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Commentary

The Tampa Bay area's startup revolution


Published:   |   Updated: June 30, 2013 at 09:16 AM

Special to The Tampa Tribune

An epic battle to create new high-wage jobs is taking place across America as regions emerging from the Great Recession seek to realign their economic development strategies to compete in a new global economy.

What does this mean for the Tampa Bay region?

As regions across the globe grapple with how best to respond to the rapid and profound change of an increasingly innovation-driven, interconnected and flat world, innovators are rewarded. Resisters and bystanders face economic hardship.

In "The New Geography of Jobs," Berkeley Economics Professor Enrico Moretti describes three Americas. At one extreme are the brain hubs - cities like Boston, San Francisco and Durham, whose workers are among the nation's most productive, creative and best paid. These urban innovation hubs bring an added bonus: They raise the salaries and standards of living for all, driving demand for more teachers, nurses, and other local service jobs.

At the other extreme are former manufacturing capitals, which are rapidly losing jobs and residents. The rest of America - including regions such as Tampa Bay - could go either way. These three Americas, Moretti's research shows, have been growing apart at an accelerating rate for the past thirty years.

Jim Clifton's "The Coming Jobs War" is even more blunt: The world is in a war for jobs. To win, leaders must compete with razor-sharp focus and every tool at their disposal, recognizing that entrepreneurs are the source of new jobs and putting all their energy behind them.

Although the stakes for the Tampa Bay area are high, opportunities for new and sustainable prosperity are equally so. Startups account for almost all net new job creation in America over the past 30 years, according to data from Startup America Partnership and Clifton's research. To compete, our region must nurture wellsprings of ideas to drive innovation in the marketplace, cultivating a steady stream of new products and scalable businesses.

Achieving this will require a new innovation-driven economic development model, with technology and other high-wage startups as the central focus. We can start by capitalizing on the sizable assets already at hand - a robust emerging startup community as well as the deep well of seasoned tech, biomedical and health care talent that already calls the Tampa Bay region home.

That work has begun.

On Tuesday, Hillsborough County launched its Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2) at Tampa's Middleton High School, whose after-school robotics club won the first Tech Challenge World Championship in 2012. EDI2 is designed to drive the growth of technology and innovation startups and small businesses with $2 million in funding over three years to support events and activities that promote tech innovation, increase collaboration and awareness, and attract new talent.

Also last week, EDI2 released a "Guide to the Tampa Bay Startup Ecosystem," available online through Hillsborough County's Economic Development Department at www.hillsboroughcounty.org. This first step is a critical one - connecting entrepreneurs to tech meet-ups and events, incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces, access to capital, and university resources.

More importantly, the Tampa Bay region is attracting national attention in the startup and health-care arenas. "Tampa is staking its claim to be the place where health care gets reinvented," says David Chase, CEO of Avado, writing for Forbes Magazine last month. "As a byproduct, they will be one of the winners in creating jobs."

Hillsborough County staked its claim to lead in health care at its MediFuture 2023 event May 13, which featured a keynote address by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen, the father of disruptive innovation. The seminal event, which will be held annually, is part of a coordinated strategy to make the Tampa Bay are the epicenter of the global health-care revolution.

In its June issue, Fast Company Magazine ranked Florida first in innovation with the nation's second-highest rate of new business production, citing the Tampa Bay area's nascent startup community as a factor in helping the state claim the winner's mantle.

Moving forward, we are building an economic development model that embraces innovation as the new imperative. We must continue to identify existing and potential sources of innovation, and scan the national startup landscape for lessons and insights. We must connect our entrepreneurial innovators in a disciplined and inclusive manner, and then broker breakthroughs that accelerate and expand startup activity.

Finally, we must change the way we keep score, creating new innovation-oriented metrics for measuring success and aligning them with measurable outcomes.

Nurturing a thriving startup community that consistently produces new businesses and products is hard work and requires discipline and focus, but this much is clear: The Tampa Bay area's startup revolution has begun. Our region is a force to be reckoned with.

The path forward must be anchored in the recognition that all the marketing veneer and tax breaks in the world to bring outside companies here will be dwarfed by our ability to grow the region's startup community. It is our best and brightest path to high-wage, sustainable growth.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe championed the effort to create the county's EDI2 program, which is designed to drive the growth of the Tampa Bay area's startup economy.

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