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Roundup 3-6-2015

March 6, 2015

City Elections – Friends and Family

Tampa held city elections amidst people saying that elections mattered. Incumbents won (except the race without an incumbent).

The election may also be remembered for its dismal turnout — about 27,000 votes, representing just 13 percent of the city’s 211,000 registered voters and believed to be the lowest figure in decades. 

Not much to see here.

Economic Development – Incentives and Silliness

The County Commission approved the incentive package for the possible Johnson & Johnson “shared services” facility.   Then, as usual, things got wacky.

Hillsborough County’s efforts to build a bioscience cluster and attract name-brand corporations got a major lift Wednesday morning, when the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a $2.1 million local incentive package for Johnson & Johnson Services.

Um, no.  First, Johnson & Johnson hasn’t even decided to put the facility here yet.

“We have created the synergies and critical mass that’s providing the framework for significant strategic growth in our biosciences cluster,” Hagan said. “With Bristol-Myers Squibb coming here and Johnson & Johnson considering expansion, there’s absolutely no doubt that we’ve raised the awareness throughout the industry that Hillsborough County is a serious bioscience contender.”

As far as the Johnson & Johnson proposal goes, that would be true if payroll and billing were biomed, but they are not.  While it may be good to get Johnson & Johnson’s facility, it is decidedly not biomed.

“Our region is becoming quite the place to go to. The ‘open for business’ sign is out there,” Murman said. “[Johnson & Johnson] is one of the most highly respected brands in the United States and if we can land this expansion, this will definitely put us on the map like the Mercedes deal if we had gotten that.”

North American headquarters, back office consolidation . . . what’s the difference? And since when has there not been an “open for business” sign out here?  The County has been open to subsidizing sprawling subdivisions, malls, shopping centers, back office operations, warehouses, pretty much anything that comes along – except good planning and proper transportation.

Look, we hope Johnson & Johnson chooses to come here. (let’s just assume for now that the incentive package is ok.) And it would be fine for the Commissioners to say they would really like to see Johnson & Johnson here, too – and to expand beyond shared services to have actual research and manufacturing here. But the entire situation should be dealt with in a realistic and rational way. The overblown (and inaccurate) comments (and coverage) just make us look like a small town (and emphasizes the pattern of diminished expectations combined with hyperbole that have keep us from realistically assessing what is going on and doing what we really need to do.)

We are pretty sure the people who run research labs or corporate headquarters know the difference between a back office, an HQ, and a research center. They will make their decisions based on facts and their self-interest. So, being happy if Johnson & Johnson comes here is fine, but what exactly is the point of the hyperbole?

Transportation – On the Road Again

The Florida Transportation Commission approved a 5-year plan this week.

Before unanimously approving the DOT’s $39.6 billion work program for the next five years on Monday afternoon, board members lauded the eight DOT secretaries and managers for their proposals that will be one of Scott’s lasting legacies: a pro-growth transportation plan that’s heavy on road widenings, tolls and public private partnerships.

* * *

In all, the work plan will construct 708 additional lane miles of roadway, resurface 6,917 lane miles of existing roadway, repair 208 bridges and replace 87 bridges.

* * *

The plan now goes to lawmakers for approval. 

What does that mean for us?

Here are some Tampa Bay highlights for 2015/16 – 2019/20:

$3.4 billion work plan

— $446.9 million for Interstate 275/Howard Frankland Bridge replacement (FY 2019) between Hillsborough and Pinellas.

— $350.6 million automated people move project at Tampa International Airport Gateway Center (FY 2016-2019) in Hillsborough.

— $329.7 million for Gateway Expressway, from SR 690 at US 19 and SR 686 at County Road 611 to west of Interstate 275 in Pinellas County. (FY 2017)

— $78.1 right-of-way for Tampa Bay Express interchange improvements (FY 2016-17) in Hillsborough.

— $44.2 million in construction, $6 million for right-of-way for US 19 from north of SR 580/Main Street to Northside Drive in Pinellas. 

