LT’19 Port Tampa Bay/Agriculture Day

By Shelley Sharp, Ryan Nece Foundation

What do strawberries, corn dogs, potash, and midnight buffets have in common?

They are all major contributors to the economic success of the Tampa Bay region.

Plant City is the winter strawberry capital of the world. 67 local farming families grow strawberries on 10,000 acres yielding 25 – 30,000 strawberries per acre and distribute primarily to the Eastern Seaboard and Canada. The annual strawberry harvest has an economic impact of more than $800 million.

Local farmers know success in the fields is as much an art as a science. They are always working to develop new strawberry varieties, and improved techniques for farming, harvesting and packaging.

Researchers at the University of Florida in Plant City recently introduced Florida Brilliance, a new strawberry variety resistant to damage from heavy rainfall.

The Florida Strawberry Festival has the largest attendance of any Florida festival with over 500,000 festival goers, 2500 volunteers, 24 national concerts on the new Wish Farms Soundstage ($5 million investment) and 400 vendors who serve corn dogs, deep fried Oreos, and  a strawberry delicacy for everyone including: ice cream, pizza, jam, sandwiches, milkshakes, pie, cobbler, parfaits, creampuffs, fritters, donuts, kettle korn, fudge, lemonade, chocolate dipped strawberries, and of course strawberry shortcake!

It was exciting to meet the Golden Girls, Dorothy and Blanche, and hear from high school students participating in the steer, swine, and lamb shows and auctions. Students involved with the sale of plants and livestock earned over $900,000 in 2018, most of which is used for college funds and to buy additional livestock.  A 2015 study showed the economic impact of the festival to be over $11 million net revenue for Hillsborough County.

Our sponsor for the day, Mosaic, is the worldwide leader in the production of fertilizer. Over 3000 local Tampa Bay employees and 3000 contract employees mine and produce phosphate and potash products. In addition to fertilizer, Mosaic is involved with land leases for cattle and citrus, public fish management areas, public parks on reclaimed mines, bee hives, and has donated $4.9 million to community farmers in Florida.

In 2018 Port Tampa Bay celebrated reaching the milestone of 1 million cruise passengers on four major cruise lines. These passengers along with 34 million tons of cargo contributed $17.2 billion and 85,000 jobs to the local economy. A recent $ 5 million investment in two Gantry cranes has allowed the port to be even more competitive for cargo container shipping. Port Tampa Bay has recently won two contracts with Asian and French companies.

Mosaic and TECO are two of the leading users of Port Tampa Bay, the largest and most diversified seaport in Florida.  This powerhouse triumvirate make up each other’s largest customers and/or suppliers. Together, they have important public/private partnerships with the Audubon Society, Florida Aquarium, and the Army Corp of Engineers for shipping channel improvements.

Our eLiTe’19 class had the wonderful opportunity to see Port Tampa Bay up close with a boat tour onboard the Bay Spirit II at the end of our very informative day.

Who’s ready for a cruise to Fantasy Island?  Fantasy Island is a joint partnership with the Tampa Port Authority, Florida Aquarium, Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection and Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County for educational and eco-tour programs.

 

 

LT’19 Transportation Day

Image may contain: one or more people, shoes and indoor

By Gina Evans, Tampa International Airport

Transportation impacts all of our industries and on February 20th we had the opportunity to spend the day with leaders in our community followed by experiencing various transportation modes in Tampa ourselves.  The day began at Tampa International Airport (TPA) and concluded with “The Amazing Race.” I mean “Experience.”

The day kicked off with an overview of TPA’s three-phase Master Plan beginning with the decongestion of Phase 1 and ending with expansion of Phase 3 presented by Executive Vice President of Facilities and Maintenance, Al Illustrato.  Interim Director of Marketing, Danny Cooper, provided an overview of Air Service Development and the economic impact of TPA on our community.

