Growing Up Lakeland: A City on the Cusp

By staff writer

March 2019

Often known as the city sandwiched between Orlando and Tampa or as the host of one of America’s largest aviation shows, the City of Lakeland has been working diligently to accelerate its prominence not only in Polk County but also throughout the state of Florida. With the combination of an expanding economy, growing population and multiple initiatives from local government, Lakeland is primed to be Florida’s next rising star.

It hasn’t even been 10 years since Lakeland’s population crossed into the 100,000 residents range, yet there is a spark of excitement throughout the community that is felt in both the private and public sectors. Invest: Tampa Bay recently sat down with Lakeland’s mayor, Bill Mutz, to discuss the growth and major economic drivers for the city.

“Two of the major drivers are our location between Tampa and Orlando,” Mayor Mutz told Invest:. “We have the DNA of a city that’s geographically been born in a good spot and is on the cusp of a large acceleration of growth.” The mayor went on to speak about the impact of supermarket giant Publix having its headquarters in the city. “Publix is also headquartered here, and they have 1,237 stores and over 210,000 employees, making them a huge influence throughout the region.”

The mayor revealed to Invest: that the strategy for continued growth in the region is “an effective long-term game plan” that is reliant on involving residents of the city in all aspects of the community.

This idea of long-term success was clearly evident when we spoke with Steve Scruggs, president of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, who made it clear that the focus is not only on growth for the city but also for its residents.

“This year we are focusing on entrepreneurship and major groundbreaking work in the downtown area through our catalyst sites project,” Scruggs told Invest:. “We identified areas for redevelopment within our downtown that would embody new commercial, retail and office high-rises, parking garages, a soccer stadium, a promenade and an elevated pedestrian walkway. These plans are getting more traction and are part of a big project happening in downtown.”

Scruggs emphasized the point that supporting entrepreneurs and local business in the area is an essential part of the growth initiatives. “We are building a new facility for entrepreneurs in downtown Lakeland that will open up this year,” he said. “The project is part of our Catapult 2.0 initiative and will host a commercial kitchen, a makerspace with wood and metal working shops, CNC machining, 3D printers and co-working spaces. It is privately funded and a place for entrepreneurs to test out their concepts in a low-risk financial space. It is a nonprofit project to give back to the community and increase the viability of startups through education, collaborative workspace and funding.”

From an outsider perspective, it might seem that these initiatives and ideas for internal growth in Lakeland are far-reaching, but this growth from within is exactly what Mayor Mutz is hoping will push Lakeland to the next level.

“We’re a city that has an unusual heart and the capability of communicating trust across sectors within the community,” he said. “This is increasingly important in today’s society. In a decisive world with much polarization, to model inclusiveness is going to be extremely attractive to future residents.”

Invest: Tampa Bay can’t wait to see what’s in store for Lakeland in 2019 and beyond!

To learn more about our interviewees, visit their websites:
Lakeland Economic Development Council: http://www.lakelandedc.com/
City of Lakeland: https://www.lakelandgov.net/

 

A Hub for Medical Innovation

By staff writer

February 2019

There are certain aspects of a community that will always prove to be true. One such truth is when you have an area like Tampa Bay that is home to nearly 3 million people, and that number is steadily increasing year after year, there is inevitably going to be a need for more medical care. With that comes an increased emphasis on medical education. So how is Tampa handling this increased demand? The simple answer is: innovation.

Tampa is home to a number of highly praised and widely recognized medical institutions, and one of these institutions is Ultimate Medical Academy. The academy is using innovative methods for its online school to better equip those students who might not have the flexibility in their lives to go to an actual campus. Invest: Tampa Bay recently sat down with the school’s president, Derek Apanovitch, to discuss how they are best supporting their medical students.

“It has been a good year at Ultimate Medical Academy,” Apanovitch told Invest:. “We reached 15,000 students nationwide, and we have more than 45,000 graduates across the country. We also received four more years of accreditation from the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools.

