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Roundup 4-21-2017

April 21, 2017


Transportation – The Show Always Goes On

— An Editorial

– Everywhere But Here

— About Those Taxes

– Meanwhile, in Pinellas

— Conclusion

Transportation – Finally

Airport – Readying for Expansion and Abaci

— An Announcement

— The Audit

Port – Speaking of Odd Spending

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

Downtown – Micro-affection

Seminole Heights – Moving Forward

Economic Development

— We’ve Seen this Movie Before

– NonSense


Transportation – The Show Always Goes On

Yes, there was more transportation news this week.

— An Editorial

The last few weeks have put our lack of transportation options in stark relief. The Times had an interesting editorial on the ongoing efforts to rearrange transportation planning in this area.

A fire sparked by an overheated lawn mower. An accident caused by a furniture dolly on the interstate. In a Tampa Bay area of 3 million people and no meaningful mass transit, such things in the past few days are the stuff capable of closing major bridges and arteries and shutting down a commute. It is a stuck-in-traffic certainty that our major metro area has a major transportation problem. So while it’s good to hear the Florida Department of Transportation offering a brief but encouraging glimpse this week of what’s involved in its so-called “reset” of the controversial Tampa Bay Express interstate plan, the time-out cannot become a stall tactic.

There are practical and political reasons for reassessing the need for toll lanes, the role of mass transit and the impacts the $6 billion highway plan will have on resurgent neighborhoods near Tampa’s downtown core. But tens of thousands of commuters depend on the region’s transportation network every single day, and any “reset” must bring a better plan and a stronger sense of urgency. 

True, and most particularly because TBX will do nothing to provide relief for most people if there is a mess on the bridge.  It also does not provide an alternative to the bridges – it funnels people towards them and through Tampa rather than on alternative roads.  In fact, it provides no alternative to roads at all and no incentive to intelligent planning (quite the opposite).  And, yes, any reset requires a better plan.  Moving on:

Regrouping makes sense — if the exercise is truly aimed at building broader public support. As originally envisioned, TBX called for rebuilding the area’s interstate system, building a new northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge and creating 90 miles of toll lanes across the west coast of Florida. The plan would have added much-needed capacity, opened up dangerous bottlenecks in downtown Tampa and the West Shore commercial district and created a window for improving mass transportation service across the region.  

Actually, aside from some express buses that would have to be paid for locally, TBX really does nothing for improving transit (though, yes, somewhere there was the promise to make the Howard Frankland capable at some later date, and with local funding of most of the bridge, of carrying rail).  Moreover, the regrouping exercise should not be to build public support for TBX – it should be for making a better plan that attracts more public support – there is a difference that cannot be overemphasized.

The DOT, partly in response to pressure from area lawmakers and the business community, has tweaked TBX in positive ways. It killed a plan to convert a free lane on the existing bridge into a toll lane, agreed to make a new bridge sturdy enough to support rail and added new safety and pedestrian improvements. But these changes came in reaction to pushback against the DOT, rather than being the product of a broad consensus of what was best for the community. 

Wait – pressure by whom?  Let’s rewind to a Times article on the Howard Frankland bridge fiasco:

Not everyone was confused. Unlike the elected officials who voted on the project, two business leaders said FDOT made it clear to them that the interim plan — converting the auxiliary lane to a toll lane — was the objective.

“There’s always been whatever they call it, the interim plan, the starter plan, the ultimate plan, the master plan,” said Ann Kulig, executive director of the Westshore Alliance. “We just focus on whatever the next step is.

Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a strong advocate for TBX, said business executives care more about the bottleneck at Westshore, where four lanes currently narrow to two, than the number of lanes on the bridge. The plan aims to fix that by adding an extra through lane at the interchange.

“You don’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to add additional lanes to the bridge if you fix the root of the problem, which is a poorly designed interchange,” Homans said.

Not to mention groups listed in this Times article (though not necessarily every member thereof) supporting TBX with the old Howard Frankland plan, whether they knew about that particular feature or not.  The real issue was the community activity and the fact that, once made perfectly clear (anyone who was paying attention already knew), taking a free lane away on the Howard Frankland would be a political fiasco.

