Growth opportunities in Florida Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

There’s a saying in business: Success comes to those who get there first. That absolutely describes the experience of visionary CEOs and entrepreneurs who have anticipated the growth in the greater Tampa Bay area, established businesses and capitalized on the region’s burgeoning prosperity. But the window of opportunity is far from closed according to Brian Keenan, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank (Tampa Bay), and he has lots of companies supporting his conclusions.

In a June 2007 survey Moody’s rated Tampa as No. 15 on its vitality index, and in its 2006 Competitive Alternatives Study, conducted among cities with populations exceeding 1.5 million, KPMG rated Tampa as the No. 2 city in the country in terms of having the lowest cost of doing business. In order to maximize the area’s potential through expansion or relocation, CEOs must run some financial forecasts to estimate their return and know how to tap local resources to develop the models.

“Historically, Florida was known for tourism and agriculture, but now Tampa is a leader in high-tech, manufacturing and service industries,” says Keenan. “There’s a deep talent pool in Tampa Bay, but like many places, it’s sill a competitive labor market because we’ve averaged more than 11 percent job growth annually over the last six years.”

Smart Business spoke with Keenan about the greater Tampa Bay marketplace and how CEOs can position their companies for success.

What else is contributing toward Tampa Bay’s growth?

More than 80 million baby boomers will soon be retiring, and many of those retirees, who are currently residing in the Northeast and the Midwest, will head south and east into Florida, following I-75. That migration will create new markets through sheer increased population growth, and the resulting ethnic diversity growth within the region is opening up niche market opportunities. We have a very active local economic development group targeting both company expansion prospects and corporate headquarters relocation prospects within industries, such as life sciences/biomedical, microelectronics, and financial and information services. While there’s been a recent trend toward saturation in some local business sectors, such as start-up restaurants and support centers for financial services, an increase in the presence of larger companies will open doors for many small business owners to play a supporting role.

How can CEOs compete in the local labor market?

The good news is that quality of life is rated very high, and there are more than 138,000 students attending college in the greater Tampa area, many of whom represent tomorrow’s work force. While relocations to the Tampa area are still rising, there are several concerns in that area, such cost of living, taxes and insurance. The price in May 2007 of an existing three-bedroom home in Hillsborough County was $207,000, and that alone helps control wages for small business owners. However, in order to compete for talent and keep that talent on board, CEOs must establish their companies as employers-of-choice within the Tampa Bay area, and achieving that status requires competitive benefit packages.

Local survey data is available to help CEOs assess their competitive position relative to benefit and retirement packages. At Fifth Third, we recognized that turnover is higher in smaller businesses, so we’ve added additional services for those clients offering banking discounts and a personal banker specifically assigned to their company who can assist with advice and financial education for the employees. Offering financial literacy programs, first-time home-buying seminars, and investment and retirement seminars has helped our clients attract and retain employees.

Is it possible to obtain financing for expansion into Tampa Bay given the current lending climate?

There are financing options available despite tighter lending policies. The credit market is tightening; the time to look for credit is not necessarily when you need it. Be proactive, get a strategy in place and plan. We are consistently helping our clients plan for tomorrow, today.

What resources will CEOs need to expand?

In addition to market-specific data, employees and expansion funds, CEOs will need vendor networks and local business relationships to help them succeed, and their financial partner should put them in touch with those resources. Tampa Bay has outstanding data capabilities, and in August 2006, Forbes ranked Tampa as the seventh most wired city in the U.S. Having a strong information technology infrastructure is another vital resource for business expansion. Certainly, I recommend that CEOs quantify expansion opportunities through ROI modelling. The data is available to assess the opportunity and many CEOs might find that launching a new business or expanding an existing one within the greater Tampa Bay area might prove to be very lucrative indeed.

BRIAN KENNAN is a president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank’s Tampa Bay Affiliate. Reach him at (813) 306-2453 or brian.keenan@53.com.