— $54.6 million in construction of SR 52 from west of Suncoast Parkway to east of U.S. 41/SR 45; and $15 million in construction of SR 52 from west of CR 581/Bellamy Brothers Road to east of Old Pasco Road in Pasco County; $52 million in construction, $4 million in right of way, and $5.7 million in planning and engineering of SR 52 from east of McKendree Road to east of Fort King Road. (2016-2019)

— $21.8 million in construction of SR 50 from Windmere Road/Bronson Boulevard to U.S. 98/McKethan Road in Hernando.

— $21.3 million for County Road 578 at the Hernando/Pasco border from Suncoast Parkway to U.S. 41 at Ayers Road.

The first three are needed.  The last four seem ok.  Number three is an interesting question.  FDOT just had public meetings about the idea, to mixed reviews at best. (See “Transportation – Express Lanes Meet the People”) It was not clear that the Express Lane idea was definitely going forward, but, apparently, it is a solid part of the plan for FDOT.  Moreover,

While the state moves along with plans to build express toll lanes on area interstates, it is also looking at how to incorporate “premium express bus service” into those lanes.

The Florida Department of Transportation and Jacobs Engineering are looking at potential station locations and what such a service might look like. Funding hasn’t been addressed yet, at least not publicly.

The express buses would potentially serve Wesley Chapel, the University of South Florida, downtown Tampa, Westshore, the Greater Gateway/Carillon area and downtown St. Petersburg.

Jacobs Engineering Planning Director Scott Pringle made a presentation to the Metropolitan Planning Organization board on Tuesday, saying the object of the commuter transit plan would be to get bus customers to their destinations more quickly using the express lanes.

If you are going to build the variable rate lanes, then it would make a certain amount of sense to run commuter buses from distant suburbs on them.  On the other hand, the more buses you run on the lanes, the more congested/slower they will get.  The more congested/slower they get, the higher the tolls will be to maintain the lack of traffic in those lanes on which the whole variable rate concept relies.  The higher the tolls, the fewer the people will be able to use them, leading to more traffic in the other lanes.  And that does not even get into how you get people to the express buses in the first place – that requires a robust local transit system or sticking the buses in a lot of traffic before they hit the highway. And who pays for the buses? So the idea is worthy of study, but there are some questions.

But the biggest question is how it fits into the whole transportation plan for the County and the area.  Since the Go Hillsborough outsourced outreach is going on right now (see here) to try to find out what people in the County actually want, why is FDOT moving forward with specific plans, like variable rate lanes, without finding that out? And how will those plans fit with the broader desires of people who actually live here?

We are not prejudging that – we are saying FDOT should not be prejudging that.  FDOT’s efforts and the County’s efforts should be coordinated, and that does not seem to be the case (at least not publicly).

There was also news about the Gateway Express project:

Most of the land has been acquired and contract specifications nearly are ready to go out as the $337-million central Pinellas County expressway moves toward construction.

The two-prong Gateway Express highway project will connect U.S. 19 to I-275 along the 118th Avenue North east-west corridor, and Bayside Bridge to the new expressway, going north and south, with elevated roads to bypass traffic signals and congestion.

Once completed in about seven years, the toll roads should allow drivers to save nine to 13 minutes in their rush-hour commutes for about 75 cents, according to Florida Department of Transportation estimates.

* * *

Construction bids are expected to be awarded in the fall, and work is scheduled to start in late summer 2017 and will take about five years. Motorists will encounter road realignments and readjusted access points to businesses and side streets during construction, Hunt said.

Which is fine, as long as it is not used as an excuse for not having effective transit.

Additionally, there was something about the Suncoast Parkway:

There’s some big news concerning a major highway project that has been in the works for years in Citrus County.

It’s an idea that has been on the books for a long time. The Suncoast Parkway 2 project has been a slow-going process, but now things have moved into the fast lane with possible construction getting underway next year.

At one point, the project to extend the Suncoast Parkway into Citrus County was just about dead, but there has been a big turnaround.

