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Roundup 3-13-2015

March 13, 2015

Economic Development – More on Tech Hubs

The Times had a column this week regarding an article in the New York Times about Orlando’s attempts to sell itself as a tech center.   The Times column was really a follow-up on a previous column about the Tampa Bay Tech Forum which we discussed last week. (See “Economic Development – The Tech Forum” )  To this week’s column:

Many metro areas beyond Silicon Valley and Seattle seek recognition as a technology hub. Tampa Bay is one of them. My column Sunday in the Tampa Bay Times was headlined At the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, it’s time to stake a claim as a tech hub. It focused on the tech group’s growing confidence that this metro area needs to tell the story that the depth of tech activity here deserves more respect and awareness.

The region’s tech feedback I’ve received so far seems to boil down to this: Before we talk the talk, let’s walk the walk. We need a breakthrough tech company started here to achieve enough size and innovation to spark questions like “What’s up in Tampa Bay?”

“Painting the tech community with one big brush not only diminishes the efforts of those actually developing new products and organically generating high-skilled jobs, but it also perpetuates the notion that all we need is better PR to draw attention to our region,” Ken Evans, an area technology executive, said in an email.

Then there is the geography game. Grow all the startups you like. But if they move to California for the venture capital or get bought and moved elsewhere by a bigger company, does that help build the local startup community?

All of that is perfectly reasonable and essentially what we have been saying for a while. PR is good but it has to be based on actual achievement. So let’s look at that New York Times article and what it says about areas that have done ok in developing into tech centers:

But let’s look at the place that scored fourth on P.P.I.’s list: Utah County, Utah, whose largest city is Provo. In February, The New Yorker proclaimed that Utah is “the next Silicon Valley.” That’s hyperbole, but Provo (population: 116,288) does punch far above its weight; of 73 private venture-funded companies in the world with valuations over $2 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal, Provo is home to two. A large, new National Security Agency facility in the area is adding to the concentration of tech jobs and workers.

Provo provides an example of one of two models for competing with Silicon Valley. “There’s a group of people who really want to live there and there’s a really good research university,” says the urban theorist Richard Florida. He’s referring to Brigham Young University and the opportunity to live among a large Mormon community. But approximately the same formula describes the success of Boulder, Colo., which has the University of Colorado, proximity to great mountain sports and a disproportionate concentration of tech jobs and venture capital funding.

* * *

What New York and Provo have in common is they provide not just the resources necessary to start a high-tech business, but also the impetus to keep it there once it succeeds. In the Provo (or Boulder) example, the businesses stay local because the owners and the workers really want to live there. (This is something else Silicon Valley has always had going for it.) In the New York example, they stay local because the location provides an irreplaceable business advantage.

In other words, you need talent, money, and lifestyle. (In case you are interested, here is the New Yorker article on Provo, here is the Wall Street Journal chart on valuations, and here is the 2010 New York Times article on Boulder.  New York City is just New York City and does not need any articles to explain the appeal.)  And

Mr. Florida pointed to Pittsburgh as a cautionary example. He used to teach at Carnegie Mellon, a top research university that produces a lot of graduates capable of starting and staffing great technology companies. But start-ups that spin out of Carnegie Mellon have neither a strong lifestyle reason nor a strong economic reason to stay in Pittsburgh once they succeed. “If there was a successful start-up, eventually it got sucked into the Silicon Valley vortex,” he said. 

So, maybe Pittsburgh is not the example that people in this area should be looking to (like here) – of course, you have to get to Pittsburgh levels before you can move past it.  And maybe we can learn from its issues.

So, what lessons does this provide for someplace like Orlando, if it wants to shift its economy toward high tech?

“I think what Orlando has is a combination of the space stuff and the Disney stuff,” Mr. Florida said. “It’s not trivial, those things taken together, but it’s hard to see how you put them together.”

Local officials point to one way they might. Orlando is a center for modeling and simulation technology, because flight simulators and theme park rides can rely on a lot of the same technology. Tourism isn’t generally thought of as a tech-intensive field, but Disney recently developed its MyMagic Plus system (waterproof wristbands with RFID chips that give visitors access to rides and unlock their hotel room doors) in-house in Orlando.

