Spotlight On: Mark Hardy, Vice President & Regional Manager, Universal Engineering Sciences

Spotlight On: Mark Hardy, Vice President & Regional Manager, Universal Engineering Sciences

Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read August 2019 — Growth in the Tampa Bay construction industry has not only benefited construction and real estate development companies in the area, it has also been a massive plus for engineering firms. Quality development and construction is dependent upon the availability of highly professional and proficient engineers, and demand can quickly outweigh supply. Invest: Tampa Bay recently sat down with Mark Hardy, vice president and regional manager for Universal Engineering Sciences’s Tampa Bay office. Among the many topics covered, Hardy discussed the growth in demand for building inspection services, a growing focus on environmental sustainability and what the next year will hold for his office.

Which of your services are seeing the most growth in demand? 

We are seeing tremendous growth in demand for our building inspection services. A new law signed by Gov. DeSantis, allows companies like ours to provide plan review and inspections that municipalities would normally conduct. While the private provider option has been available since 2002, the new law reduces the time frame and cost that this would normally entail. As a private firm we can help accelerate the process during a time when municipalities are overwhelmed.


How much of a focus is environmental sustainability to your clients? 

As new projects get underway, they are hitting some roadblocks because they are infringing on wetlands. We have hired an individual who specializes in wetlands and endangered species so we can better assist clients in finding the balance between being able to do a new development and still remain cognizant of those environmental areas. Another area where we are seeing a lot of expansion is renewable energy projects, like solar farms; we are getting frequent calls to provide expertise on how to get them planned and constructed.


What does the next 12 months look like for your office? 

We have a lot of projects on the books that haven’t started yet but are on the horizon for the new year. This includes a new performing arts center and new contracts with Pasco County Schools, Hillsborough County Public Schools and Hillsborough County for infrastructure improvements. This year, we surpassed 100 employees at this office and we will look to build off that momentum. The remainder of 2019 and 2020 are shaping up to be really great years for the company.


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Face Off: Tampa’s Transportation Task Forces

Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas

4 min read September 2019 Whether it is Hillsborough, Pasco or Pinellas County, transportation issues seem to plague the entirety of this growing region. Mitigating these challenges requires innovative thinking and collaboration between the community, local government and both public and private organizations. Invest: Tampa Bay recently spoke with Beth Alden, executive director for the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas. These two organizations, whose primary focus is addressing the transportation and transit issues in the Tampa Bay region, discussed how they are gauging community needs in regards to these issues, facilitating better transit options and how they are turning dollars into solutions.

How do you gauge the community’s needs in regards to new transportation options?

Beth Alden: We have been engaging the public with an online survey, which is an interactive, gamified survey to ask folks about their priorities in regards to transportation. We received 5,200 responses, and it is amazing how many people are saying that they want a better rapid transit system. We have also discovered that they are very interested in reusing the freight rail tracks. That would require an agreement with CSX, which owns those tracks, but it’s a very underutilized asset. There’s no freight rail track between Downtown Tampa, the airport and the Westshore Business District, and it will take some extra steps to create that.

Whit Blanton: Our challenge in Pinellas County is that we are not growing like Pasco, Hillsborough, or Manatee County. We are expected to add about 90,000 people by the year 2045, which is a small fraction of what the other counties are expected to have. We have to plan and think differently. We have a situation here where the average new worker in Pinellas County is almost 50 years old, so we are not attracting young workers, except maybe in St. Petersburg, but most young people can’t afford to live there. Our strategy is really aimed at the future of our workforce, how do we draw talent and how do we retain this talent. We believe the solution is investing in housing and better mass transit services.

How are you facilitating better transit options?

Alden: In regards to transit, having some form of passenger rail system or rapid transit system would be one way we could do that. The important point with a rapid transit system is that we provide a way for it not to get stuck in traffic, so we need to provide some space for it to run and get out of traffic. We can do this with our bus system by providing special bypass lanes for buses where there is room on major roads. The walk and bicycle infrastructure is really important as well. People do not realize how many trips they make that are less than two miles long. If there are safe ways to walk or bicycle, then they do not necessarily have to be putting another car on the road to make that short trip. This also relates to our Vision Zero project, which is the vision of zero traffic deaths in Tampa Bay.