Key points:

  • TIA is in Albania, Tampa International Airport is TPA
  • TPA has a legacy of innovation and leadership in our community
  • TPA’s logo, Spirit of flight, means traveling fast from right to left while the sun is setting over the water

Following these presentations, Tyler Hudson provided an overview and update on the “All for Transportation” referendum.  The top two concerns countywide were safety and congestion.  Jeff Seward referred to the new Chief Executive Officer of HART as the “Chief Expectations Officer” in regard to the referendum as the new CEO begins to implement the doubling of the budget in a year while balancing all of the opportunities to grow connectivity.

We then went on a tour of TPA including the extensive baggage screening system, USO, Travelers Aid, the police department and the Airport Operations Center (AOC).

Image may contain: indoor

Key points:

  • TPA has over four miles of baggage system belts
  • Not every airport has an USO and this is a great resource for our military families in Tampa
  • Travelers Aid plays a crucial role with staffing from The Crisis Center
  • TPA has their own police department with holding cells
  • The AOC is the nerve center of the airport property and operations

During a working lunch, there was a panel discussion on smart cities with Marshall Pearsall, Senior Project Manager, KCI Technologies, Ron Katzman, Director of Strategy & Operations, SME Solutions, and Jeff Seward, Interim CEO of HART.

Key points:

  • Technology brings efficiency to all modes of transportation
  • Connected vehicles go beyond individuals and even to waste management trucks
  • Smart Cities are the new competition for businesses and growth

The afternoon took us on an experience where we had to use seven of 10 transportation modes (Walking, Coast Bike Share, HART bus, HART in-towner, The Downtowner, Street Car, TNCs, Taxi Cabs, ZipCar, Pirate Water Taxi)  to six different locations  (Amalie Arena, Armature Works, Blind Tiger Ybor, Florida Aquarium, Tampa Fire Museum, and University of Tampa) with challenges and amazing pictures.  The experience taught all of us the challenges of how even the newest technology, Teslsa’s Downtowner wait times, had its flaws while balancing the modes throughout Tampa.

Image may contain: 5 people, including Charlotte McHenry and Janessa Canals Alonso, people smiling, bicycle and outdoor

Overall, the key themes were how innovation plays a critical role in all forms of transportation and as the city continues to grow all options need to be on the table to meet the needs of the various populations in our community.

 

LT’19 Military Day

IMG_4391

By: Nicole Justice, Tampa General Hospital

Tampa’s “Skies are Filled with the Nation’s First Line of Defense”(1).  This is because every 2.8 minutes, an Air Mobility Command aircraft departs worldwide (2) and Tampa is home to the prestigious MacDill Air Force Base.  For the 2019 Leadership Tampa Class, February 6, 2019, marked Military day; a day in which we stood ready to experience this national treasure.

The morning started with a bus tour of the impressive MacDill AFB grounds, moderated by Day Chair Lieutenant Colonel John Schwartz and program day committee member Colonel Emily Farkas.  Not named MacDill until 1941, the base opened in 1939.  Today it sports 5600 acres with 7.1 miles of shoreline and is considered a medium size base.  The base is home to approximately 5000 residents, 24 KC-135s, 3 C-37s, 33 unique missions and two of our nation’s nine 4-Star Generals.  MacDill houses $8 billion in assets and contributes more than $4.1 billion to Tampa Bay’s economy (3).  Equally impressive are the amenities available on base.  Offering everything from basic needs to leisure, life at MacDill includes an onsite clinic and commissary, first-class fitness center, golf course, skeet range, bowling alley, family campground, and a beach.  It shouldn’t be surprising that nestled in the heart of South Tampa, the homes on base are nearly as beautiful as the views.

After the bus tour, we settled in for a MacDill 101 course, where we learned more acronyms than there are letters in the alphabet (e.g. USSOCOM, COCOM, CENTCOM, BLUF, USCENTCOM).  We learned about the difference between officers and enlisted, as well as reservists and active duty.  The speakers were knowledgeable and engaging and being in the heart of SOCOM, it seemed fitting that information and stats emanated from our presenters.  While the stats are impressive, what is truly extraordinary are the people behind them.

