With an average of 240 days of sunshine annually, it is not hard to sell anyone on Florida's weather. The state's cities are a different story, however. Bar ever-popular Miami and to some extent Orlando, Florida's cities tend not to attract millennials in big numbers.
Yet Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa, Florida's third largest city, believes that both millennials and foreign investors should consider his city when looking to relocate to the Sunshine State.
“We might not have Miami Vice and other TV shows that would fuel our popularity,” says Mr Buckhorn. “And we might not wear Mickey Mouse ears,” he continues, in reference to the theme parks that contribute to Orlando's popularity, “but we have not written our last chapter yet, as the city is changing itself and its economic DNA.”
Back from the abyss
In many ways, Tampa did not have much choice as far as the latter goes, as, like the rest of Florida, it was hit hard by the global financial crisis. At the end of 2009, unemployment in the Tampa-St Petersburg-Clearwater metro area peaked at 11.9%, its highest rate in more than a decade. “When I took over in 2011, we were very dependent upon the cost of labour and on sectors such as tourism and construction. I knew we needed to focus on more sustainable sources of investments,” says Mr Buckhorn.
He says Tampa focused on developing its promising smaller clusters, namely financial services and IT. Since then, the city has attracted companies such as Spanish banking group BBVA, which has opened a loan production office in the city, and Wills Group Holdings, a UK-headquartered global risk adviser that chose the city for its new centre of excellence.
By 2016, the unemployment rate had decreased to pre-crisis levels and now stands at 4.4%. And along with jobs came jobseekers, among them young professionals. ”Young people flock to Tampa in droves. We used to be donors of talent into cities such as Austin [in Texas] or Raleigh [in North Carolina], now we steal talent,” says Mr Buckhorn.
To keep its newly acquired talent in Tampa, since 2011 the city has been working on creating a masterplan for its central area. “To attract millennials, we need to have a downtown – we need to create physical environment that is inviting for them,” says the mayor.
Instrumental in this is a $1bn investment in a 16-hectare waterfront development announced in 2015. The project – funded by Jeff Vinik, a businessman known locally as the owner of Tampa Bay Lightning ice-hockey team, and Cascade Investment, a personal investment fund owned by Bill Gates – comprises a new medical school campus, as well as apartment, retail and office properties. It will add to the city landscape, with the first part of a three-phase project scheduled for completion by 2021.
“Five years from now, Tampa will be known as a city that activated its waterfront, is the home of a world-class medical school and became a factor on an international stage,” says Mr Buckhorn. “I think this is totally within our reach. With the new DNA we got our swagger back.”