You can, apparently, go home again.
Less than five years ago and approaching his 40th birthday, Frank Sanchez returned to his hometown of Tampa. He was a Harvard grad who had been assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs in the Clinton Administration. He came home to be with his aging parents and to run for mayor.
He lost in a run-off, but remains rooted here. He runs an international consulting firm and is a major player on the Bay Area business, civic and political scenes.
“There are terrific opportunities for entrepreneurs here, it’s an easy place to get involved in and the quality of life is great,” gushes Sanchez. “I still get a smile on my face as I leave TIA and head home.”
His perspective is illustrative of an incipient trend.
The 30-something generation is gradually finding the Tampa Bay market to its liking. The 2.5 million-population Tampa Metropolitan Statistical Area is the second largest in the Southeast. Tampa Bay ranked 12th among “America’s Best Places to Live and Work” in Employment Review’s June 2003 issue. Inc. Magazine recently ranked the Tampa Bay area 14th on its list of the 25 best major markets to start a business. Tampa Bay is the 13th largest TV market and regularly receives national kudos on cost-of-living, unemployment and quality-of-life criteria. Plus, Tampa, the region’s economic hub, is now experiencing rapidly ratcheting urban infill that appeals to young professionals as much as empty nesters.
The last two years have seen urban planners, artists, politicians and chamber of commerce types coalescing around the priority of keeping, attracting – and reclaiming — the best, brightest and edgiest. In fact, the Tampa Chamber of Commerce has established a leadership subgroup, Emerge Tampa, to target the 21-35 demographic.
The following are among those who couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge at 18 – only to return as 30-somethings making a mark in their hometowns.
Few have taken a more circuitous route back home than Tampa Prep grad Ben Older. He returned to Tampa in 2001 — via Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Miami and Europe.
He has an undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Southern California and a law degree from the University of Miami. He also has a cache of eclectic experiences from having played in and managed bands on two continents – as well as having owned an entertainment-management company in Los Angeles.
Older is a practicing attorney, an entrepreneur, and a singer-guitarist-percussionist. He’s a partner in Older & Lundy, a co-owner of the Lotus Club, an Ybor City “ultra lounge,” and lead vocalist in the band “Mobetta” that plays at St. Bart’s Island House in Tampa’s SoHo section.
“My dream was to have my own law firm, and I could do that a lot sooner here than in Miami or LA,” explains Older. “I also love music. Tampa is the perfect place to do all that I do simultaneously.
And then there’s his morning ritual — jogging along Bayshore. “Sometimes I see dolphins,” he says. “Now that’s cool.
“When I came back,” recalls Older, “it felt right. Maybe I was really seeing it for the first time.”
As a kid, Beth Reynolds was fascinated by cameras. As a teenager, she loved meandering downtown St. Petersburg with her Minolta looking for meaning in the mundane.
A photo-journalist was born – one who wouldn’t long be satisfied with the prosaic tableaus of St. Petersburg. “I left when I was 18 and said, ‘See ‘ya, St. Pete, I’m going to see the world.'”
She headed to the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and earned a degree in mass communications. She then landed a staff photographer position with the Bristol (CT) Press and later graduated from the University of Hartford Art School with a master’s in fine arts.
The Shorecrest School alum finally yielded to her mother’s entreaties touting downtown revitalization and a hip arts scene and returned in the late ’90s. She hooked up with The Arts Center in St. Petersburg, where she is now photography and digital program coordinator. She also founded “The Photo-Documentary Press,” published two books and earned numerous national photo-journalism honors. She became a sought-after speaker/panelist and recognized for her one-woman shows.
“I love journalism and I work at a fine arts organization,”says Reynolds. “I’m a hybrid; this is great.”She also loves where she lives.
“St. Pete has an urban as well as a small town feel,” notes Reynolds. “But this whole area is arts friendly. My home is Tampa Bay. I can do everything I need to here.”
For David Stamps III, the die was cast early.
His parents were prominent USF professors. Achievement was a given – and family educational roots coursed through Atlanta’s pre-eminent African-American institutions: Morehouse College and Spelman College.
By the time Stamps had graduated from Tampa’s King High School, he had been vice president and president of the student government, an academic standout — and Atlanta bound.
He earned a degree in finance from Morehouse, hung out with the offspring of Bill Cosby, Maynard Jackson and Julian Bond and opened his own music management company. Then a dose of reality best summarized by a music-business adage: “You don’t make money till they make money.”
“I regrouped,” Stamps recalls humbly. He also came home, went to Stetson Law School in Gulfport, saw Tampa Bay through more mature eyes – and hasn’t looked back.
“After I came back, I started seeing change all around me,” says Stamps. “I wanted to be a part of it.”
He has his own law firm in Hyde Park, where he specializes in commercial real estate, and enjoys pivoting to the good life from his Harbour Island residence.
“The opportunities are here,” notes Stamps. “My practice has the same potential as the area. Plus the weather is gorgeous and the landscapes unbelievable. Why would I leave?”
But first the Berkeley Prep grad had something to prove. The family business, he reasoned, was “always there,” but he “felt the need to achieve something on my own. And to expand my horizons.”
Which probably explains why the son of a builder became an anthropology/religion major at Emory University in Atlanta. “It was about learning to think well,” he says. But he also took business courses “for balance.”
His self-realization sojourn would take him to Santa Barbara, CA. To teaching special education and working in sales. He was the 2003 National “Rookie of the Year” for McGraw-Hill Companies.
He married and returned with his wife Lindsay last December. He’s now business development manager for Creative Contractors, a 55-employee operation that does about $70 million a year in commercial projects. He’s the web master and the go-to guy for PowerPoint presentations.
“Moving back was figuratively and literally about building and growing,” says Bomstein. “A family, a career, a community. It’s about a lot more than bricks and mortar.
“And I tend to see things regionally,” adds Bomstein. “I see the beauty and the variety — from the beaches to Ybor City. And there’s a kind of laid-back feeling that I’m appreciating more and more.”
Michael Peters could be the poster boy for CreativeTampaBay, the regional clearinghouse for the “creative class.”
He’s a former art director for Grey Worldwide, the prestigious New York advertising agency. He was becoming a player in the world’s ad-and-image epicenter and living the cosmopolitan life that goes with a Manhattan brownstone.
When his wife Leigh became pregnant, his career prism altered. A fifth-floor walkup wouldn’t be family friendly.
“Growing up in Tampa, I mis
sed the water,” explains the Plant High and University of Alabama grad. “And New York is an eat ’em up type place.”
In an augur of karmic proportions, they moved back to Tampa on Sept. 10, 2001.
It’s been all upside since. The Peters family now includes a son and daughter; they live in a bungalow in Hyde Park; and Michael is president and creative director of his own ad agency, Spark Branding House in Ybor.
This summer Spark was the only Tampa Bay agency to earn a national ADDY award. “Tampa used to be more traditional,” observes Peters. “Now it has more bullets. There are many more major brands here.
“We’re a boutique agency doing high-end work,” points out Peters. “It can definitely be done here. Plus, I get to play with my kids in my back yard.”