“We have what we call learner-services advisors who are assigned to individual students on their first day of class and stay with them through the duration of their program to help keep them on track,” Apanovitch continued. “One of the obvious challenges of running an online learning environment is that you don’t have students in front of you. We try to reaffirm that human element through constant interaction with our students, many of whom are single moms who are juggling part-time jobs and child care, so it’s important that someone is always available to help them. Faculty and the student support center employees are always on hand. That’s integral to the success of our students.”

Online institutions like Ultimate Medical Academy are proving successful because of their accessibility. This idea of accessibility has also been adopted by Tampa’s hospitals, making it so their patients have access to the items they need without having to go out of their way to procure them.

Invest: Tampa recently spoke with Tampa General Hospital’s CEO and president, John Couris, to discuss how they are leveraging innovative technologies to improve patient experience.

“We use a system called Epic for our electronic medical records (EMRs), and arguably it’s one of the best EMRs in the world,” Couris said. “It has improved access to clinical information exponentially for patients. Patients can access test results. They can communicate and message their doctors. They can make appointments. They can fill prescriptions. They have a to-do list for healthcare and tracking. They have a healthcare summary. They can see and pay their bills. They can do an e-visit, and they can share their records with any other Epic institution in the world. Not every institution has that kind of technology and infrastructure. We have it, and we’re continuing to get better at it.”

Innovation is not a new concept, but it is one that is necessary for Tampa Bay’s continued success in the medical field. As long as medical professionals and institutions continue to innovate, Tampa Bay will continue to be at the forefront of Florida’s medical community!

To learn more about our interviewees, visit their websites:
Ultimate Medical Academy: https://www.ultimatemedical.edu/
Tampa General Hospital: https://www.tgh.org/

Workforce Development for the Future

By Ian Leigh

February 2019

Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times.

Although Governor Ron DeSantis has asked for Florida’s education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, to help him secure $36 million from the legislature for workforce programs, with an emphasis on computer science classes, several Tampa Bay area college presidents say there are market opportunities in the arts and creative fields as well.

Governor DeSantis, at a recent Tampa press conference, asked for more dollar investment in vocational and technical training, with a special emphasis on computer knowledge. To stress that initiative, he signed an executive order asking for an audit by the Department of Education to learn more about its career and technical education programs. He said he wants to prepare more people for practical market entry.

The goal is to raise Florida from number 24 nationally in vocational training to number 1 by 2030. As part of this effort, he is asking the legislature to put $10 million into programs that will permit teachers to earn computer science certificates. He hopes the end result will be more qualified faculty in this field.

Governor DeSantis also asked for another $26 million for more workforce programs within the state college system and more investment to seed workforce apprenticeships. Several Tampa Bay area college presidents say that there are also alternative opportunities in the arts and other fields — in everything from mental health counseling to the creative arts.

Larry Thompson, president of Ringling College, told our Invest: Tampa Bay team that there are myriad creative paths for students. “Historically, education has focused on the left side of the brain (the logical, analytical and sequential thinking), but with the dawn of AI, the development of the right side of the brain (the creative, holistic and intuitive thinking) will become even more critical. That’s where the future lies; it’s going to become fuel for all industries, the oil of the future.”

Ringling College, based in Sarasota, offers classes in the business of art and design and other creative disciplines.

Jeff Day, president of Argosy University, noted there are new opportunities in the market. “Due to what’s happening in our society right now, clinical mental health counseling is a really booming occupational field,” he told Invest:. “There’s such a growing need for mental health counsellors and clinical psychologists, and even our school psychology program, that we’ve expanded our programs and are seeing more students.”

Governor DeSantis stressed the need for practical education during his press conference. “Florida has many students unprepared for college and workforce success,” he said, “limiting both their career and opportunities, as well as employers’ ability to grow their business.”

Jeffrey Senese, president of St. Leo University, emphasized his belief in internships and practical readiness for work upon entry into the workforce. “Internships are crucial, as are the practical projects in the classroom. We try to ensure both so our students are career-ready upon graduating,” he told Invest:.

A feature for the school is that its faculty members have field experience in addition to academic knowledge. Senese cited the real-world seniority of instructors in his school’s criminal justice department. “The same goes for the business, arts and science, social work and education departments — they’re practitioners; that’s an important part of our model.”

