TAMPA — Leaders in government and business have touted growth in Hillsborough County’s manufacturing base as a bridge to higher-paying jobs.
County Commissioner Victor Crist is pitching one way to accomplish this: showcase local manufacturers’ products to the hundreds of thousands of travelers passing through Tampa International Airport.
Crist, who sits on the aviation authority that governs the airport, said products could be displayed either in “Made in Tampa Bay” kiosks or through dedicated space in existing store fronts. The exhibits would be interactive and allow buyers to order on site — single items or in bulk.
The displays would reach a key demographic — business travelers who, according to nationwide surveys, make up 40 percent of airline passengers. It would be exposure that manufacturers couldn’t get on their own.
“It goes to reinforce the branding of our region as a player in the world of economics,” Crist said. “You go through the airport and you’ll see what’s obvious: who’s here and what they do.”
The move would strengthen all economic development initiatives already underway, he said.
Crist had his legislative aide, Dean Ash, flesh out the commissioner’s ideas. Ash, who spent decades working at retail giants like Kroger supermarkets and Kellogg’s foods, said airport exposure could dramatically expand marketing opportunities. One example: Mario Camacho Foods, a Plant City producer of olive and olive oil products.
“Kroger has 12,000 stores across the country, and say they just want to buy two flavors of olives,” Ash said. “Do you realize one case per store is a half-million dollar order? That is not exaggerating; I’ve been in the business 25 years.”
Ash said he envisions promotions in which local products are teamed with an airport vendor’s other products. For instance, Camacho olives could be served as appetizers along with bread, cheese or humus in a restaurant with a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean menu.
Local products could also be promoted in a curated art exhibit, Ash said. A display featuring J.C. Newman Cigar Co., the last operating cigar factory in Ybor City, could include paintings of a cigar roller — or even a real cigar roller.
The airport could make money by exacting a small fee on the initial bulk orders. If Hillsborough County wanted to devote some of its economic development money to the cost of the kiosks or store space, the county could share in proceeds from the fee, Crist said.
“If you buy a shirt at the airport, the airport gets a cut of it,” Crist said. “What if that shirt was a locally manufactured shirt? We would not only be helping the vendor at the airport but we would be helping the manufacturer who is a local company.”
Crist and Ash have discussed their idea informally with some airport officials. They wanted to start planning for local manufacturers’ venues now, at the start of a three-year expansion of Tampa International Airport.
The expansion includes renovation of the main terminal and concessions areas as well as a consolidated rental car building near Westshore Boulevard.
The terminal and rental car center will be connected by an elevated shuttle car system called a “people mover.” Ash and Crist see the people mover as another venue for audio and visual advertisements touting local products.
Along with the renovations, the airport is bidding out concessions contracts. Instead of one vendor for retail and food, as the airport has now, there will be two to six vendors chosen for food, and two to four for retail. The bidders will be required to include “local flavor” elements in their packages.
“The people bidding on the concessions package are going to be evaluated as to what extent they include local flavor as far as product and design,” said airport spokeswoman Janet Zink. “That will include the look and feel of the facility as well as what they are carrying in their stores.”
Zink said that in addition to the local flavor bidding requirement, the airport will be talking to Crist’s office about other options for promoting locally manufactured products while honoring local requirements and contracts.