Face Off: Adaptability is par for the course for these development leaders

Face Off: Adaptability is par for the course for these development leaders

By: Max Crampton Thomas

Patrick Lee

Andrew Burnett

3 min read August 2020 Although there have been major roadblocks stemming from the pandemic that have created some slowdown, development in South Florida has continued to show a steadfast resilience and adaptability as projects around the region have remained on a path toward completion. For companies within the construction and development sectors, there is an understanding that being adaptable to the communities’ changing needs is just par for the course. While the future may be uncertain, it’s important to keep a cautiously optimistic attitude. Invest: spoke with both Shorecrest Construction President Patrick Lee and Senior Principal for Stantec Andrew Burnett about their companies’ major developmental successes over the last year, the constantly shifting industry landscape and their best estimations of what the future may hold. 

What are some recent landmarks for your business in the Miami-Dade region? 

Patrick Lee: The main markets Shorecrest Construction focuses on are hospitality, boutique commercial and luxury residential. In the last few years, all of these markets have been extremely strong. We just completed the renovation of the Soho Beach House in Miami Beach, which included the refreshment of guestrooms and suites, bar areas and gym to keep guests engaged and coming back. In luxury residential, a mainstay market for us, we build high-end homes on the water and complete condo interiors in some of the most prominent South Florida neighborhoods. Shorecrest works closely with well-known architects and designers to bring their concepts to life. We just finished the penthouse at the Four Seasons Surf Club designed by Holly Hunt. In the last few years, we have gotten a stronger foothold in those markets.

Andrew Burnett: Recent landmark projects in full swing include Wynwood Square, a 12-story mixed-use facility that includes apartments and retail space; the 30-story YotelPAD Miami condo and hotel project under construction; and a 43-story Luma tower in Miami’s Worldcenter. And there are a lot of new projects to be announced soon and currently coming on board. Each asset within our portfolio contributes to our growth in the creative services space, beyond architecture and interior design, but also engineering and resilience. We think beyond traditional physical traits and focus on how our vast team builds our communities and what we create so there is continuity in our lives and the spaces we inhabit and to ensure that we protect diversity and creative thinking. We call it cultural resilience. 

Have you seen more cognizant efforts toward building for the future with sustainability in mind? 

Lee:  From a climate change perspective, we have been building at a higher elevation, which has been mostly code-driven. Having said that, we have worked on projects where our client has voluntarily built higher than the codes require. Miami Beach has been extremely aggressive in its efforts to raise sea walls to deal with issues stemming from sea level rise. As far as our clients, everybody is technologically savvy, so a lot of the smart home amenities that were reserved for the elite level of homes are becoming a more common feature in homes. We find a lot of our younger clients, in particular, prefer that kind of addition.

Burnett: There is a significant level of agreement across the industry related to what we are facing and where we need to go. It is only a matter of how and there are varying perspectives to harness. Our government agencies, utilities, partners, clients, insurance agencies and lenders all commonly understand the need to mitigate prevalent risks and maintain our quality of life. There is power in the collective movement and I am optimistic about our future and path. 

What does the rest of the year look like for your company?

Lee: Shorecrest has a couple of projects that will still happen as well as some ongoing projects that are still running, including a condominium at the Continuum South Beach and several single-family residences in South Florida. We have two luxury clubs and restaurants right on Miami Beach and the owners of those projects are still very bullish on the construction. I think there will be more of an influx of people who have been coming into Miami from the Northeast because they no longer want to live in such dense cities and prefer to live in a place like Florida. I predict that there will be a recovery in Miami relatively quickly. 

Burnett: We have been quite busy, which is a reflection of the busy private development market. Projects are moving forward and the entire development community is gearing up for when the play button is pressed. In 2009, during the H1N1 outbreak, we established a pandemic committee, granting us an effective way to respond quickly to the pandemic and set up a remote work setting. Fast forward to today: Our productivity levels have allowed us to meet established deadlines and keep projects moving forward, continuing business as usual. Our current outlook for 2021 does not project significant levels of interruption. We want to continue to support that in any way we can. 

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.stantec.com/en

https://shorecrestgc.com/

 

 

Face Off: Business schools tackle the challenges in a changed education landscape

Face Off: Business schools tackle the challenges in a changed education landscape

By: Max Crampton Thomas

4 min read July 2020 Higher education in Miami is using the COVID-19 crisis to come out stronger on the other end. John Quelch, dean of the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School, discusses what that means and also talks about the post-pandemic landscape for higher education in an interview with Invest:. Florida International University (FIU) College of Business dean Joanne Li also spoke with Invest:, touching on the growing importance of online education, and what makes its new DBA program a game-changer.

How has your school continued to sustain growth in enrollment and influence?

John Quelch: The increasing strength of the University of Miami brand is one factor. We are witnessing a sizable surge in 2020 undergraduate enrollments at the university level and at the school. A second factor is the vote of confidence provided by the $100-million naming gift we received from Patti and Allan Herbert last year. Third is the global recognition and attractiveness of Miami as a place to study plus our beautiful, spacious and self-contained Coral Gables campus. Fourth, from a health and safety perspective, many parents see our campus as preferable to the congested, urban campuses of many universities in the Northeast.

