Dear readers: This is my last column for the Tampa Bay Times. After nearly 27 years at this newspaper — 16 of them as the business columnist — I am calling it a day (at least for the near term) and leaving you a few final thoughts to consider before this column heads for the floor of a bird cage or its digital equivalent.
First of all, this metro area has come a long, long way since I moved here in early 1991 from the Washington, DC area. I had started my business writing career in New York City, then spent time in London before committing eight years in our nation's capital during the Reagan and Bush presidential years. I thought those days were revolutionary by modern times. Now they seem mainstream. Almost (but not quite) nostalgic.
Tampa's spread far and wide in Hillsborough County and in my years here has cemented its claim as the business headquarters of this tri-city metropolitan area. Sure, Tech Data Corp. and Jabil are Pinellas County giants in both revenue and global capability. But it is Tampa that commands the bulk of regional expansion muscle in banking (think JPMorgan Chase, Citibank and DTCC), in pharmaceutical powerhouses like Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Amgen, and in such insurance cornerstones as USAA and MetLife. It looks to be on track to become the home of our pro football, hockey and baseball franchises, too. And Tampa International Airport, a critical player to growth when I arrived here, has only become a more influential contributor to the success of the entire west coast of central Florida.
St. Petersburg needs no lengthy compliment. What a transformation from its days as God's Waiting Room. The downtown joke on my arrival was that a cannon fired down any street at 5:05 p.m. on any week day would hit nothing but humidity. St. Pete's greatest success is making arch rival Tampa openly jealous of its sister city's vivid night life, residential explosion and depth of arts. I would argue Tampa's more aggressive urban rejuvenation now under way was motivated in part by St. Pete's success. Now St. Petersburg must take care not to fall victim to its own cranes, traffic and self-satisfaction.
And Clearwater? It has prospects and pockets of opportunity even as it remains forever mired in the tug of war with Scientology. That tension has cost the city dearly for decades. Perhaps the city will surprise us yet.
In my early years here — yes that was even before the rise of the Internet — this metro spent lots of energy and time sparring with itself. Since then, national and global business competition have changed the rules of engagement. Grudgingly, this area is trying to work more often as one place instead of as multiple fiefdoms eager to notch petty victories.
My one and only message in leaving you is that, in the future, Tampa Bay wins.
It's okay for Tampa or St. Pete or Clearwater — or Wesley Chapel, Brandon, Seminole, New Port Richey or Tarpon Springs — to fight for better jobs or corporate relocations.
But on the big stuff like our transportation, our startup community, our environment, our political muscle — our regional economic future — a better connected Tampa Bay wins if everybody gets a little taste of prosperity.
Readers used to send in letters (and then emails) howling that "Tampa Bay" was just a body of water and not a real "place" to write about here. Maybe that was true decades ago. Not any more, folks.
Get over it. Embrace it. Fight for it. Give Tampa Bay some love.
You better. Don't make me come back and start nagging you all over again.