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Roundup 5-22-2015

May 21, 2015

Due to the Memorial Day weekend (Please take a moment to remember what Memorial Day is all about), the Roundup is a little early this week.

Transportation – Go Hillsborough Calls Home

Some people we know received automated calls from Go Hillsborough about telephone town hall meetings.  These calls provided phone numbers to call and codes to access the town hall.  Unfortunately, the messages did not say that they were going to provide that information it could be written down nor did the messages repeat the information. That meant that someone who picked up the phone after a message started was pretty much screwed.  (Yes, you can find the info on the website but not everyone is going to be able (or willing) to find it and why call people and not give them the information?)

In any event, the town hall questions/comments by citizens were not bad (save a few rambling calls).  However, the officials’ answers, while polite, were generally bureaucratic restatements of existing plans or policies (and, note, no matter how many times you call MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit, it still isn’t), which is not really taking citizen input nor much of a dialogue.  Of course, such answers are not really the fault of those officials answering.  If elected officials – the TED PLC – are not going to take a lead (and, really, they haven’t) and actually come up with real ideas and proposals (rhetoric notwithstanding, those are definitely lacking), there is no reason an employee or anyone else would – nor can employees say anything negative about their bosses – the elected officials on the TED PLC.  Basically, it was just another run of the mill Hillsborough public meeting, like innumerable meetings over the decades.

We are so glad that the County paid consultants for that.  We don’t expect much from the process, though we would be happy to be surprised.

Economic Development/Tampa Heights – Enter SOCOM

There was some very interesting news about SOCOM this week (especially given that it is Memorial Day weekend)

— First, the concept:

SOCom officials, economic development and business leaders will unveil plans today to create a research and development accelerator in Tampa Heights. Its goal: to design and expedite advanced technology and military goods for special operations forces.

Those advances range from the current “Iron Man” project to develop the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, body armor to syringes designed to inject life-saving, cotton antibiotic pellets into larger battlefield wounds.

The concept is pure SOCom, finding a lean, mean and quicker way to conjure up military advances for their special ops forces — outside of the massive bureaucracy of Defense Department contracting — by recruiting entrepreneurs, academics and private sector specialists to help make it happen beyond the physical confines of MacDill.

“SOCom is presenting this community with a big opportunity,” says Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., which is developing a business plan for the accelerator with SOCOM. “What SOCom is doing is creating a new procurement process.”

That is intriguing.  Obviously, all the installations at MacDill have a huge impact on this area and we are very lucky to have them here, but this is the first instance we can think of where a MacDill command is basically becoming the sponsor of a startup community.  That is all good.

It is all part of a concept right now called Thunderdome.

Imagine a Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa every single day of the year. Imagine U.S. Special Operations Command reaching out to inventors, industry and academia with needs, and a place to bring them all together to figure out how to rapidly turn ideas into prototypes.

* * *

If all goes as hoped, the Thunderdome concept would piggyback on something called SOFWORX, which is set up at the Armature Works building in Tampa Heights. SOFWORX is a Socom effort to get outside the wire, so to speak, of MacDill Air Force Base to interact with industry, academia and others to more rapidly get needed products into the hands of commandos in the field. . .

* * *

The desired end state, says Homans, “is to create the entrepreneurial ecosystem that is the brass ring for economic development, from incubation to acceleration to prototype manufacturing to full-scale manufacturing and creating new products and services faster and better than any place in the country.”

That all sounds good.

The trick is making it all work.

Mark Swanson, a West Point graduate, former Army Apache helicopter pilot, computer engineering graduate, internet innovator, technology management guru and serial entrepreneur, has been tabbed to put together the Thunderdome business plan.

As chairman of the Tampa Bay WaVE, whose mission is to “help entrepreneurs turn ideas into growing tech businesses in Tampa Bay,” Swanson “gets” the Thunderdome concept. And he sees its value as an “accelerator” that attracts and maintains high-tech startups.

“We lost three really solid startups in the Tampa Bay to accelerators like Wufoo,” says Swanson. “They left and never came back and what we need is a way to attract great startups from all over the United States.”

