Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson wants the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County to partner on economic development initiatives, instead of funding the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. to do that work.
Carlson’s proposal comes on the same day the Tampa Hillsborough EDC plans to change its name to Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, a move that he said would destroy more than 20 years of region-building and branding.
Carlson, who was elected to the Tampa City Council in March and is the president of the Tampa public relations firm Tucker/Hall, led an effort in the City Council earlier this month to ask the EDC not to use the term “Tampa Bay” in its new name and branding.
In response to a letter from Tampa City Council Chairman Luis Viera, the EDC said the name change was consistent with other organizations that it collaborates with to promote the area, such as Visit Tampa Bay.
The Tampa Hillsborough EDC is funded by more than 100 corporations, Hillsborough County and the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace. Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa area among the top tier of investors.
Citing what he said is a lack of transparency and responsiveness by the EDC, Carlson told the St. Pete Catalyst that he would prefer the EDC become a private organization, with public funds being used in a different way to attract and retain businesses.
“We should move to a model where the city and county partner together to focus on real economic development, which is helping small businesses grow, technology businesses grow, and helping minority-owned businesses,” Carlson said.
He said the Hillsborough County Commission could designate a joint city-council entity as the official economic development organization to work on business recruitment leads from Enterprise Florida, the official economic development organization for the state. Currently, the Tampa Hillsborough EDC holds that designation.
It’s unclear what traction, if any, Carlson’s suggestion might generate. The EDC letter to the Tampa City Council explaining why it was changing its name was signed by both Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Les Miller.
Carlson said his suggestion for a new economic development organization is pegged to more than just the EDC’s name change. He said Tampa Hillsborough EDC hasn’t been effective. He said the organization largely has recruited out-of-state call centers to the area with subsidies.
In a news release announcing its name change, the Tampa Hillsborough EDC said it has played a key role in transforming Tampa and Hillsborough’s economy over the past 10 years. “The organization and its partners in the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the State of Florida have helped more than 250 companies relocate to or expand in Hillsborough County, creating more than 32,000 new jobs and generating $2.5 billion in capital investment in the local community,” the news release said.
Focus on place-making
The Tampa City Council voted unanimously earlier this month to request the name change not go forward.
“As an investor in the EDC we have concern about the signal this will send to our regional partners on the mission of the EDC,” Viera said in the letter. “As you probably are aware, the term ‘Tampa Bay’ was adopted by our neighbors outside Tampa as a compromise to promote the region. By using the term for an organization focused primarily on Tampa and Hillsborough County, the EDC would, in effect, take away the regional meaning of the term.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Pinellas County Economic Development Council are among those that have raised concerns about the name change.
Related story: Tampa Hillsborough EDC to Kriseman: ‘Our name will change’
“If our partners in the region have concerns, then that could destroy 20, 30 years of region-building,” Carlson said. “By using the term Tampa Bay what we’re doing is branding Tampa Bay as just Tampa. It will not be effective as a regional term anymore and we’ll have to find a new regional term. We’re essentially throwing away 20, 30 years of branding.”
The EDC said it appreciates the concern expressed for regional partners in the City Council’s letter. “We are very proud of the strong partnership that we enjoy with the City of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, Pasco County and other municipal and regional economic development organizations and intend to continue collaborating,” the EDC’s Oct. 25 letter said.
The EDC said it has spent six months working on a new strategic plan and ensuring it aligns with the goals of Castor’s administration and Hillsborough County’s economic development priorities.
“In addition to our specific mission to bring jobs and capital investment to Tampa, we are strengthening our talent attraction and retention initiatives and introducing a new focus on placemaking – two things that will enhance our competitiveness and promote greater prosperity for everyone in Tampa,” the EDC letter said.
The EDC will begin using its new name and unveil its new logo, created by EDC Investor Trickey Jennus, at its annual meeting tonight at the Straz Center in Tampa. The organization’s new website, tampabayedc.com, will be live on Oct. 30.