While we are ok with most parts of the organizational rearrangement proposed by the Tampa Bay Partnership, we are not ok with rewriting history.

There’s no time to wait to build support for TBX. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that the Tampa Bay area leads the way among the nation’s biggest gainers in the number of people moving here. Some 58,000 new residents moved to the bay area last year. Yet four times in under two weeks, most recently Friday, the Howard Frankland Bridge, Gandy Boulevard or the bridge approaches were partially or fully shut down because of accidents, a brush fire and a fuel spill. Never mind the routine daily crawl born of regular congestion.

Once again, blocked traffic bridges are not fixed by not creating alternatives to bridges, and TBX does not create alternatives to bridges.  Though, there is no time to waste getting a better plan.

This is why Tampa Bay must move forward now on TBX and separately — but also important — get behind pending legislation (SB 1672) to transform the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority into an agency to “plan, implement and operate” transit options throughout the region. For TBX, this “reset” period must produce a strategy for moving forward. On Tampa Bay’s roads as well as its future, there is no longer any practical way of finding alternative routes.

What exactly they mean by “moving forward on TBX” is unclear.  Once again, there is a difference between building support for TBX plan and creating a plan that people can support, which is what the Times editorial board discussed last year:

While TBX has polarized some business leaders and neighborhood activists, the public hearing that drew hundreds of people and scores of speakers exposed a budding middle ground. TBX is not the cure-all that some advocates claim, and it doesn’t have to be the neighborhood-killer that many opponents fear. There is room here to build a larger interstate but rethink its design. That requires an honest assessment of the role the interstates play in the region and an appreciation for the urban renewal in Tampa that has strengthened the inner city tax base.

We support fixing obvious issues with and limited enlarging of the interstates.  We do not support express lanes or 18 lanes cutting through urban neighborhoods – which are key features of TBX.  Unfortunately, the Times editorial writers have lost clarity about what exactly they are advocating, which we will chalk it up to frustration.

What we really need in this period of reset it to create a full plan for a comprehensive transportation system which includes the aforementioned fixing of the interstates, but also alternatives, like real transit.  If that is what FDOT is going to work for, fine.  If not, they need to change their approach.

– Everywhere But Here

Of course, it is a question is whether a comprehensive, implementable plan is even possible in this area.  Part of that is how decisions are made.

A few weeks ago, we discussed some Times articles on our legislative delegations failures to even request much funding for transportation and the reasons for it. (See “Transportation – Yes, But” )  The articles kept coming back to unifying planning of rearranging TBARTA and merging MPOS, a plan pushed by the Tampa Bay Partnership.  We are not going to get into the whole discussion again, but we concluded with this:

So, yes, we support a regional approach (as long as it does not ignore neighborhoods and the average residents).  We favor regional transit.  We favor regional planning and a unified approach. We even favor merging transit agencies.  But 1) if local officials and legislators cannot get together even when there are lists of common priorities and needs and cannot work for the region overall when needs are obvious and 2) if the local officials and legislators have not figured out yet that they cannot get the money they want without cooperating, we are not sure that simply rearranging the chairs and unifying the MPOs will really solve anything.

Fracture[d] institutions may have exacerbated the problem, but a fractured mentality is the real cause. Before rearranging the institutions can really accomplish anything, we need to fix is the mentality that led to this situation in the first place.

Which bring us to this week and the bill regarding reorganizing TBARTA:

Open warfare among Republican Tampa Bay legislators claimed its latest casualty Monday, dooming hopes for legislative unity as a gridlocked region looks for solutions to its chronic transportation problems.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, offered a bill (SB 1672) in a Senate committee to create a revamped Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, the latest in a decade-long and so far ineffective effort to craft a regional approach to transit, including a light rail system linking Tampa and St. Petersburg.

But Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa overrode Latvala with an amendment that strips the authority of its independence by requiring legislative approval for any local spending on a light rail system and barring the authority from spending money to advocate for light rail in a voter referendum. The amendment passed easily in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, which Lee chairs.