And that is one of the key reasons this area struggles with high paying jobs.  Having an established customer to build an industry around is definitely a plus in trying to avoid that issue.  That is what makes the concept so intriguing: it provides a potential anchor for a real hub.

— The Location

So where are they establishing it?

Initially, SOCom’s accelerator will operate under the name SOFWORX from the Armature Works building near the end of Tampa’s Riverwalk along the Hillsborough River. But space in that building is destined for retail and entertainment purposes, so SOFWORX is expected to relocate nearby in the near future.

Well, that is an odd location because, as noted above, that building is supposed to be retail and entertainment space.

It’s an expansive project, and rehabbing the Armature Works factory space alone could easily top $10 million, developers said. But once done, the Armature space will have at least three restaurants, several bars, a cafe/bakery called Ola Cafe, an open-air entertainment stage called “The Gathering” and the 14,000-square-foot “Heights Public Market” in the style of East End in Orlando or Eastern Market in Washington.

All we about that is that we hope the choice of preliminary location does not indicate that there is something amiss in the development plan for the Heights.

Maybe foreshadowing a plan to where the SOCOM facility might move:

A Tampa defense contractor is planning a new office development in Tampa Heights that its CEO envisions as a hub for defense and technology companies.

Celestar Corp. CEO Gregory Celestan said Tuesday that he is planning a 60,000-square-foot office building on the corner of West Seventh and North Highland avenues in Tampa Heights — across West Seventh Avenue from Ulele, the restaurant and microbrewery that Tampa restaurateur Richard Gonzmart opened last year. 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The contractor is Beck.  Notably, the building will only be a go when about 75% of it is preleased.  In any event, it is something and looks better than many of the buildings planned for this area.

So we are happy with all that, too.  Good SOCOM concept and good potential final location – though the building is really not very big – it is a start.  There is promise here – but right now it is just promise.

— That One Thing

But, then, there is this:

Beyond office space, the project’s supporters hope the development can be a catalyst for better connecting the Tampa business community with MacDill Air Force Base. Creating an ecosystem for businesses that support MacDill could create the kind of dynamic seen in Northern Virginia’s Dulles Technology Corridor or Research Triangle in North Carolina.

Those places have become magnets for technology companies and young talent — which can drive the rest of the city’s economy, spurring residential and commercial development.

And that is a solid long-term desire, though the Dulles Technology Corridor and Research Triangle are far bigger and to reach such a goal is very long-term. And Northern Virginia is near ALL the military, not just SOCOM and ALL the lobbying in Congress.  And the Research Triangle has a number of very well regarded institutions and universities.  Maybe we should start with a small company first and save the overinflated comparisons for later.

Sadly, as good as some announcements are, it seems that every announcement gets sold as the catalyst for the City’s economy.  We know that every little bit helps, but, let us be clear, the announced building is just an announcement of a possible development (though it looks nice).  The SOCOM announcement is much more interesting, though that is also in an embryonic stage. Nothing has actually really been done yet.

We are all for the SOCOM idea (and the office building), but portraying these ideas out as one more magic bullet to create a truly urban city with high paying jobs – is just an indicator of our local insecurities and how far we still have to go.  If we had a city with high paying jobs, walkability, and mass transit that was a tech hub, we’d have a city with high paying jobs, walkability, and mass transit that was a tech hub – but we do not.   There is no one silver bullet to getting there.  We still need proper planning, changing the code, and getting real transportation fixes.  In other words, setting the stage for those companies and talent to really want to be here and to help them thrive when they are.

Somewhere in the future, the SOCOM idea may form part of an overall economic ecosystem, but right now it is just a concept (a good concept, but just a concept) – one that locals have to take and develop.

So, by all means, support the SOCOM effort (we do) and Tampa Heights development, but remember that, as of now, nothing has actually been accomplished.

Economic Development/Ybor City – A Win

There was one clear win this week:

After a six-state competition, Ybor City will become the e-commerce headquarters of Ashley Furniture.

At a formal unveiling with Tampa political and economic development leaders this morning, the giant Wisconsin-based furniture company – which bills itself as the world’s largest furniture manufacturer and top selling brand of furniture in North America – said its subsidiary, Ashcomm LLC, will operate its U.S. e-commerce operations from 70,000 square feet of space in Centro Ybor. The site, at 1600 E Eighth Ave., is in the heart of Tampa’s historic business and entertainment district.