 Most important though is the quality and dedication of our research and teaching faculty, and the fact that we offer more degree programs that are in the sweet spot of what people are looking for. Our sustainable business MS degree is seeing a 25% enrollment increase for 2020. No matter the industry, everyone agrees that technology and analytics are increasingly important for success. Our MS in business analytics degree, recently ranked No. 8 in the world alongside Duke, is able to place almost all its students in capstone projects, internships or full-time employment, even in this challenging environment. In addition to our redesigned full-time MBA, another important degree program is our MS in finance, which supplies a flow of talent to the wealth management, private equity and venture capital firms coming into the Miami area.

How have you approached online education?

Joanne Li:  Eight or nine months prior to COVID-19, FIU Business expanded its offering strategically and methodically. By spring 2021, FIU Business will offer 10 online programs that have a substantial market space. FIU was one of the first adopters of online education, which began more than two decades ago. Now, we see growing demand for this kind of degree, especially as FIU has been diversifying its student population more and more. As a state university, we are expected to offer degrees aligned with market needs.

On an undergraduate level, we are the leader among all colleges within FIU in providing online education; of all the courses we offer, 40% are considered online education. The goal is to allow a more agile learning model for the student and to meet the student’s needs. Most of our student body is a 21st century workforce, who work or take internships while studying. 

We launched our Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in 2018. We are one of only three state universities in Florida offering this degree. This program targets candidates who already made it to a C-Suite level and yearn for higher levels of business education. Since we accepted our first cohort, the program has been extremely successful, and it is a new trend for business education. Many universities across the globe have been talking about this need but are unsure about implementation. Before COVID-19, FIU Business had already become even more attuned to the business environment and needs of the candidate.

This model is often perceived as a direct competitor for many often expensive and time-consuming full-time MBA programs, especially for candidates who already have been integrated into the working world. The DBA also feeds into this new trend of a stackable, specialized master’s degree. It is a hybrid model that allows students to continue with their careers while studying. Our responses have been timely and position the college to pivot and prepare for the next wave of demand in the market.

What impact will the pandemic have on the education sector or on your institution in the near term? 

Quelch: Overall, I expect many colleges and smaller universities to be financially challenged and forced to merge or go out of business. The University of Miami is scheduled to open on Aug. 17, 2020. We are fortunate and reassured to have a global public health expert as president of the University of Miami. To navigate the current challenges, any university needs to see a high level of community commitment from students, faculty and staff. All of us are going to have to wear masks, follow physical distancing guidelines, be disciplined and set a good example.  We are confident that the strength of the University of Miami community is such that people will endure personal inconvenience for the common good.

Li: By Aug. 24, FIU is scheduled to start repopulating the campus with the four adapted teaching modalities: face to face, online, hybrid and synchronized remote learning, which was introduced in March. FIU Business set out four guiding principles in May. The first is that we will transition our constituency back to normalcy to the best of our ability. The second is that we will honor the teaching modality as we marketed and advertised it, as far as we can. Students can choose to rotate from face-to-face to remote or they can be designated as a remote student through a hybrid model or they can select a fully online format. The third principle is maintaining the use of the classroom and we will take responsibility for making sure that students always have the right tools. The last principle is that we will always consider alternative testing as a result of this pandemic. Certainly, we are still in a very fluid situation but having a plan allows us to prepare for scenarios.

It is important that we retain students and they stay in school. This is a very difficult time for students as many of them or members of their families lost their jobs. To survive this lockdown, everybody has to chip in, and we allocated some of our CARES Act funds to provide financial support.

How do you balance face-to-face education with technology and virtual learning and what does this mean for higher education?

Quelch: The need to switch to virtual teaching to deliver our spring semester courses was not as disruptive as I expected. We all pulled together and did pretty well, though we must improve our online teaching skills further as student expectations will be higher when we reconvene in the fall. We completed our tenure-track hiring early in the year so we will have five new tenure-track professors joining us in the fall.

The area where we are having to do the most reinvention is non-degree executive education. We had approximately $1 million worth in contracts that had to be postponed. We are exploring how to move from a 100% face-to-face delivery proposition to a value-added proposition that includes a more blended solution, often with modular engagement. We are breaking programs into bite-sized learning modules that can be delivered virtually over a week, a month or a couple of months.

Regarding our graduate and undergraduate programs, the challenge as we move into the next semester is to figure out how to best leverage our physical space on campus to maximize the percentage of course delivery that can be face-to-face. We hope to deliver a hybrid solution, balancing face-to-face and online modalities, dividing classes into subgroups to insure physical distancing. We have not seen reductions in applications; in fact, at the graduate level, we have seen a strong uptick, particularly in applications to our online and full-time MBA programs.

Li: We conducted a student survey during the COVID-19 changes, asking about home and education arrangements. Many said they would like to come back and interact with their professors and fellow classmates. This means we have to be better in being learner centric. We need to ensure student learning takes place and student success is achievable regardless of the delivery method. We can do this by making the environment a lot more conducive for the learner. We need to make discussions meaningful on an online platform. At FIU Business, we intend to accommodate students who prefer to show up in person as well as those who want to remain remote. We will vastly implement technology, both hardware and software, to encourage the interactions. The technology is not new, but the teaching pedagogy and implementation are. Now, there is no excuse. We cannot unlearn the lockdown, so we may as well make ourselves very good at adapting. This is a defining moment for higher education.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://business.fiu.edu/

 

https://www.bus.miami.edu/

 

 

Face Off: Miami-Dade ripe with opportunity

Face Off: Miami-Dade ripe with opportunity

By: Max Crampton Thomas

4 min read July 2020 While the ongoing pandemic has been nothing short of a gut punch to what was set up to be another monumental year for economic growth, real estate development and investment has continued to adapt and move forward through a somewhat uncertain landscape. Invest: recently spoke with two Miami-Based leaders within these spaces. Real estate investor Jeronimo Hirschfeld, chairman, founder and CEO of One Real Estate Investment (OREI), and commercial real estate developer Bernardo Rieber, president and CEO of Rieber Developments, both spoke to the immediate effect and changes the pandemic has created for their projects and industry, as well as why they continue to believe in the Miami-Dade marketplace regardless of the roadblocks thrown up by COVID-19. 

