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Roundup 2-10-2017

February 10, 2017


Transportation – The Partnership Lobbies

— Pasco

— Conclusion

Downtown/Channel District – An Actual Structure

Downtown/Transportation – Jackson Bike Thingy

Transportation/Planning – Clarity for Vision Zero

Rays – Location . . .

— Speaking of Location

Transportation – Airport News

— Here Come the Cabs

— Bahamasair

Economy – Florida Growth

Tourism – Back to Hillsborough Exceptionalism, And Then

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week I

List of the Week II


Transportation – The Partnership Lobbies

After last week’s Roundup, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the Tampa Bay Partnership is now pushing two legislative goals:

The Tampa Bay Partnership is making transportation its top priority this year as lawmakers prepare to head into legislative session next month. The group’s 2017 policy agenda emphasizes regionalism as a key to connecting citizens and reducing traffic congestion.

* * *

The Partnership is putting it corporate might behind creating a multi-county Metropolitan Planning Organization rather than the existing patchwork of individual county-based MPOs.

“A regional MPO would make Tampa Bay more competitive in pursuing state and federal transportation funding, and facilitate in the process of making regional decisions about long-range transportation plans,” the group’s agenda explains in a recent white paper commissioned by the Tampa Bay Partnership.

The group also supports creating a regional structure for transit operations. Each county currently has its own public transportation organization. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit are the two largest in the region, but function within the confines of geographic boundaries.

Right now tens of thousands of people commute between counties throughout the region with little access to public transportation options. PSTA and HART offer service across the Howard Frankland Bridge, but those routes are limited to peak travel times on weekdays.

As we noted last week, we think the merger of the transit agencies is more important than the merger of the MPO’s, which needs to be carefully done so as to still allow protection of neighborhoods that will be greatly damaged by things like TBX.  If it is done carefully, we are ok with merging MPO’s.

Speaking of TBX, it was also confirmed that the Partnership is all in:

The Partnership continues to support one of its top priorities from 2016 — a $6 billion transportation improvement plan. Tampa Bay Express, or TBX, is a comprehensive series of road and highway improvements throughout the region aimed at reducing traffic congestion.

Setting aside that some of TBX has useful improvements and the rest has more harm than good, we are not surprised by this because, as we noted previously, the CEO of the Partnership supported the removal of a free lane on the Howard Frankland.  Yet, with TBX somewhat in flux, now is the time to get a better plan that actually fixes the interstate without cutting a bigger gash through the urban neighborhoods and that actually serves the whole area, not just some who can afford very high tolls.  Like the Lightning owner said last week – how about HOV or HOT lanes done rationally and fixing the SR60/275 interchange and really fixing the bottleneck at the end of the Howard Frankland – not 3 lanes, 4 – first?  It is also time to figure out transit and coordinate it with roads.

There is an opportunity to be really constructive, if, unlike the County Commission, it is taken.

— Pasco

One area a unified MPO might prove useful, though contentious, is actually having a highway plan that makes sense.  We got another lesson in how ours does not this week.

State and Pasco County transportation planners are working on an interim fix for traffic congestion at the State Road 54/U.S. 41 intersection that is simpler and much less costly than a proposed $180 million elevated highway.

The flyover plan remains on hold amid community criticism and a county task force studying traffic improvements for the entire State Road 54 corridor. In the meantime, the state Department of Transportation has suggested that extended turn lanes could ease traffic flow at the intersection, which nearly 100,000 vehicles pass through daily. The improvements, if all are completed, carry a rough cost estimate of less than $1.4 million because no right of way is needed for the construction.

That really won’t do much, but it fits with Pasco, which loves its left turn lanes. You can read about the proposed 1000 ft turn lanes in the article (here).  More to the point, the interim solution because there is no real solution  because Pasco killed an east-west highway that would take cars out of Tampa (there’s an idea).

The DOT announced a year ago that it was hitting the brakes on the U.S. 41/SR 54 flyover plan until the county task force completed its work. At the time, the state had unveiled two proposals to carry SR 54 traffic on elevated lanes above the intersection. Cost estimates ranged up to $180 million and, under one scenario, 23 businesses, two homes and a Pasco County fire station near the intersection would be affected.