The business will eventually house more than 100 employees in executive, administrative, marketing, design, and information technology positions for both the e-commerce business as well as other Ashley corporate operations.

Here is a rendering of the new exterior:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

 

That is significant not for the number of jobs, which is not that big, but because they do not seem to be back office jobs.  That is good for Ybor and good for the area.  On the other hand, we are not sure what it says about Ybor that the movie theaters are being turned into offices rather than being used for their original purpose.  We are all for business in Ybor, but it would be nice if business and entertainment (and residential) could all thrive at once.

Transportation – Yea, And . . .

There was a completely unsurprising report in the Tribune about HART ridership this week:

Rarely, if ever, do the government leaders pushing for more buses and more routes to encourage more riders on Hillsborough Area Regional Transit ride a bus themselves, pointing up the challenge the county faces as it crafts a transportation plan likely to rely heavily on mass transit.

The Tampa Tribune surveyed 30 current and former leaders by email and found that their reasons for skipping mass transit mirror those of a public reluctant to shed the convenience of the car.

Like everyone, they perform many far-flung duties each day, driving kids to school or picking up laundry. Their busy schedules don’t fit neatly into bus schedules.

First, as pointed out in the article, most elected officials have schedules that do not lend themselves to riding the bus. (Though a few do it on occasion)  Second, as pointed out in the article, riding the bus is inefficient.  The fact is that HART is not a real transit system – it is a low level bus system designed primarily for use by other people, unlike other cities where transit is designed for a broad group of users – and even then some jobs will not lend themselves to transit use.  Third, our area still is built so that transit use is unpleasant.  Until we change our mentality, we will remain behind.

— One Other Thing

The article did have one oddity:

A study by Michael Manville, an urban planner at Cornell University, found that increased spending on transit in the early 2000s had no discernible effect on levels of ridership a decade later.

We are not sure if that is a reference to HART specifically or other transit, but it is odd because transit ridership is generally up and breaking records across the country.

Some of the public transit agencies reporting record ridership system-wide were located in the following cities: Albany, NY; Boston, MA; Canton, OH; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Indianapolis, IN; Madison, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Olympia, WA; Orlando, FL; St. Petersburg, FL; Riverside, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Spokane, WA; Tampa, FL; and Wenatchee, WA.

So we are not sure what that comment is about.  But there is also this interesting note:

2014 Ridership Breakdown
Light rail (modern light rail, streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) ridership increased 3.6 percent in 2014 with 16 out of 28 public transit systems reporting increases. Light rail in Minneapolis, MN showed a significant increases of 57.4 percent due to the opening of the METRO Green Line in Minneapolis. Light rail ridership in Oceanside, CA increased by 36.0 percent due to the system being shut down for several months in 2013. Four light rail systems saw double digit increases in 2014 in the following cities: Houston, TX (17.9%); San Diego, CA (15.3%); Denver, CO (12.0%); and Seattle, WA-Sound Transit (11.7%). Light rail ridership in the following cities also saw increases in 2014: San Francisco, CA (7.2%); Salt Lake City, UT (6.0%); Hampton, VA (5.4%); New Orleans, LA (5.3%); San Jose, CA (4.4%); Newark, NJ (3.4%); Dallas, TX (3.2%); and Charlotte, NC (3.1%).

Heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) ridership increased by 3.3 percent across the country as 8 out of 15 public transit systems reported increases. Heavy rail systems with increases in ridership for 2014 were in the following cities: San Francisco, CA (6.1%); Boston, MA (4.9%); Chicago, IL (4.1%); New York, NY-MTA NYC Transit (4.0%); New York, NY-MTA Staten Island Railway (3.5%); Atlanta, GA (2.3%); and Miami, FL (2.1%).

