Photos courtesy of Stacy Miller
The LT21 ‘Golden’ class ‘Government and Economic Development Day’ assembled on a rainy morning at the Office of the State Attorney at the Hillsborough County Administration building. Co-chairs Bemetra Simmons (LT’13) and Gerri Kramer (LT’16) led the day with appreciation to the day’s sponsor, Tampa International Airport, represented by Gina Evans (LT’19).
You may not think of the airport when you think of ‘government and economic development’ but the TIA generates $14B and 120K jobs making it one of the region’s largest economic engines. And while the airport activity has been negatively impacted by COVID, TIA is better than many airports across the country. It’s easy to see that TIA is inextricably linked to our economy.
We then had an opportunity to get first-hand insights on local government from the ‘Getting Involved in Local Government’ panelists, Hon. Gwen Myers of the Hillsborough County Commission and Hon. Guido Maniscalco, Chair of the Tampa City Council.
Commissioner Myers shared insights about her recent campaign for County Commissioner District 3. She retired from public service with the County and made a goal to win the election She advised the class to always ‘Set a Goal’ and write it down and don’t let anyone change your plan. Councilman Maniscalco, related some of his experiences, particularly during the challenges of COVID. Of particular note is that Tampa’s City Council is an all-male composition which is the first time since 1971. He encouraged everyone to get involved through many ways, not just by running for office.
Following the panel, we enjoyed a brief welcome from the morning’s host, State Attorney Andrew Warren (LT ’16) who shared some highlights of his office, including that they operate with 300 staff and 130 attorneys. It was noted that if it were a private firm it would be the largest law firm on the West Coast handling more than 60k cases a year. He concluded with a poignant statement to recall that ‘when our system fails, this is where people end up.’
We then learned all there is to know about the Hillsborough County election operations from Craig Latimer, Supervisor of Elections. He noted that this was the first live event since March 2020 (not the first time we’ve heard this before!). Unfortunately, we did not benefit from a physical tour of the operation, but we did get a virtual ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour to see the elaborate operation. The key mission is to instill and sustain confidence in the process. He provided details about the recent election – namely that in the Primary election, there was only a 25% turnout, meaning that 25% of the population made the choices for everyone else. In contrast, the General election had a 77% turnout!
The office strives to be very engaged with the public and across many local partnerships. They focus on quality, logic, and accuracy and conduct post-election audits both by hand count and e-audits.
Before wrapping up the morning, we had a guest appearance from former Mayor and Governor Bob Martinez. He spoke about ‘Leadership’ indicating that he first addressed LT classes starting in 1997! He encouraged everyone to get and stay involved, to become a ‘joiner’ and to expand the number of people you know to make yourself a more whole person. He emphasized that it just takes one person to make a difference, e.g. Tom Brady! He reminded us that leadership does not always find a way to ‘YES’ - when you fail or miss your mark, move on; if you don’t have the ability to do that, you can’t lead. He shared that he had won his first election in 1st grade and has been running for office ever since. He concluded by sharing his proudest accomplishments:
- Straz Performing Arts Center
- Lowery Park
- Convention Center
- Annexation of N. Tampa
- Tippin Wastewater Plant
- Increased population
- Transformed downtown skyline
- Reduced property tax from 9% to 5%
We concluded the morning session with a presentation from Kim Debosier (LT ’93) in her capacity as Co-Chair of the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Committee. She discussed the ‘Catalyst’ column in the Chamber’s three pillars and the history of the ‘Committee of 100’ which evolved into today’s EDC. She emphasized the many paths to drive policy advocacy and encouraged active participation. She also highlighted the Chamber’s efforts to drive diversity and inclusion including a corporate scholarship program
Lunch Speaker: Mayor Jane Castor (LT ’00) - 2016 Parke Wright III Award Recipient
Mayor Castor joined us for lunch and shared an update on City events, COVID response, civil unrest, the Super Bowl and then fielded many interesting Q&A’s from the group.
We followed lunch with a Walking Tour of the Tampa Housing Authority’s west Tampa development which is led by Leroy Moore. The West River and Mary Bethune Apartments are on a site which is formerly the ‘N. Blvd Homes’ which was the City’s first public housing project dating back 75 years. The work started 3 years ago with many moving parts. There are 44 acres that will result in 828 housing units (there were previously 627 units that were demolished). The Mary Bethune project is a rehabilitation including 180 units which is currently fully occupied. As much as this will add housing for eligible applicants who qualify based upon earnings, there were more than 20,000 individuals on a wait list for affordable housing and more than 10,000 applicants for recent Section 8 applications.
Believe it or not, on this very packed day, we ended up with a small window of spare time and opted to slide over to the Meacham Urban Farm to check it out. What a unique experience! A fully operational two-acre farm in the middle of downtown where you can purchase fresh food. We all enjoyed trying to identify what the various vegetables were . . . farmers we are not!
Out last stop was at the Embarc Collective run by CEO Lakshmi Shenoy. She was joined on a panel by Rachel Feinman (LT ’18), the new Executive Director of TGH’s Innovation Fund.
Embarc Collective is an incubator for tech start-ups, It supports 70 early-stage start-ups (approx. 200 people) and involves coaching with 11 ‘start-up specialists’ to provide ‘a learning organization’ to help bring tools to market. Embarc works with many partnerships including with Tampa Bay Wave (Dee) and Chase Bank (Michael).
Tampa General Hospital’s initiative is a new effort to create a path to venture funds. Rachel indicated that a third of companies at Embarc are in the health care space. She is working to ‘curate serendipity’ and push interactions together.
The Golden LT’21 class concluded its day by reinforcing the economic development of the City and holding a critical debrief at a local food and drink establishment.