Appearing on WUCF-TV’s “Metro Orlando Outllook,” Jacob V. Stuart (left) and Stuart Rogel described the dynamics and importance of regionalism.
Jacob V. Stuart and Stuart Rogel take the TV stage to talk cross-county cohesion, global competitiveness and the need to move forward in unison.
Is working together often the best way to affect change?
In April, during WUCF-TV’s local public affairs “Metro Center Outlook,” that question was posed to Jacob V. Stuart and Stuart Rogel, presidents of the Central Florida Partnership and Tampa Bay Partnership, respectively. The inquiry, coming from show host Diane Trees, in turn, sparked roughly 24 minutes of discussion on topics ranging from regional economic development to general quality of life. The short answer was, yes. The long answer was filled with examples of collaboration, synergy and the enhanced global competitiveness that results—plus the need to do more.
“Regionalism gives us a chance to compete on the global stage; it’s working together, not just as a city or county, but as a broader footprint,” says Stuart.
“We are able to build off of the strengths we have,” says Rogel.
A brief geography lesson: The Central Florida Partnership is made up of seven counties, including Orange and six neighboring counties (Brevard, Lake, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and Volusia). The Tampa Bay Partnership is comprised of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, along with Hernando, Manatee, Pasco, Polk and Sarasota counties. Among other initiatives, each group works to promote economic development and overall quality of life.
From a strict geographic perspective, the common denominator is Polk, sometimes described as the “belt buckle,” connecting Tampa Bay and Central Florida. Yet, there are many more similarities. Or, as Rogel puts it, “The issues are the same, whether we’re sitting in Tampa Bay or Central Florida.”
Lengthen that footprint to encompass the nine additional counties that are part of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, which stretches up to Alachua, Marion and Palm counties and down to DeSoto, Hardee and Highlands counties, and you have an even greater economic force. While Stuart and Rogel are regional champions, Randy Berridge, head of the Corridor Council, is hailed as the pioneer.
“Randy was regional before it was cool,” says Stuart. “In many ways, Randy really pioneered this opportunity for us. And now we find great opportunities for working together.”
The key word in all of this: together.
Consider the numbers. When it comes to Gross Regional Product, Tampa Bay has the 18th largest tally in the United States, and Central Florida ranks 19th. Combined, Florida’s Super Region ranks as the 10th largest economy in the country. Tampa/Orlando is the seventh most populous corridor nationwide (not counting the entire Corridor Council’s footprint). Workforce Florida reports that 65 percent of job creation in the state now comes from Florida’s Super Region. And by 2050, there will be only 11 mega regions in the U.S.
Substantial stakes, for sure.
“This is the economic engine for the state, and we want to continue and grow that,” says Rogel. “The way we do that is by understanding how we can work together for common benefit to accelerate that economic engine.”
Echoes Stuart: “Regions that figure this out the fastest will get to the finish line early and have a competitive advantage.”
On the show, Trees, who is director of the Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies at the University of Central Florida, asks: How did the Partnership presidents come together? Stuart tells of a phone call he received from Rogel a few years ago, as the Tampa Bay Partnership was reaching out for help in attracting financing for transportation, primarily regarding Interstate 4. Dialogue began.
“I will always be grateful for that call,” Stuart says.
With the door opened to working together, the Partnerships commissioned a study, called “Connecting for Global Competitiveness,” to guide the process. Collective regional assets were identified, encompassing education; transportation; logistics; recreation; the environment and more, with an eye on working in concert to maximize those assets. The study, for example, identified 92 institutions of higher learning in the Tampa/Orlando corridor (again, not counting the entire footprint of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council). By contrast, metropolitan Boston, traditionally recognized as a center of academia, has 93.
“We asked the question, ‘How do we capitalize on those assets, and how do we take advantage of the opportunities?” Stuart says.
Today, the dialogue continues, and while many issues, areas and sectors have been engaged, much of the talk remains centered on transportation.
“We are the last to introduce a train to move people around,” says Stuart. “That gives other regions a distinct advantage when it comes to attracting the ‘creative class’—young people want these assets in place.”
He points to SunRail, which is scheduled to become operational next year, with a 31-mile first phase linking Orlando to DeBary in Volusia County. “SunRail is not just for the Central Florida region; it really is tip of sphere for the Super Region,” Stuart says. “We want to see that move all the way across the Central Florida-Tampa Bay corridor.”
Rogel acknowledges that although the well-documented failure of high-speed rail was a “setback,” the commitment to regionalism hasn’t waned. “The real connection points for the Super Region are the business and commerce that is transacted every day,” he says. “The reality is that Tampa Bay and Central Florida are growing together, and we need to connect them more effectively with modern transit.”
Trees inquires about the future “next steps.” The response: a sustained, unified front, particularly involving lawmakers. The Tampa-Orlando regional delegation represents more than half of the state Senate and House.
“We’re stronger when we play together,” asserts Stuart, alluding to visits with legislators as a duo. “When we both show up, it gets people’s attention.
“Congressmen and congresswomen come to power by district. But to really lead they have to be beyond the borders of their districts.”
Clearly, the message is regionalism.
“The Tampa Bay region and the Central Florida region are unique, and they complement each other,” Rogel concludes. “So it just makes sense to be able to work together.”
About “Metro Center Outlook”
WUCF-TV’s local public affairs “Metro Center Outlook” serves as a forum for government leaders, business executives and academic experts to discuss Florida’s major issues. Hosted by Diane Trees, director of the Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies at the University of Central Florida, the series gives viewers a front-row seat to discussions about politics, the economy, education and more. The UCF Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies—more commonly known as the UCF Metro Center—was established in 2001 and serves as a bridge between the university campus and the community.