Gov. Rick Scott has included $149 million in his proposed budget for the right-of-way design.

* * *

The 13-mile extension would go up to State Road 44, in Lecanto, with an interchange in Homosassa.

For those who do not know, the extension of the Suncoast Parkway was in the original plan but got held up for a variety of reasons.  It is all well and good to move forward with that plan, but what the area really needs is an east-west road in northern Hillsborough or Southern Pasco.  This is what we are told is a benefit of the Gateway Express:

“It will ultimately tie in to a bigger system that will allow folks in Pinellas County to travel from U.S. 19 all the way to Georgia without hitting a signal,” Hunt said, connecting directly to interstate highways or other express roads to move around the state.

“One of things we’ve heard for so many years is Pinellas County is kind of that county that is hidden because there is no easy way to get there,” Hunt said. “This gives them much better access to Pinellas and around the state.”

And there would be even better access if people did not have to drive through Tampa  to get to Pinellas (reducing some Tampa traffic, too). That should be a regional priority.

Port/Channel District – The Interview

There was an interview in the Business Journal with the Port Director that had some interesting nuggets that clarified somewhat issues at the Port.  First, there is finally real confirmation that the ongoing master planning for the Port land in the Channel District is about real estate development.

Please talk about your role given Jeff Vinik’s investment downtown. I imagine you are working with them closely. We have shared with them some snapshots of our ongoing Channelside master plan that we’re doing which is 50 acres and matching that up with their 24 plus the Channelside complex and the idea is in the long term we would sort of blend those together. We couldn’t have a better partner than the Vinik team to do that. It’s exciting. It’s rare you see any community in America where the elected officials, the business community, the Port, the developers, all the stakeholders, the media are all lined up in support of creating this place as they put it, to live, stay and play down by the waterfront.

From the previous coverage, that was assumed to be the case, and we are neither for nor against the idea right now, namely because there are no details of what is really contemplated to be accomplished, what is contemplated for actual port facilities in the area (how much will it cost to move them?  What might be lost? What is the impact?), and what effect any of that will have. (Though past efforts by the Port in real estate development were not so successful) All that should have been determined and truly publicly discussed before any masterplanning began.  The taxpayers are stakeholders, too. (And we are not sure why the media would line-up rather than report.)

Then there was this regarding the cruise business:

Can you talk more about your cruise strategy given the arrival of AIDAvita, the German ship? When you talk about aircraft and the jet age of aviation. Everybody understands that jets got bigger and they continue to get bigger with the airbus. There’s always a place for a smaller aircraft. You don’t take a 747 to go from Tallahassee to Tampa or from Tampa to New Orleans. You’ll fly a 737 or a business jet. Embraer jets. Bigger is better when there are long hauls. In the cruise industry the dynamics are similar but in some ways, there’s some financial drivers that the cruise industry — like getting more people on a ship. Their costs per passenger goes down and that’s they way the cruise industry is going. But the facts are, in the cruise business, we’re going to reach potentially a million passengers this fiscal year and the ships, we are marketing cruises with two of our cruise lines right now to 2019. So that’s five years from now they are selling cruises in our market. That’s great news. Holland America has been here 31 years. This is their 31st cruise season here in Tampa. We have very strong commitments with our cruise partners.

What about the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and talk of a terminal outside the bridge? The bridge can be an issue at some point if they want to bring those larger ships in. But we just don’t see an alternative that makes sense as a business, return on investment to go build something that is going to cost a half a billion to a billion dollars to do something if you can only service — and remember for every large ship that would come and use that potential facility outside the bridge, it’s going to replace two. If we are cutting in half the number of ships, then that’s a problem. Then if you can’t service commercial cargo at that facility, I don’t know how it works. We are getting signals that we will have healthy cruise with our partners for the next decade. We are going after more of the AIDAVita for those port of calls and then we are also going after the more boutique cruise ships — much smaller — 200, 400 passengers, high disposable income net-worth people that would come in and we hope our marketing efforts will pay off in that area. There was a preliminary cruise study that FDOT released and as an afterthought, at the last minute, they threw in there some potential options to solve that without any study of those options and believe me there are more options then they discussed which included building a new bridge, building a tunnel or building something outside the bridge. We’re not there yet. Whatever there will be, we will work very closely with the region community, stakeholders and just as importantly, our stakeholders.

