The Road to Cooperation
St Petersburg , Florida , October 7, 2002.
Interstate 4 feels a little shorter these days.
This asphalt ribbon once served as a reminder of the many miles separating the Tampa Bay area and Metro Orlando. Today, however, business and political leaders in both regions are looking at the highway as a bridge between two growing communities.
"You've got two fine public universities, more hotel rooms from Orlando to here than I think anywhere else in the world, tourism, industry, sports teams," said Russ Sloan, President of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. "We've got all the ingredients."
You don't have to look hard to see signs of cooperation between the Tampa Bay area and Metro Orlando. the issue sits high on the agenda for economic development groups in both areas, including the tampa Bay Partnership, the umbrella organization for economic groups here.
Leaders have begun to regularly attend each other's meetings. Last year, the Orlando regional Chamber of Commerce held its annual retreat and planning program in St. Petersburg, introducing its members to business people and politicians.
Welcome to "Orlampa"?
People driving south from Orlando toward Lakeland may have seen the small sign developer Kermit Weeks has posted on his property identifying the "Future Site of Downtown Orlampa."
Its not a sign of the future.
Economic development leaders say they don't want to merge the Tampa Bay area and Metro Orlando into one homogenous metropolis. Nor do they want to create a new political entity encompassing Orlando, Lakeland, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
The goal, they say, is to improve regional cooperation and coordination between the two areas, drawing on each region's economic identity to foster growth.
Regional cooperation has proved successful in other parts of the country, said Otis White, president of Civic Strategies Inc., an Atlanta based firm that advises cities and regions on public policy issues.
For example, San Francisco and San Jose worked together to solve transportation problems, creating a highly mobile workforce for the two areas that could take advantage of the technology boom of the late 1990's, he said.
Washington, D.C., and Baltimore also cooperate on a number of issues, he said, including transportation and a recent olympic bid.
The new spirit of cooperation between the Tampa Bay area and Metro Orlando can be traced to two recent initiatives - one, an ongoing success; the other, a well funded failure.
The success story is the Florida High tech Corridor Council Inc. The failure: the Florida 2012 Olympic effort.
The High Tech Corridor
was born from one of the first major efforts to improve regional cooperation - saving an important Orlando employer - said Randy Berridge, the council's president.
In 1995, AT&T Microelectronics - Agere Systems - was weighing two options for its Orlando based semi-conductor production plant: expand the existing facility, at a cost of $700 million, or build a facility in Spain and move operations there.
Expanding in Orlando would mean 700 new jobs, Berridge said. A move to Madrid would cost some 1,000 jobs, he said.
When it looked like AT&t was leaning toward Spain, the presidents of the University of Central Florida in Orlando and University of South Florida in Tampa banded together, committing research money and resources, and sparking a two region effort to convince AT&T it should stay.
The effort worked.
"That was what made the difference," Berridge said. "The company, quite frankly, did not have that commitment or level of expertise in Madrid."
Agere recently announced it would lay off some 200 workers in the Orlando area. That leaves the company with about 800 employees there.
Keeping Agere led to the creation of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council Inc. in 1996.
"Everything with AT&T was done on a reactive basis," Berridge said. UCF President " John Hitt and (former USF president) Betty Castor's vision was that we function as a team proactively."
The newly formed council got support and money from the Florida Legislature. Its mission: foster research in high-technology industries, link economic development organizations from across the corridor, and attract, retain and grow a high tech work force.
In its first five years, the council has pumped $25 million through the universities into 250 research and development projects in the Tampa Bay area and Metro Orlando. That investment spurred an additional $55 million in corporate and government grants.
"Think of the power when you add all of this together," Berridge said.
The regional cooperation fostered by the high tech corridor is a boon for business.
Nancy P. Crews, President ofCustom Manufacturing & Engineering™ (CME™) in St. Petersburg, said her company teams up with USF and UCF for research
Being in the corridor also means her company can draw upon a trained work force, and is located near many companies it does business, she said.
"I think that (the corridor) is important from a number of different facets," Crews said. "It's a natural magnet for high tech employees."
Custom Manufacturing builds instruments and monitoring devices for military and civilian vehicles, it recently won a Small Business Administration award for developing a power management system for military use that knows which devices to switch off, and which must remain on, when there's not enough electricity to go around.