Nationally, commuter rail ridership increased by 2.9 percent in 2014 as 22 out of 28 public transit systems reported increases. Four commuter rail systems saw double digit increases in 2014 in the following cities: Salt Lake City, UT (16.2%); Stockton, CA (15.7%); Seattle, WA-Sound Transit (10.4%); and San Carlos, CA (10.1%). Ridership in the following cities also saw increases in 2014: Lewisville, TX (9.3%); Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX (6.9%); Newark, NJ (5.4%); Anchorage, AK (5.4%); Portland, OR (4.7%); Nashville, TN (4.4%); Boston, MA (3.5%); Oceanside, CA (3.5%); Oakland, CA (2.5%); and Baltimore, MD (2.2%).

Bus ridership decreased nationally by 1.1 percent. However, in small and medium size population groups, bus ridership saw percentage increases of 2.0 and 0.5 respectively. The following cities showed the highest large bus ridership increases in 2014: Baltimore, MD (6.8%); Portland, OR (5.3%); Oakland, CA (4.2%); San Francisco, CA (3.9%); Columbus, OH (3.0%); Atlanta, GA (2.8%); San Diego, CA (2.4%); and Seattle, WA-King County DOT (2.0%).

Do with that what you will.

Built Environment – Should the Focus Be So Much on Downtown?

While we are big proponents of fixing downtown – and always have been, we are always concerned that there is too much focus on downtown at the expense of the rest of the city.  While urban-ish projects are happening downtown and a few isolated areas, there is far too much of the usual, suburban style development, even near downtown on Kennedy and in places like Westshore.  Much of the focus on downtown is sold as being to attract Millennials (and to some degree it does) but to build a real city that really attracts Millennials, in our opinion there has to be more.

Now comes an article in Citylab.com on where Millennials are actually living:

Recently, Millennials have started to move back to cities, reversing the decades-old trend of suburbanization. But within the city, they’re not exactly making a beeline for downtown, according to new research released by the Urban Land Institute.  

According to a ULI press release quoted in the article:

Contrary to popular belief, most Millennials are not living the high life in the downtowns of large cities, but rather are living in less centrally located but more affordable neighborhoods, making ends meet with jobs for which many feel overqualified, and living with parents or roommates to save money.

Here is a graph of where Millennials live:

From CityLab – click on diagram for article

The reason for this trend is that while Millennials greatly value walkability, mixed-use neighborhoods, public transportation, and retail and entertainment options, only some of them can afford expensive housing in central business districts. So they settle for neighborhoods outside bustling urban hotspots. Millennials living in Washington, D.C., for example, might choose to live in Shaw or Bloomingdale over the downtown Pennsylvania Avenue area.

It’s well-known that millennials have financial constraints. Roughly 29 percent of ULI respondents with full-time jobs earned less than $35,000 a year, and more than half made less than $50,000 (below, right). These economic realities require certain compromises. Living in a cheaper neighborhood is one; renting instead of buying is another. Half of the respondents rented (below, left), and they payed [sic] a median rent of $925. Two-thirds lived in cheaper, low-rise garden style houses instead of high-rise apartments with more amenities; and 27 percent of these renters had roommates to divvy up the costs.

The reality is that our incomes are even lower. And our neighborhoods are not very walkable or mixed use.

In other words, just building expensive, urban-ish developments downtown, good as that is, is not really going to do the trick. Just having a vision for downtown and a couple of neighborhoods around it is not enough. The fact is that to attract Millennials, Tampa needs to stop settling outside of “InTown” and really change the way the city is actually built and planned. And we need real public transportation options.  It will not happen immediately but every day we delay is a day we fall further behind places that have already learned this lesson. It requires a true change in mentality – a true change in DNA.

And one more thing to note – the Census bureau released its latest population estimates for incorporated cities this week, which tells us about how much cities (where the Millennials want to live) are growing.  The figures show that Tampa’s population grew from 335,709 in 2010 to 358,699 in summer 2014 or 22,990.  St. Petersburg grew by 8,924.  Below is a comparison of growth numbers with some of the usual suspects.

Austin 122,401
Charlotte 78,534
Denver 63,704
Columbus(OH) 48,924
Nashville 42,792
OKC 40,603
New Orleans 40,491
Raleigh 36,004
Portland(OR) 35,584
Minneapolis 24,629
Orlando 24,072
Tampa 22,990
St. Pete 8,924

Admittedly, some of the these cities have larger populations and areas than Tampa or St. Pete, but if you are talking growth of the city, as opposed to the suburbs, those numbers tell you something.