It is good that the cruise business looks solid for the short term.  However, that still leaves the problem of the size of cruise ships, the Skyway, and the channel, which would take a decade to deal with anyway.  As explained, the economics of the cruise business calls for larger ships.  So let’s review what was said when FDOT presented its study:

Pitching a plan to the federal government to replace the Sunshine Skyway with a new, taller $2 billion version to accommodate larger cruise ships might be a tough sell.

Even modifying the bridge to accommodate the newer, larger ships could cost $1.5 billion.

And doing nothing to address the cruise ship issue would have a considerable economic impact in terms of lost jobs and wages, said Richard Biter, assistant secretary of intermodal systems development for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Biter was citing a long-awaited report his agency released Tuesday studying several options for how to work around the limitations of the Skyway and keep the cruise industry robust in Tampa Bay.

* * *

The do-nothing option would mean that eventually, as cruise lines replace their ships with larger ones, the local cruise business would fall off significantly.

* * *

Once a feasibility study is complete, a finance plan could be hammered out, Biter said, and that would likely involve both public and private funding.

Alfonso said he is hoping the feasibility study will take months, rather than years.

Port Tampa Bay is already the eighth largest cruise port in the nation. Just last year, the port hosted 854,000 cruise passengers and will likely top the 1 million-passenger mark this year.

Currently, the cruise industry’s economic impact on the Tampa Bay area includes nearly 2,000 jobs and an annual income of some $90 million.

So doing nothing seems like a bad long term option. (And will marketing to small ships with a few high income people replace all the other lost income?) We understand that the full list of options needs more study (though that should have already been done as this issue has been known for years, which is not on the Director) but is there a preliminary preference or at least goals that need to be met by any option?  Once again, we are not advocating a specific solution, we are advocating for a real discussion about it.

We get that the Port Director is trying hard and we understand that he has been dealt a specific hand that he is working to make the best of.  We also understand that he has some bosses with their own interests which may limit his latitude.

The real issue is that, when you get down to it, the taxpayers are also involved and the communication from not just the Director but even more the Board about this very important regional asset is not what it should be.  These are major questions for the area that deserve a full discussion, and too often, and not just with the Port, it seems the discussion comes after the decisions are already made.

Economic Development – The Tech Forum

There was a column in the Times about the Tampa Bay Technology Forum and a new effort they are working on.

Now TBTF wants to be bolder, louder and smarter, and market Tampa Bay as a “Go To” region for both emerging technology and for the young tech talent it wants to retain and recruit.

* * *

“This will not be some self-deprecating or apologetic message,” he insists. “We are here and already on the national scene with world-class talent addressing world-class problems right here in Tampa Bay.”

And that is a good message.  Having the actual business leaders promoting their business is always best.

Here’s the challenge: Tampa Bay may recognize it’s tech savvy with growing bench strength. But what is the broader perception of this regional tech community?

Not to be too simplistic, but Google “best tech cities” or a similar phrase and look at the recent results.

Last month, CNBC’s “five tech hubs you probably didn’t know about” listed Omaha, Neb., Dallas, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and — gulp — Miami. The website CIO (for chief information officer) last fall listed 15 “hidden gem” cities for tech job seekers, with names as diverse as Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., and —gulp — Miami/Fort Lauderdale. The SmartAsset website last fall ranked the 10 “best cities” for tech workers and — whew — Tampa nabbed the No. 10 spot.

It seems TBTF has its work cut out reintroducing the bigger world to its technology clout.

Scott wants to retool the message. “We are aware we are not quite Austin,” he chants before yelling, “Stop. Let’s reboot.” He starts again: “No, we are not Austin but something else that is cool.”

