2 min read March 2022 — Rob Rosner, director of the Economic Opportunity Department for the City of Tampa, spoke with Invest: and discussed the growth potential of several sectors in the market. He also talked about Opportunity Zones and his outlook for the region. “The outlook is bright as the economic development industry is adapting to a new normal in a post-pandemic economy,” he said.
What makes Tampa a great location for business expansion and relocation?
Tampa is ideal for cultivating entrepreneurs as it’s considered the business capital of Florida. Areas that are being redeveloped provide a number of opportunities and incentives to invest in the city. We want to uplift our local communities in striving for this investment. Moreover, Tampa offers a paradise that is unlike other markets, which is an attractive feature for those looking to relocate to the area. Florida is also a no income tax state, which is a great incentive for businesses as other markets often have a local and state income tax. We also have robust institutions of higher education that offer a large and diverse candidate pool for the economy.
How does economic business development compare between pre-pandemic and pandemic levels?
The Tampa region fared better amid the pandemic in comparison to other regions of a similar size. We are witnessing economic and business activity return to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 and some sectors have increased their activity during the pandemic. We are expecting a resurgence in attendance at the Convention Center to over 220,000 in 2022. There were businesses that faltered but many are returning to the market as they only paused their operations. Resilience, determination and persistence are an integral part of our local business community.
What sectors have the greatest potential for growth?
The retail sector continues to be in recovery mode. People are in search of an experience, so the restaurant industry is diversifying its approach to attract customers. We have seen technological industries, such as fintech, cancer technologies and other medical innovations entering the Tampa market, expanding the region’s portfolio. Pfizer will begin investing in research in the area, collaborating with our phenomenal hospital system. We are looking to create a medical campus Downtown, which is supported by our hospital system and the medical innovations coming to us. Technology for the medical supply chain is beginning to enter the market as well.
Cybersecurity is another sector that will grow. We have a strong military presence, so cybersecurity is becoming a major investment in the region as we host three of the major operating command bases. We’re capitalizing on this by drawing on these services for Tampa. The manufacturing industry is entering as well, although lightly. Celadon is one we’re proud of. They create new cardboard stock from the cardboard boxes we receive from China, sending the card stock back to that country to then repeat the cycle. It’s a sustainable action that showcases our ability to push forward and find environmentally friendly solutions.
Moreover, our students often remain in the region, drawing their friends and loved ones to the area as there is a great amount of opportunity in Tampa. Our goal is to maintain this momentum.
How do Opportunity Zones compare between pre-pandemic and pandemic levels?
Investor appetite for Opportunity Zones is different compared to pre-pandemic. Savvy investors have created small investment funds while a number have created qualified Opportunity Zone fund managers. They listen to and analyze different pitches before deciding whether or not to invest in the project. This allows us to gear money toward areas that normally don’t receive investment money as there are a number of criteria an area must fit to qualify as an Opportunity Zone. Our biggest challenge with Opportunity Zones is the direction of legislation, which can shift the priority of investors.
I want to stress that Opportunity Zones are not restricted to real estate. They can encompass operations, the recruitment of talent, supplies and more. It’s flexible and versatile.
What is your near-term outlook for economic development in Tampa?
The outlook is bright as the economic development industry is adapting to the new normal in a post-pandemic economy. Under the leadership of Mayor Jane Castor, the city has established five pillars for transforming the future of Tampa, called the T3 Program, which is a five-year roadmap for the city. The Economic Opportunity Department operates as a conductor of
many projects in affordable housing, transportation, workforce development, sustainability and resilience, and customer experience, which are the five pillars. Innovation and new technology will lead the way as we tackle many of the goals and objectives of transforming Tampa’s future. We have an opportunity to do this, so we will capitalize on each opportunity and challenge presented to us to create a better future for the region.
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