Thursday, March 14, 2019on
By Shelley Sharp, Ryan Nece Foundation What do strawberries, corn dogs, potash, and midnight buffets have in common? They are all major contributors to the economic success of the Tampa Bay region. [gallery ids="10006,10007,10008" type="square"] Plant City is the winter strawberry capital of the world. 67 local farming families grow strawberries on 10,000 acres yielding 25 - 30,000 strawberries per acre and distribute primarily to the Eastern Seaboard and Canada. The annual strawberry harvest has an economic impact of more than $800 million. Local farmers know success in the fields is as much an art as a science. They are always working to develop new strawberry varieties, and improved techniques for farming, harvesting and packaging. Researchers at the University of Florida in Plant City recently introduced Florida Brilliance, a new strawberry variety resistant to damage from heavy rainfall. [gallery ids="10009,10010,10002" type="square"] The Florida Strawberry Festival has the largest attendance of any Florida festival with over 500,000 festival goers, 2500 volunteers, 24 national concerts on the new Wish Farms Soundstage ($5 million investment) and 400 vendors who serve corn dogs, deep fried Oreos, and a strawberry delicacy for everyone including: ice cream, pizza, jam, sandwiches, milkshakes, pie, cobbler, parfaits, creampuffs, fritters, donuts, kettle korn, fudge, lemonade, chocolate dipped strawberries, and of course strawberry shortcake! It was exciting to meet the Golden Girls, Dorothy and Blanche, and hear from high school students participating in the steer, swine, and lamb shows and auctions. Students involved with the sale of plants and livestock earned over $900,000 in 2018, most of which is used for college funds and to buy additional livestock. A 2015 study showed the economic impact of the festival to be over $11 million net revenue for Hillsborough County. Our sponsor for the day, Mosaic, is the worldwide leader in the production of fertilizer. Over 3000 local Tampa Bay employees and 3000 contract employees mine and produce phosphate and potash products. In addition to fertilizer, Mosaic is involved with land leases for cattle and citrus, public fish management areas, public parks on reclaimed mines, bee hives, and has donated $4.9 million to community farmers in Florida. In 2018 Port Tampa Bay celebrated reaching the milestone of 1 million cruise passengers on four major cruise lines. These passengers along with 34 million tons of cargo contributed $17.2 billion and 85,000 jobs to the local economy. A recent $ 5 million investment in two Gantry cranes has allowed the port to be even more competitive for cargo container shipping. Port Tampa Bay has recently won two contracts with Asian and French companies. Mosaic and TECO are two of the leading users of Port Tampa Bay, the largest and most diversified seaport in Florida. This powerhouse triumvirate make up each other’s largest customers and/or suppliers. Together, they have important public/private partnerships with the Audubon Society, Florida Aquarium, and the Army Corp of Engineers for shipping channel improvements. [gallery ids="10003,10004,10005" type="square"] Our eLiTe’19 class had the wonderful opportunity to see Port Tampa Bay up close with a boat tour onboard the Bay Spirit II at the end of our very informative day. Who’s ready for a cruise to Fantasy Island? Fantasy Island is a joint partnership with the Tampa Port Authority, Florida Aquarium, Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection and Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County for educational and eco-tour programs.