Blanton: ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) 2.0 is our plan for moving toward more intelligent transportation systems. Since the early 2000s, we’ve done a good job of implementing smart signals for moving traffic, responding to hot spots of congestion and facilitating traffic flow.  ITS 2.0 is intended to reimagine what the next phase of that investment is going to look like, which will focus more on real-time information and also ensuring the safety of bicycling and walking. Our advanced traffic management system has been focused on moving cars through intersections and keeping the flow going, but the next phase will include recognition of pedestrians at crosswalks. We also have an integrated transit fare payment system, called Flamingo Fares, that has been under development for a couple of years. That should go live in the next year. It will be a one-fare payment that can be used all over the region, whether someone is in Hillsborough or Pinellas County.

What specific plans are being implemented to move transportation development forward?

Alden: We will start with the essentials: resurfacing, safety and smart traffic signal projects. Almost half (the new Hillsborough transportation tax) is for transit, starting with expanding the bus service so it runs on evenings, weekends and often enough that you do not have to spend an hour waiting for a transfer. This is an amazing opportunity to implement the changes we have been planning for years. There are many more exciting projects in the pipeline. We finally have the resources to make the changes that the community wants to see in Tampa Bay.

Blanton: The Gateway District is our economic engine in Pinellas County. It is where the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is located, and there are a significant number of manufacturing and office jobs in that area. The challenge is that it is a loose and segregated type of development that is in need of an update. The Gateway is in four different jurisdictions, so it can be hard to design a cohesive plan for that area. We asked all four local governments, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg, Largo and Pinellas County, to contribute $100,000. Forward Pinellas then put in $100,000 and the Department of Transportation put in another $500,000. With all this funding, we were able to put together a million-dollar master plan that is about to be finished. It is a reimagining of how the Gateway will develop in the future and focus on sustainable development because a lot of the gateway is in a coastal, high hazard, flood-prone area where businesses and potential development are vulnerable. The plan addresses how we are looking at higher density development to support transit in that area because we need to get our workers between the counties.



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Tackling Affordable Housing in the Bay

Tackling Affordable Housing in the Bay

Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read August 2019   Growth in the Tampa Bay region has been twofold, with a  significant boom in the economy and the population. As the population grows so does the need for more affordable housing options in the region. While there has been a notable increase in the development of luxury apartments and multifamily units, which are popping up all over Downtown, there is a notable deficit of affordable housing options. Mayor Jane Castor, her administration and community organizations like the Tampa Housing Authority recognize that they must work together to find- a solution for this problem.

Since her election in April, Mayor Castor has identified access to affordable housing solutions as one of her top priorities, as noted when she spoke with Invest:. “In reality, the most pressing issues in our community are transportation, affordable housing and workforce development.” She has since taken action to address the housing issue with the recent formation of the Affordable Housing Advisory Team as part of her “Transforming Tampa’s Tomorrow” transition. The role of the advisory team will be to ensure home ownership for all residents in Tampa regardless of economic status. It  will be one of five advisory teams guiding the mayor’s strategic vision for addressing key issues in Tampa Bay. 

One of the members of the Affordable Housing Advisory Team is Leroy Moore, the senior vice resident and chief operating officer for the Tampa Housing Authority. The Authority is not only focused on providing housing assistance to low-income residents. Its role has evolved over the years to better address the affordable housing issue in the region. Invest: recently spoke with Moore, who discussed how the Authority is addressing this need. “The Housing Authority has evolved to not only manage affordable housing, but also to redevelop this housing into real estate that functions as more than just a roof over someone’s head. We consistently ask ourselves what else does a community need? A community needs jobs, quality food and transportation accessibility, which brings in the need for collaboration with transportation agencies in the region. We can meet the needs of the community by developing housing, especially affordable and attainable housing, around accessible transit options. Great transit translates into better housing costs.” 

