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Exit interview: Rick Homans

Brian Hartz

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Tampa Bay Partnership President and CEO Rick Homans. Photo by Brian Hartz.

When Tampa Bay Partnership President and CEO Rick Homans last week announced his departure from the organization, effective in November, it raised questions as to his future as a leadership figure in Tampa Bay. Homans has led the partnership — a coalition of CEOs focused on regional research, public policy and advocacy — since November 2015, but his eclectic background includes stints in politics, aeronautics, economic development, media and publishing. Prior to his arrival in Tampa Bay in 2012, he lived and worked in New Mexico for 32 years.

In an interview with the Catalyst, Homans said he and his wife are committed to staying in the area when his contract with the Tampa Bay Partnership expires in November, but until then, he’s not giving much thought to his next move, other than to say he’s “open to a variety of things; they could be in the nonprofit world, the for-profit world, part-time or full-time. I always love to be in a job that’s making a difference in the community and that has a high impact, that affects people’s lives in a positive way.”

Homans has the kind of resume that would make him a top candidate for a wide variety of roles at any number of influential organizations. While in New Mexico, he served in the Cabinet of then-Gov. Bill Richardson. In 2004, Homans spearheaded the development of the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, Spaceport America, and recruited the world headquarters of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to New Mexico.

In 2001, Homans campaigned to become the mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., but don’t expect to see his name on a ballot in Florida anytime soon.

“I could see myself being involved in politics for a cause or helping a person,” he said, “but for me to be the candidate, well, I tried it, loved it and have moved on from it.”

Likewise, companies and organizations in the area probably shouldn’t expect Homans to come in for a job interview in the near future.

“I am a firm believer that the next great opportunity in my life can only come when the door behind me is closed,” he said. “I’m open to looking at a variety of different things but the psychology is different when one is in a position and, you know, quietly sending out your resume and talking to people. It’s just not the optimum way to take the next step.”

While he wraps up his tenure at the partnership, Homans has a number of big accomplishments to tout on that resume when he’s ready to send it out. First and foremost, he and colleagues Dave Sobush, Jennifer Mikosky, Byron Clayton and Courtney McDonnell — in partnership with the University of South Florida Muma College of Business, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and United Way Suncoast — created a Regional Competitiveness Report that provides a data-rich look at how the region is faring compared to 19 similar-sized metro areas across the country. An updated report is now launched every January as part of a State of the Region event, and its findings include information that isn’t always flattering.

“We have not been shy to point out that we have major issues with equity gaps in the community that threaten to grow wider as a result of the pandemic,” Homans said. “We are underperforming in terms of our average wages and our gross regional product per capita.”

Presentation of the unvarnished truth is by design, Homans said. In addition to being a relentless advocate for a regional approach to solving issues and problems like equity, workforce development and transportation, he’s also been intent on making sure the partnership doesn’t cross into the world of Pollyanna-ish boosterism.

“It’s not meant to be a downer,” Homans said of the Regional Competitiveness Report. “The good news that comes out of it, yes, we ought to be celebrating that and the economic development organizations and chambers of commerce ought to be out promoting all of the good things about our community, which they famously do. But we see our role as being a group of leaders who are really focused on the big challenges that our community faces that require regional leadership. And that’s going to mean facing up to some hard truths as we go forward.”

Homans declined to offer advice and suggestions for his successor, but he has a wish list of progress he’d like to see come to pass. First and foremost, he said Tampa Bay needs a truly regional economic development organization with a regional strategy.

“Most other well-performing markets have that in place,” he said, “and we don’t. We’ve also talked about creating a regional workforce board that represents the labor market. Most other well-performing markets have that, and we don’t. And you look at other markets, that have robust regional transit systems that provide connectivity to jobs, education and health care throughout the regional market — we are lacking that, as well.”

He added, “So, it’s important that we celebrate the good news that is coming, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the big challenges that exist; if we solve them, we’re going to do even better. We’re going to make an even bigger mark and have a better reputation on the national stage.”

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