And that idea came up because the previously planned Pasco east-west road never happened.  And that was needed because:

A flyover at the intersection has been discussed for more than two decades, starting when the state pulled the plug on a planned east-west highway through Lutz to connect the Veterans Expressway and Interstate 75. Later, a new interchange at I-75 and SR 56 and the widening of both SR 54 and 56 to six lanes turned that stretch of highway into the de facto east-west route. Projections call for daily traffic through the intersection to more than double to 208,000 vehicles over the next 25 years.

Because regional thinking did not happen (just like on Gandy, even with some building possibly on both ends).  Would a northern east-west highway take all the cars off 275 in Tampa?  No. Would there still be congestion on 275?  Yes. (but there will be anyway, even with TBX, and it will be worse without a road to take cars around Tampa) Would we need something as damaging as TBX? No, especially if there was a transit component.  (And we don’t need TBX as it was presented anyway.)

— Conclusion

We get the Partnership thinking traffic is bad and $6-9 billion in investment is nice.  But what would be nicer is $6-9 billion in good investment that will help long-term and make the area actually more attractive to people they are trying to attract.  They have the chance to work for that and really make a positive difference.  It would be a shame if they did not take it.

Downtown/Channel District – An Actual Structure

The first actual design for the Lightning owner’s project has been posted on the City’s planning website (search “301 S Nebraska Ave”).  It is of the unified chiller plant where Nebraska and Jefferson intersect with Cumberland.  Here are some renderings courtesy of URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And a site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, we like the brick and some of the architectural features.  We like the windows on the ground floor.  The building should not look like one of those 60s and 70s phone switching buildings that are just basically bunkers. (See here  and here) We also like the brick wall on the east side.

However, there are two things we do not like.  First, it really could use windows (even if they are false) or something else where the second floor would be to break up the two stories of brick.  Right now it looks top-heavy, and doorless walls with looming blankness are not really pedestrian friendly. (And note that the cigar factories and other buildings in this area that are obviously referenced by that building tended to have windows).

Second, the brick wall covering the mechanical area in the back only runs up one side. On the west side there is a chain link fence, and there is another fence on the small north side. It would be much more aesthetically pleasing to just have a wall go all the way around.

We understand it is a utility building. We get that both the windows and walls cost a little money, but if you are going to spend $2 billion, it seems to us that you would want to cover the details.  Other than those two things, we find it encouraging.

Downtown/Transportation – Jackson Bike Thingy

A few months ago, we discussed a proposed protected bike lane on Jackson. (see “Downtown – The Jackson Conundrum”) It appears that FDOT has decided what it will do on Jackson:

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will be building the first-ever cycle track on a state roadway this year in Downtown Tampa. The cycle track, which will run along the north side of Jackson Street (State Road 60) from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue, is considered to be a type of “urban shared-use path,” and provides designated space on the roadway for bicycles traveling in both directions.

The cycle track will be ten feet wide and, unlike most conventional bike lanes, will physically separate bikes from motor vehicle traffic with a 4-foot raised island. At locations where driveways and side streets intersect with the bicycle pathway, special bright green pavement markings will alert drivers and cyclists to look out for each other.

In addition to constructing the new bicycle way, the state will also be upgrading pedestrian ramps, re-striping crosswalks, expanding sidewalk space at intersections, adding rapid flashing beacons at select locations and installing a new traffic signal at the intersection of Jackson St. and Governor St. (near the Hillsborough County School Board). The improvements will be built as part of a larger project to resurface the roadway. Construction will begin this fall and should be completed within one year.

The little bit in front of the Hilton will apparently look like this:

From Bike/Walk Tampa Bay - click on picture for website

From Bike/Walk Tampa Bay – click on picture for website

What is odd about this rendering is that the big question was how many lanes or parking spaces would disappear with this project.  The rendering seems to have it both ways, with parking right in front of the Hilton on both sides of the road and parking on the south side with a third lane in the north in the next block.  It is unclear if that is actually the plan or just the magic of renderings.

