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Roundup 9-11-2015

September 11, 2015


Economic Development/Transportation – The Big Picture

Economic Development – So Long TECO

Transportation – The PTC Explains Why It Should Be Abolished

USF – Money

Transportation/Walkability – So Long Friendship Trail

Meanwhile, In The Rest of Florida

–Tourism – Growing

–Going International

–Height Limits and the FAA

How To Name Your Project



Economic Development/Transportation – The Big Picture

This week there was one of those space-filler articles in the Tribune on how great the economy is (it is better, but it is better pretty much everywhere).

The Tampa Hillsborough EDC says its recruitment, retention and other assistance projects completed in the past year will bring 3,270 targeted high-paying jobs to the area. The figure was 4,500 the year before that and 4,100 the year before that.

The operative word being “will.”  We hope all the jobs come, but, as pointed out later in the same article, that is not always the case, and we don’t mean just like this. (And for an oddity in job numbers see this column from the Times.)  In any event,

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment LLC, has announced plans for a $1 billion 10-year remake of the 40 acres he owns or controls around Amalie Arena. That could add 6,700 jobs to the area with an average wage of $78,000.

Port Tampa Bay has unveiled a long-range $1.7 billion plan in the area north of The Florida Aquarium that would include 9 million square feet of mixed-use development.

Same thing.  (At some point in the future, hopefully, this will pan out – and then we will celebrate it, but in terms of accomplishments we are concerned with what has actually happened.)

“Economic development efforts last fiscal year alone will create more than 33,000 total jobs and generate more than $2.74 billion in capital investment,” said Enterprise Florida spokesman Stephen Lawson. “Enterprise Florida, in conjunction with our local partners, has been instrumental in bringing a number of great companies to the Tampa Bay area over the last few years. … Florida’s great business climate, robust infrastructure and advanced workforce all contribute to Tampa’s success.”

* * *

Local boosters tout the cost of real estate, the availability of a skilled workforce, infrastructure, the education system, Florida’s business-friendly climate and the lack of a state income tax.

While there is definitely talent in the area (and a nice setting), there are still the issues of the low percentage of the population with bachelor’s degrees and, for the future, the lack of nationally ranked high schools.  As for infrastructure, we’ll get back to that.  (And we assume that investment does not include spending $6-9 billion to bring a few limited capacity toll roads rather than using the money to fund everything needed in the Go Hillsborough one cent plan.  Really, which is more important as far as infrastructure goes?)

Maybe they are referring to our great transit system, comprehensive road system, elaborate systems of park-like trails, protected bike paths and walkable neighborhoods. Or maybe – very likely – they are selling cheap land, cheap labor (note this Times column on how most workers nationwide have actually lost ground in terms of income – and not just low wage workers – so how much worse is it in a low wage area like the Tampa Bay area?), and low taxes (though as we noted recently, the cost of living is really not that low).  And don’t forget

And then there is the money.

Enterprise Florida and local governments have millions at their disposal to sweeten the pot to get companies to come to the state or their city. Economic incentives are standard tactics in the recruiter’s toolkit, although the strategy has drawn fire.

Florida incentives come in various forms, including tax credits, tax refunds, tax exemptions, infrastructure funding and cash grants paid directly to a qualified business.

We are not opposed to incentives (at all) as long as they are properly targeted and structured to only come into play when we get the jobs promised – and are not given for sprawl that only will cost the taxpayers and would be built anyway.  And, yet, the Tribune editorial board made a very good point:

But there remains a glaring shortcoming that must be addressed for Tampa to become the high-functioning metropolis so many believe it has the potential to become.

A transportation system that serves the workforce, the tourists and the general population of the Tampa Bay area is essential. Months before the Money Magazine plaudits there was another ranking, by the car navigation company TomTom, that listed Tampa as having the 11th worst traffic congestion in the nation. Few who live here would argue with that ranking.

* * *

The money would be spent on targeted road and intersection improvements across Hillsborough County and on a bus rapid transit system. Portions of the funding will be distributed to the municipalities in the county for projects in those cities. Among those projects in Tampa might be a light rail line connecting the airport to downtown and the University of South Florida.

