February 2014 economic news, notes and commentary from West Florida.
Paving the Way
Lee Roy Selmon was a Hall of Fame football player for the Tampa Bay Bucs who became famous for creating direct paths to opposing quarterbacks. Today, his namesake roadway is now doing much the same for the recently renamed Port Tampa Bay and the Interstate Highway System.
In January, the I-4/Selmon Expressway Connector opened, expediting traffic to the port with a dedicated express truck lane. The project was a priority for the Florida Department of Transportation and provides important benefits to the area’s distribution centers, which comprise the largest concentration in Florida.
As for the “new” Port Tampa Bay, changes to the name and logo reflect the Tampa Port Authority’s “renewed spirit, expansion, investments and new momentum in its marketing efforts, both regionally and globally.” According to port officials, the groundwork has been laid for future growth. One example is a new collaboration with the U.S. Maritime Administration on strategies to enhance port planning.
Bristol Myers opens Tampa Center
With the pronouncement by its senior vice president that “science is at the core of nearly everything we do,” Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s North America Capability Center opened in Tampa. Officials expect the center to create 579 new jobs in three years and generate $21.1 million in capital investment. Florida ranks second among states for FDA-registered medical device manufacturing facilities, third for pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing businesses, and sixth for bioscience employment and higher education degrees awarded. The BioPharma leader had selected Hillsborough County after a comprehensive evaluation of locations in the Eastern and Central time zones.
Brittany Wenger of Bradenton will change the world. So says Time Magazine, which named the 19-year-old to its “30 People Under 30 Who Are Changing the World” list. Wenger won the 2012 Google Science Fair’s Grand Prize (age 17-18 category) for teaching a software network—an “artificial brain”—to detect breast cancer through a minimally invasive procedure that could be more reliable than the current biopsy procedure. Her project was among thousands worldwide submitted to Google. Judges selected 15 projects, which tackled topics ranging from vertical farming and dementia to 3-D electronics.
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers are in the midst of developing a revolutionary new combination therapy (Mekinist and Tafinlar) for the treatment of advanced melanoma—melanoma that cannot be removed surgically or has spread to other areas of the body. The therapy was approved by the FDA through its accelerated approval program, which allows the agency to approve drugs to treat a serious disease based on clinical data showing the therapy has a proven effect and clinical benefit to patients.
With its inaugural class beginning in August, Florida Polytechnic University has signed industry partnership agreements with Bright House Networks and Microsoft, both designed to provide students with real-world learning and applied research experiences. They join an expanding array of businesses collaborating with Florida Polytechnic to ensure students receive real-world training. Industry partners support the university in several ways, including internship opportunities, industry analysis, curriculum development, resources and joint research and teaching projects. Florida Polytechnic is the newest member of the State University System of Florida and the only state university dedicated to STEM.
Venture Capitalists and Technology
Venture capitalists are attracted to technology—at least according to the MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association. The report revealed that software investments were responsible for $194 million of last year’s venture investment of $421 million in 37 Florida companies. Life sciences also garnered significant attention with $107 million invested. Nationwide, venture capitalists invested $29.4 billion in 3,995 deals in 2013, increases of 7 percent and 4 percent, respectively. Early-stage companies attracted one-third of those dollars and half the deals.
The legacy continues. That was the sentiment during a recent 25th anniversary celebration of downtown Tampa’s iconic circular Rivergate Tower. Originally the site of North Carolina National Bank’s Florida headquarters, Rivergate Tower is still considered the most challenging and unique project by the original design team, led by famed architect Harry Wolf. The building remains owned by In-Rel Properties, which has approximately 6 million square feet of office and retail properties throughout the U.S.
New technology is about to take flight in Hardee County. PFMan, a high precision parts design-to-manufacturing company is opening a 20,000-square-foot facility under a partnership with the Hardee County Industrial Development Authority—and with the help of Space Florida.
Space Florida has enabled financing for one of the two cutting-edge CNC (computer numerical control) machines to be used on site. This manufacturing equipment is the first of its kind in North America and, due to its high speed and extreme accuracy, has applications in a wide variety of sectors, including aerospace. PFMan expects to employ 50 people at the new U.S. site.
At the announcement, Vanessa Hernandez, chair of the Hardee County Industrial Development Authority, said: “PFMan is an innovator in merging technology and manufacturing for production. They will be a great partner to Hardee County as well as a showcase for the various technologies at work in our community.”
All signs are pointing up for the county, said Space Florida President Frank DiBello: “We look forward to watching this company thrive in the months and years to come.”
Make it six
Florida’s group of five “high tourism impact” counties—Broward, Monroe, Orange, Osceola and Walton—could be joined by a sixth, with Pinellas chiseling its way into the picture. And that distinction could bring a new visitor profile to the county.
At press time, Pinellas was in the midst of confirming the requisite $30 million in tourist tax collections for 2013, which triggers the ability to raise that “bed” tax from 5 percent to 6. The extra revenue would not only help fund tourism marketing and related activities, but also go toward beach restoration and infrastructure projects. The potential windfall isn’t a done deal. The Pinellas County Tourist Development Council must agree on the tax hike, and the Pinellas County Commission has final say. Nonetheless, the tally appears to be the highest ever for Pinellas, a sure sign of vitality for the county’s tourism sector.
In other Pinellas news, there’s talk of increases to the 2015 budget for St. Petersburg and new Mayor Rick Kriseman. One possible target for new funding could be marketing efforts for the city’s business community by virtue of a public-private partnership with the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.
Field of Dreams
Pasco County officials have their sights set on a field of dreams. Actually, the Fields at Wiregrass, to be exact. And this time it just might happen.
County commissioners have approved a plan to construct a 200-acre complex—encompassing eight baseball and softball fields (including a 2,100-seat stadium) plus multipurpose fields for soccer and lacrosse—in Wesley Chapel. Pasco would contribute $11 million for streets, drainage and other infrastructure. Blue Marble, the project developer, would be responsible for the remainder, contingent on raising the needed funds. The company was given six months to secure financial commitments.
Two years ago, Pasco officials made it about halfway around the bases before the plan fell apart without the necessary agreements. This time, while there is no firm construction timetable, there is renewed optimism that all pitches will hit their marks. A home run would mean some form of play by the start of the spring 2016 baseball season.