Yes, it has its work cut out, but it seems to have the proper attitude – generally, realistic but positive.   (though we are not sure we should, as one person in the article does, call ourselves a “tech hub” quite yet.  That is a title usually conferred by others).  As is this:

“We believe more is going on here in Tampa Bay than we are given credit for,” said Brian Murphy, this year’s TBTF chairman and the CEO of Tampa cybersecurity firm ReliaQuest.

According to this dynamic mix of execs, technology is taking center stage.

In Tampa Bay, the breadth and depth of growing tech companies is approaching a critical mass. What does that mean? Here’s one answer: When people outside the area interview for jobs at tech companies here, they rarely ask whether they will be left high and dry — that there are no alternative places to work here — if they relocate here but the position does not work out.

* * *

TBTF council member Jason Warnke, managing director at the Accenture consulting firm, said long-awaited plans to benchmark the Tampa Bay tech community will help the larger world see what’s here.

And bench-marking is also good – it can tell us, and others, where we are and also show us where we have to get better.

So far, there is really nothing to dislike in all this.  The tech community should be out front in advocating for the tech community in this area.  Bench-marking will allow them to tell the story of how that aspect of the economy is growing.  And acknowledging we are not where others are is ok, healthy even.  It allows us to know what we need to do to get where we want to be.

Then the column concludes with this:

Can TBTF deliver? Since the group was first organized, its various board members and top execs have visited with me to detail the latest, greatest plan to showcase this area’s crazy quilt of tech services. It’s fair to say, this time around it appears the group’s high-horsepower leadership all seems remarkably focused on the same goals.

Great.  Unity of purpose should give them the confidence to go forward and increase the chances of success.

But then this

It’s swagger time.

Only if you want to emphasize your insecurities. If we really have all these assets, laying them out will speak for itself and we do not need pompous superciliousness. And if we don’t have these assets, we will just look silly.  Put away the swagger and embrace the achievements – and make more.

Economic Development – Sponsorship is Good

In more tech news. the recently announced Gasparilla Tech conference now has a sponsor.

ConnectWise, a 15-year-old company with over 90,000 users, will help fund the Gasparilla Interactive Festival, which will feature speakers and panels on technology, media and entrepreneurship on March 6.

Good for them, and for the conference.  Even better that they are local.  That is how, over time, you really develop a tech scene.

USF – About Time

USF is looking to update its dorms.

And in 1964, on the north side of the University of South Florida campus, a set of dormitories collectively known as Andros I opened to 650 students.

College dormitories typically don’t age well, and more than five decades after they rose, the Andros dorms will face the wrecking ball and be replaced by a vibrant, live-work-play residential village with retail, restaurant and even grocery store space for 2,000 students.

They do not age well if they are designed poorly (note: some of those fancy colleges up north have dorms over 100 years old and no one is complaining.)

They are functional cinderblock bunkers, most with two beds in the sleeping area, narrow hallways, study desks that aren’t reached by natural light, tight showers and toilets.

In other words, they are designed poorly, which is why it is good they are being replaced.  It is about time.  And there is another purpose than just replacing worn out buildings:

The university is seeking to shed the “commuter college” tag and earn classification as a primary residential campus under the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. To do so, it must increase the percentage of degree-seeking undergrads living on campus to 25 percent.

USF Tampa has 5,589 on-campus residents. That’s considered 105 percent of capacity, with a few hundred students doubled up in rooms intended to be singles.

Dorm dwellers represent about 14 percent of the Tampa campus’ enrollment of 38,561. In 2009, the school mandated that all first-time-in-college freshmen live in campus housing unless they are over 21, married, or live in Hillsborough, Pinellas or Pasco counties.

The village concept coming to the north side of campus is expected to benefit off-campus students, as well.

“We’re also looking at students not just on campus, but what we call ‘resi-muters,’” said Genshaft. “There are about 15,000 students that live right around the university, so they can come across the street and to the village and be a part of the whole culture of the university.”

