TAMPA BAY: Fulfilling the Promise
By Art Levy – 4/1/2007
HIGH-TECH FOCUS: The entire region should benefit from SRI International’s arrival in St. Petersburg and efforts between the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and Merck to create a cancer research venture near the University of South Florida. “We need to help the SRIs and the Mercks of the world fulfill the promise that exists from attracting those kind of facilities to Tampa Bay,” says Stuart L. Rogel, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
JOBS: According to a Tampa Bay Partnership report, which includes Manatee and Sarasota counties, the region generated more than 37,000 jobs in 2006 and created more than three times as many jobs as Charlotte, N.C., in the first quarter of 2006.
CHALLENGES: There are concerns over insurance rates, property taxes, transportation and the availability of affordable housing. The answer? “I don’t think you can just sit there, be stagnant and press out widgets every day and survive,” says Mike McHugh, director of the Hernando County Office of Business Development. “To be successful, companies pretty much have to be innovative. It’s universal. I don’t see anyone immune from that pressure.”
ECONOMY: “We certainly have some challenges, in terms of the insurance issue and the property tax issue, but both of those are being worked on,” says Kim Scheeler, president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. “Our economic development folks are still working projects. It’s not going to be as easy as it used to be, but I still think we’re in a strong economy.”
JOBS: Tampa attracted more “higher-paying” jobs than in past years, and the city succeeded in creating more “higher-skill-set” jobs, Scheeler says. That means more jobs in “life sciences, biosciences and financial services” — and fewer call-center jobs.
LOOKING AHEAD: Scheeler points to the joint venture between the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and drug maker Merck as an example of where Tampa’s economy is going. “In a nutshell, they’re going to make it easier and quicker to bring drugs to market, which means a much lower cost to the drug companies, which ultimately means a much lower cost to all of us,” he says. “And then other companies are going to want to be a part of that. It has the potential to put us on the map and become a real engine to drive growth.”
» Network World magazine has named Persystent Technologies, a Tampa software company, one of its “10 management companies to watch.” Founded in 2002, the company creates software that automatically fixes operating system problems when the computer is rebooted.
» The Tampa Bay Technology Forum gave its 2006 Quantum Leap Technology Award to Creative Recycling Systems, a Tampa firm that extracts useable materials from obsolete computer and electronic equipment.
» Researchers at the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer’s Center & Research Institute have developed a vaccine made from specialized blood cells that reverses memory loss in lab mice with Alzheimer’s. The Tampa facility was created in 2004 to find a cure for the disease.
» Researchers at the University of South Florida have developed a simple-to-use biosensor that can detect pathogenic organism and microbial toxins in food, water, air and surfaces.
CONSTRUCTION: A slew of construction cranes still frame St. Petersburg’s skyline, indicating that, despite the housing and condominium slowdown, the city’s economy is still growing. “The super boom era has probably come to an end, but we still are seeing projects get out of the ground,” says Dave Goodwin, St. Petersburg’s economic development director. “We’re still seeing a nice pace as far as the value of permits being issued during the first quarter of 2007. It didn’t keep up with last year, which was far and away our record year, but it’s pretty much on par with 2005, which, until 2006, was a record year.”
COMMERCIAL: The city’s office vacancy rate was at 7.9% during the third quarter of 2006. In 2005, it was 7.2%, which is way down from 16.5% in
2002. “Our office vacancy rate is very low. The inventory is just not there,” Goodwin says. “We would love to see someone build a new office building in St. Petersburg.”
CHALLENGES: The rising cost of housing is turning some prospects off. “There are probably certain companies, with certain wage rates, that probably aren’t going to be looking at St. Petersburg, anymore,” Goodwin says.
TARGET: Officials are setting their sights on attracting more high-paying jobs. “Our target industries include advanced manufacturing, IT and the financial services,” says Mike Meidell, director of Pinellas County Economic Development.
Innovators (St. Petersburg)
» SRI International, among the world’s leading independent research and technology development institutes, opened its St. Petersburg marine technology unit in January. The facility will focus on developing technologies related to marine technology and ocean science. Local officials hope SRI will attract research, development and manufacturing firms to Tampa Bay. Over the past decade, the California-based institute has sponsored more than $2 billion in research and development.
» The Tampa Bay Technology Forum named Kurt Long its 2006 entrepreneurial leader of the year. Long is founder and CEO of EpicTide, a St. Petersburg maker of healthcare industry software.
» St. Petersburg College will open a building for its College of Orthotics and Prosthetics this fall. “This is a crucial program because of an increase in diabetic patients and injuries from the Middle East war,” says Carl M. Kuttler Jr., the school’s president. The college is also working to boost lagging enrollment among men. Just 37% of SJC’s students are male, compared to state and national averages of 43%. Its Man to Man program aims to change that.
» Housing Slowdown (St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater)
53,183 — Realtor sales for single-family homes in 2005
34,322 — Realtor sales for single-family homes in 2006 (down 35% from 2005)
13,094 — Realtor sales for existing condos in 2005
8,510 — Realtor sales for existing condos in 2006 (down 35% from 2005)
Source: Florida Association of Realtors
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