As local news stories go, it was a one-day wonder. Mayor Pam Iorio announced an initiative and named a committee to spearhead it. Another day at the office.
Then it was back under the headline radar, giving way to disaster contingency jurisdictions, the fiscal ’06 budget, storm water fees, the art museum soap opera and a testy city hall-city council contretemps.
This initiative, however, is too important and this committee too high-profile to be relegated to a bureaucratic lost-and-profound department. The charge is to drum up more worldwide trade, a challenge more formidable than pitching a Super Bowl.
The economic implications are far-reaching and long-term. The global marketplace is not an option; it’s a necessity. How much longer can phosphate define our international trade identity?
For too long Tampa has not taken full advantage of its Hispanic history and proximity to Latin America or the international potential inherent in a world class airport and one of the country’s busiest seaports. It’s evidenced in the dearth of international flights out of Tampa International Airport, in a stillborn free trade zone and in a nominal – albeit incrementally increasing — container cargo business at the Port of Tampa.
As to the nine-member Mayor’s Global Business Committee, it includes a lot of the right people. Notably Louis E. Miller, the Executive Director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority; Richard A. Wainio, Director of the Tampa Port Authority; Arthur Savage, President, A.R. Savage & Son Inc.; Bronson Thayer, Chairman of the World Trade Center – Tampa Bay Inc.; as well as Mark Huey, Tampa’s Economic Development Director. It is chaired by the savvy Jeff Knott, Vice President International for Rooms To Go Corp.
“Our global business mission is not well-focused and needs to be more coordinated,” understated the mayor.
Indeed, the rule of thumb for local entities engaged in foreign commerce has long been to work independently in research and marketing. Sharing of information was tantamount to spilling state secrets. Proprietary has too often been confused with parochial, such that the enlightened self-interest of this market is undermined. And “this market” must mean more than Tampa. The sooner that regional partners, such as Pinellas County, are brought into the fold and the master strategy, the sooner the Tampa Bay area gets on the globe – not just the map.
Another critical issue is the chronic need for a clearinghouse on raw data, such as what exactly is imported and exported – both products and services — and the amount of foreign investment.
The mayor thus put forth a formal focus on quantifiable goals. There are no theoretical bottom lines here. The proof is in the numbers. It’s how you keep score in the global trade game. Tampa and the Tampa Bay area have to play as if they’re behind and want to become major global players.
They are, and they can.