Brightline and Virgin sever rail ties

Brightline and Virgin sever rail ties

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read August 2020 — Brightline is passing on Virgin Trains. On Aug. 7, the high-speed passenger train operator announced that it would not be rebranded as Virgin Trains USA and would continue its operations under Brightline LLC. The withdrawal represents a sudden and apparently astringent end to the link between Brightline and Virgin Group. 

Brightline originally announced its strategic partnership with billionaire Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, two years ago. Brightline quickly welcomed this new partnership and underwent a complete makeover. Virgin Trains USA was officially supposed to debut its rebranding transformation this summer. However, COVID-19 related issues looks to have stopped the deal dead in its tracks. 

Originally, the relationship seemed like a match made in transit heaven. Branson and his team have carved out a successful enterprise in the transportation and hospitality industry with a fleet of carriers ranging from airplanes to cruise ships. “It’s already a very good experience,” Branson told the South Florida Business Journal in 2019. “We just need to sprinkle a bit of magic dust over it. We need to make sure the two hours, 45 minutes to Orlando is magical, and we are used to doing that in the UK, where we have longer train journeys.” 

Unfortunately, that seamless experience of having guests fly in on Virgin Atlantic then transported on a Virgin Train to their Virgin Voyage will have to be postponed. Branson’s lucrative business, like many others in the hospitality industry, came to a halt as a result of the pandemic. To make matters worse, Brighline’s 2019 passenger count was less than half what it projected and its revenue was less than a fifth of its expectations, according to The Palm Beach Post. The future of Virgin Atlantic Airways remains uncertain after the airline filed Chapter 15 bankruptcy earlier this week. 

Brightline, however, seems to be moving along. Its current routes consist of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Progress also continues to be made on its fourth station in Florida at the Orlando International Airport. Operations are scheduled to begin sometime in 2022. There has also been talk of building additional stations in Aventura and Boca Raton. 

The Miami-Dade County Commission was negotiating terms regarding proposed stations with Virgin Trains USA but it’s unclear whether the county will agree to a new county commuter service. “We really need to think about what is the future of transit and how people will get around this town…” Mayor Carlos Gimenez told The Real Deal in June. “We may have as many of 20 to 30 percent of people working out of their homes.” How Brightline’s withdrawal from its Virgin deal will impact the commission’s decision remains unknown.

Although the future of the Brightline expansion may be up in the air, if more stations do pop up it could leave a positive impact on the local economy. Brightline’s expansion could bring over 5,000 jobs on average per year after rail-line construction is complete through 2021 and have a $6.4 billion direct economic impact to Florida’s economy over the next eight years, according to Washington Economics Group, Inc. 

How the aviation industry is weathering COVID-19 turbulence

How the aviation industry is weathering COVID-19 turbulence

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read July 2020 — Summer this year is drastically different. Instead of hopping on planes to visit friends and family or finally embarking on that European adventure, the majority of frequent travelers are staying put, at least for the time being. It started to become apparent around the second week of March that the novel coronavirus would have a severe impact on the air transport industry. Even some of the busiest airports like Philadelphia International are feeling the weight of uncertainty. Nevertheless, the aviation industry continues to push forward. New air travel innovations have emerged and some airlines have even rediscovered ways to use their aircraft as they weather the turbulence. 

Greater Philadelphia is the eighth-largest metropolitan area in the United States and is located in the middle of one of the largest catchment areas with passport holders spanning from South Jersey all the way to New York, according to PHL CASRIP.  Philadelphia International Airport is the only international airport that not only serves Philly but the northeast region as a whole. Just last year, the PHL welcomed more than 33 million passengers. It was the largest amount of traffic the airport has ever seen and what makes that figure even more impressive is that fact that there are 29 other airports within a 50 mile radius. So while it may take years for the airport to return to those 2019 levels, there is still hope for air transportation. On July 16, American Airlines and JetBlue announced their strategic partnership that will create seamless connectivity for travelers in the Northeast. This will help to provide more choices for passengers across their complementary domestic and international networks.

Our innovative partnership will allow us to compete in the New York market where American and JetBlue have traditionally been third and fourth. This partnership will allow us to coordinate schedules so we can provide customers better connectivity, capitalizing on JetBlue’s strengths in the New York market and American’s strengths as a long-haul carrier. Ideally, we envision a time where our passengers can travel into New York on JetBlue and connect with American Airlines for a long-haul flight out of JFK. So it opens up a tremendous amount of new markets to both JetBlue and American customers, complementing our trans-Atlantic gateway in Philadelphia,” Jim Moses, vice president for American Airlines PHL Hub Operations, told Invest: Philadelphia. 

Forming strategic partnerships with the competition is just one way airlines are navigating the pandemic. A majority of aviation companies are also adjusting their travel schedules, waiving ticket alteration fees and offering flights at a much lower fare. When it comes to cleanliness airlines are making sure to broadcast their meticulous efforts. Major U.S. airlines like Delta, American, JetBlue and United are in close contact with health agencies such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control to make sure their guidelines for cleaning their aircraft cabins are up to par. 