What advantages does the Miami marketplace offer to your business operations?

Bernardo Rieber: I think that Miami is one of the greatest cities in the world. I travel a lot, especially in recent years, and it is hard to find a city like Miami where everything works. It’s new, beautiful, with great weather most of the year. People are amazing, and the properties in general are still less expensive than in other major urban centers. The airport is one of the top in the nation and they have done a great job of expanding to meet the need. I think that Miami will continue to grow. Money will continue to be invested here.

In the commercial segment, I also see a strong market, for several reasons. In particular, more and more people are moving to South Florida. It might be because of low taxes, and the fact that it is becoming more of a global city, compared to 40 years ago when it was beaches and malls. Now, we are a culinary center, with new cultural centers, museums, a lot of great things happening. People move here from the East Coast, from South America and Europe. There are a lot of young professionals in areas such as Brickell. There is great demand for offices because a lot of international companies in the financial world are doing business here.

But there has also been a situation related to traffic, in which smaller municipalities, like Aventura, have been developing more commercial infrastructure to accommodate the people who live there and don’t want to commute into Downtown Miami. More offices are needed, and that’s fueled the market. In my particular case, as I am a developer of mostly medical spaces, I see Miami as a tremendous hub for medical tourism. I am right next to the Aventura Hospital and Medical Center, which is a level two trauma center, with 500 beds. I am finishing an extended stay hotel next door, and a total of 80,000 square feet of offices.

Jeronimo Hirschfeld:  In today’s market, especially in the asset class that OREI operates in, which is multifamily, I believe there are going to be many opportunities here. In previous years, there were a lot of developers and investors deploying money into these investments, but as more uncertainty surrounding the real estate sector becomes apparent, opportunities begin to arise for firms like One Real Estate Investment.  What we are seeing today is that these investors are now realizing that their strategy and their returns are not what they expected, so they are turning around and selling.

Bernardo Rieber

Jeronimo Hirschfeld

 

 

Multifamily assets are commonly tiered in A, B, C, and D categories based on the asset, location, and tenant base. In the market where I play, which is typically workforce housing in the B+ to C+ space, the assets tend to have a level of insulation from macro market drivers and economic factors. This is because when there’s a crisis and we see unemployment increase, many people begin to downsize to a living space that is more economically practical and feasible. So, when looking in multifamily real estate, you’ll see renters that were previously paying $4,000 in rent coming down to $3,000, and so on. Looking at the assets I invest in, the rents average between $750 and $1,200. These assets tend to perform in times of crisis because, as I mentioned, when people adjust their lifestyle, rent is usually a major expense that can be altered. As individuals who were once living in the Class A and B apartments begin to see a decrease in income, they will make the shift to a B or C class apartment. Ironically, I’ve seen the occupancy of my properties across the board tends to increase during a crisis between 1 to 2% because in addition to the individuals downsizing, many tenants who currently reside at our properties work blue collar jobs that aren’t drastically affected by a downturn. We feel very good about where we sit and what we are doing. Our competitive advantage is showcased through finding the right opportunity, taking advantage of the right deals and making sure we put the appropriate debt structure in place. Multifamily is an asset that sustains itself and performs very strongly during these times.

 

Where do you see the real estate market in Miami going over the next couple of years?

Rieber: We are mostly focused now on selling office condominiums in the medical sector, and there’s been a great response. We are sold out at our project Ivory 214 and we broke ground on our 12|12 Aventura mixed-use development in early 2020. We demolished the previous structure, prepared the land, started piling, and we are now about to start the foundations. We are on schedule to be up and running by the first quarter of 2022. Of course, since the COVID-19 situation began, we have had to adjust our sales process, but we continue to have interest in our offering and I expect to fully rebound.

Hirschfeld: In terms of neighborhoods, Wynwood is pretty hot, and you have nearby Allapattah, which is also a growing area with a lot of opportunities. It is still industrial, but as population and developments move up north, all these industrial neighborhoods will start changing into places where people are going to be living, playing and working. That’s what we saw with Wynwood. OREI is still very much in acquisition mode, as we are consistently sourcing new deals, while bringing in new equity groups and private investors who are interested in the multifamily space. 

How has the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic altered your developments at least for the near term?

Rieber: It’s been a shock from a business perspective. We are monitoring the situation daily. Of course, there have been ripple effects because Miami-Dade County’s building department closed, and you cannot call for inspections, which you need to continue building, and permits are delayed, but everyone is powering through and adjusting as best as possible during this unprecedented time. I truly believe that this short-term pain does not compare to the long-term potential of this community. 

