Hillsborough County Commission weighs new economic development agency
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05/04/11 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

The question of how to kick start Tampa Bay’s economic recovery has baffled local officials for years. The Hillsborough County Commission kicked around ideas on how the county can streamline its efforts to bring jobs to the bay.

For County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, the Tampa Bay region is living in the shadow of Charlotte, North Carolina, which he said attracted more than 1,000 businesses during the recession.

"When we compare ourselves to Charlotte over the last ten years. Charlotte, who unified, who got behind a common message, Charlotte brought in over the last decade 7,309 new companies resulting in 65,000 jobs. In businesses that were already established, that expanded, Charlotte area the business expansion was 4,246 businesses expanding resulting in 87,000 new jobs."

Amid discussion of developing a go-to agency that exists for the sole purposes of fostering job growth and attracting businesses to Tampa Bay, Higginbotham said the Tampa Bay area already more or less has something like that. It’s a loosely organized effort among Hillsborough County, the cities with the county, the Tampa Bay Partnership, the Chamber of Commerce, and the county’s Economic Development Commission, or EDC. Higginbotham said for only being a couple years old, the EDC has been pretty effective in attracting jobs to an otherwise economically dismal landscape.

"They have brought in 27 companies to Hillsborough County. They have created 3,771 jobs. This is a group that has been in transition. This is a group that knew that there needed to be a better way. A better way to set this county on the right foot."

He said the county needs to look at the economic tools it already has before spending money on a new Economic Development Authority.

"We need to refined these tools that we have. Make sure we have the common message and not take this misstep and walk off the cliff with, what's been explained to me by administration as coming forth with this EDA."

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said there’s a fine line between forging an agency whose mission is to foster economic growth and creating another layer of bureaucracy.

"I want to see private entities doing this. We're right in that age where government will no longer be the lead."

The commission voted unanimously to take stock of what economic efforts the county already funds before starting an entirely new agency that works to that end.

Previous WMNF news coverage of economic development

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