Setting aside that the original layout of USF, putting the main parts of the campus in the middle of a giant property far away from the surrounding area (and thus not having any real sort of college area in the city) is a bit odd, it makes sense, given that layout, to have amenities in the residential areas.  It also makes sense to try to make the campus more of a traditional college campus.  Given its mission and size, USF is never going to have almost all of the students living on campus, but the more people who do live on campus, the more of a traditional college experience students will have (and that “commuter campus” label will be removed).  And with that, the school will become more appealing, which can do nothing other than enhance the school and the area’s talent pool.

Coming Out Watch – A Case Study

We have often written about the excessive hype given to small or medium achievements in this area.  We have also often said things are getting better, but we are still playing catch-up with other areas.  An article in the Times this week about something not exactly development/economic/politics related is a great example – though it also has a corrective.  The article was entitled: “How Tampa Bay became a ‘foodie’ paradise.”  (Talk about swagger.) In reality, the title is the largest bit of hype, but it sets the tone.  The article details how the “foodie” culture in the Tampa Bay area is growing, which is true, but is colored with the slant indicated in the title.

Interestingly, and commendably, at the end of the article one finds a more realistic discussion, like this:

Consider this: The first official Trader Joe’s opened its doors in Pasadena, Calif., in 1967. Forty-seven years later — 47 years! — Tampa finally got one. On Feb. 13, St. Petersburg did, too. Trader Joe’s is notoriously selective about where it goes. But finally, Two Buck Chuck can be had on both sides of the bay. That signifies considerable change nationally and, even more so, locally.

“Trader Joe’s has sophisticated market research,” USF’s Strom said. “They know how many people are seeking out organic goods.”

Right, catching up to everyone else. And people in the know – the people outside this area to whom this line of discussion is attempting to appeal, know that, so why act otherwise? And this:

“We were late to the game,” Strom said. Call it awareness, call it snobbiness. But what we are about has been reframed: “Now even people in Florida want more than Outback Steakhouse.”

Yes, late to the game (which, nevertheless, is better than not even trying to play).

So let us be clear: yes, the food culture here is maturing, which is good.  We are moving forward, but we are still playing catch-up.  Having two Trader Joe’s is good, but not particularly impressive.  And Trader Joes, while a nice store, is not really a “foodie” store.  In more developed foodie areas, it is just a good grocery store.

It is fine to highlight the growth of foodie culture in the area. So cover it, and even be positive about it, but just know that if you say this area is a “foodie paradise” to anyone who is from or experienced a real leader in “foodie” culture – say the other Bay area – or even smaller areas that are farther along that we are, they might look at you like you just fell off the turnip truck (and we do not mean the locally sourced, organic turnips).

List of the Week

There is no list this week.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    March 6, 2015 7:53 AM

    Spending a boatload of $$ on a work-around to accommodate just the cruise business is probably not a good strategy; however, if super-size cargo ship business can also become part of the conversation, then it might be worth building a tunnel and settle this issue for the next 80-100 years, since tunnels last much longer than bridges. The FDOT ought to be able to carve a couple billion out of the Lexus lane budget of 11b to fund this much more worthy endeavor.

  2. M. Williams permalink
    March 13, 2015 1:37 AM

    I appreciate TBTF’s commitment to the large tech companies, service providers and the organizations with large IT departments in Hillsborough & Pinellas. But honesty goes a long way and while they have placed a former educator at the helm. Mr. Scott, is an educator and marketer who happens to have a working knowledge of technology. He is a better marketer of himself and should be better at marketing TBTF that his predecessors. Make no mistake, that is his job, along with raising a lot of money and he got quite a bump in pay to take on this role.

    The reality is that TBTF is not and will never be the voice of the greater tech community. They serve their membership which is not made up of technologists, students or startups and there is not reason any of those would or should be a part of TBTF; there are numerous other organizations in the community which support them. What I still fail to understand is that in this community there is a need to use terms like “swagger” and to have organizations like TBTF proclaim they are the voice of the tech community, this is equivalent to call center, distributor, or warehouse being a tech company….it just isn’t true.

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