Hirschfeld: (With  more people working from home in the future) there are a lot of things that we are implementing. We are implementing USB outlets in new projects, to make sure people can connect their devices directly. We are also implementing smart thermostats that you can control remotely through your phone, making it more efficient because you can set it up to emit minimal power every time you leave and to start cooling five, 10 minutes before you return to the apartment. In our Wynwood project, we have a large bike space at the street level.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

http://www.rieberdevelopments.com/

https://www.onerealestateinvestment.com/

Face Off: Understanding Unforeseen Change

Face Off: Understanding Unforeseen Change

By: Max Crampton- Thomas

4 min read March 2020 With the global economy in a state of flux caused by COVID-19, it is important that both the community and industry leaders work together to not only flatten the curve of coronavirus but also help to understand its impact on the various sectors of the economy. It is just as vital to continue looking to the future, post-COVID-19, at what other continuing or emerging trends could have an impact on a specific industry throughout 2020 and beyond. In regard to real estate, Invest: Miami spoke with two of the region’s industry leaders in real estate, David Diestel, regional president, south for FirstService Residential, and Michael Fay, principal and chairman of the U.S. Capital Market Executive Committee for Avison Young. While they work in two seperate areas of real estate, both discuss how the coronavirus has affected their industry, other factors that will continue to spur change and trends they are keeping a close eye on in 2020. 

David Diestel 

How is the coronavirus outbreak impacting your industry?

Dave Diestel: The outbreak of the coronavirus has brought the country to a screeching halt. I don’t know if anyone was prepared for something of this magnitude that has impacted basically every industry. As the leader in property management in North America, it’s our job to provide support to the board members and residents of the communities we manage. We immediately formed task forces throughout the organization, continuously monitored reliable information from the CDC, World Health Organization, as well as local authorities and health agencies. And the key to our support: communication. On everything from preventing the spread of the virus to working with boards to enhance cleaning and sanitation at our properties to working with attorneys to discuss any change in community rules and regulations. This situation has helped cement the importance of communication during a crisis – to report facts and to keep people calm. And to let our customers know that we’re in this together.

Michael Fay: We are such an international city at this point that we need to look at how we fit on the geopolitical stage, as well as how the virus will shape how we live in the future. We are always looking at the Latin-American influence within our market, as well as the European, Asian and Canadian influences, given Miami has become such a major, global city. When I first did this interview, the COVID-19 virus was just an Asian problem and not a global pandemic.  I truly believe the two asset classes that will provide opportunity and stability as we move through this will be real estate and well-positioned stocks. With Miami being such a global city, and having been through many other crises, we tend to bounce back quickly with resilience. We will continue to see strength in the multifamily sector as well as the industrial sector as we understand new, global supply chain issues. Retail and hotel will see weakness as we move through this pandemic and new way of life for the foreseeable future. There is more capital in the marketplace overall, outside of opportunity funds, with lots of mezzanine equity, loans and regular equity creating a sizable amount of capital. The interest rate environment we are in is the lowest we have seen in the United States. Distressed will have a new meaning.  

Michael Fay

What other factors will continue to spur or change your market’s growth? 

Diestel: The demographic shift in this region is challenging our communities to keep up with the times. New owners and residents are challenging those communities to invest more in technology and in amenities. People are looking for investment back into their community,  and also looking for investment into community spaces. These demographics do not just want the standard gym or card room, they want thoughtful programming, focusing on wellness and convenience. One of the drivers of real estate values ultimately comes down to a building’s reputation. When people feel good about living where they live, realtors know people feel good about it and there is a great sense of community. This all drives property values up.

Fay: I’ve been in this business for 36 years. When it’s good, it’s good for everybody, but when it’s bad, it’s great for us. We are highly cognizant of inflexions and disruptions in the marketplace. We built a major business on understanding the bad times better than the good times. We understand how to operate in a bad market better than others. Anybody can be good in a winning streak. Year in, year out, decade after decade, issue after issue, we spot early, watch early and see how things are going. In my own opinion, we will be seeing a recession; however, I believe it will be short-lived because of the strength of the economy going into the crisis.  On the negative side, we saw a 14% rise in the homeless population in 2019. The lion’s share of this increase is coming in from other cities in the Midwest. Absent thoughtful solutions, it can really hurt the city. Also, we need to take care of our environment. Global warming is a slippery slope if we do not understand it and deal with it by making rash decisions. Sea rise needs to be studied further. If we have any narrative of investors, owners or companies leaving Miami due to sea rise, our city will have a major issue. We need to think about ways to mitigate it and work around it. 

What is a trend in your industry that you are keeping a close eye on moving forward? 

Diestel: Short-term rentals are a hot topic throughout Miami, especially in Miami Beach. It’s also constantly talked about in the Florida legislature. Investors are looking to own real estate with the purpose of using it as a short-term rental. Innovations like Airbnb aren’t going away. In fact, communities built for short-term rental are starting to pop up. We are actually in talks to manage two of these types of properties. This is a trend that will continue to evolve. Some cities are not quite there yet in terms of understanding it. We are very active in Tallahassee because there are bills being introduced in regard to short-term rentals. Our position, as both FirstService Residential and as the industry, is to allow the homeowner association the right to govern as they were set up to do. We are educating the legislature and are working to help protect the rights of an individual community.

