Saturday, November 25, 2017
Business

Trigaux: Site selectors issue warning to state (and Pinellas) economy if Enterprise Florida is cut

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A pair of site selection experts hired by Pinellas County this year to give an unvarnished look at the high-density county's challenging prospects for economic development and better wages offered up the good, the bad — and a warning.

If Florida or the Tampa Bay region's economic development organizations fail to provide traditional marketing or support to corporate projects recruited to this market, there will be a painful price in lost jobs and investment paid by the area economy.

That includes Pinellas County, warned Josh Bays, a principal with the Dallas economic development consulting firm Site Selection Group.

"It scares me to death," Bays said of the potential loss of backing by Enterprise Florida at the state level and the Tampa Bay Partnership at the regional level.

Bays' fears could be realized. Enterprise Florida, the state's job recruiting arm, is under fierce attack in Tallahassee by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and others who want to end or sharply curtail the public-private group's use of tax incentives as "corporate welfare" in recruiting companies to the state.

Enterprise Florida's fate remains unresolved as the state legislative session runs through May 5. But news of the lack of broad support in Tallahassee is spreading across the development world.

Bays is not shy about the importance of Enterprise Florida. "We think very highly of Enterprise Florida," emphasized the site selector — whose many dozens of corporate clients range from Amazon and Boeing to Harley-Davidson and Sykes Enterprises. The loss or diminishing of Enterprise Florida could prove harsh to Florida, he cautioned, especially when such nearby states as North and South Carolina and Tennessee often compete for the same jobs and face no similar legislative backlash to embrace all available recruiting tools to win jobs.

The Tampa Bay Partnership, originally created in the 1990s to market the region's economy, has shifted gears to focus on public policy advocacy for such issues as mass transit. But the task of regional marketing to recruit jobs and provide project support here has become divided among a growing number of county or city economic development corporations, better known as EDCs.

That's just one of the telling backdrops that emerged at the Pinellas County Economic Innovation and Leadership Symposium held Thursday and Friday. Among a range of speakers and topics, the Dallas duo from Site Selection Group stood out with fresh research data examining Pinellas County's options to attract relevant businesses that pay superior wages. Better wages, after all, is one of the core mantras of improving an area economy, boosting the area's quality of life and remaining a competitive region.

Mike Meidel, longtime Pinellas County economic development director, in January asked Site Selection Group to assess the county's potential to attract better-paying jobs in three specific areas:

• Can Pinellas attract corporate headquarters and, if, so, what are the most likely places in the county they could land?

• What financial service sector businesses could be recruited to Pinellas?

• And what can Pinellas do to attract more advanced manufacturing jobs, building on a low-profile but significant industry now scattered about the county?

These and other findings were presented at the conference by Site Selection Group's Bays, and company vice president Chris Schwinden, in a report succinctly titled "Compete Now."

The 46-page analysis gives a mix of promising and troubling insights that raise questions whether Pinellas can transform itself. Right now, it's a congested county with growing traffic issues, a perception problem that its population is lean on talented young adults and, for new businesses, boasts few available land parcels that are not in need of major teardowns and redevelopment.

The site selectors urged Pinellas to make more of its best available properties "shovel ready" by, for example, making the sites more accessible to highways, leveling ground and adding basic infrastructure.

In an interview with Meidel and the Site Selection Group authors, the issue of funding redevelopment quickly rose as a top concern. Meidel said it is hard without more funding for Pinellas to buy or redevelop its most promising land parcels in order to pitch them as choice spots for new businesses.

Bays and Schwinden also reinforced repeatedly that a local pool of talented workers is the No. 1 key to attracting any business in any sector. "It's workforce, workforce, workforce," Schwinden said.

"It is a priority over everything else," Bays added.

Remember the title of the site selector report. It's "Compete Now." Not "Compete Later."

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

 
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