We don’t have anything against protected bike lanes or, in the right places, a cycle track.  In fact, we like them.   The rendering looks nice and the Jackson proposal is a connection of downtown to near the Channel District, though we why it stops at Nebraska and does not go all the way.  There are some other things, too. On the west end, it is not clear how the cycle track will get people over the river. (at least not in a protected bike lane) We can’t imagine it connects smoothly with either the Riverwalk or Kennedy Bridge from Jackson (maybe there should have been a bike lane on Kennedy, instead, or a corresponding one).  And it is not clear that this proposal ties into a bigger plan, especially a north-south route that is not the Riverwalk (which is not connected here).  Also, it is not clear how the streetcar would interact with all this if it were extended.  Not that it couldn’t be done, but it is not clear what the plan is (though maybe that extra lane between Franklin and Florida in the rendering may have something to do with it)

Overall, we like the idea of protected bike lanes and having a network, but we are not sure about the execution here, and we really question if Jackson is the best road for it.  We’d like to see the full plan (and any future network planned).  If they are going to spend the money, we would like to make sure they spend it well.

Transportation/Planning – Clarity for Vision Zero

Speaking of bicycles, last week, we discussed some Hillsborough planners walking around Town and Country to see what life was like for people trying to walk or bike (as though it isn’t obvious anyway).  This week, 83 Degrees Media also had an item on it.

“The intent of the safety audit was to raise a level of awareness about the lack of pedestrian facilities and the need for those facilities,” says Kalpakis.

“I feel like most people just aren’t thinking about it enough. When you really pay attention, you can recognize all the things that have been done right — and more importantly, where we’ve been missing opportunities to make the pedestrian and bicycle environment safer and more comfortable.”

It doesn’t take long to discover pedestrian woes. In a one block radius along Hillsborough Avenue: an unshaded bench along the highway serves as a meager bus stop with no shelter from the elements; pedestrian crosswalk buttons require an off-road trek into weedy, littered terrain; vegetation obstructs crucial pedestrian and motorist sight lines, crosswalk signals offer dangerously short timeframes for slower-moving pedestrians to cross six lanes of traffic — and the list goes on.

It doesn’t take long to discover it because not much is done correctly.  Some is done adequately.  Some is horrible.

Hillsborough MPO Planner Wade Reynolds notes that the stretch of highway observed by the Vision Zero teams is located within a one-mile radius of densely populated shopping centers and other businesses, as well as foot traffic-heavy attractors for local youth, including Skate World of Tampa, Webb Middle School, Dickenson Elementary, Berkeley Preparatory School and Sweetwater Organic Community Farm.

“As you’re headed from Veteran’s Expressway toward the library on Hillsborough Avenue, one of the first signs you see is a ‘Share the Road’ sign with a picture of a bicycle on it,” Reynolds says, “but I’m walking down Hillsborough and thinking to myself: ‘yeah right — as a cyclist, there’s no way I’m going to share this road with motorists. That’s terrifying.”

Reynolds’ observations:

“There are no proper bike facilities. The bus facilities aren’t very nice. There are incomplete sidewalk networks and areas where sidewalk simply disappears. There’s one long curb cut where you can drive off the road into a long driveway, just north of Hillsborough [Avenue] by a tire store. There’s no sidewalk for about 100 feet of that whole stretch — and no curb preventing motorists from pulling off the road.”

All that is not hidden.  Anyone could see it.  And as we have said numerous times, painting a stripe does not a bike lane make.  And not just on major roads. Now multiply the described conditions by pretty much the whole area, and you get the scale of the problem.  What one really has to wonder is how no one noticed before now.  It was all there to see.  Why wasn’t anyone looking?

In any event,

“Across Hillsborough County and in many places throughout this region, we have in the past designed solely for automobiles rather than multiple modes of travel — but I think that’s changing, and that’s part of what the Vision Zero effort is about. There are many things that can be done to improve safety, and roadway design is just part of it. A lot of it will have to do with culture change,” says Kalpakis.

Beyond its efforts to identify the most vital areas to direct resources toward mitigating bicyclist and pedestrian safety hazards, Vision Zero has committees whose primary goal is to work within the community to facilitate the cultural shift to which Kalpakis alludes.

The ‘One Message, Many Voices’ action track is focused on spreading the Vision Zero message and educating pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as motorists, about the best safe practices on Hillsborough’s developing multi-modal roadways.

And that is all fine.  We are all for the planners getting out and seeing the mess that has been built.  As we said last week, the County Commissioners and City Councils and Mayors should all get out of their cars and experience their handiwork.  That will all help.

And, rest assured, all pedestrian deaths are mapped:

Torres is referring to an FDOT digital resource available to the Hillsborough MPO, which identifies all reported traffic accidents in FDOT District 7 (Citrus, Hillsborough, Hernando, Pinellas and Pasco counties) on a Google Maps database. The Fatality and Injury Crash Map includes digital pins indicating the location of every reported crash, all injuries and fatalities, and crash reports from responding law enforcement – which can provide valuable insights into how the accident occurred.