International Trade – Why Are We Behind?

There were a number of articles about a recent Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce trips to Cuba that raised an interesting question:

At the same time, a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce delegation of 35 business and civic leaders visited Cuba’s capital city to learn more about trade opportunities through talks with officials from the island nation’s biggest port.

And the Tampa accounting firm Prida Guida & Co. sent a three-person group on behalf of its clients from the U.S. agricultural industry to meet with the president of Alimport — the Cuban government agency that handles all trade.

The question now, 13 years after Mayor Dick Greco led the first Castro-era delegation to Cuba and as other Florida communities are now getting on the bandwagon, is what Tampa has to show for it.

Greco dined with Fidel Castro during that 2002 visit.

Other trips followed.

Mary Mulhern, who then served on the Tampa City Council, traveled to Cuba in 2009 to discuss trade possibilities with government officials The Tampa chamber has made three trips and a number of other visits have included elected officials and private businesses.

Still, Tampa has no substantial trade with Cuba as some other U.S. cities do.

“When I was there in 2009 they wanted to do business with Tampa,” said former councilwoman Mulhern. “Now six years later, we are no further along. We’re at the bottom of the list of cities that do business with Cuba.”

Tampa does not have much to show from it mainly because of local politics.  When the Mayor is silent and the Port is MIA from meetings on trade while other areas are in a full court press (See “International Trade – Cuba Competition”), it is not much of a surprise.

The bay area group visited three cities, Havana, Cojimar and the resort town of Varadero, met with the head of the U.S. interest section in Cuba, toured a national oncology and radiology institute and talked with officials about the enterprise zone that Cuba is building around the port at Mariel.

They also saw lots of signs that other U.S. cities (New Orleans, Charlotte) and states (New York), are making connections in Cuba and that foreign investors are already on the ground. They saw the Canadian flag at Cuban commercial buildings and arrived the day after a visit by French President François Hollande.

“Florida and the Tampa Bay region cannot afford to stand flat-footed while the rest of the world positions itself to take advantage of this economic opportunity,” Christaldi said. “We, as a country, are a little bit behind. … The foreign investment has already begun.”

Indeed.  While, as noted in the articles, the Cuban economy is not very big, if there is an opening, it stands to grow and there are opportunities anyway – as noted by the sponsor of the Arena:

“We consider a 12 million-population country as a pretty big deal,” said Richard Barkett, chief operating officer of Amalie Oil, which exports to about 100 countries.

Many politicians and the business community are on board.  It is time for real unity of purpose.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Creative Village

With all the talk regarding the Lightning owner’s project, it is worth checking in with some other major projects around the state. This week it is Creative Village in Orlando.

When the shovels dug into the 68 acres of dirt slated to become home to Creative Village Thursday afternoon, the ceremony’s attendees’ attention focused on the buildings that will rise vertically from the earth — college campuses, spaces designed to foster creativity and innovation, apartments and offices.  

But before any building foundation is poured, Balfour Beatty Construction is installing underground veins that will deliver a lifeblood for creativity into the development – simple pipes that will eventually hold high-tech communications cables internally connecting the development’s buildings and externally to the world. Balfour’s portion of the budget is $12 million.

* * *

In addition to the underground work, Balfour Beatty is also putting in roadways, including a lane dedicated to the LYNX bus rapid transit line connecting the project and Parramore to the LYNX Central Station downtown. New signalization for the bus rapid transit lane is also planned along with bus benches themed to the community.

A $10 million federal grant to LYNX is paying for the infrastructure work. As the groundbreaking occurred, The University of Central Florida/Valencia College’s request for state money to build a joint-venture downtown campus building remains in limbo until June when the Florida Legislature meets in a special session to create its budget.

We’ll see when something comes out of the ground.  Just remember that pretty much everybody is working for a downtown tech/residential/innovation center – and everyone hypes them the same way.

— All Aboard Florida

Next, given that this area cannot get anything organized on transportation, we check in on All Aboard Florida.