It was during the Deployment Activity where we began to understand the people at the heart of MacDill.  During the activity, our class was tasked to prepare for a hypothetical deployment with only a 24-hour notice.  Some preparations were obvious, such as bills and finances.  Others were more difficult.  Admittingly, none of us thought of consulting with teachers to explain why our child’s behavior may change at school.  Lastly, the reality of service was made evident by the need to ensure that our will and testaments were up to date.  Those leading the activity were sincere and authentic, sharing the various experiences they have witnessed and lived.  For many, the insight brought new gravity to the sentiment, “Thank you for your service”.

After this activity, we engaged in a discussion with Colonel Bill Salinger titled, “What is the Value Proposition of Special Operations in the Community?”.  During which, we learned the core attributes of the highly specialized and seasoned leaders in this space.  Later, Dr. Dora Mays and Technical Sergeant Tristian Traore enlightened us about how the military supports its members through various programs such as deployment preparation, bundles of babies, casualty assistance, and transition (out of the military) assistance.  Sandwiched between sessions, we toured the flight line, boarded a KC-135 and indulged in a few photos.  Afterward, Colonel Douglas Stouffer enthusiastically taught us about managing the fleet of KC-135s and KC-37s.

Undoubtedly, the most touching part of the day was the panel discussion with Air Force, Army & Navy Special Operations representatives.  Their names are not listed here, but the class engaged in a candid conversation about their lives in perpetual pursuit of the mission- Parati Defendere (Ready to Defend).  The gentlemen shared how the challenges of frequent deployments have shaped their lives and families; their service hasn’t been without sacrifice.  And while they were open about the challenges, it was evident that their dedication to furthering the mission reigned supreme.  Throughout the day, it was an honor to learn from the men and women at MacDill.  Inarguably, Tampa and our nation are stronger because of them.

After MacDill, we visited SOFWERX in Ybor city.  SOFWERX is a Title 15 Organization where, according to Tambrein Bates, innovative ideas are cultivated and accelerated through the collaboration of the brightest minds and divergent thoughts.  To those who are unfamiliar with it, it suffices to say that SOFWERX is doing impressive work to develop unconventional solutions to difficult military challenges.  Imagine a lab that spawns one-man flying machines and submergible watercraft.  It doesn’t disappoint.  For the techies reading this, SOFWERX serves as a catalyst for converting ideas into proof of concept, at a high iteration, low-cost rate.  SOFWERX is in a category that is uniquely its own.

For the unprecedented access, sincere thanks go out to the following:
Commander, 6th Air Mobility Wing – Colonel Stephen Snelson
Our Sponsor – Bank of America
Our Day Chair – Lieutenant Colonel John Schwartz, United States Air Force Reserve
Committee members – Colonel Emily Farkas and Brian Carson
Your efforts made our experience memorable, informative and inspiring.  Our class thanks you.

Citations:

  1. “MacDill Air Force Base Community Relations Update.” MacDill Air Force Base. Building 296 – 927 Air Refueling Wing Headquarters, Tampa. 6 February. 2019. Video.
  2. “Delivering Excellence: MacDill AFB.” White Paper. Print.
  3. “MacDill Air Force Base 2017 Economic Impact Statement.” White Paper. Print.

LT’19 Health Care Day

By: Charlotte McHenry, Senior Connection Center, Inc.

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”  Charles Darwin

Leadership Tampa’s Health Care Day, that took place on January 23, 2019, was one that appeared to bring anticipation and excitement for everyone, especially those who had an interest and possibly previous or current work experience in the healthcare arena. The day started at USF Health’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), where three dynamic healthcare executives spoke on their experiences in the field, including their views on leadership.  These executives were:

Kelly Cullen, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President at Tampa General Hospital

Kimberly Guy, Senior Vice President and Market Leader for Hillsborough and South East Pasco, BayCare Health System

Charles Lockwood, Senior Vice President, USF Health and Dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida

These executives shared their respective healthcare facility’s perspective on achieving quality care while ensuring their connection to the community by improving access. It was refreshing to see their mutual respect for one another and each other’s facilities.  Information was shared on the prominence of Tampa General Hospital as a Level 1 Trauma Center, their partnership with GE to advance predictive models and analytics for care coordination, as well as their service to the community as a premier transplant center.