It’s clear that Florida’s leaders recognize the importance of training the state’s future workforce and preparing them to be productive members of a constantly changing economy. Whether it’s technical and computer science training or honing creative and communication skills, Tampa Bay’s educational institutions are rising to the challenge.

For more information on our interviewees, visit their websites:
Argosy University: https://www.argosy.edu
Ringling College: https://www.ringling.edu
St. Leo University: https://www.saintleo.edu

Tampa Bay Is the Place to Be

By staff writer

January 2019

There is no denying that Tampa Bay is on the up and up; in fact, the region saw 3.98 percent job growth in the last year. With more young professionals coming into the region than ever before and a booming tech scene, Tampa is a hot place for development. In fact, Tampa is one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the U.S., and according to a 2017 study by NerdWallet, millennials make up nearly a quarter of its total population.

With this substantial population growth and millennial influence comes increased demand for more targeted talent to meet workforce needs and ramped-up construction to provide housing to the influx of new residents. Invest: Tampa Bay spoke with local leaders across Tampa’s major economic sectors to find out where they see the region growing and shining. While they might work in different industries, it is easy see that the general message is the same: Tampa Bay is the place to be.

“We’re working to develop an employee-led, demand-driven workforce strategy. Rather than simply push forward higher graduation rates and certificate completions, we’re starting from the demand side to understand exactly what we need today and in the future. Then we can develop a strategy to produce that. We are looking at five major industries that we think are critical to Tampa Bay’s economic future: healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, information technology and construction.”

—Rick Homans, President & CEO, Tampa Bay Partnership

“Tampa is in a bigger growth position and has a more vibrant construction economy than it has ever had in its history. There are more large projects here than there ever have been — by a large margin. There is great growth from one end of Tampa Bay to the other. Channel Side is exploding. Downtown Tampa and Downtown St. Petersburg continue to be amazingly busy, and the beaches are strong. Growth is steady, and we haven’t seen any leveling off.”

John Bowden, Senior Vice President, Moss Construction

“The Tampa Bay region stands out as Florida’s business destination. We offer a high quality of life with a low cost of living. That’s what we’ve been known for because it’s rare to have both. With that, we’re attracting a lot of talent. When you have jobs and a high quality of life, it makes you very attractive to young professionals. We also have one of the most affordable markets for first-time home buyers.”

—Craig Richard, President & CEO, Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation

For more information on our interviewees, visit their websites:

Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Center: https://tampaedc.com/

Tampa Bay Partnership: https://www.tampabay.org/

Moss Construction: https://mosscm.com/

Small-Town Incubators

By staff writer

January 2019

Pinellas County usually conjures up images of the white-sand beaches and resorts of Clearwater or the eclectic and vibrant downtown St. Pete hubs of Grand Central and Kenwood. Yet as one of the most populous counties in Florida, with 17 cities and dozens more towns and census-designated places, there are plenty of other idyllic communities where increasingly more businesses and individuals are choosing to relocate.

Within the charming confines of these smaller towns and cities of Pinellas County, corporations and small to medium-sized business owners have found the tools that have allowed them to prosper — namely, local government that has been pro-business and pro-growth at sustainable levels, proximity to nearby metropolitan hubs, a qualified workforce, great schools and public benefits, affordable real estate and an overall great quality of life.

Recently, Invest: Tampa Bay sat down with the mayors of three cities in Pinellas County to talk about what they offer to the diverse economic and social landscape of the bay area.

Mayor Woody Brown of the City of Largo explains that Largo was recently ranked the seventh-fastest home sales market in the state of Florida. “There are a couple reasons for that,” Brown told Invest:. “First, it’s a great location; there are still safe, affordable places to live in Largo, and it’s right in the center of Pinellas County. Second, the schools in Largo have really improved over the last 10 years. These are the main drivers that are not only bringing more people and more families here but are also attracting small, medium and large businesses.

“As mayor, my goal is to attract quality employers, regardless of what field they’re in, and improve the quality of jobs available to our residents,” Brown continued. “The school board for Pinellas County is a big employer here, and so is Tech Data. On the east side, we have the Medical Arts District, which is a huge employer as well. There are always some target industries — we mirror the state in that respect — but frankly, it doesn’t necessarily matter which industry relocates to Largo as long as it’s paying a good wage and it feels like it has access to good employees with a good quality of life. Those are the types of businesses we’re looking for.”