All Aboard Florida has selected a contractor to upgrade the 66-mile rail corridor between Miami and West Palm Beach, which is planned to eventually connect to Orlando.

In court documents released yesterday, the company said that it will move forward with the project regardless of the outcome of a legal challenge by residents and government officials on the Treasure Coast. Should the lawsuit succeed in blocking AAF from using tax-free bonds, the company will issue taxable bonds instead.

As we have said for a while, it is strange how silent local officials are about this project and our not being connected to it or even clearly in the future plans.

— Mega Development

Finally, without getting into much detail, there is talk of another planned mega development for Miami, the Miami Innovation District which, in theory, would include:

We have no idea how likely this development is, but just add it to your list.

Lists of the Week I

Our first list of the week is Glassdoor.com’s 25 Best Cities for Jobs which is actually taken from a list of 50 cities.

Coming in first is Raleigh, followed by Kansas City, OKC, Austin, Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Louisville, San Antonio, DC, St. Louis, San Francisco, Columbus (OH), Dallas-Ft. Worth, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Memphis, Indianapolis, Chicago, Houston, Baltimore, Richmond, Pittsburgh, and Nashville.  So, some usual suspects and a few surprises (like Memphis). Some surprises are Charlotte (36th), San Diego (38th), Denver (39th), and Portland (OR) (46th)

How did Florida fare? Orlando (27th), the Tampa Bay area (28th), Jacksonville (30th), Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (44th).  Well, not very good, but at least we beat some of the usual suspects.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is Marketwatch’s Most Business Friendly Cities.  You can read the details of the rankings here.

The Top 20: coming in first is Dallas, followed by San Francisco, Seattle, Des Moines, Raleigh, San Jose, Houston, Provo, OKC, Denver, Boston, Austin, Minneapolis, San Diego, San Antonio, Omaha, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Tulsa, and Charlotte.

Strange how business friendly the high tax, high wage locations can be.  We are always told that Florida/Tampa Bay’s low wage costs and low taxes are our great advantage.

So how did we do – the Times tells us:

Dallas landed at No. 1. And Florida metros – the same our Florida governor travels the country touting as the best for biz? Well, Miami ranked No. 37 with Tampa Bay and Orlando trailing at No. 46 and 47, respectively. Poor Lakeland scraped by near the very bottom at No. 98.

So what makes Dallas so friendly?

MarketWatch analyzed a range of 23 categories related to business environment, company performance and economic outcome. In 22 cases, the best possible score was 100, while in the 23rd it was 150. A perfect score in all metrics would yield 2,350 points. Then MarketWatch crunched the numbers. “Ultimately Dallas-Fort Worth won with a score of 1,687. San Francisco wasn’t far behind, at 1,665, and Seattle took the bronze with 1,651,” MarketWatch reported.

What’s holding Tampa Bay back at No. 46 with 1,222 points? The “business climate” here ranked low at No. 72. The “company performance” — businesses on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq markets — here did better at No. 31. And the “economic outcome” measure put Tampa Bay at No. 57.

So, unless you love being average, bad business climate and bad economic outcome.   As the Times notes:

No single survey captures the economic essence of any metro area. But this analysis is just the latest reminder that being “business friendly” goes far beyond simply boasting about no state income tax and cheap wages. That’s a losing sales strategy.

It is also a reminder that despite all the talk of it being our time and our new boom (and all our natural assets), we are consistently average in most rankings.  As we have said innumerable times, yes, we are getting better but we are playing catch up slowly to others who are moving more quickly.  At least, Bass Pro Shops is hiring.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 22, 2015 7:15 AM

    While I fully understand the focus on downtown Tampa I find it interesting that a defense contractor, a cybersecurity accelerator focused on DoD and SOCOM would select downtown as their location unless it is to meet the needs of executives. If the intent is truly to engage with the Universities, then wouldn’t it be logical to be near the cybersecurity center at USF? Considering USF is leading these initiatives for the state and that MOSI is slated to move downtown wouldn’t it make more sense to use the property MOSI occupies today for a technology center which included cyber? Putting the center downtown sounds good in theory but considering our lack of transit options perhaps having resources in close proximity might make more sense.

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