There is no question about our transportation needs, but the public also needs to be assured any tax increase will be spent wisely and that transportation investments will be coupled with smart growth policies that prevent ever more sprawl and gridlock.

The recent illustration in the paper showcased the region’s dynamic prospects, and why it is drawing national attention.

But if local traffic remains a mess it’s doubtful we’ll continue to be seen as a community on the rise.

Be happy there is progress, but stay grounded in reality.  We hope all those jobs (and many more) come.  However, we also know that announcements are not accomplishments.  And there are issues holding us back.  They are the same issues that have held us back for decades – transportation, sprawl, poor planning, settling (in development and economic development) and, to a large degree, the tendency to overly hype what is going on.  Remember, as far as we have come from where we were, our competitors are still ahead of us – some far ahead.  Fluffy articles are nice.  Real accomplishments are much, much nicer.  And if all the articles over the decades about how we were booming verified, no one would be talking about this now.

Economic Development – So Long TECO

One of the stated major efforts of economic development is to recruit a major corporate HQ to Tampa, especially downtown. This week, it was announced that TECO was being bought by a Canadian company.

The headquarters of TECO Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Peoples Gas will remain in Tampa. Emera said operating boards with local representation will be established here and in Albuquerque, N.M., where TECO operates New Mexico Gas Co.

Which is nice, though not as good as having the full company based here. So what does this all mean?

Discussions on jobs and community involvement were part of negotiations on the $10.4 billion deal, Ramil said Tuesday, but “it didn’t take a whole lot of addressing because of their style and the way they do business. They have committed to maintain the charitable and other activities that we do, at least as much as we have been doing it.”

Hillsborough County Commission chairwoman Sandy Murman met with the Canadian executive team on Tuesday. “I was very impressed with them,” she said. “They want to be a part of this community. I feel very positive, a lot of good energy came from them.”

There are a couple of reasons for the lack of angst among Tampa leaders. Emera had no operations in Florida and will need the TECO personnel who produce power here. In a conference call with utility analysts Tuesday, Huskilson said Emera is making “a deep commitment to TECO’s existing employees, and we will be seeking to retain the entire management team and employees in this organization.”

He said a local operating board will be established with TECO and Emera representation.

* * *

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he learned of the acquisition while on a trade mission in Dublin, Ireland.

“While we’re obviously sad to lose a home-grown company, I think TECO’s presence and TECO’s footprint will be here for a long time to come,” he said. “We all knew that TECO was a smaller fish in a much larger pool and was going to be bought out. But everything I’ve heard from the new owners is that they care, they are committed to Tampa, and I don’t think any of that will change.”

The reality is that it is a net loss, but it is not clear how much of a net loss.  The sale of Florida Progress has created a number of issues, but the sale of TECO does not have to.  Hopefully, Emera will be a good corporate citizen and do what they say.  Really, only time will tell.

Transportation – The PTC Explains Why It Should Be Abolished

This week there was a lot of news regarding ridesharing.  First,

Speaking to dozens of Uber drivers Wednesday, Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist assured the black-shirted assembly he was not their enemy.

Then Crist tried to prove it by casting the tie-breaking vote that temporarily halted the ticketing of Uber and Lyft drivers by transportation commission officers. The move was applauded by the dozen or so Uber operators still in the audience after the two-hour-plus meeting.

Which makes sense because the PTC is not doing so well in its court cases – or in the court of public opinion.  At the same time, the PTC has decided it has the best idea for the state:

Hillsborough County regulators are asking local legislators to support a potential bill that would legalize rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft — but on its terms, not the rideshare companies’ terms.

The proposed legislation would create a new category for transportation network companies (TNCs) that would allow the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to start regulating Uber and Lyft. It’s an alternative approach to the PTC’s previous efforts to rework its own rules and definitions for for-hire vehicles.

In order to operate legally, the companies would have to require drivers to undergo a Level II background check including fingerprinting, carry proper insurance, meet ADA requirements and pass annual vehicle inspections.

In other words, the PTC has not been able to work out a way to deal with ridesharing on its own, so it wants the legislature to do the PTC’s job.  As the State Senator trying to abolish the PTC said:

“I think if you asked the cab companies to draft a bill to keep out competition, this is the bill they would’ve come up with,” Brandes said. “I look forward to seeing if they can find a sponsor for their bill.”


