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To attract jobs, forget county lines

By James Thorner, Times Staff Writer
Published June 17, 2007


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From the glass bowl of his 10th-floor corner office, Roy McCraw can play King of the World. In fact, when it comes to economic development, Wachovia's regional chief is royalty.

McCraw, 61, chairs the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's Committee of 100, the catalyst for corporate relocations to Tampa. He's also vice chairman and chairman next year of the Tampa Bay Partnership, the seven-county business recruitment agency.

McCraw's task: Shake the lead out of a region eager to rise from a low-wage basement relative to Sun Belt rivals like Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., and Dallas.

The North Carolina native came to the Tampa Bay area from Charlotte in 1986 with First Union Bank. He left in 1991 to run another bank, watched it get bought, then worked for an investment firm before returning in 2003 as a top executive of SouthTrust, only to watch Wachovia, First Union's successor, take over a year later.

So here he sits, in the same 10th-floor corner office he occupied in 1991. "The world is round, " McCraw says.

The St. Petersburg Times sat down with McCraw to discuss not just the state of his industry, but also the state of the region's economy. Some excerpts:

We're lagging behind the Atlantas and Charlottes of the world. What's holding us back economically in the Tampa Bay area?

I see entities within Hillsborough County working against each other because of personal agendas. We need a leadership base that says, "That's not okay." That's also true when you go across county lines. What's the word? One bay? I wish that were true. Sparring across the bay by politicians just to get sound bites is wrong. That is what frustrates me the most. Our transportation isn't as bad as some areas'. But it will be an indictment of the leadership if we don't fix it now.

What would you like the Tampa Bay economy to look like?

I'd like to see more large corporate headquarters. We're lacking there. Our life sciences group is doing a terrific job. It brings in terrific jobs, clean jobs, jobs that bring in smart people. I love the fact we have financial services call centers here. But I don't want us to be a one-trick pony. This area is thought of for recreation and beaches and entertainment. We don't want that to atrophy. But we also must be seen as a robust, exciting, vibrant business environment.

You help run the Committee of 100 and the Tampa Bay Partnership. What can you do to change things?

I'm working hard to increase the level of engagement by private businesses in these groups, to leverage their money with the public money we get. The real action to me is in economic development. Another focus is improving regional partnerships. It is dysfunctional for us to be competing with each other. It had to have been bad enough that the partnership rose up years ago to correct the problem.

What's going on in banking?

We've had great consolidation in the industry. It will continue. We're forming small community banks, and they seem to have a seven-year life until they consolidate with bigger banks. The condo market is something to watch. The market got so hot so fast that buyers could sell them before they were even built. That's like musical chairs: When it slows down, someone has to put up hard money. The well-priced properties are doing just fine. Wachovia did two towers in Channelside. But you don't have to be real experienced to know there will be more fallout among condos priced at that level. (McCraw points out his office window to the idle Trump Tower Tampa site.)

You considered retiring a few years ago, before the Wachovia merger. Your plans these days?

I have more energy than I ever had. I intend to stay a long time. My wife and I built a house in North Carolina and it's tempting to go there more often. But I haven't found a bank ready to accommodate that schedule.

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3313.

[Last modified June 15, 2007, 20:05:55]


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