Sandra Bradbury, mayor of Pinellas Park, says that one of the reasons her city is such an optimal location for businesses is due to it being situated right in the heart Pinellas County. “You can’t get to St. Pete, Clearwater or Tampa without passing through Pinellas Park,” she told Invest:. “We have one of largest commercial and industrial areas in Pinellas County. Very few cities still have vacant industrial manufacturing land available. We’ve had upticks of job growth and business expansion in Pinellas Park over the last couple of years.”

Last but certainly not least, the City of Oldsmar is also getting in on the action. With the newly announced roller and street hockey rink at Oldsmar Sports Complex, the city government is proudly brandishing its partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning. “We tried to get the Rays, we got the Red Bulls — for one season, at least — and now we’ve got a deal with the Lightning, one of the best franchises in all of sports,” Mayor Doug Bevis told the local newspaper. Mayor Bevis said that after the city lays the foundation, the Lighting will be building the rink, providing equipment for the players, facilitating and operating the camps and taking care of all the marketing.

Pinellas Park, Largo and Oldsmar have made compelling cases for their inherent value as places to live and work. Given their proximity to the hubs of Tampa and St. Pete, they are integral pieces in the larger success story of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. As they continue to grow, city governments will have to focus on keeping the growth in check and not getting too overzealous. Surely they will have their hands full. The days of flying under the radar seem to be long gone, and Invest: Tampa Bay is excited to see what’s in store for these small-town incubators in 2019!

For more information on our interviewees, please visit their websites:

City of Pinellas Park, https://www.pinellas-park.com/

City of Largo. https://www.largo.com/

City of Oldsmar, https://www.myoldsmar.com/

From Bedroom Community to Boomtown

By staff writer

January 2019 – 2 min. read

Located in the northern stretch of Tampa Bay, Pasco County has historically been resigned to the rank of bedroom community for nearby Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Nearly 50 percent of Pasco’s population commutes south every day to the region’s largest cities, Tampa and St. Petersburg. However, Pasco has had a successful run as of late, and developments have been underway to turn the county into a prominent economic engine and job creator in its own right.

As the Tampa Bay Times recently reported, “Over the past four years, the county and the economic development council have used a portion of the Penny for Pasco sales tax proceeds to prime the pump for business relocations. Among other things, they have loaned money for speculative office buildings and sought site-ready property for potential industrial use.”

Bill Cronin, CEO of the Pasco County Economic Development Corporation (EDC), has taken the lead in promoting the expansion of local business and economic development in the county. He brings with him an arsenal of insider knowledge about economic development, having worked in four other emerging markets prior to his current appointment. Invest: Tampa Bay recently spoke with Cronin about the role the EDC agenda has played in this renaissance.

Pasco County had a long-standing reputation as a difficult place to do business, Cronin says. When he first arrived in the Tampa Bay area, most businesses in the region were averse to cutting deals with the county, but the new local leadership has been integral in the shifting economic tides.

“We have the most pro-business county commission that we’ve ever had,” Cronin says. The EDC now gets near unanimous support from all five county commissioners on policy changes designed to promote new and existing businesses, as well as competitive advantages for the area. “In order to be more competitive, we have been focusing on product development and workforce development.”

Cronin notes that Pasco County is one of the few counties in Florida that has both available land and an available workforce. Most other regions have one or the other. “In order to better position ourselves,” he told Invest:, “we hired a consultant to help evaluate and certify land for industrial development. Over the last year, we identified over 1,265 acres of ‘ready sites’ to recruit industry.”

More housing for a growing workforce is great, but under Cronin’s leadership, the Pasco EDC is about business development first and foremost. “We have more rooftops permitted in Pasco County than the market might require. I know everyone has to live somewhere, but what I want to see is more of this land being utilized for job creation activity,” he says.

The Pasco EDC is actively working to recruit companies, but Cronin makes sure that his team is focusing day-to-day operations on working with and expanding existing businesses to help them become more competitive. “We’re probably the only EDC that owns and operates its own business incubators.”