Christine Mitchell, general manager for Uber in Tampa Bay, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the company has submitted a “modern regulatory framework for ride-sharing in line with the laws in more than 20 U.S. states and dozens of other jurisdictions across the country, including the cities of Tallahassee and Gainesville.”

Cockream, however, said Uber’s offer was basically no offer at all.

“They’re giving us the same thing they did a year and a half ago,” Cockream said. “They’re saying, ‘Here’s our business model. What we want you to do is to change everything in your market in Tampa to match our business model.’”

Given that the PTC is trying to get the legislature to impose its view, we find the claim that Uber is just sticking with its business model amusing.  Regardless, we are not going to get into the legislation specifically.  The one thing that this effort points out is that regardless of the outcome of the legislation, if even the PTC thinks that the legislature can do the job, the PTC is redundant.  Just another reason to abolish it.

Meanwhile, Sarasota did something interesting:

In a surprise move on Tuesday night, Sarasota City Commission decided if it can’t regulate ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, it will stop regulating the taxi industry, too.

The city was planning to debate a new ordinance that would regulate rideshare drivers like cab drivers with a $35 license and upgraded insurance. Uber officials said if the city passed those ordinances, the company would simply stop offering service in Sarasota.

And even further afield:

Tallahassee and Ft. Lauderdale taxicab companies have sued the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in a latest attempt to curb the growth of tech companies like Uber and Lyft.


* * *

By not enforcing the same regulations on Uber and Lyft that it does on cab companies, the lawsuit says, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has created a competitive disadvantage.

That sounds more like a question of policy, but that will have to run through the courts.  The real point is that this whole issue really goes back to the conflict between the desire of the consumer and the legacy cab companies.  Frankly, we would love for there to be some uniformity in state regulation – assuming it is reasonable.  Then we can get rid of a vestigial local bureaucracy that has ignored the consumer and interfered in the market (like with the electric vehicles downtown) for years.

USF – Money

USF has been doing a good job of bringing in donations, and, apparently, grant money:

The University of South Florida garnered a record $441 million in research dollars during the 2014-15 academic year, president Judy Genshaft announced Wednesday during her 15th annual fall address.

That’s an increase of $12 million, or 3 percent, from the previous year. Genshaft also highlighted USF’s ranking in terms of U.S. patents earned: The university was ranked first in Florida, 10th in the U.S. and 13th worldwide. USF has been ranked in the top 15 in worldwide patents for five straight years.

The patent number is interesting, but we are more interested in the research money.  That is money directly coming into the area.  (It would be interesting to know what exactly the research money is going to.)  Good job, USF.

Transportation/Walkability – So Long Friendship Trail

This week, workers started dismantling the old Gandy Bridge/Friendship Trail.  Ironically, the Go Hillsborough process is supposed to be working on how to provide people with more transportation alternatives including trails and sidewalks.  Yet, the Friendship Trail was drawing 500,000 people a year.  Yes, it needed repairs. On the other hand, 500,000 people is quite a popular draw. If the County was actually concerned with trails, sidewalks, alternative transportation, and enhancing lifestyles in the area, why did they do so little for an amenity that had such a draw?

Meanwhile, In The Rest of Florida

In all honesty, other than that, not much of interest occurred locally this week.  Yes, there were articles about various subjects (like a USF stadium  and the Mayor’s trip to Ireland), but they added little or nothing to previous discussions.  So, let’s just look around the state.

–Tourism – Growing

There are routinely reports about how this area is reaching new records in tourism (like this), which is great.  Those articles tend to talk about what great things we are doing to promote tourism and whatnot.  Given that, it was interesting to note this:

Orange County’s tourism taxes are strong enough that Orlando could pay off existing debt for the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the Orlando Citrus Bowl in a fraction of the time.

County officials collected almost $19.2 million in July, well ahead of the budgeted collection rate of $16.7 million and about $3 million more than in July 2014.

If tourism continues to boom, “there’s a good chance we could have these bonds paid off in 10 years instead of 30,” said Chris McCullion, Orlando’s deputy chief financial officer.

