LT 2017: Tampa International Airport & Economic Development Day

From Flights to Flights: The Many Facets of Tampa Economic Development

By: Christopher S.D. Rogers

Last week, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Leadership Tampa Class of 2017 got a deeper understanding of the Tampa International Airport Master Plan and Economic Development in the Tampa Bay area. Boarding a bus bright and early at 7:30 to head to Tampa International Airport, we were treated to the boundless enthusiasm of Colleen Chappell, President & CEO, ChappellRoberts. In addition to providing an overview of the day and the importance of economic development for our region, Ms. Chappell challenged the class with some early morning Tampa Economic Trivia.


At Tampa International Airport, we were greeted by Kari Goetz, Director of Marketing and Chris Minner, Vice President of Marketing, who provided an enlightening overview of the airport and its 953 million dollar master plan project currently underway – a bird’s eye view, as it were, of one of the most important economic development assets in Tampa. Mr. Minner reminded the class that the airport’s mission “is to be a major driver in the economic growth of the Tampa Bay region” and “to be a leading-edge innovator to create global access and world class customer service to build prosperity for its stakeholders.”  Tampa International Airport is certainly meeting its mission objectives. Among notable recent achievements:

  • In April 2016, Tampa International Airport was ranked best large airport in the nation by passengers based on a survey of more than 170,000 airport users.
  • In December 2016, Tampa International Airport was ranked No. 2 in customer satisfaction by J.D. Power for top airports in North America for the second year in a row.
  • TIA continues to expand international and domestic routes with recently announced international direct flights to Germany, Cuba, and Iceland, and domestic non-stop to San Francisco. With other new services from Frontier, Spirit, United, and Southwest planned for 2017, the airport continues to be guided by its mission “to be a thriving aviation gateway for the Tampa Bay region.”


Of note to the class was the importance of data and data-driven analysis. Mr. Minner emphasized multiple times the fact that airlines make decisions based on data and that TIA has built a reputation of providing accurate and compelling data-driven business cases to the airlines.


Following the presentation, we received a behind the scenes tour of the airport and the ongoing construction that is expected to create over 9,000 jobs. From the new concessions, to the automated people movers, consolidated rental car facility (including a large TECO operated solar power farm), and focus on customer experience, the overall impression one gets is that our airport is well positioned for the future. As one class member stated, “like our local sports teams, TIA has to be considered one of the gems of Tampa Bay!” Thus ended our first set of “flights” for the day…


From TIA, we traveled back downtown for a panel discussion on how economic development drives economic prosperity. Moderated by Colleen Chappell, panelists were: Lee Evans, Executive Director and Site Head North America Capability Center, Bristol-Meyers Squibb; Lisa Marier, Senior Vice President, Director of Development and Operations, Strategic Property Partners; Mark Sharpe, Executive Director, Tampa Innovation Alliance (and former Hillsborough County Commissioner); and Craig Richard, President and CEO, Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.


Addressing questions about Tampa’s most important assets and reasons for businesses to relocate or grow in Tampa, several common themes came to the forefront:

  • Talent: the panel was unanimous in the importance of talent availability to business and that this is an area of strength for Tampa Bay. The panelists agreed that the Tampa Bay Region is one of the most vibrant places they’ve ever done business with a readily available supply of skilled labor across industries and disciplines. Closely associated with talent availability is our quality of life; Tampa is a welcoming, climate friendly community with ever expanding cultural and recreational outlets. The excitement around an increasingly urban activated vibrant environment through SPP’s plans will further attract talent to Tampa.
  • Economic Climate & Collaboration: with a low cost of living, low taxes, a non-adversarial and collaborative relationship with municipalities, and cooperation rather than competition among institutions creating economic growth, Tampa is well positioned to leverage its assets and further define its value proposition – this creates not only an attractive environment for business but also further allows us to retain and attract talent. Collaboration was heavily emphasized as an asset with USF, UT, the Tampa Innovation Alliance (itself a model of collaboration), SPP, the airport, and the port all looking to work together for Tampa’s success.

It was noted in the Milken Institute ranking of cities that Tampa has moved from 169th in 2009 to 33rd in 2016, a dramatic leap forward. This led the class to ask the panelists their thoughts on what it would take to break into the top 10 by 2020. It was generally agreed that on the positive side of the equation the strengths articulated above have us on the right track. Tampa’s areas of opportunity include better articulating our overall value proposition, attracting more venture capital to support an increasingly strong start up and innovation ecosystem, and addressing what is perhaps our most pressing need – our transportation infrastructure. We remain an auto-centric region in need of coordinated improvement in non-car-based transportation options.

After this engaging panel discussion, the class transitioned to the EDC offices and broke into six small teams for exercises looking at key aspects of economic development efforts within each department of the EDC. Teams addressed areas such as the strategic and legislative issues related to funding of Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida, and business incentives; investor engagement in the EDC to expand national media campaigns; how to focus recruitment objectives relative to target industries; how to brand the Tampa Bay Region in a way that articulates a value proposition beyond the pro-business climate and quality of life, which Tampa shares with some other markets; and, how the EDC can effectively manage and prioritize the existing portfolio of businesses to maximize outreach efforts.  A key takeaway from these exercises for the class was an understanding and appreciation of the multiple functions of the EDC. While seeking to develop and sustain the local economy, the EDC must maintain focus on attraction, retention, and expansion, i.e., different business sectors with potentially different immediate needs. As a team, we were impressed with the EDC’s skilled management and prioritization with limited staff resources.


The final stop of Economic Development Day was Cigar City Brewing for a panel discussion on the economic impact of the craft brew industry in Tampa Bay. Moderated by Michael Blasco, CEO, Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally, panelists included Justin Clark, COO, Cigar City Brewing; Anthony Derby, President, Brew Bus Brewing; and Mike Harting, Owner, 3 Daughters Brewing. With over 2 billion dollars in economic impact in Florida and over 30 breweries in the Tampa Bay area alone, the craft brew industry is having an increasingly significant impact on economic development. Named a top 2016 craft beer city by multiple sources (e.g.,,,, USA Today), the Tampa brew scene is both a driver of tourism and a beneficiary of tourism – as Tampa gets a name for being a “brew city,” it attracts beer and brewery tourists, and as tourists experience Tampa breweries, the market reach expands.


Indeed, the breakneck pace of the craft beer industry’s growth creates its own challenges relative to talent, growth forecasting, equipment availability, and cash flow. Craft breweries are also industry disruptors in a segment that was traditionally dominated by a small number of very large companies, and the distribution and sales infrastructure has not adapted quickly to many smaller breweries. The panel also emphasized the importance of cooperation, a note that echoed the economic development panel earlier in the day. Tampa Bay Region craft breweries, while each seeking to make the best beer, believe that “more breweries results in more sales.” Rather than seeing each other as competitive threats, there is a feeling that multiple breweries help Tampa be seen as a “brew city”; thus creating awareness, expanding markets, and increasing overall demand.

Of course, it would be irresponsible after such an in-depth discussion of the economic impact of craft breweries not to support our local economy… thus, we ended the day with different kinds of flights than we started.

From Flights to Flights, studying and supporting Tampa Bay economic development!