Officials and developers in Pasco County are hoping that recently proposed changes to the land-use plan will facilitate more growth in commercial business parks alongside residential construction. Invest: Tampa Bay will be monitoring the action closely.

For more information on Bill Cronin at the Pasco County Economic Development Corporation, please visit: http://pascoedc.com/

Midterm Madness

By staff writer
November 8, 2018 – 2 min. read

Tuesday’s midterm elections attracted record numbers of voters, with estimates putting the count at 113 million. This historic turnout brought 110 female winners, the country’s first openly gay governor and more than 30 flipped seats in Congress, but it also underscored the deep and often contentious divide facing our nation. Capital Analytics has been keeping a close eye on the results, particularly those affecting our markets in Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

One of the biggest takeaways is the Democrats regaining control of the House, surpassing the 23 seats necessary for majority rule by more than 10. In Florida, former University of Miami president Donna Shalala won the 27th District previously held by Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, edging out Republican opponent Maria Elvira Salazar. Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell also won over Republican Carlos Curbelo in Florida’s 26th District. Pennsylvania saw three seats flipped by Democrats Mary Scanlon in the 5th District, Conor Lamb in the 17th District and Chrissy Houlahan in the 6th District.

Two congressional races in Georgia remained too close to call Wednesday evening, the first in the 6th District, where Republican Karen Handel is seeking reelection but trailed Democrat Lucy McBath 49.55 percent to 50.45 percent. In the 7th District, Republican Rob Woodall and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux were in a similar position, with Woodhall holding a slight lead of 50.23 percent over Bourdeaux’s 49.77 percent. Georgia law requires a recount if the final vote margin is 1 percent or less, according to the Associated Press. Both campaigns are waiting for absentee ballots to be counted in hopes of naming a clear winner.

Though the House succumbed to the “blue wave,” the GOP not only retained control of the Senate but also bolstered it with a number of key victories in states like Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri. In Florida, the hotly contested race between Republican former governor Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is heading for automatic recount. According to unofficial returns posted on Wednesday by the state Division of Elections, Scott held a 30,239-vote lead out of 8.1 million ballots cast — a difference of just .38 percent. In Florida, if the margin in a race is less than .5 percent, a recount is automatically triggered. The Senate race might not be the only one to move to recount, either. Florida’s agriculture commissioner contest between Republican Matt Caldwell and Democrat Nikki Fried is even tighter, with Caldwell carrying a slim .16 percent lead on Wednesday evening.

While Tom Wolf comfortably won reelection in Pennsylvania, the Florida and Georgia governor’s races were much more hotly contested. In Florida, Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded to Republican opponent Ron DeSantis early on Wednesday, but by late Wednesday DeSantis’s lead had narrowed to a margin of just .57 percent. However, this still remained outside of the .5 percent margin that requires a recount under Florida law. Votes were still being counted on Thursday morning, and if the margin falls below .5 percent, a recount will be triggered.

Georgia’s gubernatorial race is even closer, with Democrat Stacey Abrams refusing to concede to Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) and vowing to “fight for every vote.” While Kemp’s campaign declared victory to reporters on Wednesday evening, the Abrams campaign readied its legal team to challenge the election results. A runoff, if it comes to that, would be held on December 4.

Even as heated battles underscored the increasingly polarized nature of U.S. politics, culminating in a divided Congress, the 2018 midterms marked a new high for women taking seats in the chamber, with 98 women projected to win in the House and 12 in the Senate. Even more notable is the fact that 34 of these women are newly elected members of Congress. This “pink wave” includes 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman in history to take a seat in Congress, serving New York’s 14th District. In Pennsylvania, a record-breaking four women are projected to win seats in the House. This is particularly momentous considering not a single woman currently represents the state in the House. Women are also projected to win in nine gubernatorial races (not counting Stacey Abrams, who is still vying to become the country’s first female African-American governor).

In addition to the inroads made by women, there has also been a noticeable push for diversity in public office. Two Muslim women and two Native American women will take seats in Congress, and Colorado’s Jared Polis (D) will become the country’s first openly gay governor. Overall, more than 100 LGBTQ candidates claimed victory on Tuesday night, indicating changing attitudes toward how voters think about both LGBTQ candidates and rights. Exit polls suggest that voter diversity also hit all-time highs for midterm elections, with the non-white vote estimated at 28 percent. (For perspective, in 1990 non-white voters accounted for just 9 percent of the vote.)

