by creating such walkable, urban neighborhoods, the entire City’s culture can be transformed.  Frankly, without such neighborhoods, downtown will not thrive because the area will remain car-centric, without effective transit, and without a culture to support real urban development. (Downtown may be the heart of the city, but a heart without arteries and other organs really does not do much.)  But there is a problem:

Most bankers liked the idea, he said, but at the end of the day saw the neighborhood as too risky.

“If it’s not Channelside, it’s nothing,” Burdette said.

We do not blame them.  The City has failed to really push redevelopment in these neighborhoods beyond InVision Tampa (though it goes back before this administration), even though they should be thriving, urbanizing areas.  We hope this succeeds, and we see more.

PTC – Same Old

There were a number of articles this week about ridesharing. (And, yes, we know about the possible issues with Uber nationally, but that does not apply to Lyft or the entire concept of ridesharing and how government deals with innovation.)  We are not getting into them all, because it is mostly the same old stuff.

An Uber attorney asked Hillsborough County to make new rules to fit the trendy ridesharing movement pioneered by his company and Lyft, but was told flatly on Wednesday that Uber is an illegal taxi service.

The county’s Public Transportation Commission unanimously affirmed that an appointed officer had enough evidence to fine Uber, based in San Francisco, for providing hiring and public taxi services without proper licensing.

And UT told rideshare companies not to come around because of the PTC rules.   It all goes back to the PTC.  You can read its rationalizations here.

What we will note is that there is a different approach in Orlando.  While right now the rideshare companies are not within Orlando’s rules, drivers are getting tickets, and Orlando International is trying to get them to stay away because of it,

At the same time, city officials are working on changes to a city ordinance that would allow ride-share companies to operate legally. The proposal would drop many of the requirements now in place, such as a $35 minimum fare for town-car service.

Drivers would likely have to go through a background-check process different from the ones currently used by the companies themselves, and comply with state insurance requirements. They would have to get a permit from the city and another permit if they want to pick up at the airport.

The first of two public hearings is scheduled Dec. 8, but some city commissioners doubt Uber would comply with the new rules.

One proposal — price — likely would have the biggest impact on consumers. Uber and Lyft set their own rates and are typically about 30 percent cheaper than traditional taxi companies. Both companies recently cut their rates in Orlando even more, by an additional 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

We have no problem with a background checks.  The insurance is an open question right now.  We are not sure anyone should have to get multiple permits.

The key difference – Orlando is showing it cares about consumers, not the cab companies because it is dropping silly things like minimum pricing.  The PTC has never offered to fully drop its protectionist bent. (here is an interesting article on protectionism and ridesharing. )  Until it does, as far as we are concerned, all the other issues are just cover for its bias.

Port – The Director Gets a Raise

The Port Director got a raise this week, notably without the drama that surrounded a raise for the airport director in 2013.

Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson on Tuesday got a four-year contract extension and a 4.5 percent pay increase. And if he stays for five more years, he’ll get $50,000 each year in deferred compensation.

All seven of the Tampa Port Authority board members gave Anderson a grade of “outstanding” on his annual performance review, then extended his contract and gave him the raise, bringing his salary to $365,750 from $350,000, not including the deferred compensation.

“Personally, I think he’s done an outstanding job and taken the necessary steps to market this port,” said Port Commissioner Patrick Allman. He said the port saw declining revenue for six straight years until Anderson took the helm “reorganized the staff, changed the culture and its marketing. If we don’t do anything, it’s like professional sports. If you don’t extend the contract, he’s a lame duck, he’s out of here.”

We are the first to say that you need to pay for talent and accomplishment.  So what are the accomplishments?

Anderson said getting the port on sound financial footing with increased revenue is his most important accomplishment to date. He is now in his second year at the port.

Maintaining a strong financial balance sheet at one of the busiest ports in the nation, driving new projects like one in the works to bring new automobiles here from Mexico and working to lure new manufacturers to the port are all important accomplishments, Anderson said.

Two new gantry cranes coming to the port in 2016 will help increase the volume of cargo coming here even more, Anderson said. The cranes, which will replace two at the port that are some 42 years old have a longer reach to off-load cargo from wider ships.

While fewer ships are coming into Port Tampa Bay those that are coming are larger than in the past and carry more tonnage and cargo, he said. And he’s working on bringing even more here, but noted that such deals tend to take a few years.

That is something, though not an unvarnished success.  Anything else?

Anderson said he is putting a great emphasis on increasing container volume here, which tends to bring with it more jobs for not only crane operators, but for truck drivers, terminal operators, laborers and logistic services.

The number of containers coming to the port has fluctuated through the years, but the port has an aggressive plan to grow its business, said Wade Elliott, vice president of marketing and business development.

In 2013, 42,198 containers, or TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) came through the port. In 2014, the number increased to 47,265. “We definitely have targets,” Elliott said. “Looking out over the next five years, we’re shooting for 200,000” containers coming into the port.

While some ports are dredging deeper to prepare for mega ships coming through the newly expanded Panama Canal, Anderson said he will be going after “trans-loadable cargo,” or cargo moved from a mega ship to a slightly smaller ship, that can navigate in to Port Tampa Bay.

If they get to 200,000 in five years, that would be good. (Though, as we noted recently, Port Everglades is already at 1,000,000.) However, the “trans-loadable cargo” strategy does raise some questions about the aggressiveness of the Port’s approach. And there is no news of the cruise ship problem and we have not seen its new master plan.

Right now, unlike the airport, the jury is still out on the Port.  We hope the Director is successful and justifies the confidence the board has shown in him.

List of the Week

This week’s list goes back to tourism.  It is’s Top Picks for Where Your Family Should Be Heading in 2015.    There does not seem to be any methodology.

We are not sure the list has any specific rankings but we will list the destinations in order of appearance on the website: Sunriver (OR), O.A.R.S. Rogue River (OR), Paso Robles (CA), Oahu, St. Simons Island (GA), US Virgin Islands, Sevierville (TN), Quebec City, Tampa Bay, Coronado Island (CA), Indianapolis (?), Blue Ridge (GA), Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Kyoto (Japan), Kings Canyon (CA), NYC, Vermont, Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains (CA), Southeast Alaska, Big Sky (MT), and, the top trek, Cape Cod.

Ok, so with cities, states, regions, a couple of foreign locations, and parks, the list is a mess, but at least we made it.  Then again, when listing things to do in “Tampa Bay” they tell us this:

Best Beaches in America

From Clearwater Beach to St.Pete Beach, Tampa Bay is only an hour away from the tropical, postcard-perfect, paradise vacation you’ve dreamed of! Our friends to the West have sugar sand beaches and sunsets like no other. Clearwater’s Pier 60 has “The Sunsets at Pier 60 Festival,” a nightly sunset celebration. This free, family event features artisans, crafters, street performers and musical entertainment. Another local favorite is Pass-A-Grille beach in St. Pete where you can enjoy beachcombing and boating abound in this barefoot wonderland. Grab a bite to eat at The Hurricane, a local favorite, and watch the sunset while dining on fresh seafood.

Um, ok.

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