Which is a very odd thing to include.  As a practical matter, most efforts for rail (or other transit really) would seek state money, requiring the legislature to approve, so the provision is unnecessary. And if the local representation and/or local voters choose to spend money on rail and there is no request for state money, why does a representative from Miami or Palatka have to approve of it? That plainly goes against the Tea Party “local is better” idea as well as letting people decide for themselves and really any other idea of self-rule. (And, of course, if the State Senators did not like the bill, they could have just voted against it.)

So what is the justification?

“Voters of Hillsborough County and Pineellas County have rejected these in the past,” Brandes said. “My goal is that this doesn’t become an opportunity for Greenlight Pinellas 2.0,” referring to the latest rejection of a transit plan by county voters.

As we have often said, if it is so clear that people don’t want rail, there should be no fear of another referendum.  And if another referendum passes, why should the legislature – including the local delegation – get in the way?  Why shouldn’t the people be able to determine what they want to do with their tax money? And if this area can find a way to fund transit for itself without a tax increase requiring a referendum, what is wrong with that? And, again, if there is no request for state money, why should the representative from Waldo’s opinion matter?

And it gets even odder.  Consider this from Stpetersblog last week:

Tri-Rail’s controversial, one-source, half-billion, operations contract could go forward under an amended bill pushed Thursday by the Gov. Rick Scott administration and state Sens. George Gainer and Jeff Brandes.

Just a few weeks ago, both Gainer and Brandes were hostile critics of the contract and Tri-Rail.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, sponsored an amendment Thursday that strips away language that he and Scott had pushed for earlier that would have forced Tri-Rail to rebid the $511 million, 10-year contract.

Tri-Rail’s operating agency, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, awarded that contract in January after rejecting five lower bids for technical issues that the companies are contesting. The award brought, from Scott, Brandes and Gainer, harsh rebukes, demands for investigations, vows of new state control, as well as demands to rebid the contract.

Gainer, a Panama City Republican, introduced Senate Bill 1118 to require those things.

Yet Brandes’ new amendment, introduced Thursday at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, which he chairs, reverses the demand for the rebid. The amendment was adopted it unanimously, then Gainer’s amended Committee Substitute for SB 1118 was approved unanimously, Thursday.

* * *

There was little explanation or defense of the change of position from Brandes, or Gainer, or anyone else during Thursday’s committee meeting.

Brandes’ office said the state got assurances it needed through language in the amendment.

If rail is such a waste and technology of the past, surely the legislature should be killing it all over the state (and killing Sun Rail, which came after a failed referendum in the Orlando, too) not putting more tax-payer money into it.  It should not matter if South Florida wants it. And if it is ok for South Florida or Orlando, why is it not ok for the Tampa Bay area?  One could easily be forgiven from concluding that, even if this area decides it wants rail democratically, for some, it is ok everywhere but here.

— About Those Taxes

Most of the opposition to real transit, including rail, in this area is framed as opposition to tax increases, usually sales taxes, to pay for transit.  When the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process fell apart, we urged the County Commission to really dig into other sources of financing, which they did not do, though they found $800 million for roads.  But, per Stpetersblog, they passed responsibility to others, who actually looked:

A new report issued by the Hillsborough County Citizens Advisory Committee identified potential savings in 14 specific areas could save more than $3 billion over the next three decades, which could be spent on transportation, infrastructure and/or tax cuts.

The 13-member committee has met twice a month since July analyzing the budget before handing off its list of recommendations to the BOCC last week.

“We determined you don’t have to have a sales tax to raise this amount of money,” says Spencer Kass, a member of the committee who was selected by Commissioner Sandy Murman. “There’s also no cuts to police. No cuts to fire.“ 

So what is in the proposal?

Among the more controversial proposals on the proposed list of savings is eliminating the funding of a number nonprofits which made financial requests to the BOCC. The proposal calls for a developing a “rigorous, proactive process” that would first identify the basic needs of the county, and then issue requests for proposals to fund them. The plan calls for phasing out support of nonprofits the county funds within the next five years.