Fay: The Opportunity Zones will come into much more focus in 2020, and we will gain a real understanding of how it fits into the market. In 2019, many guidelines and an interpretation of the tax code were not available. When Opportunity Zones were laid out initially, they were based on basic census tracking, with governors approving wherever that might be. Several developers were left in the dark and as a result, lots of Opportunity Zone funds slowed raising capital given the uncertainty. There is a lot more clarity now, which is key. The new guidelines issued will have much more effect going forward and an increase of funds and transactions.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.fsresidential.com/corporate

https://www.avisonyoung.com/

Face Off: Bringing More Energy to the Bay

Face Off: Bringing More Energy to the Bay

By: Max Crampton Thomas

4 min read February 2020 As the Tampa Bay region continues to grow both in population size and new developments, the need for access to more energy and cleaner energy solutions grows with it. Invest: spoke with the leaders of two of the main sources of energy for the region and their innovative approach to creating cleaner energy solutions. T.J. Szelistowski serves as the president for Peoples Gas, which has provided Florida residents and businesses with reliable, environmentally-friendly, economical natural gas products and service since 1895. Nancy Tower leads Tampa Electric as its president and CEO. The utility has served the Tampa Bay area for 120 years, with more than 5,000MW of generating capacity. 

How is your company innovating in terms of technology?

T.J. Szelistowski: The last time we spoke, we discussed implementing gas-fired heat pumps that use natural gas instead of electricity for air conditioning. We are working with several customers on installations of this technology.  Additionally, we have installed the technology in three of our facilities and have been pleased with the performance.  

In terms of other technologies, we are targeting farming and waste facilities that release methane into the air. Our environmental solution is to capture that methane and clean it up to reinject it into the system. This not only provides a cleaner form of natural gas but also reduces methane emissions. We look forward to announcing some significant projects with this technology in the near future.

Nancy Tower: We believe battery storage is a part of our energy future. The technology is new, and we’re not ready to deploy that on a large scale until we figure out the true impact it will have on our system. We have put in place a battery storage project this year near our Big Bend solar project, which will give us really good information on how solar and battery storage interacts with our system. We’re really looking at how we can integrate battery storage into the complexity of the renewable energy ecosystem.

In other technologies, we are also in the middle of a large-scale installation of smart meters, which provide a lot more information and allow us to provide customers with superior service. 

T.J. Szelistowski

Why has investment in cleaner, more renewable energy and environmental sustainability been such a focus for your company?

Szelistowski: Natural gas is the perfect partner to renewable solar energy to provide capacity when the sun is not shining and to ensure energy is available to customers around the clock. Additionally, natural gas can provide great environmental benefits by replacing diesel fuel usage in large vehicles, such as buses and waste-management trucks.   

 A variety of ships are starting to convert to natural gas because of changing environmental regulations, specifically IMO 2020, which slashes permissible levels of sulfur permitted in fuel for seaborne vessels to minimal levels and opens the door for liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative.

Tower: The biggest factor is that customers want it. When thinking back over the last few years, the number of people focused on a cleaner environment has increased exponentially. This is symbolic of the focus citizens and our customers have on environmental stewardship, and that is not going away. We are very happy with our progress.

I think it’s our obligation on behalf of customers to demonstrate that clean energy is not only our responsibility in terms of an environmental perspective, but also from a cost perspective. We are focused on both of those things simultaneously. As the entity generating electricity, we have the responsibility of doing that in the most responsible way.

Nancy Tower

How would you respond to the argument that clean energy is not yet cost-effective or readily available?  

Szelistowski: Natural gas interstate transmission pipelines are relatively new to Florida compared with the Northeast, having been introduced only in the 1950s. In addition, natural gas is a primary source of space heating in many parts of the country. With limited space heating in Florida, natural gas is primarily used for cooking, water heating and clothes drying in addition to industrial uses. We see a great desire for natural gas by people who have moved from other parts of the country and have enjoyed using natural gas in the past.  

In terms of misconceptions, people do not realize the widespread availability of natural gas in Florida. Additionally, they may not realize the affordable nature of home and business use of natural gas. With low and steady gas prices, natural gas provides a great alternative to both business and homes.  

Tower: It is our job to ensure that our generation portfolio is the most cost-effective for customers. Over the long term, we have carried out extensive cost modeling to ensure we can meet these expectations. In the next number of years, we will add more solar capacity and our generation will include more small-scale methods combined with battery storage. This doesn’t come without hard work and we need to find the right ways to keep costs low. This involves finding the right land close to our transmission infrastructure, ensuring suppliers are providing competitive prices and efficient cost management. Costs have come down, but we need to ensure we tightly manage this.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.tampaelectric.com/

https://www.peoplesgas.com/

Face Off: The Sunshine City’s Future Shines Bright

Face Off: The Sunshine City’s Future Shines Bright

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

 

4 min read January 2020 Deliberate, calculated and fast-moving are just a few of the ways to describe the economic growth happening in the city of St. Petersburg. Long known as the “Sunshine City,” St. Pete has developed into an economic and arts and culture powerhouse within the Tampa Bay Region. This is in large part thanks to efforts by a motivated business community and community leaders. Invest: spoke with two of the prominent figures in the St. Pete community about their organization’s efforts to maximize the potential of their city. J.P. DuBuque, the president of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation, and Alison Barlow, the executive director of the St. Pete Innovation District, also discussed their view of the future and the challenges that await. 

 

How are you working to promote economic expansion in St. Petersburg?