BayCare Health System’s focus on quality was highlighted through their Community Health Needs Assessment, their partnership with Publix and their development of HealthHubs, a convenient neighborhood place to check in for your health care needs, which could include such amenities as walking trails.

USF took a different tactic in presenting to the class.  Dr. Lockwood shared that the biggest threat to the economy, the rising cost of medications. He shared that $3.5 trillion is spent on healthcare costs, which equates to 17.9% of the GNP.  Of the $3.5 trillion, $500 billion is spent on medications.  The average profit of drug companies is 25%.  Some of the issues that are impacting the expensive nature of drugs are as follows:

  • The US sets own prices for branded drugs
  • The government permits high prices
  • Brand drugs can make subtle changes to gain new patents and prevent generics from entering the market
  • Physicians write expensive prescriptions (partly due to patient requests due to drug advertising)
  • The US disallows drug imports
  • CMS cannot negotiate drug prices

It was also noted that pharmaceutical companies comprise the single largest lobbying group.  However, it was emphasized that one cannot overlook the role the US plays in the development of incredible drugs that are life-changing, as well as life-saving. The US is undoubtedly the envy of other countries in these innovations and developments, and there is nothing wrong with making a reasonable profit.

50436438_10218664673834325_6325903978471096320_n

The tour of the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) was incredibly enlightening.  This type of teaching environment is critically important since medical knowledge changes every 73 days.  In addition to all the simulated teaching opportunities for medical students, the method of teaching has changed to one that is more team focused, using the soft arts as a way of training and teaching medical students. This method of teaching helps students with situational awareness which can translate to a better bedside manner.  Learning the art of proper handwashing to prevent the spread of contagious conditions was a memorable part of this tour.

One sometimes hears, “Have there really been advances in cancer care and research?”  Well, a behind-the-scenes visit to Moffitt Cancer Center would give you a clear and resounding “yes” to that question.  A fascinating presentation from Dr. Sandy Anderson on mathematical oncology showed how applying math to cancer helps revolutionize therapies.  Mathematical models have helped determine the point at which cells become resistant to treatment thus determining the Minimum Effective Dose (MED) versus the Maximum Tolerated Dose (MTD).  The MTD could potentially destroy the cancer cells, but likely create an environment where cancer would come back aggressively and be nonresponsive to treatment.  The MED does not focus on cancer cell eradication, but cancer cell control which allows cancer to be treated from a chronic disease perspective.

50647980_10213179063663361_6909848758532440064_n

A visit to the vivarium at Moffitt included a stop at the decontamination chamber to ensure the environment remained in its ideal state before the visit could continue.  Dr. Engelman shared how the thousands of mice housed within this lab are genetically perfect models for cancer research which results in developing treatment modalities tailored to an individual’s specific type of cancer and tumor.

Ending Health Care Day by learning more about Tampa General Hospital’s premiere Transplant Program and spending time with four individuals who have benefited from the program was very rewarding.  Hearing their stories was a perfect way to end the day by bringing a face to healthcare.

Reflections from Health Care Day should be one focused on gratitude regarding the resource richness of the healthcare systems of Tampa and using the words of Dr. Lockwood, the “collective intelligence” of the excellent professionals that are part of them.  Gratitude was heard in the voices of individuals who benefitted from Tampa General Hospital’s Transplant Center and hope resonated within the walls of Moffitt Cancer Center.  However, reflections from Health Care Day should include an examination of critical questions, including 1) With all the innovations and technology available in the US, why is Slovenia the only country that ranks below the US in terms of health outcomes? 2) How large a role does access play in shifting the needle? and 3) How large a role does patient accountability play in shifting the needle?