Currently, the Seminole Tribe contributes unrestricted dollars to Hillsborough County under an agreement with the state. The CAC advises how to reallocate those dollars to the general fund for transportation, which they say would be worth $60 million over 30 years.

The CAC also proposes eliminating paid contributions for disability and one sick day, a projected savings of over $189 million over 30 years.

“The County currently pays for these benefits, which is out of line with what is typically offered in the private sector,” the document reads, adding that the plan may “negatively impact the ability to attract and retain talent.”

We have seen the report and will have more to say about it at a later date. (We will say it is thought-provoking.)  The point is that it is possible to find more money and other sources of revenue other than sales tax.  Of course, even if there is money to build a system, there has to be recurring money to operate it, but roads need recurring money to be maintained, as well.  One thing at a time. (And we are not sure why the county left it to the Citizens Advisory Committee).

That is not to say that, even if money were found, the hardcore opponents would be won over.  We doubt they ever would be because their opposition is to the very idea of having real transit in this area.  But that should not stop others from trying to make this area truly competitive.

— Meanwhile, in Pinellas

Yet, even relatively modest bus ideas have a hard time in this area:

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is getting ready to take the next step in implementing Bus Rapid Transit connecting downtown St. Petersburg to the beaches.

PSTA is sending an environmental impact report on the project to the Federal Transit Administration this month.

In fact, for most or all of the proposed route, it does not seem to be real BRT with dedicated lanes.  But even setting that aside, there is another issue:

There are still questions about how the beach stops along Gulf Boulevard will be funded. The city of St. Pete Beach has refused to give additional funding to PSTA for expanded service. The city is not a PSTA member like most cities in the county, which means the city does not contribute a portion of property tax revenue to the agency. Instead, it pays a $500,000 flat fee for minimal service.

St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson told the Tampa Bay Business Journal last month he didn’t think the additional service was necessary. 

For more about that particular argument, see here.

It is hard to overstate how humble this proposal really is and how much sense it makes to connect the beaches to downtown St. Pete with better bus service.  But the politics of this area is what it is.

— Conclusion

It just goes to prove our point that, while we do not oppose the proposed changes to planning (aside from the odd inclusion of language about “members of the regional business community”) our problem is not the organization of the chairs (though that can’t be agreed upon either), but the attitude of the political officials.

But at least it is entertaining.

Transportation – Finally

Consistent with our policy that we are concerned with policies not personalities, having just disagreed quite a bit with a State Senator on one issue, we give credit where credit is due and congratulate him on this.

After years of PTC silliness, we note the following:

After years of intense debate, the Florida Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to create statewide regulations for transportation network companies.

The measure (HB 221) cleared the upper chamber on a 36-1 vote. The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration.

“Today we sent a strong message that Florida embraces transportation innovation. The future of transportation options includes a focus on shared mobility, and as we move closer to autonomous vehicles on our roadways, the future of ride-sharing is very bright,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who sponsored the Senate version of the bill (SB 340). “With this legislation, Florida will have a uniform set of standards for the services our businesses demand, our tourists have come to expect, and our residents deserve.”

A bill creating uniform rules for ridesharing in Florida is very welcome and finally getting it passed was a solid achievement (we’ll just assume for now that the Governor will sign it, and, even if he doesn’t, it is an achievement).

However, it is worth remembering that, while we welcome ridesharing, it is not an alternative to roads nor does it really help with congestion.  Every trip with ridesharing (or automated vehicles), while reducing parking requirements, is still a car on the road.  We still need other alternatives.

Airport – Readying for Expansion and Abaci

There was an odd mix of news about the airport this week.

— An Announcement

First, the airport released information on Phase II of its expansion/renovation plan.

Airport officials Tuesday unveiled the $543 million second phase of its massive expansion project that includes express curbside drop-off for passengers without checked bags and the commercial development of 17 acres of airport property.

It’s all part of roughly a $2.3 billion, long-term renovation and expansion that will transform the passenger experience over the next decade and allow the airport to eventually double its passenger traffic to 34 million.