As for Philadelphia International Airport, customers and employees are required to wear marks. Their TSA screening process has been modified to protect passengers and new touchless check-in technology has started to emerge. PHL also launched an initiative that offers airlines financial stimulus to encourage carriers to fly to certain destinations and to expand their cargo services. “PHL believes that this rapid injection of relief and growth will jumpstart the entire airport ecosystem, thus benefiting the Philadelphia region,” Stephanie Wear, director of air service development and cargo services, told Airport Experience News. “From concessions to ground transportation to tourism and commerce, the halo effect of increased air travel will create immediate wins for all airport stakeholders.” 

Tourism in Orlando pushing forward despite rise in COVID-19 cases

Tourism in Orlando pushing forward despite rise in COVID-19 cases

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read July 2020 — It has been almost six months since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic. Within days, each sector of the economy had to discover new ways to keep businesses afloat despite being forced to close their doors. Unlike banking and technology, tourism relies on almost every aspect of life that is now restricted, like travel and face-to-face interaction. For cities like Orlando, tourism is a major factor in the economy, to the tune of $75 billion a year.


 Tourism supports an estimated 41% of Orlando’s workforce. Around 463,000 jobs have been affected and millions of dollars worth of wages are being lost each day during the area’s local tourism shut down. Tourism also accounts for $5.8 billion in state and local taxes, finances which go to support local schools, roads and other crucial services, according to Visit Orlando. The city’s resilience, however, is proving that it is not going to let a microscopic organism bring it down as tourism continues to push forward.

Although the hotel industry has been wrestling with obstacles caused by COVID-19, activity in that area is starting to gain traction again. One example is the development of a five-star convention hotel that was recently announced. Summa Development Group LLC has proposed a 33-story project in Thornton Park and the construction is expected to begin sometime next year, according to Orlando Business Journal. As for the big players like Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios, they too have begun to jump-start their operations. Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot officially opened on July 15. Universal Studios welcomed guests back to its park on June 5, after almost two and a half months of closure. Of course, the theme parks will each have their own updated operational guidelines, including mandatory face coverings, temperature checks and social distancing regulations.  

When we first made the decision in March 2020 to close Universal Orlando Resort in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we didn’t know how long it would be for. We didn’t know what the future held or what a reopening would entail … Getting us here has been an in-depth process, and I am incredibly proud of the ways our Team Members have listened to experts and implemented new operational guidelines for the safety of our guests. At Universal Orlando Resort, we are following what we’re calling the three Ss. That’s screening, meaning we’re taking everybody’s temperature before they enter; sanitization, because we are constantly sanitizing areas and high-touch surfaces in the parks; and spacing, providing markings and reminders throughout our resort so guests can socially distance themselves from other parties,” said Bill Davis, president of Universal Orlando Resort, in a welcome back letter. 

It’s safe to say that tourism is the bloodline of Orlando’s economy. While there is hope for a new beginning and a new normal after the pandemic, the city isn’t in the clear just yet. Despite every attempt by public officials to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, cases continue to surge and hospitals are starting to fill up. On July 19, Florida reported 10,328 new positive COVID-19 cases and 90 Florida resident deaths related to COVID-19. Orlando has been listed as the second highest city, behind Miami, with the most confirmed number of COVID-19 cases, according to The Florida Department of Health


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:

Spotlight on: George Cretekos, Mayor, City of Clearwater

Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read JULY 2019 — For the second year in a row, Tripadvisor awarded Clearwater  the distinction of having the best beach in the country. This comes as no surprise to the city’s 115,000 residents, who have long been stewards of their environment. With the population in the Tampa Bay region growing, that stewardship becomes even more important. 

Invest: Tampa Bay recently sat down with Mayor George Cretekos, who is on the verge of completing his second term. He discussed how the city is handling population growth, the challenges associated with it and how residents are at the forefront of environmental sustainability in Clearwater. 

How are Clearwater residents supporting environmentally sustainable practices? 

As I complete my second term, I appreciate how our residents and businesses have, on their own initiative, promoted sustainability and environmental stewardship.  Before there had been any talk about governments banning single-use plastics in the region, Clearwater’s businesses had started their own programs to stop using plastic straws. It is now common to find many restaurants in Clearwater that do not offer plastic straws or styrofoam to-go containers. This is a testament to how our residents are promoting sustainability and being good stewards of the environment.

How is the region handling the recent increase in population growth?

The region must have smart growth to make sure we are not only taking care of the environment, but also guaranteeing accessibility for our residents and visitors. We continually hear that we have traffic problems and at certain times of the year those problems can be exasperating. The population in this region needs to adapt to using alternatives like public transportation, which can be a better option than building more roads. We should model our transportation efforts to be like that of other major cities where reliable public transportation is an alternative.

What are the biggest challenges facing the city of Clearwater? 

Transportation and affordable housing are the two biggest concerns for the Tampa Bay area. A large percentage of the employees in Clearwater does not live in the city; if we can help provide affordable housing for these employees then the transportation problems could be eased. These individuals would not have to commute long distances into Clearwater, which in turn would help clear a significant amount of congestion on the roadways and emissions. My fellow mayors in the Tampa Bay region have realized that we may be separated by a body of water, but that doesn’t mean that our interests don’t run parallel. When one city does well then we all do well, so we should be working together to solve these issues.

To read more about our interviewee, visit: