Snapshots: 60 Seconds with Bob Buckhorn, Mayor, Tampa, FL

Bob Buckhorn, Mayor of Tampa, FL, discusses his city’s fast-growing job market, highly-ranked business tax structure, infrastructure improvements, and efforts to become a leader in STEM-oriented manufacturing.

By the BF Staff
From the January/February 2017 Issue

Bob Buckhorn Tampa FL
Bob Buckhorn, Mayor, Tampa, FL

Business Facilities: According to recent studies, the Tampa metro area is one of the fastest-growing job markets in the nation. What is driving Tampa’s success in attracting new jobs?

Bob Buckhorn: Talent is probably the number one factor that’s driving our job recruiting and business expansion success. Companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson and Johnson, and Ashley Furniture Industries—to name just a few—have all recently established major operations here and continuously remark about the quality of the local workforce. Second, Tampa offers the lifestyle, lower cost of living, safety, and career opportunities that highly mobile millennials want. Money magazine ranked Tampa as the Best City in the Southeast, and named Tampa as the No. 1 one city Americans are moving to right now. That buzz, and a constant in-migration of fresh talent, is encouraging more companies to invest here and grow.

BF: KPMG has ranked Tampa in the top five among U.S. cities for a favorable tax structure that offers the lowest cost of doing business. Is holding down the tax burden for businesses the key to spurring growth?

RB: Absolutely. Tampa ranked #3 for business cost friendliness in KPMG’s 2016 Competitive Alternatives survey, which noted that the cost of doing business here is 5.4% less than the U.S. average. Compared with major cities in states like New York and Illinois, those cost savings climb to around 10%. Everything from the lower corporate tax rate (Florida’s is 5.5%) to labor costs to Class A office space to the cost of living—and of course, no personal income tax—translates to big savings for businesses and their employees. We’ve also completely revamped the permitting and regulatory process to encourage investment in Tampa.

Combine those factors with the exceptional talent employers can find in Tampa, and expanding or relocating a business here becomes a no-brainer.

BF: Tampa has had great success in attracting new high-wage jobs. What are the leading industry growth sectors in the Tampa metro area?

RB: Tampa was knocked to its knees during the Great Recession, with unemployment over 11% and a housing crisis that devastated many. When I took office in 2011, I made economic development a priority, and worked with our local and state business and government leaders to ensure that we were attracting the kind of high-wage, high-skilled jobs that would help us chart a more promising economic future. Today, our unemployment rate is 4.5 percent.

Tampa’s economy is driven by a thriving financial and professional services sector, with companies like Citi, USAA, and DTCC adding thousands of new jobs in the last three years. Our information technology industry is booming as well. We have the highest job demand for STEM-related occupations in the state of Florida, and a healthy startup community that is drawing more entrepreneurs, investors, and young talent to this city than ever before.

BF: How critical to future growth are plans to upgrade the region’s transportation infrastructure? What are the most important infrastructure projects now underway in Tampa?

RB: The most exciting and impactful infrastructure project taking place right now is the expansion of Tampa International Airport. TPA—already ranked as one of the top international airports in the country—is in the midst of a $1 billion expansion that is creating 9,000 new construction jobs. Once the expansion is complete, TPA will have the capacity to accommodate 35 million passengers each year—more than double its current annual number.

With the tremendous influx of new residents come greater demands on our roads and transportation infrastructure as well. We are making significant progress with Tampa Bay Express, or TBX, a $6 billion project that will provide greater access to business districts around this city for 3.8 million residents in the region. But we are always looking to do better, and I will continue to fight for better mass transit options, including rail.

BF: Has Tampa established a leadership position in STEM-oriented education and workforce training to support STEM-oriented manufacturing?

RB: The responsiveness of our local colleges and universities to the evolving needs of industry has been extraordinary, and is something that site selectors and corporate executives tell us they just don’t see in other markets.

Our higher education providers are working closely with industry leaders to create everything from degree programs to certifications to vocational training programs that will satisfy the increasing demand in our market for STEM professionals. For example, the University of South Florida created a Compliance, Risk, and Anti-Money Laundering graduate certificate program to help provide more skilled talent for companies like Citi, whose global anti-money laundering operations hub is located here in Tampa. Both USF and the University of Tampa developed cybersecurity certification programs in response to the needs of employers in our burgeoning cybersecurity sector. Hillsborough Community College has created several programs in response to the needs of our manufacturing sector, ensuring that our talent pipeline is always full.

BF: Is Port Tampa Bay ready to compete for increased shipping from the expanded Panama Canal?

RB: Yes. Three major new developments have positioned Port Tampa Bay, Florida’s largest and most diverse port, to capitalize on the Panama Canal expansion. First is the addition of two new post-Panamax cranes that allow the port to handle vessels with up to 9000 TEU capacity. Second is the completion of the I-4/Selmon Expressway Connector, a 1.5 mile elevated roadway with dedicated truck lanes that provide a direct link between the port and Interstates 4 and 75. Finally, the addition of the Tampa Gateway Rail Terminal, the nation’s first ethanol unit train to pipeline distribution system and Florida’s first on‐dock unit train capability, is speeding the unloading of trains and cargo-bearing ships, and strengthening the port’s position as the leading energy gateway in Florida.

BF: Tampa is hosting an Innovation Summit this month for entrepreneurs. What programs are in place to support start-ups?

RB: Tampa is steadily gaining recognition as the place to be for startup companies. Wherever you are on your journey through the startup ecosystem, there are dozens of programs in place to support you—from some of the nation’s best entrepreneurship programs for students at USF and University of Tampa, to incubators and accelerators such as Tampa Bay WaVE, to access to capital from groups like Florida Funders and the Florida Venture Forum. The list of programs is too long to mention, but the opportunities for startups here in everything from tech to hospitality are limitless.