* * *

“The major arterials carry a lot more traffic. There are a lot more conflict points and speeds are typically higher – contributing to those roads having the majority of the crashes from a statistical point of view,” says Frank Kalpakis, AICP, Principal with Renaissance Planning, the lead consultant for Vision Zero.

The map identifies Dale Mabry Highway, Fletcher Ave., Fowler Ave., Hillsborough Ave., and Nebraska Ave. among the deadliest roads in Hillsborough County.

“We had to narrow down the worst locations to see if something can be done. This map can help direct the efforts, time and money of our public works departments and educators,” Torres says.

Setting aside that it is pretty obvious that major roads are among the deadliest, fine. (It still amazes us that government has waited until deaths reached a certain threshold to make obvious improvements.)  We are fine with some fixes, assuming they are real fixes, which, given the history of FDOT and local government, one can never be sure.

Once again, we are all for planners being truly engaged.  We hope local elected officials become truly engaged, because they haven’t been.  And we are all for fixing some of the abominations that are local roads. Still, the bottom line is that, even with some road fixes (welcome as they are), to really address the issue we need to change the way buildings are built.  It is a comprehensive problem that requires a comprehensive solution.

Rays – Location . . .

With football over and baseball coming there have been a number of articles on the Rays recently.  One in the Business Journal caught our eye for a couple of reasons.  First, it was a relatively plain discussion of location:

[Rays President Brain] Auld praised booming development around Tropicana Field in downtown, the Edge District where the Trop sits and the Grand Central District. Downtown is experiencing a housing boom and Edge and Grand Central are becoming trendy hangouts rife with hip restaurants and craft breweries.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is trying to tap into that growth to build an irrefutable pitch for the Rays to stay in downtown. That includes a development master plan for the 81-acre Trop site, which includes housing, office space and entertainment aimed at keeping the space activated almost all the time.

Auld said putting a plan like that into action does help and he’s not ruling out any location for a new stadium, but downtown St. Pete still faces a huge problem.

“If every person who moved into downtown St. Pete came to Rays games, we’d still have an attendance problem,” Auld said.

St. Pete is flanked by Tampa Bay on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west with the two meeting at the south. One of the key indicators of successful game day attendance is access to a large number of fans within a 30-minute drive of the stadium. Because people don’t live in water, St. Pete is geographically at a disadvantage.

Options for stadium locations across the bay have been narrowed down to two including one in the Channelside or Ybor area, according to Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. Auld said he is aware of the stadium location ideas in Hillsborough, but isn’t picking favorites just yet. The site needs to be development ready and the team will require some sort of public subsidy on stadium costs.

Auld remains committed to staying within the Tampa Bay region, noting that elected officials on both sides of Tampa Bay have remained focused on the region.

As we said last week, downtown St. Pete is quite nice.  That does not make it a good place for a baseball stadium.

But setting that aside, even more interesting was this comment regarding transportation and growth:

The team joined the Tampa Bay Partnership in order to support regional transportation solutions, which Auld says are necessary for access no matter where a new stadium lands.

* * *

“The biggest governor we have on growth right now is transportation,” Auld said. “If we make this a place where growth can happen, we’re not going to be talking about an attendance problem.”

Indeed.  The biggest governor on growth – and the quality of growth – is transportation, and the quality of transportation.  And ours is not good.

— Speaking of Location

We also saw an interesting item in the Business Journal about downtown St. Pete:

The City of St. Petersburg wants to convert four of its one-way streets into two-way streets. Evan Mory, the city’s director of traffic and parking management, filed an appropriation request for $200,000 to begin the process.

The request affects 3rd and 4th Street and 8th and 9th Street through downtown St. Pete.

The request is for $200,000 to pay for a consultant to develop a plan addressing how to adapt infrastructure including changing traffic signals and interstate on-ramps.

Converting single direction thoroughfares in urban areas into two-way roads is part of a complete street strategy taking hold nationally that encourages pedestrian and bicycle use as well as stimulating the local economy by increasing access to businesses.

* * *

Two-way streets along the four roads would include pedestrian and bike paths, which the city argues creates a more active population and reduces vehicle miles driven. The two-way streets also provide a better transition to nearby areas like the Edge District and Grand Central by eliminating the need to pass destinations and circle back which is currently necessary under the grid of mostly one-way roads.