A special thank you to Tampa General Hospital, the sponsor of the day, along with the Day Chair, David Robbins, and all the committee members for planning a fabulous day!

LT’19 Government and Economic Development Day

Living in the land of 9,000 neighborhoods…..committed to growth and inclusion.

By:  Monnie Wertz, The University of Tampa

On January 9th, the LT Class of 2019 had the opportunity to learn more about the governing and economic development aims of the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County.  The two reoccurring themes of our day were growth and inclusion.

GROWTH

The growth of Tampa and surrounding Hillsborough County is evident.  Hearing from many city experts, it became evident how intentional most of that growth has been.  The neighborhood liaisons from both City of Tampa and Hillsborough outlined the expansion of both areas.  Lunch overlooking the dynamic Riverwalk highlighted the newly designed downtown area.  The intentionality of the plans facilitated by the Tampa Housing Authority, the Chamber, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, and the mayor reflect progressive but realistic goals.  The afternoon outlined specific plans for additional downtown development as well as economic expansion.

INCLUSION

In presentation after presentation, city and county leaders highlighted the deliberate inclusion of all people in the growth and development of the region.  Governmental leaders described reforms designed to remove impediments for people in poverty and facilitate increased opportunities for success.  Housing issues were examined holistically to remove outdated complexes separated by income to facilitate more integrated models.  Economic growth is targeting diverse firms and clients to provide an area that reflects Tampa’s varied population and encourages further collaboration.  Construction developers highlighted their commitment to diversity and inclusion at every step of their processes.  The mayor punctuated this theme in his lunchtime comments when he declared that Tampa welcomes all people and recognizes their accomplishments and value.

HIGHLIGHTS/TAKE-AWAYS

  • City of Tampa is governed by a “strong mayor” model.
  • Hillsborough County is mostly unincorporated with the exception of the cities of Tampa, Plant City, and Temple Terrace.
  • Hillsborough is governed by County Commissioners with a County Manager hired by the Commissioners.
  • The State’s Attorney, 13th Circuit (Hillsborough County), is committed to reforming the criminal justice system in this area by balancing retribution, recidivism, rehabilitation, and restitution.
  • Tampa Housing Authority is removing outdated “projects” models of public housing communities and replacing them with mixed income facilities, such as the newly constructed Encore complex and the West River area.
  • There is a significant need for public housing communities in the Tampa area as 22,000 families are currently on the waiting list for assistance.
  • Defense and security, life science and health care, IT, manufacturing and logistics, and financial and professional services are the five main industry sectors for the Tampa Hillsborough area.
  • City of Tampa will be electing a new mayor and four new City Council members in March.
  • Transportation and linking all “economic engines” such as Busch Gardens, USF, and the Westshore business district with downtown into a cohesive unit are the next largest priorities identified by the outgoing mayor.
  • The Water Street Tampa project, under the direction of Strategic Property Partners (SPP), will add significantly more residential units, hotel space, and office/retail units to the downtown area.
  • Intentional commitment to bringing and supporting new talent in the Tampa Hillsborough area through higher education as well as organizations like Embarc Collective and the Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator .
  • The Chamber’s legislative agenda priorities include workforce development and education, health care, transportation, and military and defense.

Special thank you to our day sponsor – Christina Ciereck and the Florida Department of Health – Hillsborough County.

LT’19 Media Day

newsChange. Challenge. Chance.

These three, alliterative words came to light as descriptors of today’s media landscape on Wednesday, Nov. 28 as LT’19 delved into its annual Media Day.

In terms of change, we learned technology has drastically increased the speed of communications. More traditional media outlets – print, TV, and radio – have been forced to rethink their business models and approach. In turn, today’s media is faced with a unique challenge: how to balance providing instant access to information while ensuring credible, high-caliber reporting, all while keeping up with the demands of changing consumer behavior and a now around-the-clock news cycle. Despite the push and pull of this change and challenge, the hope for chance was palpable. Now, more than ever, media outlets are needed to provide vetted coverage; and locally, to supply the demand for locally-relevant news reporting. As the media landscape continues to evolve, outlets expressed the opportunity to reinvent through the strategic building of capacity and capability and the creative expansion of distribution channels.