The Authority’s actions to tackle affordable housing include the redevelopment of a 28-acre superblock of public housing that will be known as the Encore District. In his discussion with Invest:, Moore spoke about the Authority’s approach to this development and how it differs from the original construction., “Seventy-five years ago, the Tampa Housing Authority developed a 28-acre superblock of public housing on the doorstep of what is now Downtown. Seventy-five years later, we are redeveloping that site and realizing that its potential today is far greater than what was ever imagined back then. Instead of just having a 28-acre single-use affordable housing community, we now have 12 city blocks of diverse development called the Encore District.” He continued: “Encore will be a LEED Gold neighborhood development community. All the buildings have a commitment to be LEED Silver or higher. We replaced the affordable and workforce housing and increased the number of affordable units on that exact same footprint. We are also adding other uses like hotels, museums, schools, market-rate housing and grocery stores all within the same 28-acre area.”

The need for more affordable housing is not an issue that will resolve itself and will only continue to manifest into a larger challenge as the population in Tampa Bay grows. The solution is not clear-cut, but community leaders like Mayor Castor and Moore are working to find actionable answers.  

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Spotlight On: Brian Kornfeld, President and Co-Founder, Synapse

Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read August 2019 — The growth of Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is a testament to the boom of innovation, collaboration and economic rise that the region is experiencing. The key to keeping this growth sustainable comes down to multiple factors, including attracting more venture capital into the region, improving connectivity between startups and the continuous marketing of Tampa Bay as the place to start a business. One of the leading forces behind Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization known as Synapse. Invest: Tampa Bay recently sat down with President and Co-Founder of Synapse Brian Kornfeld to discuss how the organization is attracting and retaining quality talent, how their program Synapse Connect will help to improve connectivity between entrepreneurs, the key to attracting more venture capital to Tampa Bay and the challenges still facing the startup community.

How is Synapse working to help retain quality talent in the Tampa Bay workforce ecosystem?

Talent is one of the most important focus areas for Synapse because talent attraction and retention in Florida are vital to our future. Synapse helps to tell the top stories of growth and success on a statewide and national level. This helps to ensure people know about all the great things happening in Tampa Bay. We enable connections between talent, startups, and companies through our Synapse Summit, Synapse Challenges, and the Synapse Connect digital platform. By enabling the right stories and the right connections to take place, people can truly see a bright future in Tampa Bay.

How is Synapse Connect helping to connect entrepreneurs and bring their ideas to life?

When we first started Synapse, the idea was this platform that has become Synapse Connect. The thought of running a conference was not even on our radar, so it is interesting that our conference is what we are now best known for while Connect is still up and coming. The goal is that in the future Synapse Connect will be at the center of Florida’s innovation community. It will be the logical first step when somebody joins the innovation community, so they can find what they need or share what they have. We feel it will be vital because the geographic regions in Florida are so separate. If we can shrink the state virtually than we can help people find the right resources no matter where they may be physically located. 

What is the key to attracting venture capital to Tampa Bay?

Steve Case, founder of AOL, noted that 75% of venture capital is spent in San Francisco, New York, and Boston. That is three markets receiving 75% of all available venture capital in this country, while the state of Florida only sees 3% of all venture capital. One of the main reasons we do not see more venture capital across the state is because we do not have the volume and critical mass of startups quite yet. This will change in Florida as we are starting to see more people rapidly getting into the startup and innovation worlds. As more quality companies build and grow, we will see more money put to work.  Organizations like Florida Funders are doing a great job as the leading edge and thinking differently on investing, helping to enable and encourage more of the state’s accredited investors to get involved.

What is the most notable challenge facing the startup and entrepreneurial community in Tampa Bay?

Part of the challenge with the startup community in Tampa Bay is trying to find our identity. We are pretty wide in terms of the different industries that we are trying to service, but we need to focus our efforts on being great in just a couple areas. This will allow us to be an inch wide and a mile deep. We have core leading industries, such as cybersecurity, digital health, and financial tech. We need to continue to play to our strengths. Startup companies also need to be educated on how to build for a customer’s needs, to solve a problem and learn how to create a product better than their competitors. After these companies have mastered this, then they can learn how to grow and scale. 