And that all may be true.  We are not going to argue that point.  What we will say is that St. Pete has chosen the 4 roads that many, if not most people, coming from Hillsborough County (and much of northern Pinellas) use to get and from to the Trop to put on a road diet. (see the map here)  That is fine.  But understand, making it harder to get there will not increase its attraction.

Transportation – Airport News

There was news from the airport this week.  First, slightly disappointing numbers:

TIA’s latest data (November 2016 versus November 2015) show an uptick in inbound and outbound passengers to 1,597,554, up just under 2 percent, or more than 29,000 fliers, in that period.

What drove those passenger gains at Tampa International? Discount airline Frontier boosted its passenger count by nearly 14,000 (more than 36 percent), adding new routes to Cincinnati and Las Vegas and seeing strong increases in passenger numbers on flights to Denver and Philadelphia.

Air Canada Rouge, the vacation airline subsidiary of Air Canada, also gained passengers after switching to a widebody 767 on its Toronto flights from a narrow-body Airbus.

Southwest, the No. 1 carrier at TIA, along with American and Delta all posted passenger gains, as well.

A few airlines saw declines. British Airways, in the year of Brexit and sharp drops in the value of the British pound, cut back by five flights, resulting in a 13 percent decline in passengers. Its passenger count at Orlando was also down 12 percent. Cayman Airways and low-cost Canadian carrier WestJet also registered double digit percentage declines at TIA, though neither airline operates a high-volume business here.

Aside from British Airways, we are not sure about the reasons for the others.

As for the next months:

December ridership was down 0.4 percent compared to 2015, with 1,650,321 travelers. International ridership also dipped by 0.2 percent to 72,876 passengers.

January, however, was a record breaker. The day after the College Football Playoff National Championship, 910 planes landed and took off from Tampa International — more than any other day in almost a decade.

Nevertheless, there was still year over year growth. As we have said before, growth is never completely consistent.  What counts is a longer term trend, which, aside from the recession, has so far been good.  Hopefully, we will more growth over time.

As for the major construction project:

At the monthly meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority which governs TIA, Al Illustrato, vice president of facilities and administration, told the board that the new rental car facility will open to the public in early 2018 instead of fall of this year as originally intended.

* * *

Bad weather delayed the complicated nature of the work.

“The station has to be completely done before Mitsubishi can come in” to install the people mover trains, Lopano said. The 1.4-mile, 12-car automated people mover named SkyConnect is being built by Mitsubishi at a cost of $417 million.

Once again, that is fine.  Small delays in major construction happen. (It could be much worse.)

— Here Come the Cabs

And, in the wake of the ridesharing agreement at the (hopefully soon to be abolished) PTC,

Upset with ridesharing companies getting free access to the airport, Yellow Cab president Louis Minardi wants to rework the company’s contract with Tampa International Airport, which costs roughly $35,000 a month, paid for by an additional airport fee by taxi riders.

“I don’t mind paying as long as everyone pays,” he told the board of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority meeting Thursday morning. “To have another service in here picking up for free, I have a problem with that.”

Under Yellow Cab’s current contract with the airport it pays a fee for each passenger who steps off a plane at TIA. Uber and Lyft, who have been operating without a contract, are undercutting their prices because they don’t have to pay that fee and are taking customers from the cab companies, Minardi said

And there is an argument there. (You also have to wonder how much profit there is in the airport cab market if one cab company will pay $35,000 a month):

In a cordial back-and-forth with Hillsborough County Commissioner and former Public Transportation Commission (PTC) chairman Victor Crist, Minardi explained that he wanted a system where his company would rather pay per ride than per plane passenger. He said they would agree to certain audit provisions that are included in the county’s deal with the ridesharing companies.

Which also has some logic. But,

Aviation Authority chief executive Joe Lopano said “we can’t change the payment plan” because of the budget has already been set for the fiscal year, which ends in September. Yellow Cab’s contract was first signed in 2004 and is in place through Feb. 28, 2018.

“I think the relationship between us and the taxis has been fairly transparent,” he said. The deal with Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, “is in the hands of the PTC.”

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, though something can probably be worked out.

“If we were to move forward expeditiously to create a method that is more fair, that would certainly lower the risk of us possibly having a lawsuit, right?” Crist asked.

