Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's Really about Transportation and Commerce

The Hillsborough County Economic Development and Transportation Committee leadership group met again yesterday. We were there. What a difference a few weeks makes from their last leadership meeting held July 23rd we previously wrote about here, here and hereWhat a difference it makes when business leaders participate who weren't the “big guns” supporting rail in 2010. A few executives from some manufacturing companies participated yesterday as well as a few executives who specialize in corporate relocations.

The discussion yesterday centered on the importance of TRANSPORTATION. The manufacturers, who must get product out and get materials in, focused on the need for good roads, the proximity of the port and the airport as vital for their business. Even as Comissioners Sharpe and Beckner kept pushing mass transit, there was a tepid response from the manufacturers and basically a “doesn't make a difference” response from the corporate relocation executives. One of the manufacturers indicated perhaps some outreach regarding the existing bus service or some improved bus service may “lure” some of their employees to use it; but their shifts run 5am to 3pm and he observed that many times at 3pm in the summer it's pouring down rain in Tampa....50% chance today.

What was extremely important to both groups of executives was an educated workforce. Today's Tampa Bay Times provides a fair report of what these executives said.
Workforce, workforce, workforce," said C.J. Evans Jr., director of Merit Advisors, which does site-selection consulting for corporations, listing the top three considerations for businesses on the move. More than anything, companies want to know they will be able to recruit employees skilled in their industry, he said. Behind that comes the cost of doing business, which can factor in incentives, Evans said. Transportation? Not a big topic.
Remember this committee is about economic development and transportation not a transit committee as the Times did also report:

Transportation certainly is important, said some of the speakers. But they framed their thoughts more around roads and access to a port in terms of getting raw materials and then being able to get their products to customers generally located to the north.
Today's Tribune article continued their narrative pushing that this is a TRANSIT committee. Despite what these business leaders said Tuesday that brought the conversation back to reality, the Tribune interviewed the pro rail contingent on the county commission, Beckner and Sharpe, after the meeting and reported from Sharpe:

Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who pushed for creation of the policy group, said after the meeting he still believes an efficient and expanded mass transit system is vital to creating high-paying technology and biological science jobs in the county. According to the Tribune article, Sharpe went on to compare Hillsborough county with Denver who has a rail line and bus system. The Denver area, on the other hand, was ranked 7th. Sharpe said Denver has 1,000 buses compared to Hillsborough County's 200. Plus, Denver is planning to increase it light rail system from 35 miles of track to 155 miles, he said. In 2010, Hillsborough voters rejected a transportation tax of 1 cent per dollar to build a light rail system, as well as buy more buses and expand roads.
Let's look a little closer at Denver.  Colorado has a state income tax of a flat 4.63% of the federal taxable income. As of June from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank Economic Research, the unemployment rate of Denver county is 7.7% versus Hillsborough 7% . Also, Denver county is 153 square miles with a population density of 4043 people per square mile while Hillsborough county is 1051 square miles with a population density of 1206 per square mile. The stack and pack densities do help drive some transit use. Do Hillsborough residents want that kind of density, almost quadruple what our current density is? Another item we noted is that Charlotte, that gold standard light rail city we keep being told we need to emulate, was never mentioned. As of June, Mecklenburg county where Charlotte is has an unemployment rate of 9.4%
Nebulous Timeline for a mystery Demo Project
An important item totally missing or ignored from both local print media was the request to include other outside stakeholders to participate in this process, just like the business leaders were brought in. There appears to now be a commitment by this committee to do just that. Here at the Eye we agree. While all stakeholders should have been identified up front, we are glad that additional stakeholders will have an opportunity to participate. We will stay vigilant and continue to watch the process.  So far it's been a roller coaster ride and here's the nebulous timeline presented yesterday.  It still looks like someone or some folks are putting an already predetermined cart before the horse - the mystery Demo project.
Along the downtown Riverwalk - the History Museum
I highly recommend watching a replay of this meeting at 8pm tonight on HTV or watch the  August 14 meeting archived video.  It will be well worth your time. There is certainly a correlation between transportation and commerce. Increasing commerce increases the opportunities for economic prosperity for many. But what really is the correlation between “transit” and economic development? What really determines the economic health of your county? Is it having light rail and more mass transit systems or having more people employed and working? We believe Hillsborough and the Tampa Bay area has many positive attributes. From our natural climate and great year round weather to our still relatively low cost of living, no state income tax, great universities and friendly folks. We anticipate hearing more good news about businesses, families and individuals relocating and existing businesses expanding in the Tampa Bay area. 

And we can bet most will be using our roads, port and airport!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Denver transit (RTD) actually covers 2,340 square miles with 2.8 million people --

    Which means the population density of the service area is 1,196 per square mile which is LESS not more dense than Hillsborough County. It also means that Hillsborough has one bus for every 6,337 people, while RTD has one bus for every 2,800 people. Much of is is due to the fact that HART buses don't reach enough of the county, but that is exactly the issue.

    In Denver middle income families spend 23% less on transportation than in in the Tampa area (

    Not saying RTD system in total is what's needed, just that once again you have your facts wrong. And that the reason for low transit ridership isn't lack of demand (ridership is increasing at record numbers) it's lack of opportunity and access.

  3. Hey Kevin, I concur as I came across the same population numbers for the Denver MSA - about 2.8 million. I was just comparing the 2 counties population densities not the transit service area density. But I looked at some other numbers - the RTD tax district is an 8 county regional taxing district that includes Denver and Boulder:
    We have no such district to compare to here.

    1. Sharon -- you can compare density over the service area, buses per person, square miles in the service area and dozens of other categories.

      Or you can just combine PSTA & HART stats and you'll find they are comparable in density, population, & land area. Meaning Denver county (which is also the city) is not comparable to Hillsborough. In fact the 7 region RTD is more comparable.

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