J.P. DuBuque: As an EDC, our primary role is to help grow jobs in the St. Petersburg area. One way we can contribute to that is by attracting new companies into our community. The most effective means of doing this is by telling our story, and to tell the story we have to know what the story is. This means we have to understand what our local community looks like. We are spending a good bit of time focusing on our local community to really understand the targeted industries that we want to enhance and grow. We are working with groups like the data analytics community and marine science community to best understand their needs. This in turn relays to us where the opportunities lie to attract new businesses to the region. Apart from this, we spend a lot of time out of the market, meeting with individual companies and other markets to tell them the great story of doing business in St. Petersburg. Sometimes this is through coordinated business development missions, while other times it is by leveraging non- economic-development-related conferences like South by Southwest or through focused sales development efforts.

Alison Barlow: The entrepreneurial ecosystem and talent development are two big areas of focus for us. We are doing a program called Innovation Scholars, which provides unique job shadowing opportunities for first-year students at USF St. Petersburg. We have already paired 39 students with companies in the Innovation District and around Downtown. We are also exploring ways to incubate more marine technologies, such as sensors, drones and ROVs, as well as encouraging the link between marine and life sciences.

As part of our efforts to attract businesses and talent to the district, we offer a variety of office space types. We are also focusing on connecting people who are located near the St. Pete Innovation District and making them part of the district. We are supporting the creation of social spaces by encouraging restaurants and retailers to come to the area. We are also supporting the full range of housing, from fully-assisted affordable housing to workforce, multifamily and luxury condos.

From your perspective, what is one of the most significant challenges for economic growth in St. Petersburg?

DuBuque: The biggest challenge for us is perception versus reality, and I believe this is a statewide challenge. When you look at what people think regarding some of the things that are necessary to build a successful business, and a successful quality of life, there are some perception challenges for Florida. The perception that Florida is not a good business environment, and that our school systems are not up to par are a real challenge. The perception, and reality, of Florida’s lack of mass transit is a real issue that needs to be overcome. When we have an opportunity to show folks what the reality is, they are typically pleasantly surprised.

Barlow: We are leading conversations with local health institutions about how changes in our oceans have an impact on our people. Human and ocean health are becoming much more related. For example, last year we had a significant red tide, and while the marine scientists were looking at the causes that were making it worse and the impact on marine life, the physicians in our area were seeing an uptick in asthma issues due to the airborne aspect of red tide.

We have some of the best sea level rise experts in St. Petersburg. It is encouraging to see the progress of their research looking at temperature fluctuation, the infiltration of bacteria and nutrients in the water that is contributing to algae blooms such as blue-green algae and red tide. They are turning this deep research into practical knowledge for the community. 

What has you excited for the future economic growth in St. Petersburg?  

DuBuque: It is important to remember that growth is necessary for us to move forward as a society. If we are not growing as individuals and as a community, then we are actually moving backward. That said, the level of proactivity from the Economic Development Corporation allows us to select the types of businesses that we want to really bring here. That in and of itself will help move us forward. We also have a full community commitment to the Grow Smarter Strategy, which gives us a common road map for every person in the economic development game. Those things allow us to maintain the culture and character of St. Petersburg while still moving forward. The worst thing that we could do is to kill the golden goose, which for us is the vibrancy, authenticity, arts, creativity, innovation and “funk” of St. Pete.

Barlow: We are excited about our progress on our smart city project. The St. Pete Innovation District is partnering with Spectrum and US Ignite to test concepts around smart city technology to improve the lives of the people in our community. It is also a chance for us to try sensor technology and think about what it would mean for educational and workforce opportunities. We are getting closer to installing four smart light poles on the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus that will have power, internet and the ability to host environmental and traffic sensors.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://stpeteinnovationdistrict.com/the-district/

https://stpeteedc.com/

 

Face Off: Hot Hotel Market to Remain Steadfast Into 2020

Face Off: Hot Hotel Market to Remain Steadfast Into 2020

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

4 min read December 2019 Hospitality may be one of the most competitive industries in Florida, and in an economically thriving region like Tampa Bay the competition is only heightened. To rise to the top of this crowded market takes leadership that not only understands the local market and can easily adapt to change, but can also create a work culture that attracts the best and brightest. Invest: explored what it takes to be successful in this market with the general managers for two of the region’s most highly regarded hotels, Kevin Scott with The Epicurean Hotel and David Rowland with The Westshore Grand.

How do you ensure you are attracting and retaining the highest quality employees?

David Rowland: When we hire what we call our associates, we do not hire based on technical ability. We hire friendly individuals who we can train on the technical aspects. Every associate meets with me and usually I only ask them a couple of personality-based questions, like what they do for fun or about their worst day at work and how they overcame it. This is first and foremost a customer service business and you must have a personality that fits that.

Kevin Scott: Employee turnover in this industry is an ongoing challenge that does not have a clear-cut resolution, especially in Tampa where new hotels and restaurants are opening on a weekly basis. Our key to navigating this issue is to ensure that we create a safe environment where employees are encouraged to speak their minds, give feedback and relay their input without the threat of it affecting their jobs. We work to empower our leaders to lead by example and foster great relationships between their departments. We are also in a sweet spot because we are a midsized hotel with a staff that consists of around 150 people, which means that if one person suddenly calls off or quits, it is not the end of the world.

Do you believe the demand curve will stay strong enough to support the new inventory of hotels coming online in the region?