Still, tourism is heavily dispersed geographically, and while there are a lot of tourism dollars in Orlando, even Disney is not headquartered there. Companies that produce technology for the hospitality industry do not need to cluster in Orlando.

So Orlando has tourism/media/simulation as a draw (though it has weaknesses there) What is our strength?  Diversity is fine, but what is the draw?

What we are getting at is this: as we said last week, we have some tech companies.  We have some lifestyle – especially the beach (though our development pattern, relative lack of urban amenities, and poor transit, as well as a deep-seated and long-standing tendency to favor the generic over the idiosyncratic and just copy other areas are not big draws).  We do not have much in terms of funding yet.  If a young techie with no connection to this area has a choice about where to live, set up accompany, and run it long into the future, what is the draw?  And more to the point – what is the draw over other cities?

— An Aside

And in a related note there is this:

President Obama kicked off an initiative on Monday intended to train more people for higher-paying jobs in high-technology services as he seeks to counter wage stagnation in an economy that has otherwise been improving.

Even as unemployment has fallen to 5.5 percent, few American workers are seeing more money in their pockets. The president announced that his administration had enlisted 21 cities or regions and about 300 private-sector employers to expand training programs and would chip in $100 million in federal money for grants to encourage innovative approaches.

“We are going to more effectively capture what is the boundless energy and talent of Americans who have the will but sometimes need a little help clearing out the way,” Mr. Obama told an audience of mayors and other municipal leaders attending a conference of the National League of Cities in Washington. “Help them get on a path to fill the new jobs of this century. And that’s what middle-class economics looks like.”

Of about five million unfilled jobs in the United States, the White House said, about 500,000 are in high-technology areas like software development, network administration and computer security. The average job requiring technology skills pays about 50 percent more than the average private-sector job, according to the White House.

The president’s initiative, called TechHire, will focus on regions of the country with more than 120,000 open technology jobs. The participating municipalities and employers will explore new ways to recruit and train workers. Among the cities participating will be New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Philadelphia; Louisville, Ky.; St. Louis; San Antonio; Portland, Ore.; and Chattanooga, Tenn.

That is very interesting, especially given 500 tech jobs that need to be filled here.  So, what areas are getting in on the programs?

Louisville;  New York City; Philadelphia; Delaware; City of Kearney and Buffalo County, NE; Colorado; St. Louis; Salt Lake City; San Antonio; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Kansas City; Memphis; Rural Eastern Kentucky; Nashville; Rochester; Detroit; San Francisco; Albuquerque; Chattanooga; Portland

Well, that is an odd list, though in one respect it is quite normal: we are not on it.  Just like we are not in the Google fiber plans. (Here is a report on Kansas City’s superfast internet.)  The question is why?  If we are serious about changing the economic DNA, why aren’t we really pushing for these things. And if we are pushing, why are we not getting them? (Surely our importance in elections should be able to get us on federal programs.)

 – Conclusion

The fact remains that we are a consumer of ideas, not a producer – not just tech, but development, governance, transportation, arts, food, pretty much everything.  We are consistently behind other areas that push the envelope.  While there may be isolated incidents of cutting edge achievements, as an area, we are not cutting edge. Arguably, for a big metro, we are not even average. (And no amount of cheerleading will change that.) And until that changes, while we improve and have great potential, we will still be playing catch up and have to work extra hard to attract the high-tech and other knowledge based jobs to transform the economy.

Westshore – More Residents

There was an article in the Times about how the Westshore area is getting more residents.

Since Brooks moved into her Villa Sonoma condo on Spruce Street a decade ago, five upscale apartment complexes with 1,640 units have opened in nearby areas of West Shore. Five more complexes, with 1,440 units in toto, are either planned or under construction.

“We’ve had the work and play, and now we’re getting the live,” said Ann Kulig, deputy director of the Westshore Alliance, a nonprofit organization of area businesses.

Located near a major airport and just a 25-minute drive from Clearwater and St. Petersburg, West Shore has long been Tampa Bay’s premier business district and one of the largest in Florida. It has 37 hotels, two shopping malls, more than 200 restaurants and bars (plus a few strip joints) and 4,000 businesses, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, LabCorp and Bloomin’ Brands.

