Tampa Bay boosts investor appeal but must raise profile too

Tampa Bay boosts investor appeal but must raise profile too

Tampa, St Petersburg and the surrounding communities are below the radar of many international investors, but there are hopes the area’s quality of life and increasingly skilled workforce can help it compete with better established neighbours such as Orlando and Miami.The area is better at attracting investment from the US than from overseas. US-based companies contributed 306 of the 345 inbound greenfield investment projects tracked by fDi Markets, an FT data service, since 2009. Tampa soaks up the bulk of investment.Ohio-based insurer Progressive Corporation is among the more significant recent domestic investors in the area. Earlier this year it announced plans to expand its operations in Tampa to add 1,500 new jobs during 2019. The positions include customer service, sales, multi-product sales, claims representatives, bilingual Spanish sales and customer service roles.

Law firm Baker & McKenzie, headquartered in Chicago, is investing $3.3m in a global support centre in Tampa. Due to open in early 2020 with 300 new jobs, it will provide support to the firm and clients in functions such as legal services, finance, IT and knowledge management. Jamie Lawless, executive director for the firm’s Tampa centre, cited “an exceptional pool of talent” as well as the city’s global outlook and a “cultural fit” that meshed with the firm’s needs. Financial services and business services jointly account for more than half of greenfield inward investment projects in the Tampa-St Petersburg-Clearwater region in the past decade, at 27 per cent each, according to fDi Markets. This is followed by software and IT services at 15 per cent and healthcare at 7 per cent.

The area is trying to raise its international profile and has enjoyed a recent wave of interest from Brazilian companies, according to economic development agency Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Cicopal Group, a snack food manufacturer in Brazil, chose Tampa to launch its first products in the US under the EKOA Brands. Steel manufacturer Gerdau has its North American headquarters in Hillsborough County.The cargo port of Tampa Bay, Florida’s largest by tonnage, “positions [Tampa] perfectly for manufacturers and exporters serving the LatAm or Asian markets,” says Laura Fontanills, marketing and communications director at Tampa Hillsborough EDC. The port’s shipping container and cruise business is also growing, she says, with the recent deepening of the Big Bend Channel, which allows access for bigger ships. Tampa International Airport has added new direct international routes and is often on the shortlist of US hubs that are well liked by travellers. It is now in the second phase of construction of an expansion scheme. This summer United Airlines announced an investment of $33m in a Tampa maintenance and servicing project, creating 100 jobs. The facility is expected to be operational in the second quarter of 2020.

Financial and business services account for more than half of greenfield inward investment projects

CAE USA, a Canadian-owned aerospace business, created 100 jobs last year and named Tampa its US headquarters. The company employs about 600 staff in the city. Sweden-based cell and gene immunotherapy biotech company Vycellix also has opened a new US headquarters in Tampa. While it is less well known, Tampa has a cost advantage to exploit in competing with larger or more established business hubs. A benchmarking study using online location comparison tool fDi Benchmark, an FT service, shows total operating costs for a headquarters facility — estimated at $5.4m per year — are lower than for more established regional hubs such as Atlanta, Miami and Charlotte, and comparable with nearby competitor Orlando.The study suggests that Tampa is weaker on comparative quality, however. fDi Benchmark uses independent data on factors such as size of the industry cluster, labour availability and quality, infrastructure and accessibility, and business and living environment. Tampa’s overall quality score is 60 — 162 points lower than New York City, and below Miami (which scores 92), Atlanta (89) Charlotte (74) and Orlando (62).Ms Fontanills says employee quality has improved, thanks to a thriving innovation scene and the growth of the universities of South Florida and Tampa, and other institutions. She adds: “we have a distinct advantage . . . because due to our extremely high quality of life, and low cost of living and doing business, we have the ability to attract a skilled workforce from elsewhere.”According to fDi Markets, 43 per cent of the companies which declared a reason for investing in Tampa cited a skilled local workforce — the key investment driver. UK-owned Frank Recruitment group, a tech recruitment firm, opened an office in Tampa last year, citing the fast-growing tech labour force and the city’s ability to attract millennials. “It’s a fantastic location,” says James Lloyd-Townshend, chief executive officer. Recruiting from a strong local pool of talent will “help us build our presence in the Americas”, he adds.Tampa’s comparatively low profile is the main hurdle to attracting international business, says Ms Fontanills: “We feel strongly that if we just get business decision makers to Tampa to see our assets first-hand, we will be able to make the case for why investment in our region is a good idea.”

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