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Buccaneers Hope Offseason Moves Score Touchdown

Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read August 2019   There is perhaps nothing more synonymous with Tampa Bay than its football team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since officially joining the NFL in 1976, the Bucs have become a staple in the Tampa Bay region. The team’s history includes the highest highs and lowest lows, from a dismal 0-14 inaugural season to a Super Bowl title in 2003. Now only weeks away from the start of the 2019-2020 season, the Bucs are looking to bounce back from last year’s tumultuous campaign that resulted in a 5-11 win-loss record and a last-place divisional finish for a second straight year.

The Bucs have not allowed last year’s disappointing season to distract them from what could possibly be a comeback season in the making. After the final loss last season, the Bucs dismissed head coach Dirk Koetter. They have since hired two-time Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians, who has been swift in his moves to strengthen the team’s defense and instill a winning culture within the locker room. The Buccaneers added some significant depth to their defense with their 2019 first round pick, linebacker Devin White, and with the addition of five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Ndamukong Suh.

While the city of Tampa Bay is eager to see the team return to its glory days as Super Bowl champs, there may be no one more focused on having a winning season this year than Bucs’ quarterback Jameis Winston. The national championship and Heisman Trophy winner has had what can be best described as an inconsistent NFL career. Entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, the former first round pick will undoubtedly look to use this season as his campaign to remain the team’s franchise quarterback. 

The Buccaneers franchise and fanbase can also look forward to an improved Raymond James Stadium, which underwent a $160 million renovation in the offseason. The stadium, and more broadly the City of Tampa Bay, will be home to Super Bowl LV in 2021, marking the fifth time Tampa Bay has hosted football’s biggest event. Invest: Tampa Bay spoke with Brian Ford, COO of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who discussed what it means to host this event once again. “It’s going to be Tampa’s fifth Super Bowl, which is great when you think about all the many, very exciting cities that can host the Super Bowl. We’re very proud of that. Tampa hosts a ton of big events, and we do them well. We worked closely with Rob Higgins of the Tampa Sports Commission, Eric Hart and Mickey Farrell of the Tampa Sports Authority, Commissioner Ken Hagan of Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa in putting together the best bid and best format for this mammoth event. When you sit down and look at it, it’s truly remarkable that so many in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County all came together for one event. And there’s no way that we would’ve been offered this opportunity if we hadn’t made a major investment in the renovations, of which we’re also very proud.”

The only thing that could make hosting a Super Bowl better for the Tampa Bay region would be to see the home team competing in it. While that may be a long shot at this point, the Buccaneers will have this season and next to prove they are a franchise that can compete at the highest level. It’s still early, but all signs seem to be pointing to a brighter future for the Tampa team. 


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Spotlight On: Hala Sandridge, Shareholder and Tampa Co-Office Head, Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney PC

Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read August 2019 — Demand in most job sectors ebbs and flows with the economy. One sector that seemingly goes against this narrative and remains relatively consistent is the legal industry. As a new generation makes its way into the field, law offices are having to prepare for the next wave of legal professionals. Invest: Tampa Bay recently spoke with Hala Sandridge, shareholder and Tampa co-office head for Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney PC. She spoke about her firm’s approach to talent retention and attraction, the red-hot market for young legal talent and what the next year will hold for the legal sector in Tampa Bay.

How is the firm preparing for the next generation of legal professionals? 

Every company has to manage their external and internal sustainability, with a focus on the next generation of the workforce to optimize for long-term success. We at Buchanan are continuously building that next generation of attorneys who are going to continue the work of the senior leaders after they retire. We have strong succession plans in place as well as various programs that help those who are not yet at the partner level to become stronger in their practice, better at business development and immersed in the business of our clients.


I have noticed that many law firms do not plan for the future workforce and for the retirement of their more senior partners. It is crucial for business continuity to have attorneys trained and ready to pick up responsibilities and relationships. The next generation needs to be ready to sustain the growth that the company has accomplished and continue to take advantage of this market. When our attorneys are near retirement age, we have a conversation with them to make a plan for their retirement. We require our attorneys to take on these young people and integrate them with their clients so that the relationship continues smoothly after they have left. 