Within this relatively compact area, you can catch a movie, buy groceries, watch a football game, even hit the beach at the little-known but lovely Cypress Point Park on Tampa Bay. Yet while almost 94,000 people work there and thousands more come to shop and eat, fewer than 15,000 call West Shore home.

First, Cypress Point Park, being on the water with some sand, may be a “beach” if you are using a Waverunner or parasurfing or doing some plane spotting, is not a beach of the sort this area is used to and is really quite hidden away – here  – (if you drive across the Howard Frankland and ever look around you would know it was there).

Nevertheless, yes, Westshore is getting more residents.  And that is good.  Moreover, the residential projects are not bad – they have some urban-ish design (but no street interaction or retail or good walking spaces) and some density. But

West Shore has one big disadvantage, though, compared with more traditional urban cores.

As the resurgence of downtown St. Petersburg has shown, being pedestrian-friendly is a big plus in luring new residents. Shoppers and restaurant-goers like to stroll without fear of being mowed down by cars roaring past at 60 mph.

So far, the words “walkability” and “West Shore” have not been widely used together. The business district is criss-crossed by numerous six-lane highways that at times take on the feel of NASCAR speedways.

“It’s better than it used to be,” said Kulig of the Westshore Alliance, “but there’s certainly room for improvement.”

Well, it is hard to be worse than Westshore used to be and the room for improvement is gargantuan.  The City could easily have made walkable/urban the areas like Spruce between Lois and Boy Scout/Westshore or around new projects on Lois if it really cared to.  The failure to do so was a choice, and par for the course.  In any event,

As part of a repaving project on busy Boy Scout Boulevard, which skirts International Plaza, the Florida Department of Transportation is adding sidewalks and widening ones already there. Crosswalks have appeared along Boy Scout, Lois, West Shore and Kennedy Boulevard.

Brooks, who saw West Shore’s residential promise earlier than most, likes her condo in Villa Sonoma because it’s right behind three popular restaurants — Lee Roy Selmon’s, Roy’s and Fleming’s — that she can easily walk to. It’s also possible, if a bit dicier, to get to International Plaza and WestShore Plaza on foot.

But as a city planner with AECOM (formerly URS Corp.), an engineering firm that has worked with the Westshore Alliance, Brooks wants to see the business district become far more pedestrian-friendly.

Much of the focus is on West Shore Boulevard, which already serves as a Main Street of sorts because it links the malls, several hotels and scores of businesses. One idea is planting more trees along the street to provide greater shade and thus encourage people to walk from, say, hotel to mall.

Brooks also envisions a “transit circulator,” perhaps a rubber-wheeled trolley, that could run up and down West Shore at lunchtime and ferry office workers to the malls and restaurants.

Those small improvements are fine as far as they go. However, while the distances are not that far, the obstacles are great because for decades the entire area has been built for cars alone, and remains so. (Like putting the Chrome sculpture – ok it’s not exactly the Chrome logo – in a location that makes it for viewing almost exclusively by drivers who are blowing by.)  And some of the biggest obstacles can be seen in the Times’ teaser picture for the article:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Who wouldn’t want to take that walk by the scenic historic water pipes and dried up drainage ditch/retention pond nowhere near anything interesting? (Which also raises the question about why this area is so obsessed with putting all utilities connections in highly visible locations and retention ponds on the street, but that is for another day.) And when you get to wherever you are going, you still have to negotiate all that parking.

We understand that retro-fitting the Westshore area will take some time (if not major reconstruction).  Our bigger concern is that, despite some small measures to improve walkability, the City still is approving projects that are distinctly more pedestrian friendly, like the restaurants near the Container store that, while built to the sidewalk, do not have a front door on the street – they face their parking lots.  Shade trees are nice – good even – but if you walk under shade until you have to cross giant parking lots or cross extremely inhospitable streets, you are still going to drive.

Even as West Shore becomes more residential, though, it lacks the sense of place that characterizes older, leafier areas like Hyde Park and St. Petersburg’s Old Northeast.