“I’m sure of that,” Minardi responded.

“Working with you guys, I’m sure of that too,” Crist said.

We’ll see.

— Bahamasair

A while back we wondered what was up with Bahamasair posting flights to Tampa a few times without any announcements and then pulled them.  We noted that Bahamasair had posted that it would start flights in April this year but that you could not buy tickets.  We have an update:

Bahamasair in recent schedule update further revised planned Nassau – Tampa launch, previously scheduled to begin on 03APR17. This new service, 2 weekly ATR42 operation, is now scheduled to commence on 23JUN17.

It is definitely not a big service, but we are all for more service.  We also are just wondering what the deal is.

Economy – Florida Growth

Checking in with the economy, how is Florida doing? Per the Times:

Florida’s real GDP ranked 29th among U.S. states in the third quarter of 2016, growing 3.6 percent — a hair above the national U.S. growth in real gross domestic product of 3.5 percent.

* * *

Data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show Florida’s real GDP rose in the third quarter of last year from its 2.3 percent pace in the second quarter of the same year. But real GDP fell sharply in the third quarter, the latest period that such growth figures are available, when compared to the 4.7 percent growth pace in same third quarter of 2015.

In other words, pretty average.

Five states ranked by GDP growth that often compete with Florida: (10) North Carolina, 4.5 percent; (12) Texas, 4.3 percent; (22) Ohio, 3.8 percent; (28) New York, 3.6 percent; (29) Florida, 3.6 percent, and (34) California, 3.3 percent.

Unfortunately, the article does not give us the per capita GDP of those states so we can compare.  But it does give us this:

The lesson: population growth does not equal economic growth when a lot a state’s economy relies heavily on low-paying and service-sector jobs. Real GDP measures the value of economic output adjusted for inflation.


Tourism – Back to Hillsborough Exceptionalism, And Then

Tourism in this area is doing quite well.  On the other hand, the Legislature is apparently very concerned with spending on promoting tourism, so they asked for information from local tourism promotion agencies.

Last month, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, requested from 13 local tourist development councils their fiscal year 2016 revenue and expense reports. In addition to advertising expenses and economic development projects, the demands included a list of employees and their salaries and every expenditure on food and travel down to the penny, according to a copy of the letter sent to localities obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

Of the 13 jurisdictions, Hillsborough County was the only one that did not fully comply with the request, Corcoran said.


Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill provided Corcoran some details. The county, however, contracts out its $10.7 million tourism marketing budget to Visit Tampa Bay, a nonprofit organization that considers much of that information private.

And so far, Visit Tampa Bay has said it doesn’t have to share anything else — putting the agency at odds with Corcoran and in a precarious political position weeks before the start of the 2017 legislative session.

Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said the letter wasn’t sent to his organization and he was not responsible for the response. But he said he saw the information Hills­borough County provided and thought it was “very detailed.”

“I’m pretty certain all 13 counties responded and all responses were similar,” Corrada said.

That reasoning may be technically true, but it also may be too clever by half, because later:

After a lawsuit threat from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Visit Tampa Bay released records Wednesday that showed the organization gave out $295,000 in bonuses last year, including $66,000 to its top executive.

The disclosure was the first glimpse into financial information that Visit Tampa Bay has long insisted is private, even though the nonprofit organization’s budget is largely paid for with Hillsborough County taxes.

“Lets just get it out there,” president and CEO Santiago Corrada told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. “There’s nothing to hide. We just want to put it to rest.”

We just don’t really understand the shenanigans or what Visit Tampa Bay thought it was going to accomplish by messing with the Speaker of the House.  As noted in a Times editorial:

Visit Tampa Bay, the tourism agency for Hillsborough County, finally forked over records on Wednesday that House Speaker Richard Corcoran requested last month. It shouldn’t have taken an exchange of words and the threat of a lawsuit by the House for Visit Tampa Bay to act. The speaker is questioning the value of millions in state money spent on tourism marketing, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out his intent in examining a local taxpayer-subsidized marketing tool for the hotel, restaurant and entertainment industries. Visit Tampa Bay is a nonprofit spending public money for a public purpose, and Corcoran and the public are entitled to see how it spends tax money.

