The release of the 2020 Regional Competitiveness Report (RCR) pointed to signs of growth in Tampa Bay, including a number one ranking in net migration and a top five ranking in job growth and business establishment start rates. But persistently low rankings across a range of critical indicators – including gross regional product per capita (#20), average wage (#19), median household income (#20), labor force participation (#20), educational attainment (#19) and poverty rate (#17) – left many Tampa Bay leaders questioning what could be done to change this dynamic and improve the region’s performance versus that of its competitors.
In many ways, our region has an equal – if not stronger – base of assets when compared to the 19 communities benchmarked in the RCR. But Tampa Bay’s lack of a regional economic development strategy, or a regional organization to implement it, differentiates it from the other markets.
In 2016, the Partnership convened the primary Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) from seven Tampa Bay counties and, together, hired Avalanche Consulting to develop recommendations for a new regional economic development model. At the time, the organizations agreed to join forces and unite their resources to create a renewed path forward for regionalism in Tampa Bay. However, the plan faltered and was ultimately shelved due to lack of support.
Under the leadership of Chad Loar (PNC Bank), the Partnership facilitated a series of meetings with regional business leaders after the release of the 2020 RCR, to explore the development of a more regional approach to economic development in Tampa Bay.
Ernst & Young (EY) was hired to research best practices and regional economic development models. In 2020, EY submitted its comprehensive report, including a recommended business model for a regional economic development organization for Tampa Bay.
Key findings from the report include:
- During a time when many of the nation’s highest-performing areas have organized new or stronger regional economic development programs backed by data-driven strategic plans, the Tampa Bay region has continued to fund county-level economic development entities each with its own strategy and marketing program.
- In the wake of the pandemic, the need to rethink the region’s economic development structure and strategy has become even more important. Industry experts believe that companies may look to move headquarters and operations from large and dense tier-one cities to less-populated and less-dense tier-two metro areas, such as Tampa Bay and its peer communities in the Regional Competitiveness Report. These tier-two metros will compete intensely with each other for the new capital investment and jobs, and each community will have to put its best foot forward. Companies in the site selection process hold regional collaboration high on the criteria list because it signals a community that knows how to organize itself to overcome challenges.
- Finally, the private and public sector organizations that traditionally support economic development organizations are, for the most part, operating with reduced budgets, scrutinizing their expenses and demanding that their investments in these community activities and organizations are made as efficiently as possible.
In parallel with the development of the EY report, economic development practitioners in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco engaged in their own discussions, looking to strengthen an existing regional initiative, Global Tampa Bay, and expand its current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) from its international activities to include domestic business recruitment.
The Partnership engaged Michael Langley, the former CEO of Greater MSP (Minneapolis-St. Paul), to assess the effectiveness of the proposed MOU. Langley came away from his meetings impressed by the quality of the work and the opportunity that an expanded Global Tampa Bay represents in terms of its future growth and development into a more robust regional EDO structure. Through a formal report, Langley advised the business leaders to encourage the three counties to resolve any issues that remain with the MOU, sign it and get to work.
While the Partnership has not taken any official action on the reports and recommendations presented above, this work is made available to the public to better inform the region’s leaders as they pursue the most effective and productive approach to our region’s economic development strategy.