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Politics

Buckhorn boosts travel budget to sell Tampa

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 12:09 PM
TAMPA -

Former Mayor Pam Iorio wasn't known as a jet-setting dealmaker.

During her eight years in office, Iorio ran the city like an administrator and focused more on fixing pipes and potholes than hopping on airplanes to lure business to the city.

That's likely to be different under Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the man who succeeded her.

Buckhorn, who took office April 1, has increased his yearly travel budget to $10,000, more than three times what Iorio earmarked for travel expenses during her last two years in office. He said he plans to use that money to sell Tampa to potential investors.

"We are going to be more aggressive about making the case, both domestically and internationally, that Tampa is a good place to invest," Buckhorn said.

Big city mayors used to be able to sit back and let corporate investors and new businesses come to them with proposals, Buckhorn said, but those days are gone.

"You need to get out there and let people know we're open for business," he said.

Earlier this month, Buckhorn went on a two-day visit to Panama with business leaders who are trying to lure Copa Airlines, the Latin American country's flagship carrier, to begin making direct flights between Panama City and Tampa International Airport.

This fall, Buckhorn is expected to lead a much larger trade delegation to Panama.

"If there's a reason for me to be there, if I can help close the deal, I'll get on an airplane," he said. "We're not going to get everything we pursue, but we're going to some of it,"

His approach is a stark contract from his predecessor, who favored an indirect style of making the city more livable by fostering the arts and cleaning up neighborhoods.

That's not to say Iorio didn't try to promote the city.

She met with corporate heads when they came to town, accompanied business leaders on trade missions to Canada and Panama and helped breathe life into a third-party group called the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. to market the city.

The city and the EDC helped 22 businesses relocate or expand in Tampa during her eight years in office, which created more than 3,000 jobs, according to city records.

Iorio also helped lure a prestigious medical facility – University of South Florida's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation – to the city's downtown.

But a traveling saleswoman she was not.

In her last term, Iorio only spent about $3,800 on travel, despite budgeting an average of $4,500 a year for travel expenses, and used none of that money in her last two years.

Former Mayor Sandy Freedman said she traveled "extensively" during her two-terms in office, leading trade and fact-finding missions to Europe, Canada and other U.S. states.

"To be a good mayor, you have to know what's going on in other places," she said.

Public perceptions aside, Freedman said, these trips aren't luxurious junkets.

"You're not staying in fancy hotels and wining and dining, you're working," she said.

Freedman said when it comes to promoting the city, CEOs and other potential investors want to hear sales pitches directly from the commander-in-chief, not subordinates.

"They don't want to talk to the chief of staff or a city council member, they want to talk to the mayor," she said. "He's the only one that can do the job and make the deal work."

cwade@tampatrib.com

(813)259-7679

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