Tampa is a happening place. It’s hard to write that without worrying that it sounds a little funny, but it’s true.
When I moved to Tampa a dozen years ago, that statement really would have been silly. Tampa’s downtown was a wasteland after workhours. You could easily imagine tumbleweeds rolling through the empty streets.
There were great places to live downtown, but no supermarket, which meant downtown dwellers needed cars to get food or baby formula or home supplies, which meant that nobody wanted to live downtown.
Worse, much of the country knew Tampa as “the city without a skyline.” … Not a great nickname for our image. But every big city started somewhere, and that moniker definitely doesn’t hold true today.
The next Great American City
Nitro made a commitment to Tampa’s downtown last fall when we moved from our offices on the outskirts into our bigger, better digs smack in the city center. We made that commitment for the same reason so many other growing companies are doing likewise.
In the old manufacturing economy, companies chose headquarters cities based on availability of resources, like a nearby river or abundant local timber. In the new economy, a company must choose an HQ location that not only holds a rich supply of the top talent it needs right away, but also presents an attractive destination for talent from all over the country, from all over the world. It needs a city the best workers will want to raise their kids in, and call home.
That’s Tampa, 2016.
Here are just a few highlights of what makes Tampa a great place to live and work in, in no particular order:
• Great teams for sports fans, including the downtown-playing Lightning NHL team the Buccaneers NFL franchise, the Rays MLB team just across the bay and even pro soccer and arena football franchises.
• The wealth of arts and culture. The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, the second-largest performing arts center in the Southeastern US, right on the river downtown. If you’re more into physical art, the Tampa Museum of Art offers a range of exhibits from antiques displays to contemporary art for you to enjoy. There’s also a number of cultural festivals and history museums around the city to check out. Speaking of museums…
Team Nitro catching Star Wars in IMAX at MOSI.
• The Museum of Science and Industry, a nonprofit educational resource dedicated to “advancing public knowledge and understanding of science, industry and technology,” and Glazer Children’s Museum, which provides a cultural learning environment for young children. With innovative and informative programs and exhibits, these museums provide great learning destinations for families and the community as a whole.
• A spectacular international airport, rated second-best in the US. Tampa International Airport is close to the business hub of downtown, making it especially convenient for corporate travel. As someone who regularly uses this airport, it’s hard to express just how great it is. It’s extremely easy to get in and out of, and currently undergoing a billion-dollar makeover that will hopefully make it even easier.
• A ton of livability-enhancing retail on the way, including a new downtown grocery store from Publix, the most beloved chain in Florida (by far). Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn recently called this first downtown grocery store the “last missing piece of a downtown that is about ready to explode.”
• A long, gorgeous Riverwalk made up of broad paths connecting green, peaceful downtown parks and playgrounds, some hosting great public events almost every weekend. The Riverwalk provides public access to Tampa’s waterfront and links five museums, seven parks and a number of hotels and restaurants. It’s part of what makes our downtown so special.
• A vibrant higher-ed community, including the public, 50,000-student University of South Florida (a top-tier research university) and the private, 8,000-student University of Tampa, which has its main campus downtown.
• New, better commercial and residential space opening downtown all the time. With all the new development taking off, Tampa is offering more and more spaces to live, work and play.
• The incredible food scene. Tampa boasts a diverse culinary landscape that will make the foodie in you rejoice. With international gastropubs, multicultural cuisine, fresh seafood, farm-to-table fare, some of the nation’s best steakhouses and more, there’s a little something for everyone. And to pair with dinner, Tampa holds the title of #3 best beer scene in America.
• A comprehensive master plan for the continued improvement of downtown, already well underway and already drawing new companies and new citizens. Tampa Bay Lightning owner, Jeff Vinik, has worked with city leaders and planners to lay out a $1 billion “vision plan” to build almost 3 million square feet of development in downtown Tampa over the next decade. Organizations like Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation and the Tampa Innovation Alliance not only contribute to this plan by working to make Tampa a place people want to live and work, but offer great resources to encourage and enable local business expansion.
These and other treasures explain in part why Tampa has been ranked recently as one of the Top 5 cities for finding a job, the best city in Florida in which to start a career, the second-best city for young entrepreneurs and one of Top 15 the best cities in the US for owning a home.
Recently Tampa was even named a “hot spot” by realtor.com, earning the #1 spot for cities gaining the highest number of new residents in the U.S., and the #3 destination for millennials. The article cites our affordable housing market and “unusually strong job creation” as reasons for Tampa’s increasing popularity.
Keeping the bell curve rising
Tampa—no joke—is hot. But we can do better. As a new member of the Executive Committee of the Tampa Hillsborough EDC and the Innovation Alliance, I get to collaborate with local business leaders on what we must improve to keep Tampa competitive, especially:
Transportation: Tampa has some bad bottlenecks in its roads and highways, and its public transit system is simply inadequate to the needs of the city as a whole, and especially to the rising class of young professionals who want to live car-free in a vibrant downtown but don’t want to live in any of the crowded, costly subway cities.
Everyone here agrees that fixing our transportation issues is a high priority, but nobody can agree on exactly how to do it. We’ve had some setbacks recently. But I’m not giving up, and neither are a whole host of Tampa’s most influential leaders. We’ll get there.
National image: Tampa has a history not only as a tourist town and former cigar-making capital, but also as a great low-cost place to run a national call center or data center. But we’re so much more than that today. We’re a knowledge economy, a tech-town, and becoming more so every year. We have to get the word out nationwide that this is not your grandfather’s Tampa.
Over the next five years, I think we’ll see progress in these and other areas. But even today, Tampa is a brilliant place to live and to work. You should visit us. You just might decide to stay.
About the author:
With more than 20 years experience in software development and strategic businesses practices, Pete Slade’s mission is to help enterprises streamline and optimize their business through technology innovation. With expertise in a range of technical operating systems, languages and databases, Slade works in concert with Nitro’s development team to offer clients superior products and services.
His experience as a technologist, talent developer and business strategist has resulted in Nitro Mobile Solutions being named “Technology Company of the Year” by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, one of the top 100 small businesses in America by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and earning position #248 on the Inc. 500 list for a three-year growth rate of 1,797 percent.