* * *

The centerpiece of the next phase of expansion is the “Gateway” commercial development, which includes plans for up to two hotels, an eight-story, 240,000-square-foot office building, a 20,000-square-foot retail strip and a gas station with a convenience store.

Some of that office space will be leased back to the authority and its employees. Tenants for the retail strip are not yet set, though officials have previously talked about the possibility of a pet hotel or restaurants. Also not yet clear is what hotel chains might be interested in coming to the airport.

The Gateway also includes a large atrium, pedestrian connections to area trails and commercial curb sides for transit and ground transportation.

Phase II also includes widening the George Bean Parkway — the main artery in and out of the airport — plus adding a new exit lane and a new airport energy plant, among other items.

Site preparation for the development is scheduled to start in mid-2018 with construction launching in 2019, pending board approvals. The project will stretch out until 2023.

From the Times – click on picture for article

From Tampa Internation Airport – click on picture for website

For more renderings, see here.  Overall, we have no problem with this plan. (We are not completely sold on the office building, but we are not opposed philosophically).  It also seems that Phase II will not include moving the control tower or removing the Marriott Hotel.

For more detail on the plan see here and here, the business plan, which also has a timeline with expanding Airside F in 2019, building a new airside D in 2022, and number of other changes.

It makes sense and is a rational investment in the future, which is how the airport usually does things.

— The Audit

Juxtaposed against the continuing high quality expansion/renovations, was this:

House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants state auditors to review the first phase of the airport project, citing possible cost overruns and construction setbacks based on TV reports.

The Senate has already rejected an audit, but Corcoran said he will demand that it be in a compromise budget that must be finished in two weeks, which means the Senate will have to capitulate or risk a stalemate.

* * *

Corcoran’s call for an audit in Week 7 of a nine-week legislative session follows a failed effort last week by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, to require it.

Lee set off a furor in the Senate when he spoke of “potential public corruption” and “perhaps falsification of financial information” on the project, causing rifts with other senators.

Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said he should have brought his concerns to all Hillsborough lawmakers and questioned his tactics. Requests for audits are typically sent to a the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, challenged Lee, and the audit request died on an unrecorded voice vote.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sided with Lee.

Lee, an ally of Corcoran’s, said his call for an audit was based on local news reports, a look at documents related to bonds for the project, and talks with Martin Garcia, a Tampa lawyer and investor and former member of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, a five-member board that oversees the airport.

We are not opposed to audits, but the talk of public corruption and urgency for an audit now seem a bit odd.  Regardless, what was the airport’s response?

Airport director Joe Lopano said he keeps his five-member governing board up to date every month on the project’s time lines and budget.

“We’re not afraid of an audit,” Lopano said. “We’re very proud of this project. And if the elected officials would like to have an audit, they should. We’re not afraid of that at all.”

Which is the proper response.  Beyond that, we are not going to wade into the debate except to point out two justifications for the audit:

“When you’re spending billions of dollars in taxpayer money, nobody should be afraid of an audit, to make sure they’re spending it right,” Corcoran told the Times/Herald.


Lee said officials with the state Department of Transportation, which is administering a $195 million state grant for the project, “were clearly unaware of what was going on, whether it was good, bad or indifferent. They told me, ‘The airport sends us the bills for the money they’ve spent and we reimburse them.’ ”

We don’t think this is worth arguing about (though it would have been better going through normal procedure).  Let there be an audit.  If there are no problems, great.  If there are problems, let them be fixed.  That is fine with us.

However, we have to note that Orlando International is undergoing an even larger expansion than Tampa International. Fort Lauderdale airport is also expanding.  Likewise, ports around the state are spending millions of taxpayer dollars.  And FDOT spends billions of taxpayer dollars on various projects apparently, based on the quote above, without paying attention to the bills.  They should all be audited.

We are all for making sure that money is not wasted, but if that is the goal, let’s really make sure across the board.

Port – Speaking of Odd Spending

Then there was an odd report regarding the Port.

