Friday, July 26, 2013

Economic Development and the Circle of Recycled Plans, People and Money


It was great news to see the front page headline in the Tribune today: 4000 jobs in the County pipeline.

But let's dig a little deeper on what we believe is being orchestrated. The Eye previously reported about the unified push this week from the rail groupies.

So now we have Rick Homans, Director of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp (EDC), that according to the Tribune article stated this at yesterday's workshop
"I can tell you our organization would be very supportive of public transportation, mass transit and light rail and very supportive of a baseball stadium downtown," Homans said after the meeting. "Clearly, that's part of the plan as far as the EDC goes, and it supports those measures."
Yes, you heard that right – a baseball stadium downtown....guess Sandy Murman was not kidding when she laughingly made a statement at Tuesday's meeting about a baseball stadium. The Eye loves the Rays and baseball but do you think Homans was talking about a stadium being built thru private enterprise or your tax dollars? Public funding of stadiums is a post for another day but we all know what happened in Miami with the new Marlins stadium.

In addition, the Tribune reported that at this workshop Homans sought a budget increase for the EDC from $450K to $700K.  But wait a minute.  Last evening there was a County Budget Public Hearing and we wonder why the EDC, which is a public-private partnership, did not show up there with their budget increase request. Are budget workshops the venue to ask for more of your tax money? It appears unclear specifically what the increased dollars would be spent on but you can find their 2012 Annual Report here

Let's start by understanding who and what the EDC is. According to the EDC website:
At the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, we’re focused on one mission alone: attracting and retaining high-wage jobs and capital investment in Hillsborough County and the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace.
Established in 2009 as a partnership between the public sector and private corporate investors, the Tampa Hillsborough EDC is the lead economic development agency for Hillsborough County and the official local representative of Enterprise Florida.
Now who is their leadership and Board members? It's easy to find on the EDC website.
  • David Pizzo, Chair - Market President West Florida, Florida Blue
  • Allen Brinkman, Vice Chair - Chairman, President and CEO, SunTrust Bank Tampa Bay
  • Ronald Vaughn, PhD, Secretary/Treasurer - President, The University of Tampa
  • Gordon Gillette, Immdiate Past Chair - President, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas

Their Board of Directors includes, among others: Carlton Fields, Cushman & Wakefield, Regions Bank. And on their Executive Committee, you will find the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace as well as the Tampa Chamber of Commerce and SunTrust. Our intent is to simply connect the dots because no one else is.

A little history behind the EDC. It began as The “Committee of One Hundred” which was the economic development arm of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce created back in the mid 1950's. But according to this Tampa Bay Times article in October 2009:
The Committee of One Hundred was rebranded and will be known as the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. 
Its steering committee includes both Ken Hagan, chairman of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.
And even prior to that “breakup”, we found that in August 2009, when unemployment was running high due to the recession, the Business Observer reported:
There was a New Game Plan to Increase the amount of land ready for businesses to move in and start up.

Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously agreed in February (2009) to have Commission Chairman Ken Hagan form a 12-member Economic Stimulus Task Force. Its mission: “Develop strategies, incentives and tools that will create new and higher paying jobs in Hillsborough County, stimulate economic development and improve its long-term competitiveness. 
Sound familiar? Here at the Eye we find it interesting this was occurring at the same time the County Commission's Transportation Task Force, which Ken Hagan was on, was deciding that Hillsborough County needed a light rail system. Hagan later voted to put the referendum on the 2010 ballot. Mayor Iorio spent her last year as Mayor using her Mayoral bully pulpit as one of the biggest cheerleaders for rail in the county.

For historical purposes, we went back to the 2010 campaign finance report for pro rail marketing campaign Moving Hillsborough Forward and noted that there were some sizable donations made to Moving Hillsborough Forward prior to when the commissioners voted to put the referendum on the ballot on May 13, 2010. The reports indicate that SunTrust Bank provided the initial $50K of seed money on 3/26/2010. Also, a company called Fallon Research & Communications out of Columbus, OH donated $24K on 4/5/2010. Now what interest would that company in Ohio have on this local issue? According to their website, they provide serves to help campaigns win ballot initiatives. We can only speculate that $74K was donated to Moving Hillsborough Forward prior to the initiative being on the ballot in 2010 because "they" were confident the votes were already there, even almost 2 months prior to the commission vote.

Fast forward to 2012. Lo and behold, another committee was formed last year by the county commissioners, the Economic Prosperity Stakeholder Committee (EPSC). The same talking points were regurgitated about the need to ease burdensome regulations for economic development. The question that must be answered is have the commissioners actually done something and reduced burdensome regulations?

Today, of course, we have the Economic Development and Transportation Committee revisiting the same issues with the same people.  Do you wonder why they continually bring the same recycled group of people and organizations together on these issues? Just how much influence do those people have over our elected representatives?  

It is not rocket science to cross reference the 2009 economic stimulus task force members with the same rail groupies that pushed hard for the 2010 referendum and are now pushing for light rail, round 2. All you have to do is look at the Moving Hillsborough Forward campaign donor list.

While the commissioners form committees with the same old same old, hire facilitators, do studies and talk about the issues, we've got 4000 jobs in the pipeline. That's Great News! 
It didn't take a high cost light rail or a downtown base ball stadium. 

But according to Homans, we still must have light rail.....so the "drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain" as the (Rail) beat goes on....



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