Rowland: I do, because the market is so strong right now. Tampa Bay is a great area and it is still growing rapidly. The airport is consistently ranked among the Top 5 airports in the United States, and the international hub that they are building is going to bring even more business into the region. We are a city where you can host massive meetings, relocate large businesses into and start a business within. The ability to get in and out of the city quickly is also a significant factor in keeping this new supply sustainable. Tampa has done a good job of making sure the infrastructure and the supply of hotel and businesses is grown at the same pace. The only danger is a hotel worrying about all the new supply so they drop their rates just to be competitive. If one person does that, it causes a ripple effect in the industry where we now all have to drop our prices.

Scott: Tampa as a market needs more hotel rooms to attract bigger conventions that bring more people to town. The challenge is that we are capped off at a certain number right now, which limits how many people we can bring into the city, but with so many new hotel rooms coming into the market in the next year or so, there is an opportunity to steal some share from Orlando, Miami and Fort Lauderdale for these conventions. It is the perfect time to capitalize on this opportunity; the updated urban planning is now in play, and the city has never been laid out better than it is now.

How is your hotel primed for continued growth within the region?  

Rowland: We are a part of the Marriott Tribute Portfolio, which is considered its luxury tier, but we get to act as an independent boutique hotel. The hotel has 325 rooms, over 15,000 square feet of meeting space and 14 meeting rooms where people can work, network and convene. We are known for having the flexibility to tailor events in our event space to a customer’s needs. The nice part about being independent is we have a lot of leeway and wiggle room to do what we want to make our customers’ meetings the most successful they can be. We are also very fortunate that we sit inside the Urban Center building. We are the primary hotel for the over 2,000 tenants that rent office space in the building.

Scott: To stay economically sustainable in this business, especially in the instance of another recession, we focus on attracting more groups and business travel. We want people to be aware of our offerings whether they are our neighbors in Tampa or looking for a destination from across the country. Our advantages are that we are centrally located, and people will always love food and wine. Even in a recession, wine, beer and alcohol are always in demand, so we are ready to ride that wave when it happens. Overall, we feel strong about where the Epicurean stands as a hotel and historical landmark that Tampa can be proud of.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://epicureanhotel.com/

https://westshoregrand.com/

Face Off: Two Legal Leaders on Growth, Talent and Tech

Face Off: Two Legal Leaders on Growth, Talent and Tech

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

4 min read November 2019 Seemingly every industry in the Tampa Bay region is firing on all cylinders as the area continues to exceed expectations in terms of economic growth. In concurrency with this growth is increased demand from businesses and individuals for legal services and counsel. Law firms in the region have taken notice and are acting swiftly to establish or reestablish themselves as prominent figures in this space. Invest: spoke with Michael Lundy, the managing and founding partner of Older, Lundy & Alvarez, and Kevin Johnson, a shareholder of Johnson Jackson, about the role of Tampa Bay in their businesses, navigating the lingering challenge of labor and the importance of technological advancements in the legal sector. 

 

 

How is the setting of Tampa Bay conducive to your business and legal practice?

Michael Lundy: The Tampa Metro Area is growing rapidly in about every sector. I think that the local political climate is conducive to this growth. We are seeing development driven by businesses that want to operate in Tampa, as well as an influx of outside capital investment from sophisticated sources that see the area as ripe for growth. It seems as though all the pistons are firing at the same time.

My personal practice is marital and family law, but Older, Lundy & Alvarez handles real estate transactions and litigation, commercial litigation, tax work and corporate counsel. With so much local development and population growth, we have benefited greatly because there is a higher demand for the many services that we provide. It is our goal to provide legal services for every aspect of one’s life, or what we call “the ultimate representation.”

Kevin Johnson: For our business, Tampa is a great location for a multitude of reasons. One is that it is extremely easy to reach the entire state from this region. We are only a couple hours from Naples, Jacksonville and Tallahassee. We also have a terrific airport. Most significant would be the strong business climate in the region. Tampa has done a lot of things well over the last 20 years in regards to establishing a conducive environment for businesses in the region. We have been lucky because this city has had a string of progressive and insightful mayors who have gone to great lengths to really improve the business environment. 

Has your firm been challenged in navigating the tight labor pool for legal professionals in the region? 

Lundy: Recruiting talent has not been a challenge. We have been able to recruit incredible lawyers. Tampa has a large pool of amazing legal talent. Tampa is a great place to live. It is an area that has had undervalued real estate, especially in the Downtown area, and that has attracted a lot of development. There has been a steadily growing young population. It has become a city where we talk about technology all the time. Local leadership has had a great positive impact in the area as well. The county commissioners and past and present mayors have had their eyes on the future and have worked very hard to develop a true vision for Tampa. Also, we do not have an income tax in the state of Florida, which is an attractive factor on top of all the amenities Tampa has to offer.

Johnson: The labor pool for legal staff is tight, but we are happy with the people we have on our team. We have found that there are good people out there who you can hire, but there is obviously a lot of competition for them. As a smaller firm, we have to work harder to find those right people, and it really depends on finding the right recruiter to help with that process. It is also very much about the type of work environment we can offer potential candidates. Culture is truly the big driver behind this. We made a commitment to create the kind of culture where people would enjoy working for us. Not only do we offer competitive pay and good benefits, but they also have a lot of freedom in terms of being flexible with their work time to meet family obligations. We also offer legal staff the opportunities to learn and grow so that they can adapt to new skills and new positions. It is all about creating an environment where people really enjoy coming to work and where work doesn’t feel like a job.