While some races remain too close to call and others were resounding losses or victories, depending on which side of the party line you walk, the fact that so many people showed up to vote is something all parties can be proud of. We’ll be keeping an eye on the tight races in Florida and Georgia and looking forward to what’s in store in 2020.

 

Tampa Bay’s “Lost Summer”

By staff writer
October 2018 – 2 min. read

There’s no escaping the fact that the 2018 summer tourist season on Florida’s Gulf Coast has been one of the worst in recent memory, both economically and environmentally. The major red tide event has led to record-low occupancy rates for local hoteliers and restaurateurs. In some counties, residents are already referring to it as the “lost summer” due to the estimates of revenue lost from lack of tourists. While mostly restricted to the west coast of Florida, the outbreak of red tide has recently turned up on the Atlantic coast and parts of South Florida as well.

Nearing the end of September, well over 700 tons of red tide debris had been collected in Pinellas County. Similarly, 40 businesses in the area reported losses of at least $128 million. Both figures are still likely to rise as the red tide lingers beyond the summer.

For residents of Pinellas County, the trouble started months prior to the red tide actually hitting local shores. The counties to the southern part of Pinellas were hit the hardest this summer, but news sources mostly from outside of the state more or less lumped all of the central Gulf Coast together in their coverage of red tide, leading many beach-going Americans to believe that the entire Gulf Coast was plagued with toxic blue-green algae.

“It was reminiscent of the [BP] oil spill to some degree. It was here if you watched the national media, but it really wasn’t here. We actually never had oil on our beaches,” Keith Overton, president of TradeWinds Island Resort, told Invest: Tampa Bay when he sat down with our team earlier this week. “The national exposure and media coverage that the red tide to the south of us received killed us, even though we had very minimal red tide for only a few days here on St. Pete Beach. Our year has been destroyed financially when comparing the results to our forecast at the beginning of the year. We know with certainly that we lost somewhere around 1,000 room nights. We’ll never know how many people canceled and didn’t tell us why or never even called to book. You could easily estimate that it had a million-dollar impact on us.”

Understandably, marketing Pinellas County as a tourist destination has been a bit more challenging this year.

“Our goal is to convey the most accurate up-to-the-moment conditions of the shore,” David Downing, president and CEO of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, told Invest:. To that end, the Visit St. Pete-Clearwater website has an online resource titled “Current Beach Conditions,” offering beachgoers real-time information about the local waterways.

The website is both industry-facing and consumer-facing. “It has 17 points across Pinellas County’s coast, updated twice daily with human eyes, ears and noses on the beach, reporting on the conditions in real time,” he says. “It has been a godsend for us because we can send people to the unaffected places.”

As far as marketing and advertising is concerned, Downing suggests that Visit St. Pete-Clearwater has had to tweak its message a bit. “[We’re talking] about many of the other facets of the destination, not so beach-forward,” he said. “We have the mural festival happening, a jazz festival and the culinary and craft beer scene, among many others.”

So what is being done about red tide? As we enter into the fall and winter months (however indistinct that transition might be here in Florida), county officials and business owners are looking forward to putting all of their red tide woes in the rear-view mirror.

A $1.3 million grant from the Department of Environmental Protection has paid for those aforementioned beach and water cleanups across Pinellas beaches, and Governor Scott has pledged a total of $13 million in grants to help affected counties battle the algal bloom.

Keith Overton says that in the future he’d like to see some funds allocated for research purposes. “I really do think that scientific research is a worthy investment to try to figure out how we can minimize the effects of red tide,” he told Invest:. “The only way we can even consider solutions is through government-funded scientific research. If we can better understand what causes red tide, we have a better shot at finding a viable solution and one that has less of an impact on the Gulf of Mexico fishery.”