That is true in the sense that Westshore has no focus and no outstanding locations for pedestrians.  Really, the sense of place in Westshore is of being in a 1980’s office park and the corresponding sea of parking.

Once again, we think the development of residential in Westshore is great – it is well past time.  And we understand that fixing some of the issues will take a while.  However, if the City is serious about doing something about Westshore, it can start by not allowing poorly designed developments.  It really does not cost any more to have a proper front door – it is time to require it.

Downtown – The Straz Thinks Big

The Straz announced ideas for a new master plan:

A master plan calls for creating an outdoor event plaza overlooking the river; a waterfront restaurant; and a grassy amphitheater that slopes down to the water.

In addition to creating new view corridors to the river, the center’s leadership also envisions giving arriving patrons something to look at: an oval-shaped pavilion set in the water, near shore, maybe something topped by an eye-catching and statement-making piece of sculpture.


Under the plan, the area between the venue and the Hillsborough River would be transformed with a new entry plaza, a riverfront restaurant and café with terrace seating, retail stores, an amphitheater and an events center for weddings and parties. A new underground parking garage with spaces for 100 cars is planned for the south side of the Straz.

Grandest of all perhaps, would be the addition of a small over-the-water pavilion housing a tall avant-garde sculpture intended to serve as a visual cue of the venue’s presence downtown.

There are a number of renderings in the articles, but we will highlight two: first, an overall shot:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the actual lot here (it seems that the rendering, as renderings often do, makes the lot look a bit longer than it actually is).  The second rendering is what appears to be the outdoor pavilion.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Setting aside the cost of the expansion and where the money will come from (though if we had to pick priorities, we’d pick the streetcar extension first), we have decidedly mixed feelings about these plans.  We like the terraces.  We think the pavilion is architecturally interesting (if, in fact, something like that actually gets built rather than just being a rendering).  We have no problem with the feature in the river.  Putting a restaurant overlooking the river is fine.

However, looking at the overall vision, one thing we note is that the plan partially cuts downtown off from access to the river (far more than the apartment building to which many objected does.)  The pavilion, while interesting, is squeezed next to the bridge and blocks the view corridor. Its apparent screen wall is not set back from the river very far and walls in the space quite a bit (and will wall in views from the south even more than the bridges already do.)

People objected to the apartment building because it was too close to the river and walled it off from downtown, which the Mayor, rightly, pointed out was not really the case.

“Let me tell you, this is not going to block the waterfront,” Buckhorn said. “This building (the Straz) sits 67 feet from the waterfront. The Tampa Museum of Art 127 feet from the waterfront. The proposed Residences at the closest is over 200 feet from the waterfront.”

So how close to the river is the pavilion? And how much will it cut downtown off from the river?

And there is a canopy of unknown material and height that may or may not also block view corridors. And we are not sure about the walkway under the bridges which were originally said to be too low (especially the CSX bridge) to have a walkway under them.

Frankly, we do not know enough to really decide definitively if it is the best thing. What did the Mayor say?

“It’s bold,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was briefed last week. “It is in keeping with everything that we’ve tried to do in terms of focusing activity on the waterfront. I think it is very complementary of the Riverwalk and the development that will occur along the Riverwalk.”

Maybe or maybe not.  That remains to be seen, because

Buckhorn also said he recognized that the plan is still being made, but that the city stands ready to expedite permitting once construction plans are ready.

Wouldn’t it be good to see the full plan planned before deciding anything?

Transportation – That Pesky Gandy Connector

The Gandy connector, which should have been built long ago, has reared its head again.

Gandy is a state road, which means the Florida Department of Transportation controls it. An average of 34,000 cars travel on it each day, said Kristen Carson, the department’s spokeswoman. And during peak times, traffic swells by about 1,500 cars per hour.

It’s a vital link between Pinellas and Hillsborough, and it’s the only major part of Tampa Bay’s extensive hurricane evacuation route that is not a limited-access highway.

Across the bay, construction to improve the flow of Gandy Boulevard traffic is under way. The $83 million Pinellas plan to build an elevated road should be done in about two years and will run east of Interstate 275 to east of Fourth Street.