We made these observations as our class traveled across the Tampa Bay area and visited some local media mainstays, including: iHeart Media Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Times, and WFLA-TV. Following are some highlights of what we learned at each of our stops:

iHeart Media Tampa Bay

  • Consists of 10 stations, 30 production studios, and 145 full/part-time employees across six departments
  • Designated Market Area (DMA) = 2 million+ in the Tampa Bay area
  • WFLZ-FM, a flagship station of iHeart Tampa Bay, is one of the top radio stations in the nation
  • As a brand, has evolved from being a radio company to the largest multimedia company in the U.S.

Tampa Bay Times Printing Plant

  • Boasts the largest newsroom in the Tampa Bay area
  • Every day, delivers hundreds of thousands of newspapers to homes and businesses in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando Counties
  • “The Daily Miracle” = phrase used by the Tampa Bay Times to describe the process of publishing the newspaper every day
  • Vice President/Tampa Publisher and TampaBay.com Publisher Joe DeLuca shared that the most important thing for the Tampa Bay Times to demonstrate is that “power flows in the direction of hope”

WFLA-TV

  • Goal = To put on a newscast that accurately reflects life in Tampa Bay
  • Has shifted its focus from strictly TV to multi-platform
  • Boosts its news content on social media to aid immediacy

Throughout the day, we had the privilege of hearing from many esteemed speakers; especially of note was LT’03’s Ernest Hooper from the Tampa Bay Times. He imparted wisdom on how and why to “dig a well before you’re thirsty”; in other words, how to effectively plan for a communications crisis in today’s ever-changing media landscape. He may or may not have also shared some breaking news. That’s all we’re saying!

To all sponsors, speakers, tour leaders, Media Day chairs and committee members, and LT leaders and staff, thank you for making this opportunity possible.

Jennifer Dunn, APR, Conversa

LT’19 Education Day

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to the think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – MLK, Jr.

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” – Albert Einstein

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

45617312_10156430331574733_3163402421783232512_o1.jpg

We saw fire!  Yeats was right. It was a lighting of fires! It’s quite possible that our own fires regarding the power of education were (re)lit as well.  In fact, our own fires ignited an appreciation for those who serve in the education sector, often at a high cost of personal sacrifice and delayed return on investment. To see the fire in their eyes – both the teacher and the student, passion in their hearts, and conviction in their communication was enough to convince us that maybe the sacrifice wasn’t as much as a sacrifice as it appears and the thirst for a return on investment was quenched enough to keep them going back for more. The day’s evidence was a confirmation of what many of us experienced individually during our Teacher Shadowing days that had been completed on the weeks prior to Education Day.

For ten intense hours, the Leadership Tampa Class of 2019 was immersed in the power of education, the local opportunities that are available for many, the challenges that our region has regarding education, and the very honest dialogue about the solutions that make improvement possible.

The timing and subject matter could not have been timed more perfectly for Hillsborough County (and this region) since it was the day after mid-term elections and the historic vote for a school referendum, which passed convincingly.  The passing of this referendum sent a clear message to all onlookers that education is a priority for our area and everyone has bought into the vision to improve our public educational system.

With a limited schedule, LT’19 was privileged to experience multiple area educational options: private educational options (Academy Prep of Tampa and Cristo Rey Tampa High School), public high school options (with emphasis on magnet opportunities at Blake High School’s Theatre and Arts Program and Chamberlain High School’s Culinary Arts Program), and finally, post-secondary options at Hillsborough Community College. While touring Academy Prep, the passion and drive of Mr. Lincoln Tamayo, Principal of Academy Prep, was undeniable.  His fire fuels his staff which impacts his students in a significant way.  The professionalism and brilliance of the students was unmistakable. It was clear that he is not just interested in providing a quality academic education, but a broadened intellectual lifestyle opportunity.  This became clearer throughout the day as we engaged with more educational professionals. They all recognized the importance of a quality, holistic development of each student.