How important is new technology to the future success of the legal sector in Florida? 

Lundy: We have embraced technology. We are completely electronic, especially in our research and court filing. We are also all mobile and can work remotely when needed. We embraced technological improvements faster than other law firms and will continue to do so. It will be interesting to see how artificial intelligence will change law practices. Historically, the manner in which legal services were delivered has been very old school, but that is changing.

Johnson: The Florida Bar has been quite progressive when it comes to technology. The Florida Bar is really taking a leadership role and we are seen as the national leader in introducing lawyers to new technology and helping them deal with the effects as technology takes over their practices. We are fortunate to have such a progressive Bar in that respect. Our Supreme Court also has done a good job of trying to figure out where our rules should be so that it is easier for us to deal with the challenges that we face as lawyers. These elements combined make Florida a pretty good environment to practice in.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.olalaw.com/

https://www.johnsonjackson.com/

 

Face Off: The Bay’s Banking Bosses

Face Off: The Bay’s Banking Bosses

Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas

4 min read September 2019 The health of the banking sector is a great way to gauge the overall health of the economy, so when the banking sector is prospering it is normally on par with a healthy economy. This remains true in Tampa Bay as the local economy has been experiencing a long and healthy growth that is also shared by the banking sector in the region. Invest: Tampa Bay recently spoke with David Call, Florida regional president of Fifth Third Bank, and Allen Brinkman, region president for Seacoast Bank, two of the premier banks in the Tampa Bay region. Discussions with both banking institutions covered their view of the current state of the market in Tampa Bay, how emerging technologies are impacting their banking practices, and ways to keep growth in the sector and Tampa Bay sustainable for the future.

What is your view of the local market in light of the burgeoning economy in the region?

David Call: Everything is moving at a fast pace in the Tampa Bay region, and from my perspective there is not one particular sector or segment of the market that is doing better than another. Our bank has five lines of business in the region: commercial, small business, retail, wealth and mortgage. All five of those lines are doing well and we are still seeing strong momentum. We have seen this growth for the last four years, and while we are prepared for any kind of slowdown, we haven’t seen any sign of that for the near future.

Allen Brinkman: As long as the economy does well and as the spirit of Tampa Bay continues to rise, the market will remain prosperous. There is a growing sense of pride in the city. This pride is creating opportunities for new businesses to start, established businesses to expand and investments into the business market to remain lucrative. It has been a great market for quite some time, and outside of a global economic issue, Tampa Bay is going to continue to do well. I believe that even if the global economy slows down, Tampa Bay is somewhat insulated because it is a place that people want to be, for both a younger and older demographic. There is almost nowhere else in Florida that is as cost-effective, beautiful and offers as many cultural and economic opportunities as Tampa Bay.

With the prominence of emerging technologies in the financial sector, how can banks find the balance to still deliver a personal experience?

Call: Technology has not taken the place of our physical centers, but everything that we do around technology has definitely taken off. Whether that is depositing a check or checking an account balance, all of these uses are being adopted at a much quicker pace than how technology was adopted in the past. That being said, we believe at least 60% of our clients still want to come to a branch and bank with a human being. That does not mean that they do not want technology, because they do, so it is a balancing act. We are still building branches in the state of Florida, and we will have more branches in the Tampa Bay area too. We want to offer all these various channels for people to use because ultimately we need to stay in line with the voice of the customer and keep them at the center of what we do.

Brinkman: The online and digital experience is more of a convenience vehicle than it is an alternative to all banking. Simple transactions like depositing a check or finding a branch can be accomplished with technology,  but more complicated transactions are usually going to involve an interaction with a banker. Banks are somewhat of a commodity today, and the only way to set yourself apart from other banks is by the advice you give. Our bankers are trained and spend a lot of time on their consultative approach. For example, in the past, we knew that the mortgage business was about borrowing as much as you could to get the biggest house, and hopefully everything worked out. Today, bankers give a little more advice and guidance on what is a responsible financial decision for a customer to make. This type of personal interaction could not be accomplished by technology.

What are some ways to keep banking sector growth and that of Tampa Bay sustainable and recession resilient?

Call: When we adapt to this influx (of high-net-worth investors), it has a positive affect on our business, and this is true for all of Tampa Bay, not just our bank. There are a lot of businesses and people bringing money to Tampa Bay because they see the growth. Outside investment is a huge part of keeping this growth sustainable because we need an infrastructure that matches the influx of people coming to Tampa Bay. In regards to our bank, we are investing our time and resources into making sure that we are a part of the change so we can help our communities thrive.

Brinkman: We are quite conservative in terms of our approach to lending, which some could misinterpret as not offering loans. However, we do offer loans just as much as most banks, we just tend to be conservative in how we advise our customer. Our bankers sit down with customers to understand why they need a loan, what the purpose is and inform the customer of whatever risk elements are out there that they may not have thought of. When a loan is done with Seacoast, a relationship is formed. We make the decision jointly versus just providing a loan that may not be right for the customer. Our role as a bank is to protect the customer, which creates a greater sense of responsibility to really develop a product that’s customized to their needs. If there is another recession, we believe we will fair well because of this practice.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.seacoastbank.com/

https://www.53.com/