But Tampa’s Gandy corridor remains sluggish. Without incident, it takes about 30 minutes to get from the Selmon Expressway to the other side of the bay or vice versa each morning and afternoon.

That is by choice.

The mile-long stretch of Gandy Boulevard between the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and the bridge has been a commuting nightmare for years, raising the question: When is it going to be fixed?

The answer: No time soon.

Proposals to solve the problem have been tossed around for years, the most recent a 2010 plan for an elevated expressway 30 feet above the road. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority did studies and drew plans that included paying for the road with expected toll revenue, said Joe Waggoner, the authority’s executive director. But it never worked out.

“There just wasn’t the (momentum) to take the next step,” Waggoner said.

To be exact, there was no political leadership or foresight to overcome overblown opposition.

Though the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization reported that 54 percent of the community supported the elevated expressway project in a poll, Waggoner said it didn’t seem like most residents did — another reason the project never got off the ground.

Alan Steenson, president of the Gandy Civic Association, agreed.

“There’s people in the community that support this concept, but the majority are probably still against it,” Steenson said, including himself.

Steenson, 80, worked in construction for about 30 years. He admitted the traffic is bad, even more so in the past few years. But he still doesn’t like the expressway idea.

“Let’s put it this way: They tried,” he said. “They tried very hard. And in my point of view, they’re going to keep at it. But I suspect most people would be opposed to a 30-foot-high structure down the middle of their street.”

Except it is not running down their street, and it is not just a local road.  The fact is that there needs to be a connector or some sort, but that is not going to happen any time soon.

Jean Duncan, who heads Tampa’s transportation department, said the elevated expressway idea could be revisited.

“It’s not like it’s being completely ignored,” she said. “It’s just this type of project is quite a major undertaking.”

In the meantime, Duncan said she’s doing what she can. The city doesn’t have jurisdiction of the road, but it can manage the flow of traffic, she said. That’s why the lights at three intersections — Lois, Manhattan and West Shore — were retimed last summer in cooperation with the FDOT.

In other words, not much is going to happen while development continues and the problem festers.

The article then gets into the idea that people might like a connector but do not want the construction.  We get that.  Construction is a pain.  Then again, sometimes it just needs to be done.  A connector is a vital connection in our local transportation infrastructure. (Like an east-west road in the north)

As we noted a while back, the connector saga is a microcosm of the greater transportation failure in the area. (See “Transportation – A Case Study in Inaction” )   If Tampa (and the Tampa Bay area) really wants to get to the next level, it needs to deal with its problems.  Transportation is high on the list and includes both transit AND roads.  Deal with it.

Not Only Downtown Is Important

There was a nice article in the Times regarding a growing food scene in Seminole Heights.

Seminole Heights has become the “it” spot in Tampa, with dozens of existing restaurants, bars and food businesses crowded along N Florida and N Nebraska avenues, and a big handful on the horizon, poised to debut this spring.

What’s going on?

Tigi Taylor, who will open Hampton Station, a neighborhood pizza-wings-burgers spot at 5921 N Nebraska, at the end of March, thinks it’s only natural that Seminole Heights’ time in the limelight is nigh.

“It’s about 15 years overdue. The real estate collapse stalled things. Residential always rebounds first, and commercial comes next. People are moving back in from the suburbs because they are sick of traveling. And now that the businesses are opening, you’re getting younger couples who are moving here, people who are used to living in a city.”

What is going on is that clusters tend to grow organically.  Space in Seminole Heights is less expensive than space in South Tampa or downtown.  People taking a chance tend to not want to spend money they do not have to.  Once you get some successes, others are drawn to the area and you get a cluster.  That is what is happening with Seminole Heights.  In the meantime, the City has not really done much to support the area (just drive down Florida and look at most of the buildings 20 years old or less or the parks in the area and you will know what we mean), focusing much more on South Tampa and downtown.

The growing food scene in Seminole Heights should be a lesson that government can only engineer so much.  The question is whether the City will be agile enough to take advantage of the work of private citizens and help it flourish.  There is a whole city out there.

International Trade – Cuba

A few weeks ago, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce endorsed the idea of having a Cuban consulate in Tampa should relations between the US and Cuba improve.