Would that we could pay off bonds 20 years early.  In contrast to much of the commentary in this area, the Orlando coverage also has some realism:

George Aguel, president and chief executive officer of Visit Orlando, the region’s tourism authority, said tourism leaders appreciate when the tax-collection rate is higher than expected but understand its fickle nature.

“The sustainability is hard to predict,” he said.

Refreshing.  In any event, it seems that tourism is booming statewide, so it is not clear whether we are doing something special or just getting our piece of the pie. (See here) Even more evidence of that:

Orlando International Airport continued its record-setting pace in passengers served during July, with nearly 3.5 million travelers moving through the main terminal.

If the trend holds, the airport would handle more than 37.3 million people during 2015, eclipsing the 36.5 million travelers who flew in and out of Orlando in 2007, before the recession took hold.

Orlando International saw overall traffic up 8.2 percent over last year, including a 19.5 percent in people coming outside the United States, according to Orlando International statistics released Friday. Domestic travelers went up 6.5 percent.

Airport officials believe the increased passenger numbers will continue because two new international carriers will start service in September: Emirates Airlines, based in Dubai, and Icelandair, which will fly to Keflavik.

The point is not that there is anything wrong with our performance – there isn’t.  As we said, it is great that our numbers are way up.  However, everything needs to be kept in context. It is not necessarily as much what we are doing as that there is a boom underway basically across the board and we are riding with it, which is fine.  But remember, sustainability is hard to predict.

–Going International

There was an interesting item on Pompano Beach:

Fifty companies from Brazil are starting up in Pompano Beach, and more may be coming.

A Pompano Beach consulting firm is assisting the 50 Brazilian companies to launch U.S. operations, creating jobs in Florida and strengthening ties with the state’s largest trade partner.

Duvekot, which specializes in helping Brazilian companies navigate the U.S. market, won a three-year contract from Brazil’s small business administration Sebrae for the expansion project. It now is working with the businesses it helped choose from 2,409 applicants in Brazil’s southeast Santa Catarina state.

“Basically, it’s a university. By the end of the program, we’ll be graduating these companies, and they’ll be on their own,” said Duvekot president Amilcar Gazaniga Jr. “And if this works out, we hope to do the program with other groups from Santa Catarina, other Brazilian states and other countries too.”

Duvekot has pledged its “business accelerator” program will create at least 60 jobs and raise at least $9 million for the first 50 companies in five years, Gazaniga said.

To reach those goals, it is teaming up with local groups, including Nova Southeastern University and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward County’s economic development group.

The numbers are not very large, but it is an interesting idea.  Because this area says it truly wants to be international and that Latin America is a major target, this effort should be studied.

–Height Limits and the FAA

When the Port came out with its master plan with drawings of two quite tall towers, there was an article in the Times that briefly mentioned the FAA and height limits.  This week, there was an article in the Miami Herald about the FAA and buildings in Miami. Read it here.  It is not fully informative, but is interesting in terms of discussing part of the process of getting FAA approval.  IT also mentions how many quite tall buildings are being proposed in Miami.

How To Name Your Project

This week, in lieu of a list, we provide this helpful advice for all those developers trying to bring in big money buyers.  It is an article in the Independent (UK) regarding how to name/brand your project.

The man from Abu Dhabi went with One Kensington Gardens, and joined an exclusive club. Because in an age in which buildings have become brands, a new language has evolved. And no word appears to match the power of “One”. One Blackfriars, One Nine Elms, One The Elephant, One Tower Bridge. All luxury developments under construction, with expensive websites and slick logos on the glossiest brochures.

“Ten years ago all the schemes were called ‘The’ something,” Dorman says. “The Lancasters, The Bromptons, The Phillimores…. People still aspired to live in Victorian or Georgian housing stock – a lateral flat on Onslow Square, a mansion block in Knightsbridge, or a nice house on Egerton Crescent. The new-build stock wasn’t at all glamorous.”

That sounds about right.  Encouragingly, this trend has already reached the Tampa Bay area with the proposed ONE condo in St. Pete.  The Lightning owner has not named his project yet.  Maybe he will get in on the act.  Though he may want to try to anticipate the next trend.


Please take some time to remember that it is 9-11.

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