As technology moves into a post-digital era, the Tampa-St. Pete area is on pace to be ready, according to a top Tampa executive at information technology consultancy Accenture.
The local tech community is more cohesive than it was a few years ago and high-profile projects, such as Water Street Tampa, are helping attract investor interest, said Stuart Brown, southeast managing director leading Accenture’s operations business.
Brown will unveil Accenture’s Technology Vision 2019 report on Friday at the poweredUP Tampa Bay Tech series, a members-only event at Armature Works.
The report says that in 2019, all businesses are becoming digital businesses, and it looks ahead to the opportunities for companies in the post-digital era, such as distributed ledger technology, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality and quantum computing.
It’s the third year that Brown has presented the Accenture report, and attendance has climbed from about 50 people in 2017 to 100 people last year to about 300 people this year. That shows growth in the tech sector, he said.
It’s a shift from a few years ago, when the local tech community was fragmented.
“There’s been a history in the region of sibling rivalry between cities. We had some strong groups in each one of the cities but it was not a cohesive story. I view technology as the universal language that’s bringing the region together,” Brown said.
Historic strengths, including tourism and sports industries, are about location, he said.
“To me, the good thing about the technology push is everybody benefits. The old term, a high tide rises all boats — it really does benefit the region.”
A key sign of progress is Water Street Tampa, a $3 billion mixed-use development in downtown Tampa being developed by Strategic Property Partners, backed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Ventures.
“It shows the external investor community we’re serious,” Brown said. “Now, we’re projecting that outside of the region and that will start to bring money in. It will take one or two successful ventures like Water Street and others for it to explode.”
He cautioned that the area needs to prepare for the inevitable explosion from both an infrastructure perspective — improved transportation systems — and from a people perspective.
Tampa Bay is uniquely positioned to draw talent from University of South Florida, University of Central Florida and University of Florida, all within 90 miles of the area, he said.
“We need to highlight and celebrate the diversity of students in those universities, especially the Hispanic-American community. That’s one where Florida has a distinct advantage and it’s been an underserved population in the technology space.”
Accenture also has started an apprentice program for people who traditionally would not have access to tech training.
“We’re going after people without degrees or people with associates degrees and bringing them in our apprentice program to really train them up on the high-tech world,” Brown said. “That’s a huge effort for us in North America and one we passionately embrace here in Tampa. We have a unique position in the ability to pull in some of those folks and get them access to the growth that’s happening. Frankly, if we don’t do that, we won’t have enough people to do the work. It’s always been a people game. We’re not going to have enough engineers and computer science majors to fill all the jobs we need.”
The large universities and the diverse multi-lingual workforce will drive the area forward, he said.
“I think we’re really well positioned. We just need to tell our story to get some of those dollars here.”