A resolution passed unanimously by the chamber’s board said the consulate should be secure, and that business leaders believe “Tampa should return to its rightful and historical place as an economic engine” for facilitating trade with Cuba as relations between the two countries open back up again. Cuba’s history with the Tampa Bay area goes back to the 1500s, the chamber said.

(You can read what they actually said here.)

Around the same time

A delegation of 75 top U.S. agriculture leaders organized by Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc. will arrive in Cuba this weekend on a trade mission to explore the potential for increased business between the two countries.

* * *

“If the embargo did not exist, and the financing restrictions didn’t exist, we’d be shipping more there,” Vorwerk said. “Why are the Brazilian companies getting the benefit instead of our ag groups?”

More about Midwestern farmers’ views on Cuba here.

Also at the same time, the State legislature began looking at a resolution to oppose normalizing ties.

So what do local officials have to say about the possibility of having a consulate here?

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been open to the idea, also endorsed by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, but he’s not seeking it out.

“If the decision is made to locate it here we will do everything we are obligated to do by law, protect the diplomats and make sure the rules are abided by,” he said in January. “Clearly the mayor of Miami has indicated that they are not interested. If the powers that be at the federal level decide, then we will live with it.”

Of course, the decision starts with the Federal government.  However, if there are relations (a big if still), it is logical to have a consulate here given our longstanding ties to Cuba.  And, if we are trying to be a gateway to Latin America and Federal policy allows it, it makes sense to reconnect with our longest standing relationship with it, Cuba. (The rest of the country will connect, anyway.)

As for Miami, what they want does not concern us.  We do not have to ask their permission.

USF – More Money

There was news of another big donation to USF.

Since he met a proverbial Ad Man on his paper route growing up in New Jersey, Jordan Zimmerman always wanted to be one himself.

The University of South Florida helped him achieve that goal, and now the Fort Lauderdale agency owner is showing his gratitude. On Monday, USF announced it had received a $10 million donation to the school of mass communications, which will be renamed the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications.

USF is proving that it can bring in the big donations, which is great.  And once again, thanks to the donor for his generosity.

List of the Week

Given all the recent discussions about economic development, our list this week is quite relevant: Site Selection’s 2014 Top Ten Metro’s by Number of Projects.  It focuses on all those relocations and economic development projects that are constantly touted. You can read the article for their criteria (which is basically the number of projects).  We will focus on larger metros.

Coming in first was Chicago, followed by Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Dallas, NYC, Columbus (OH), Detroit, Louisville, and Kansas City.

Of note, even in the smaller metro categories, there were no Florida cities in the top 10 (there were a number of Ohio and Texas cities).  So, yes, we are making progress, but let’s not get carried away.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. M. Williams permalink
    March 13, 2015 1:53 AM

    Mr. Evans is correct in his remarks and this goes to my comments from last week. If you are a tech hub there is no need to advertise. Tampa is not a tech hub, it could be but lame marketing is not the way to make that happen. Neither is comparing events like Gasparilla Interactive to SXSW or even calling it a tech event for that matter.

    If we want to push for anything in Tampa we must look beyond the bridge and the person leading those efforts to expand our tech community needs to be a technology leader, not an career economic development staffer or politician. Currently those in power have demonstrated their lack of understanding on how to accomplish anything in this arena. Calling back office operations of companies like USAA, J&J or an Amazon warehouse tech are just plain silly. Each time those sentiments are made public we look incompetent to the outside world and it is two steps backward rather than one step forward for the overall community. Simply saying nothing would be far better.

    Cities that are succeeding in becoming tech cities are those which have an open mind, admit their weakness, work together and have entrepreneurs leading the way rather than non profit organizations bent on being the leader like TBTF or purporting false information like Tampa Bay WaVE’s claims of their “accelerator” being responsible for 100M in venture capital and exits for companies which have never gone through their program. Lies, whether big or small come unraveled when anyone looks beyond the press releases and entire community ends up taking the hit.

  2. EyesWideOpen permalink
    March 14, 2015 3:06 AM

    For your enlightenment. All kinds of interesting things in there. Like on pgs16/18. 🙂

    Click to access foot-traffic-ahead.pdf

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