For more information about our interviewees, visit their websites
Visit St. Petersburg-Clearwater, https://www.pinellascvb.com/
TradeWinds Island Resort,
https://www.tradewindsresort.com/index

 

 

Tampa’s Brewing Economy

By staff writer


December 2018 – 2 min. read

With nearly 100 state-of-the-art breweries (among them, the internationally known crown jewel that is Cigar City Brewing), Tampa Bay has become a destination for craft beer tourists from across the country. Consistently ranked among the country’s top cities for craft beer, the craft beer industry in Tampa has had a positive impact on both the local economy and job creation. A recent report from the Tampa Economic Development Corporation concluded that “craft brewing had a $3.07 billion economic impact in Florida in 2017 and was responsible for more than 23,000 jobs with an average wage of $42,000.”

But for those locals who know a thing or two about Tampa’s history, there is nothing coincidental about this development. Beer production in Tampa is about as old as the city itself. It all started in historic Ybor City at the end of the 19th century, when a group of cigar factory workers decided that they needed a local source of crisp lager to complement all the fragrant maduros they were rolling.

Production obviously slowed during Prohibition, but it is now back and more robust than ever, coinciding nicely with the city’s prodigious redevelopment efforts and sharp rise in popularity.

In Tampa Bay, 2017 marked another record year for tourism, with the region welcoming 116.5 million visitors, up from a 112.4 million visitors in 2016, a 3.6 percent increase. Santiago Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, attributes this to the area’s unique flavor.

“Our marketing has been focused on how unique we are — the art, the culture, the history, the diversity,” Corrada told our Invest: Tampa Bay team when he sat down with them earlier this month. “We started with that, and we’ve seen a great evolution of the culinary scene and craft beer breweries. We’ve taken a tongue-in-cheek approach to why you should come here and why we’re so unique. We’re not just about palm trees, the sun and the water. You can have distinct experiences here.”

Among those distinct experiences is sipping a local brew and taking a stroll down Tampa’s newly revamped Riverwalk, which, as Mayor Bob Buckhorn says, really was the lynchpin for reviving the city after the recession.

“The completion of the Riverwalk has transformed our city. It has done exactly what I knew would happen,” Mayor Buckhorn told Invest:. “Once we focused on the water and made the [Hillsborough] River the center of our urban experience, private capital would be deployed in tens of millions of dollars.”

“And now you can grab a beer and walk the entire Riverwalk with that beer in hand,” Mayor Buckhorn added. “It’s a great place to come hang out.”

To celebrate being distinguished by USA Today as the leading craft beer city in the Southeast, Visit Tampa Bay partnered with one of Tampa’s local breweries to launch its very own brew. Treasured Lager is a joint endeavor between Florida Avenue Brewing and Visit Tampa Bay that highlights Tampa’s rich history of commercial brewing and also provides a glimpse of what’s ahead.

“We started working with our craft breweries several years ago, and the success since that time has been tremendous,” says Patrick Harrison, chief marketing officer of Visit Tampa Bay.  “While many cities claim to be craft beer destinations, we are one of the original and best […] Watch for other additions in the near future.”

For casual beer drinkers and snobs alike, Tampa will certainly not disappoint. After sauntering along the Riverwalk, Tampa’s Brew Bus is a great way to sample the rest of the world-class breweries peppered throughout the city. And if you find yourself across the bay, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater offers a similar romp through the many breweries of Pinellas County in its beer passport program. The affectionately titled “Gulp Coast Passport” is a guided tour through the many craft breweries along the coastline and Downtown St. Petersburg. Participants are given a physical beer passport to chart their progress, collect stickers and win prizes.

Some of the notable spots not to be missed are Angry Chair, Coppertail, Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Cycle Brewing, 3 Daughters Brewing and, of course, Cigar City. There’s no question that beer has a significant economic impact on Tampa Bay’s economy, so grab a pint and help keep the brew flowing!

To learn more about our interviewees, visit their websites:
A Welcome from Bob Buckhorn: https://www.tampagov.net/mayor
Visit Tampa Bay: https://www.visittampabay.com/
Visit St. Pete-Clearwater: https://www.visitstpeteclearwater.com/
Tampa Brew Bus: https://www.brewbususa.com/
Gulp Coast Brewery Tour: https://www.visitstpeteclearwater.com/gulp-coast-craft-beer-trail