By Jim Bleyer
Community leaders in 218 American cities woke up Friday wondering why the top executives at internet retailing giant Amazon failed to recognize their hometown’s unparalleled assets and bounty of virtues.
Despite the announced winnowing of the field to 20 cities, the competition has always been about eight metropolitan areas: New York, Washington D. C., Boston, the Research Triangle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Atlanta. The remaining 12 finalists, no slouches but second tier nevertheless, are extreme longshots.
With a stratospheric cost of living in most of the favored locations, budget-busting government incentives will be weighted accordingly.
Instead of realizing that Amazon’s RFP for its highly touted HQ2 amounted to a deception of Gantryesque magnitude, business executives and local politicians across the country are second guessing themselves with a barrage of “what ifs.” Such introspection could prove fruitful or delusional.
For Tampa, it’s a matter of talent, not light rail.
Possessing a capable workforce to eventually fill as many as 50,000 jobs appeared to be Amazon’s highest priority all along. On this metric, Tampa fails.
No one at Amazon confuses the University of South Florida with the top research institutions in the country: Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Harvard, Tufts, Duke, Northwestern, or MIT.
The well-educated Millennial generation has been driving high technology innovation and the entrepreneurial sector for most of the 21st century. In addition to lacking a top drawer research institution, Tampa is also a victim of mathematics. Here’s the problem: Millennials account for 25 percent of the population nationwide; in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area it is 20.7 percent. That’s a significant gap. The chasm is even wider when comparing that demographic with Amazon’s 20 finalists.
It turns out that Tampa’s neurotic, relentless obsession with light rail would best come under scrutiny from that special ward at Bellevue Hospital.
Access to mass transit is one requirement that a number of cities in the top 20 list are lacking, along with proximity to a major international airport. Many of the cities on the list only have domestic airports.
Tampa International tops many airport lists and never rates lower than third best in the country. International flights have increased dramatically in recent years under the dynamic guidance of CEO Joe Lopano.
So Tampa actually exceeds some of the finalists in the transportation realm but doesn’t come within a parsec in providing a talent pool in both numbers and ability.
Rick Homans, President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, told Tampa Bay Beat last month his organization considers “talent and transit” as the area’s biggest barriers to attracting Fortune 500 types. He wasn’t specific on what elements would constitute a good mass transit system.
Improving public transit is a pertinent issue. At this point, however, with information literally at everyone’s fingertips, the only politicians in Tampa Bay that favor pouring billions of dollars through a regressive sales tax increase into a devolving, obsolete light rail technology are stooges for corporate profiteers.