Port Tampa Bay’s board gave the green light Tuesday to negotiate hiring an all-purpose planning consultant with an open price tag extending beyond 2017. Up to $400,000 will be earmarked to fund the position per year on a project-by-project basis.

If approved, that consultant could be called upon to help with policy-making, grant proposals, transportation, development and economic analysis, according to the proposal presented at the board’s monthly meeting.

“What we’re basically doing here is giving a blank check to the staff to spend money on this agenda item,” Patrick Allman, port secretary and treasurer, said. “At the end of the day, if you don’t trust your staff, you need to get new staff. And I trust my staff.”

At least they are not hiding the fact that they are giving a blank check to staff, though we thought oversight and policy making was the purpose of a Board of Directors.

Should the negotiations go well, the recipient will be repeat-port partner Bermello, Ajamil & Partners, an architecture, planning and engineering firm based in Miami. It was the only firm of nine who participated in the procurement process to submit a proposal.

The one-year contract would begin July 1, 2017, and can be extended twice for the same period.

We are skeptical of any consultant contract that is so broad, especially one that comes with the admission of being a blank check. (Audit, anyone?)  But we are skeptical of the focus on real estate development when the Lightning owner’s project hasn’t even started. So we are not surprised.

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

While we have heard rumors of renderings circulating, there has been no public reveal of renderings for the proposed Riverwalk Tower on the old Trump Tower lot, until this week, sort of.  URBN Tampa Bay posted some renderings of the first two floors (which is a bit odd, but so be it).  This is the one that reveals the most interesting aspects:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can see the rest here.

It is hard to really discuss renderings of two floors but of note is that the CapTrust building is gone.  There is a plaza where Whiting Street now ends between the CapTrust building and MacDill park.  Also of note is that the Riverwalk is lined with retail.  You cannot see it, but much of the Ashley frontage is taken up with entrances to loading docks and the parking garage, which is unfortunate but, due to the layout of the lot, pretty much unavoidable.

As for more renderings and other progress,

Developer Larry Feldman says he plans to open a sales office late this summer for his 52-story mixed-use building on the downtown riverfront site of the doomed Trump Tower Tampa.

Feldman, who first announced the project almost two years ago, has hired the Moss construction company and will reveal detailed plans and renderings when the sales center opens.

We would assume that if you are trying to sell condos, you have to let people see what they are buying.  We look forward to seeing renderings of the rest of the building.

Downtown – Micro-affection

Last week, plans for the area’s first micro apartments were unveiled.  This week:

Just a day after Tampa Bay’s first tiny apartments went up for grabs, about 40 of the 120 already had been reserved. “That’s not bad in 24 hours,” Omar Garcia, manager of Urban Core Holdings, said Tuesday.

The company, under contract to buy a downtown Tampa office building and convert it into micro apartments, began taking reservations Monday at The $50 reservation fee is refundable but the first people to reserve will have their choice of units if they end up renting.

While first day reservations are not determinative of anything, it seems there is some market for this product.  While it is not for everyone, it does not have to be.  A healthy area should have a variety of living options, just like it should have a variety of transportation options.

Seminole Heights – Moving Forward

Speaking of a variety of options, a Seminole Heights project is moving apparently a go:

In Seminole Heights, Milhaus is under contract to buy a satellite lot of ABC Autos and expects to close this summer. Work on the $20 million project would begin soon afterwards.

“We liked that there’s a retail and restaurant revival going on in this neighborhood that’s pretty incredible,” Woodruff said. “We love the single-family, residential feel of the neighborhood while still being only two miles from downtown but we also love that there really are very few market-rate (rental) projects of that scale. When we told people we had a project in Seminole Heights, they were really excited because it is in need of this kind of development.”

The apartments, which will be studios, one- and two-bedroom units, will range from about $1,000 a month to around $2,000. Rich Guagliardo, a Realtor who specializes in Seminole Heights, predicts the project will do well.