What is the state of the job market for law students nearing graduation? 

The job market for law students has seen a bit of fluctuation over the past several years and right now there are many opportunities for fresh law school graduates. Three years ago, we were not hiring too many law students shortly after graduation, but that has changed. We have hired a number of past summer associates upon their graduation and continue to seek out talented graduates. I cannot say enough great things about this next generation. They have their heads on straight, are incredibly goal-oriented and are willing to learn. 

What does the next year look like for Tampa Bay’s legal sector? 

I believe that the market is going to stay hot for the next year. However, in the event that there is an economic slowdown, many of us in the legal sector, including Buchanan will continue to do well as we thrive in a down market too. As a successful law firm we must stay nimble, so when the market changes we are prepared. For example, we have a nationally-recognized bankruptcy group whose work tends to increase during economic downturns, while other attorneys who typically perform transactional work use their market knowledge to advise on bankruptcy work. The key for any successful law firm is to diversify your staff and not have all your eggs in one basket.



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Spotlight On: Mayor Sandra Bradbury, City of Pinellas Park

Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read August 2019 — The unprecedented economic growth the Tampa Bay MSA, including Pinellas County, is enjoying comes with both benefits and challenges. At the very center of Pinellas County is it’s fourth largest city, Pinellas Park. Invest: Tampa Bay recently spoke with Mayor of Pinellas Park Sandra Bradbury. She discussed how the city is handling the region’s growth, its focus on remaining economically and environmentally sustainable, and her outlook for the next year.




What efforts are being made to encourage environmental sustainability in the city? 

In a partnership with the Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch, we just started development on a new park called Lurie Park. This park is going to be completely accessible for all handicapped people, from children to the elderly, and will be geared toward our veterans. We also just purchased a four-acre property that was a horse stable, which we are in the process of converting to a farm. It is an extension of the existing Helen Howarth Park. Our goal is to work with the U.S.-based network of youth organizations 4-H and bring students to the farm to teach them how to sustainably raise and grow their own food.

How are you supporting local business growth? 

Businesses come to us all the time because we have a relatively large amount of commercial area that’s available for development. The city council and voter referendum created a package of incentives that we could use to retain businesses that want to grow and expand. These incentives allow businesses the flexibility to move offices or add square footage to their buildings. We are one of the few places that has this ability. It is within our ordinances to allow our economic development manager and her team to offer incentives to local businesses, which revolves around how much they are growing and how many employees they will be hiring with the expansion. So far, city council has provided seven packages to different companies that have grown in Pinellas Park. 

What does the next year look like for Pinellas Park? 

We think the future is bright. We have a lot of businesses that are still looking at us as a place to expand into. Our position is unique because we are at the very center of the county. We are also one of the few cities that still has vacant land available, especially in our industrial area. This gives a business the opportunity to come here and develop their work space. With the economic growth in the region, our homes have gone up in value over the years, but overall the Pinellas Park area is still affordable. We have parks in the area, and our citizens assist in the conservation and revitalization of those parks as necessary. Overall, we feel extremely positive about the next year. 


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Spotlight On: David Gwynn, District Seven Secretary, Florida Department of Transportation

Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read July 2019 — Challenges with transportation, traffic and transit options are not new issues for the Tampa Bay region. As the area continues to make strides in its economic and population growth, there is a heightened emphasis on finding solutions. Invest: Tampa Bay recently sat down and discussed these issues with David Gwynn, District Seven Secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation. Gwynn spoke about how FDOT is working to mitigate these challenges, enact forward-thinking initiatives and his outlook for transportation in Tampa Bay for the next year.

What is the biggest initiative for Florida Department of Transportation in District 7? 