* * *

There is no sense playing a game of jurisdictional jujitsu with the speaker. Regardless of where Corcoran’s request was routed, the agency should have recognized it had a proactive role to play in furnishing the House with the records it requested. It shouldn’t have taken a second letter and a threat of a lawsuit from Corcoran for the agency to act. While Visit Tampa Bay is a nonprofit, it receives about $12 million from the county bed tax, which comprises 88 percent of the agency’s budget.

Exactly.  Outside of the black box of Tampa/Hillsborough politics, the behavior really makes no sense.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

A few weeks ago we discussed Apple manufacturing in Arizona.  This week, it’s Intel’s turn:

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich met with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, where the company announced it will invest $7 billion in a factory employing up to 3,000 people.

The factory will be in Chandler, Arizona, the company said, and over 10,000 people in the Arizona area will support the factory. Krzanich confirmed to CNBC that the investment over the next three to four years would be to complete a previous plant, Fab 42, that was started and then left vacant.

* * *

It comes as the technology industry has pushed back against the Trump administration, amid mounting pressure to move manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. There will be no incentives from the federal government for the Intel project, the White House said.

Intel was one of more than 100 companies that joined together to file a legal brief opposing Trump’s temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority nations.

(Chandler is a suburb of Phoenix).  In a sense it is not a new announcement:

The factory, which will complement two other Intel semiconductor plants in Chandler, Ariz., had been under consideration for several years.

But, for our purposes, that does not matter. For a place without much water, a lot of dust and no ports, Arizona gets a surprising amount of tech manufacturing.  It sure would be nice to get a piece of that.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week was first noted in the Business Journal, as is latest cost-of-living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.  It is not really a list.  It is an index. As the Business Journal tells us:

Tampa is among the more affordable cities in America and the second-most affordable in Florida, according to the latest cost-of-living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.

Based on data from the first three quarters of 2016, Tampa had a cost-of-living composite score of 91.5, as compared to the national average of 100. Sarasota, on the other hand, ranked above the national average with a score of 104.3.

By comparison NYC was 228.2, Seattle was 145.1, San Diego 144.1, Baltimore 115.6, Miami 111, Denver 110.4, Minneapolis 105.6, Houston 98.8, Atlanta 98.7, Cleveland 98.7, Charlotte 94.8, Orlando 94.2, and Pittsburgh 94.

We have always known that this area sells itself to a large degree by its low cost of living (and, to employers, low wages). But the numbers in this index seem extreme to us, so we checked out their methodology, which is very extensive an interesting (and can be found in their manual here).  For instance, the transportation numbers are generated using two factors 1) price of tire balancing and 2) price of gas. (pg 24 of the pdf)   Not the price of gas times the number of miles you might drive – just the price of gas.  Nothing to do with how much a car might cost or auto insurance versus transit usage.  Just tire balancing and price of gas.  On page 21 of the manual, we are told that home taxes and insurance costs are also not included in housing costs.  Finally, on page 3, we are told:

Household income is in the top quintile (20%) for the area. Because salaries vary geographically as a function of living cost differences (which is a key reason this project exists), we can’t specify a particular salary range that fits all locales. However, in most parts of the country in the 21st century, the specified household will generally have an annual income between $70,000 and $100,000. The appropriate income range will be higher in traditionally high-cost places like New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego metropolitan areas, and it will often be somewhat lower in small metropolitan or non-metropolitan places. 

In other words, they take into account different incomes a bit, but they are not really looking at the cost of living of most people and the income consideration is limited.  And they tell us so:

The Cost of Living Index is designed to provide the best possible measure of relative differences among urban areas in the cost of consumer goods and services appropriate for professional and managerial households in the top income quintile.

Of course, if you limit and cap the variation on wages, the relative cheapness of an area will be exaggerated.  For high income people, the cost of living in/affordability our area is quite low, especially if you take out real transportation costs and home insurance.  On the other hand, that says nothing about the affordability of the area for the average resident.

As with most lists of this sort, you can do with it what you will.

List of the Week II

Our second list of this week is US News’ 100 Best Places to Live in the US. The methodology, which is pretty standard for these type of lists is here.  Here’s the Top 40:

Coming in first is Austin, followed by Denver, San Jose, DC, Fayetteville (AR), Seattle, Raleigh-Durham, Boston, Des Moines, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Boise, Nashville, Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St.Paul, Madison, Grand Rapids, Houston, Sarasota, San Diego, San Antonio, Richmond, Omaha, Portland (ME), Charleston (SC), Syracuse, Greenville (SC), Albany, Hartford, Portland (OR), Buffalo, Harrisburg, Tampa, OKC, Winston-Salem, Little Rock, Rochester (NY), and Orlando.