From the Times – click on picture for article

We know some in the neighborhood do not want mid-rise buildings on Florida, and we understand their concerns. However, we are fine with it (provided it is on Florida or Nebraska and sensitive to the neighborhood behind it) – it is the plan, after all.  We think, over all, some development like this will enhance Florida and Seminole Heights overall, without really damaging the rebirth of the area that so many have worked very hard to accomplish.

Economic Development

— We’ve Seen this Movie Before

The Times had an interesting column about economic development and the take of a researcher from Brookings.

A think tank analyst who tracks how the world’s metropolitan area economies grow told a business audience Thursday that Tampa Bay may be returning to its pre-recession days in employment but is lagging in general prosperity — mainly due to a hollowing out of middle wage jobs.

* * *

The U.S. economy last year improved dramatically with the nation’s top 100 metro areas all adding jobs, Gootman told a gathering of the Tampa Bay Partnership economic development group. But based on prosperity, measured in part by individual productivity, less than half of those metros improved.

Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans, asked Gootman to clarify a presentation slide showing a U.S. map of the United States with major metro locations labeled as either orange or white dots. All of the Florida metro areas, including Tampa Bay where the jobless rate now stands at 4.5 percent, were white.

“Those,” said Gootman indicating the white dots, “would be bad.”

So how can that be, if our unemployment is so low, there is job growth, and people are moving here?

“We have not achieved pre-recession levels for median household incomes yet,” said Marek Gootman, a fellow and director of strategic partnerships and global initiatives at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “We are having trouble with middle-income jobs that are shrinking. Economic success cannot just be about job growth.”

* * *

In an interview, Gootman said Tampa Bay felt more urgent shortly after the rough recession to diversify and improve its economy. With jobs more plentiful, even if they do not pay as well, some of that urgency is gone — a trend that can be seen elsewhere as well.

As with pretty much every recession before, the last recession brought a lot of hand-wringing about improving our economy by diversification and expansion.  However, as the recovery got going, many local officials seemed (and seem) much more interested in trumpeting accomplishments than fixing structural issues that have not gone away. Job growth is good, but not a comprehensive measure of success.  We still have not really diversified (we are a little better but other areas are much better).  Our incomes are still too low (especially relative to rise housing costs).  We’ve had some minor successes, but we really have not gone to the next level economically.

Like we have said, we have had numerous periods of rapid population growth and real estate construction, and, yet, we keep having the same discussions.

To be more competitive, Tampa Bay needs to decide what it is specifically good at and then tell the world, the Brookings expert suggested. Other metros of similar size are already pursuing such strategies.

* * *

Asked Gootman: “What is Tampa Bay best at doing?” If the answer is not obvious, he said, sometime a metro has to look at its best assets and choose what it wants to be known for.

Of course, when the answer to that question is back office operations, that is not really going to help; hence the problem.  This question, usually framed as branding the area, has been around basically forever, and it seems no closer to being answered.

We prefer to ask a similar, if broader, question: if a person/company can live/locate anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live/locate here as opposed to another area that already has so many amenities that we are still talking about?

– NonSense

There was an article in the Times about a Wallethub list for the best business friendly small cities.

For someone looking to open a business in Tampa Bay, Wesley Chapel and Riverview may be your best bet. A WalletHub study released Monday ranked 1,261 small cities around the country on business-friendliness, placing Wesley Chapel at No. 57 and Riverview at No. 58.

No other bay area locale cracked the top 100.

Since neither Riverview nor Wesley Chapel are small cities – both are unincorporated parts of counties – we don’t really feel the need to dig too far into this list.  However, we did learn that:

To be considered “business friendly,” the study said, a city with 25,000 to 100,000 residents needs to have a good business environment, access to resources and low business costs. Wesley Chapel clocked in at 212th in terms of business environment, 105th for access to resources and 450th for business costs. Riverview ranked at 238th, 197th and 317th in the same categories.

Whatever.  (It is a measure of the list that a “city” – which is not a city – could rank that poorly and still be #58.) It is not surprising that Riverview is the only place in the County in the top 1000 given that the County is so willing to subsidize any development there while not fixing issues in the rest of the County.

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