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Iorio: Raise Tampa's international profile

Tampa's mayor brings together a group of leaders and puts them on a mission to pursue foreign business.

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published September 9, 2005


TAMPA - Mayor Pam Iorio has a message for the Tampa Bay area business community: Think globally, act regionally.

Trying to kick start a regional push for more international commerce, Iorio released a strategic plan for the city Thursday and named a committee of Tampa business and government leaders to get the ball rolling.

Everyone was upbeat during a briefing at Tampa Port Authority headquarters.

But the strategic plan, based on interviews with more than 50 local people involved in international trade, pointed out glaring shortcomings in how the region pursues foreign business.

The area has no coordinated effort to pursue opportunities, attract foreign investment or raise the Tampa Bay area's profile as an international business center, Iorio said. Even basic statistics on the local effect of global trade are scant or nonexistent.

"One of the first things I heard (as mayor) was that there's no strategic plan for what we wanted to be in 10 years," Iorio said. "There's no overarching vision. We lack communication. We lack information. We don't have one clearinghouse."

Iorio described her role as a catalyst for the strategic plan. She will carry the flag for the city at events such as a three-day trade mission to Panama next month. Her "global business" committee will carry out the plan.

Chaired by Jeff Knott, a vice president at furniture retailer Rooms to Go, the committee will meet four times a year and report on its progress annually to a forum of about 50 people involved in international trade.

The idea is to expand the group to include business and government leaders from across the Tampa Bay area, Iorio said. Officials with Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional economic development group, attended meetings on crafting the strategic plan.

One of the goals is for the city's "primary facilitators" of international trade efforts - City Hall, Tampa International Airport, the Tampa Port Authority and Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce - to work together more closely.

"A comparison . . . of their respective strategic plans shows no alignment of goals, objectives or strategies," reads the city's global business plan.

"This must change for Tampa's international trade efforts to improve."

Chief executives of the airport, port authority and chamber serve on the committee, along with the city's economic development administrator.

Each will come up with benchmarks for how their agencies contribute to international trade development, such as the number of nonstop international flights or how many cargo containers move through the port, and report annually on their progress.

Measuring progress elsewhere won't be so easy. The Commerce Department stopped gathering data on international trade at the local level in 1996.

That means no current numbers exist to answer some basic questions: How many jobs in the Tampa Bay area are created by international trade? What's the volume of imports and exports? How much foreign investment flows into the area?

"We need a whole matrix of measurements," Iorio said. "Right now, we can't say what our strengths and weaknesses are. We don't have the data."

The committee also must figure out how to sell Tampa as a place for foreign companies to do business. That's especially difficult working in the shadow of Miami, the U.S. hub for trade with Latin America.

"Bells and whistles are not enough," said port director Richard Wainio. "We have to show the international community there's hard economics here."

The tone of the day was decidedly upbeat. One committee member praised Iorio for calling her blueprint a "global business" plan, a term that encompasses not only products but services such as engineering, accounting and legal work.

Knott, the committee chairman, knows trade issues through his job as an international business executive for Rooms to Go. The company imports huge amounts of furniture from Asia, and Knott lobbied the port authority for years to improve its container handling facilities.

He pledged Thursday that the committee's work won't end up in some binder collecting dust.

"We're going to provide the community with substance," said Knott. "In past times, things happened and faded away. "You will hear about things that will happen. This is extremely important to the region."

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or 813 226-3384.

GOING GLOBAL:

THE PLAN

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio on Thursday released a 22-page strategic plan for expanding global business. Here are some of the objectives:

Market the Tampa Bay area as an international trade hub to "geographic focus areas."

Increase the number of international companies with regional headquarters in the area. Attract international banks and consul offices.

Persuade local companies to ship container cargo through Tampa's port instead of larger ports, such as Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.

Get City Hall, Tampa International Airport, the Tampa Port Authority and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce to develop joint strategies on pursing international business.

THE COMMITTEE

Members of the Mayor's Global Business Committee:

Jeff Knott, vice president/international, Rooms to Go

Sam Ellison, managing director/Florida Region, the Beck Group

Mark Huey, economic development administrator, city of Tampa

Louis Miller, executive director, Tampa International Airport

Elio E. Muller Jr., president, Muller Group International

Arthur R. Savage, president, A.R. Savage & Son

Kim Scheeler, chief executive, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

A. Bronson Thayer, chairman, World Trade Center - Tampa Bay

Richard Wainio, director, Tampa Port Authority

[Last modified September 9, 2005, 01:17:10]


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