West Central Florida Economic Development Centered on Tampa Bay

Map of West Central FloridaI dearly love Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, but yet another two-year, million-dollar “blueprint” study for downtown development is just a distraction from the real, regional planning that needs to take place. Instead of trying to create the best-little-block-in-Tampa, why not work to create the best quality metropolitan statistical area in Florida, or anywhere? Instead of every mayor and county commissioner fighting to win for themselves that white knight job-creating company to relocate here, why not together challenge Miami’s prominence in the state?

Eighth-ranked MSA Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach has a combined population of 5.5 million people, compared to 19th-ranked Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater with over 2.7 million people. Yet the Miami MSA has many more times the financial clout of the Tampa MSA. However, if we further expand the view of ourselves as the West Central Florida MSA, we then have the population to rival the Miami MSA. We just lack the vision and political will to become a greater region.

We only have to look at how many roads and bus routes seem to stop at county lines to understand the problem. We think local, not regional. When we do think regionally, we tend to think of the mythical Orlampa I-4 corridor as becoming a unified economic powerhouse. We don’t need The Mouse to be great. We have it all, and more, right in our own backyard.

Take for example the planning area considered by the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA), which includes the counties of Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota. Take note that this is a north-south corridor that includes numerous world-class schools, hospitals, a major military base, many square miles of pristine environment, three international airports, three deep-water ports and a network of highways and rail lines.

It is long past time for us to stop pushing around peanuts and compete on the world stage. Unless Miami figures out how to expand into the Atlantic or the Everglades, there is no place for it to grow. West Central Florida can plan now for regional commerce, transportation, agriculture, clean water and energy to attract and accommodate business, students, residents and eco-tourists for the next 100 years — if we choose to come together, do it now, and do it right.

<IMHO> Fred Jacobsen

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