Tampa did well with “net migration” and “desireability.”   It did not do very well with “value” – which is a blend of income and cost of living (see above).  It also did not do that well with “job market” (which takes into account income) and “quality of life” (which includes education and commuting, among other things).

Just like the previous list, do with it what you will.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 10, 2017 5:07 PM

    The technology startup scene in Arizona was essentially non-existent for a long time. The tech sector in the Phoenix area has grown over the past 30 years, slowly and quietly. Most people think of sunshine, golf, retirees, sprawl, a boom-and-bust real estate market and that loudmouth sheriff when the think Arizona. Just remove the sheriff and replace it with beaches and the mouse, insert Florida and we some almost identical. Unfortunately, we are not.

    Some key facts most people don’t know about Phoenix which are important to tech companies, especially those in manufacturing:

    – Energy costs are half that of the northeast and California.
    – in the past 7 years they have lowered the corporate income tax and increased the research and development tax credit.
    – After the recession ASU changed their technology licensing structure to mimic MIT making it simple and easy to license technology from the school.
    – They rank in the top 10 states for manufacturing employment in semiconductor, space and defense, and high tech.
    – Semiconductor and defense manufacturing account for more than 50% of Arizona exports; $18.4 billion in 2012.
    – Population growth rate has been 4% per year for the past 40 years and will reach an estimated population of 6.2 million by 2030.
    – Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has added the new PHX Sky Train, an elevated and automated train that will transport people between the nearest Metro light rail station and the main terminal. The first phase was completed in 2013. The second phase extension to the west will connect the other two terminals and the rental car center by 2020.
    – They have also built out light rail plans to accommodate the increased population over the metro which are in process with all lines set to be completed by 2023.
    – The Renewable Energy Tax Incentive Program provides tax credits for solar and renewable energy companies locating, growing, or expanding in Arizona.
    – Arizona is #1 in the U.S. for solar power per capita, and #2 for annual solar installations

    Oh, and about the water; Phoenix has an abundant supply of water. From the local rivers and canals that transport water from the Colorado River. Total water consumption in Phoenix has actually decreased over the past 10 years despite a 23% growth of population as result of water conservation programs. Water supplies to Phoenix are enough for home builders to comply with the state law which requires a 100-year water supply and nearly 70% of water use in Arizona goes to agriculture.

    Arizona isn’t going to suddenly surpass California any time soon when capital or the talent pool but they have virtually no natural disasters, a highly skilled and diverse workforce, lower cost of living, lower taxes, a corporate friendly environment unlike California which is geared towards the employee.

    The growth they have experienced wouldn’t be possible without some highly successful homegrown businesses. Lifelock, Carvana (will IPO this year and has raised $460M), Globiquity, Trusona, Infusionsoft (planning 2017 IPO), GoDaddy, Infraguard, WebPT, have not only achieved global recognition but more importantly made it a part of their mission to finish what they started by investing time, money and resources into the community.

    So, what happens when the community actually get s innovative, stop looking at economic development as a jobs number, embraces companies like Lyft and Uber, changes how school operate? In Phoenix, multiple tech companies moved or expanded to the area including, Houzz, DoubleDutch, Gainsight, Uber, Prosper Marketplace, Yelp, BoomTown, Weebly, and Shutterfly. Even Silicon Valley Bank moved its operations to Phoenix.

    – U.S. News named BASIS Scottsdale and BASIS Tucson North to the Top 10 list of the 2016 Best STEM High Schools.
    – Uber moved its service center to Phoenix announcing 300 new jobs
    – There were 9,800 local tech-related graduates in 2015
    – From 2010 to 2015 tech-related degrees completed rose 56%
    – Phoenix became #3 in the U.S. for tech industry job growth. San Francisco ranked first and San Jose second.

    Over the next 10 years, Arizona is projected to be second in computer science and IT jobs and fourth for overall STEM jobs.

    Arizona did this by changing almost everything they had been doing. They embraced change, youth, and a totally new perspective. They didn’t change their marketing; they change their actions. Old school ways were pushed aside and it paid off. Remember what happens if we just rinse and repeat or change the veneer.

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