We have been working on a program called Tampa Bay Next. Over the last two and a half years, we have had hundreds of public meetings with big and small interest groups, elected officials and general members of the public, which we used to gather some great input. A key issue that we identified was transportation. Although we recognize that our interstate needs some work, there are other areas, like the downtown interchange, where infrastructural improvement would have a pretty massive impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. As a result, we are focusing on ways we can improve transit and intersections in those areas to help make them safer, while also not requiring a significant expansion of the highway footprint.

How are you working to mitigate the traffic issues in the region? 

We have come to the conclusion that simply widening and continuing to build more roads is not going to completely mitigate this issue. We have shifted our efforts to also look at multimodal solutions, like the streetcar system in downtown Tampa. Until last year, it was underutilized, but we recognized that this could be a good part of a transit system. The question was how to make it more attractive for people to start riding it. What we found was because there was not a lot of local money to fund it, it was only running from 11 in the morning until 8 at night. We were able to get a grant to allow the streetcar to run from 7 in the morning until 11 at night and on a more frequent basis. The ridership has since tripled, and that is important because we now have a strong case for the federal government to invest in expanding that streetcar system further out into Tampa Heights. If we can get federal funding, they will put 50% of the cost in, the locals put in 25%, and then our department covers the last 25%. 

What is the outlook for the transportation sector in Tampa Bay for the next year?

The passage of the sales tax in Hillsborough County was a big step forward because the local money allows us to do things with state and federal matching money. We will start to see an increased frequency of buses, better stations and more opportunities to expand the systems. On the highway side, we continue to build road and safety improvements. Four hundred of our signalized intersections that had the highest number of crashes are in the process of receiving new LED lighting that will illuminate these intersections at night much better than they have been. We are going to start the Howard Frankland Bridge project, and the Gateway Expressway will probably be completed in another two years. 

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No Stopping Tampa Tourism Rocket

Max Crampton-Thomas

2 minute read July 2019 — Quite often when the city of Tampa Bay is mentioned it is in the context of how rapidly the area is growing both in population and economically. The boom Tampa Bay is experiencing can be attributed to a great many things, including a bustling tech sector, a revolutionary healthcare market and first-class educational institutions. Perhaps most influential in all this growth, however, has been the economic rocket that is the city’s tourism sector. Tourism in Tampa Bay has steadily risen year after year, and with events like Super Bowl LV and Wrestlemania 36 on the horizon, that trend shows no signs of slowing down.

The spike in tourism to the region has not been by chance. Rather, it can be attributed to the focused and deliberate efforts made by local businesses, government and community organizations. Invest: Tampa Bay recently spoke with Santiago Corrada, the president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, about the record year the city had in 2018. “We had an incredible end to the 2018 calendar year. It was another record-setting year for hotel revenue, which is phenomenal given that we have had record-setting years every year since 2014. We ended 2018 at $673.5 million in hotel taxable revenue, which was almost 5% higher than the previous year at $644 million. This is important for us because anytime a county hits $600 million in taxable revenue, it is granted the designation of a high-impact tourism destination. We have been able to reach that designation for two years in a row, and this year was even more important because our county commission just approved a rise in the tourism tax from 5% to 6%, which is the highest that any county can collect.” The growth in tourism throughout Tampa Bay also has a spillover effect. As demand increases and new attractions open they bring with them fresh job opportunities for local residents.

To sustain momentum and build on these milestones, Corrada says that attracting new hotels to the city makes sense. “There are certain big-name, five-star brands we do not have in Hillsborough County, and as the business plan makes sense to add these properties then we will. These new properties will yield different business groups and markets for the region. We have to continue to capitalize when we have an opportunity to expand our reach, refresh our brands and to always have something new to bring visitors back,” Santiago told Invest. “That’s why new developments like the Tampa Riverwalk are so important, why food halls are so important and why Busch Gardens updating and adding its roller coasters is significant because it gives people a reason to want to come back to Tampa Bay. Sustainability in this industry has to do with still being aggressive and still going after it.”

Tampa Bay is quickly becoming a premier, must-visit destination in Florida. Tourism in the city of Tampa Bay shows no signs of slowing down, and due to the efforts of organizations like Visit Tampa Bay will likely reach new heights in 2019. 

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