By Andrew “Drew” Jenkins, Shareholder, Bush Ross P.A.
With a notebook stolen from my wife and a pen scavenged from our junk drawer in the early morning hours, I joined our LT ’16 class aboard the morning bus headed to what used to be one of the best kept secrets of Tampa. No, we are not talking about the amazing craft beer scene, any of the successful professional sport franchises, or even that restaurant that started as a local bakery but now is an indispensable Tampa culinary establishment (none of these are secrets anymore). We are talking about the pride of every Tampanian – Tampa International Airport. Consistently given good reviews by fliers over the past several years, the cat is well out of the bag as TIA recently received the highest rating possible for large airports from over 170,000 fliers, beating out Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Chicago, and Atlanta.
For LT 2016 TIA/Economic Development Day, there was no better place to start the morning than TIA. Norwood Smith, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Mainsail Lodging and Development, opened our day at TIA in a modern but cozy conference room tucked into a corner of the main terminal. After a pop quiz on the economic demographics of the Tampa Bay area, which left many of LT 2016 in shock after not having taken any sort of pop quiz in decades, we were introduced to Al Illustrato, Vice President of Administration and Facilities for TIA. LT ‘16 was regaled with the history of the airport from the 1971 revolutionary hub and spoke design to the first people movers developed by Westinghouse. Interesting background even for the long-time Tampa residents, but the main course was yet to come: the Master Plan.
The Master Plan is an ambitious project and investment in Tampa to say the least. Phase I of the Master Plan is estimated to cost $953 million and includes the main terminal expansion, concessions redevelopment, the new automated people mover, and the 5-story consolidated rental car facility (ConRAC for people in the know). The best part was that LT 2016 was able to view a complete three-dimensional virtual walk through of Phase I of the Master Plan. Put simply, it was impressive.
If you have visited TIA at all recently, you have been in and around the construction of Phase I of the Master Plan. While the delivery of excellent service from TIA has not been affected, your visit may have caused you some consternation just because there is so much activity. Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel as Phase I is scheduled to be completed in October 2017. All indications to our class are that the light is very, very bright.
Next up was Kenneth Strickland, Senior Manager of Research and Evaluation for TIA, who got down to the facts and figures of airline travel in and out of TIA in a presentation on the economic impact and international flights. Most of the class was likely not sure how a statistician would do following the grandiose Master Plan presentation. Luckily, Mr. Strickland seemed keen to hone his stand-up skills on what could have been a dry topic, and what ensued was one of the liveliest and interesting discussions LT 2016 had all year (of course my own engineering background may have skewed my perspective to some degree). The last question posed by LT 2016 was one that many in Tampa have asked: When is the San Francisco flight coming? No spoiler alert here; the answer is hopefully soon.
From the conference room, LT 2016 divided and conquered, touring the area outside Terminal A to inspect the main terminal expansion then the area containing the history of TIA and even a scaled model of the Master Plan.
Afterwards, LT 16 was back on the bus and whisked to the top floor of the south Economy Parking Garage to stand under the recently completed TECO solar array, which serves as both a covering for the cars on top of the garage and cranks out 2 megawatts of energy for TECO’s 700,000 customers.
LT 2016 was not here to ogle the solar panels but to get a bird’s eye view of the construction of the $323 million ConRAC building and associated people mover slated to finish late next year. Impressive.
Stomachs growling and breakfast far behind us, LT 2016 boarded the bus for the last time that day for transport to CI Group, a provider of commercial office interiors and industrial warehouse solutions, in Downtown Tampa. At CI Group, we enjoyed an array of sandwiches and salads from Urban Juice (not just a juice company) and some of its featured juices. As everyone was wrapping up lunch, Drew Marshall, President of CI Group, introduced the panel for our discussion on the entrepreneurship experience in Tampa. The panel consisted of Maryann Ferenc, owner of Mise en Place, Todd Lax, owner of Urban Juice, Pat Bhava, owner of PikMyKid (former Startup Scholar), and Rebecca White, Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa.
Rebecca White led off the discussion with the formation and expansion of entrepreneurship as a field of study and importantly, how to build and nurture an entrepreneurship eco-system. LT ‘16 was in for a treat as each of the other panel members then gave an introduction to how they got started as entrepreneurs, the struggles they encountered, and their perspectives on the subject. Never a shy class, LT 2016, many of whom are entrepreneurs in their own right, peppered the panel with questions ranging from personality types that fit more as entrepreneurs to the last question for the panel: What to do when you have that moment when the numbers for the new business are not adding up? The real life experience and examples provided by the panel members were welcomed by all LT ‘16 class members.
From CI Group, LT ‘16 chose to get some exercise and hoofed it to the Tampa Club for the last stop of the day. Norwood Smith introduced our moderator for the panel discussion on economic development, Larry Richey, Senior Managing Director for Cushman & Wakefield of Florida. The panel consisted of Steve Morey, Vice President of Business Development for the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, Bob McDonaugh, Administrator of Economic Opportunity for the City of Tampa, and Lindsay Kimball, Director of Economic Development for Hillsborough County. After brief introductions from the moderator and each of the panel members, LT ‘16 was given the opportunity to do what it does best, ask questions (it has been said that we are the “curious” class). And ask questions we did. How do you go about targeting companies to move? What are the top three factors company look for when relocating? What is an example of a recent successful target and relocation? What are some detractors of Tampa for site selection firms? The panel members all had excellent answers and were good sports for the curious class.
The day wrapped up with one last exercise that seemed suspiciously like school work, a business recruitment project simulation, which actually turned out to be a whole lot of fun. LT ‘16 was divided into five groups, and each group was given a recruitment scenario: pitch a unique business with specific requirements on locating to Tampa. The results predictably ranged from fantastic to hilarious. We may be the curious class, but LT ‘16 can also get a little rowdy.
A special thanks to our sponsor and day chair Brenda Geoghagan, Director of Guest Services for TIA Airport; our day chair Drew Marshall, President of CI Group, who let us invade his space for lunch and into the afternoon; and our day chair Norwood Smith, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Mainsail Lodging and Development, who not only began our day but hosted LT ‘16 after the day was done. And a big thank you to fellow LT ‘16 classmate Brian Yarborough who long after my phone died exercised his photography skills to help out this blog.