While we did not have an opportunity on this day to tour University of South Florida and University of Tampa, previous days and opportunities have allowed these nationally recognized colleges’ impact to be felt. Time would not allow us an opportunity for a dive into approaches and options for pre-K, kindergarten and middle school for public schools. Not visiting any of these schools did not mean that we did not have an opportunity to hear about the options surrounding them. Our superintendent spoke very adeptly about their impact, potential, and challenges.

It was really our treat to personally engage with speakers and presenters with emphasis on both our school Superintendent, Jeff Eakins, and a group of Blake High School students who provided amazing musical and theatre presentations.  The principals and magnet administrative teams of both Blake High School and Chamberlain High School took time to share about their programs, schools, school history, and future opportunities.  Their fire was unquestionable.  As a part of the day, we were treated to an amazing lunch by the culinary program students at Chamberlain in their Outback sponsored facility – on campus! The students did an amazing job! If they were on Yelp or OpenTable, I’m sure they would have earned a 5-star review.

Superintendent Eakins talked about all levels of our public schools, the recently passed referendum, current statistics on graduation rates, literacy rates, achievement zone schools, teacher salaries and retention, and so much more.  It was also very insightful to have him frame the progress of the school system from a historical context, which at times has not had a positive history for all individuals within our community. It was not difficult to engage in this dialogue and these educational options while seeing some of the glaring challenges that our educational system faces. A very pointed statement from the superintendent that provided fruitful dialogue was, “Although our schools have glaring achievement gaps, achievement gaps aren’t created in our schools. There are so many ‘outside’ issues that affect what happens in our schools.”

As we concluded our time learning about the public school system one of the last statements made was, “Education is clearly an economic driver in our community.”  This statement, in my mind, should have cleared up why a group like Leadership Tampa should be concerned about education and all of the challenges that our current educational system faces. When all students are empowered with a great education, the entire community wins.

This statement was a great transition for us moving into the last component of the day where we were introduced to the strong academic partnerships between our academic institutions and our economic development organizations.  Ms. Bea Bare of Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation led us in a mock presentation of gaining (recruiting) new companies to the area. Representatives from USAA, University of South Florida, University of Tampa, and Hillsborough Community College were a part of this panel mock presentation.  It was an incredibly informative demonstration to see the layers of collaboration necessary to see our community win.

HCC staff then gave us presentations and a tour of several amazing departments who are on the front lines of quickly training our workforce to meet the demands of area businesses and the needs of our community.  Those departments included Auto/Mechanic, Diesel Repair, Fire Academy, Paint and Body/Collision, and Welding (it was interesting to note the emphasis on transportation among these programs). The fire and engagement of each instructor was not only clear, but inspiring.  A fire academy instructor who served 35 years active duty as a fire fighter, a diesel repair instructor who drove trucks for decades, a paint and body instructor who served in the industry for over thirty years, a welding instructor who had an award-winning show in Japan. You could also sense the appreciation and respect of the students towards their instructors. These students, who are adults, were treated with dignity and honor for their unique stories, but most importantly, who they were becoming. Mr. John Meeks, Dean of HCC Workforce Training Center aptly shared, “college is for everybody, we just need to find out which track and program.” After some question and answer, he concluded his presentation with this idea, “You either skill your workforce or you grow them.  We believe we can do both.”

Every person on the planet has been impacted by a teacher. In some way, our unique educational experiences have deeply shaped who we are and how we think.  It has played a role in developing our personal convictions, individual self-concept and confidence, as well as, our created space for incredible relationships and indescribable life moments. The quote of the day summarizes our day, “Our schools are incubators of the next generation of leaders.” The activity, research and history prove this statement true. I hope that the horizon of the future is lit by the fires of Tampa’s educational influence and power.

Author: Christopher J. Harris