Tampa: My Choice for Best Emerging Tech City
I woke up this past February to an outside temperature that felt like -47. My home for the last 16 years has been Minneapolis, and, in February, we had a stretch where we were colder than Alaska and Antarctica. Hard to imagine. When you spend your entire life in Minnesota and Iowa, you dream of moving to a warm weather city. These days, you can research cities any number of ways: cities with the most annual days of sunshine, most affordable cities, best college towns, best cities for retirees, best cities to raise a family, best cities for entrepreneurs, etc. The options are endless. One of my favorites is to research the best emerging tech cities. So, I began to research cities with an emerging tech presence and that led me to Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Tampa, and much more. And with a lifetime of harsh winters to my credit, the city of Tampa sounded good.
It’s not healthy to research Tampa when you are in Minnesota experiencing the worst winter ever. But I do enjoy researching cities, and I keep seeing glowing reviews about Tampa as an emerging hot spot for entrepreneurs and techies. The technology scene and the entrepreneurial spirit in Tampa are taking off, and the rest of the country is just beginning to discover this hidden gem. In addition to the emerging tech scene, you have 10 months of beach weather, a diverse population, professional sports teams, and housing that is 37% less than Minneapolis. How could we go wrong in Tampa?
Zappos founder Tony Hsieh is single-handedly turning Las Vegas into a hub of technology and innovation. Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans is doing the same thing for his hometown of Detroit. And Tampa has mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik championing their city.
A Culture Where Entrepreneurs and Startups Can Thrive
No industry generates more hype, and hope, than technology. Joel Kotkin writes, “From 2004 to 2014, the number of tech-related jobs in the United States expanded 31%, faster than other high-growth sectors like health care and business services.” In an article about Tampa for GeekWire, John Cook wrote, “Nearly every city across the U.S. is trying to cultivate a culture where entrepreneurs and startups can thrive.” Tampa seems to be doing just that. Cook points to five things that will help any city that is serious about cultivating a spirit of technology and innovation: talent, density, culture, capital, and regulatory environment.
While we don’t need to breakdown all five categories, a few are worth mentioning. According to Kasia Moreno in a Forbes article, “The regulatory environment is now the top issue that can have the most impact on a company, according to 400 U.S. CEOs across all major industries surveyed.” Tampa scores big in this area thanks to mayor Bob Buckhorn. A quick google search of Tampa’s mayor and you will be impressed at his efforts to attract businesses and entrepreneurs and techies to his city.
Capital is the one area where Tampa lacks. “Tampa has yet to establish itself as a technology hub on the order of Austin, Boston or Seattle,” writes Cook in GeekWire. “And venture financing — like many places — remains a problem.” Tampa’s population is both diverse and well-educated. The University of Tampa and University of South Florida are a major draw for any company looking for access to an educated workforce. In fact, USF might be the underrated star of Tampa. If Vanderbilt is the driving force behind Nashville’s tech scene as Fast Company suggests, then USF is definitely the driving force behind Tampa’s success. USF ranks high for a number of factors, including research funding, research expenditures, number of patents granted (over 1,400), ranking for the School of Nursing and more. USF has found itself on the best buys and best values lists of Princeton Review and Forbes. USF’s endowment currently totals $442 million, and they boast one of the best teaching hospitals in the country. Though Cook mentioned five key areas when building a culture of innovation, there are many reasons why Tampa wins my personal vote for the top emerging tech city.
While there will only be one Silicon Valley, Tampa can claim some tech credibility. The city has a goal of raising the profile of their metro area as an emerging tech hub. When Tampa was invited to be a Google Fiber city, Tampa gained instant tech cred. “Tampa still isn’t on the radar of people in the Northeast and the Midwest,” says Jeffrey Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. But Google seems to be paying attention. Robert Trigaux of the Tampa Bay Times writes, “The city’s gaining a reputation — beyond its own borders — as both an area of rising technology significance and for encouraging entrepreneurs to pursue their innovative start-ups.” The Google Fiber invite made people around the country wonder what is going in Tampa. As John Berryman wrote when discussing Nashville as an emerging tech city, “We got Google Fiber- that’s gotta be a good sign right?” Like Nashville, Tampa has Google Fiber coming, so that’s gotta be a good sign.
Wanted: Direct Flights to San Francisco
“Tampa is an amazing secret,” according to KiteDesk co-founder and CEO Sean Burke. Burke is a tech entrepreneur who moved to Tampa from Chicago back in 2005. When GeekWire asked Burke what Tampa’s technology community needs most, Burke noted that there’s no direct flight between Tampa and the San Francisco Bay Area. The airport does have direct flights to Seattle, but no direct flights to San Francisco yet. “If we are going to get investors from the West Coast, they are not going to spend eight hours in transit,” Burke said. Tampa lacks access to venture funding and it lacks a direct flight to the Silicon Valley area. But a $1 billion renovation project is already underway at the Tampa airport. When Money Magazine named Tampa one of their five best cities for 2015, it remarked on “its well-organized, attractive international airport, where a recent expansion prompted new flights from Zurich and Seattle.” Despite the lack of a direct flight to San Francisco, the Tampa airport is already well-respected and improving to the tune of a $1 billion renovation.
The airport seems prepared to handle the growing population growth in the Tampa area. Job growth- always an indicator of a stable economy- is projected at 15 percent. And Tampa ranks among the 20-fastest growing metros in the country. The forward thinking leadership in Tampa had perfect timing with their massive airport renovations. The renovation plans will help service Tampa’s growing population and hopefully help make travel quick and easy for entrepreneurs and investors.
Breadth and Depth
When talking specifically about technology jobs the breadth and depth of growing tech companies is approaching a critical mass. What does that mean? Consider this answer from Trigaux in his Tampa Bay Times article. He writes, “When people outside the area interview for jobs at tech companies here, they rarely ask whether they will be left high and dry — that there are no alternative places to work here — if they relocate here but the position does not work out.” Technology, especially IT, is what’s putting Tampa Bay on the national technology map. The Tampa metro area ranks first in Florida in terms of the concentration of .NET developers, data warehousing specialists, and Hadoop developers. That’s beneficial for overall employment trends. It’s also good news for anyone playing the long game and not just thinking short-term. Some highlights of Tampa include affordable housing, a thriving research-based university, and key influencers in Buckhorn and Vinik. While Tampa is attracting more entrepreneurs and more tech companies, there is a downside that we need to discuss.
The Downside: A Car-Dependent City
The only downside, in my opinion, is the city’s lack of walkability and the fact that it is a car-dependent city. A Forbes study found that Tampa had the worst commute of 60 major metropolitan areas. Another study that looked at traffic deaths per 100,000 people had Tampa beating even Atlanta (12.7) with a whopping 16.2 traffic fatalities per 100,000. But walkability expert Jeff Speck is on the case. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is trying to redevelop the downtown Tampa area and Speck was hired to help provide his expertise as a city planner. So, help is on the way, and other car-dependent cities are still thriving in terms of job growth, innovation, and population growth. Atlanta and Houston to name two.
No More Being Overshadowed by Miami
Tampa is an up and coming city filled with entrepreneurs. With a thriving pro-business, pro-technology vibe, Tampa needs an influx of more people- more innovators, more software developers, more creatives. As one Tampa business leader said, “If the question is, do we have enough talent here? I would say no?” Joel Kitkin wrote, “To make something, whether digital or tangible, the first step lies in gathering in the talent that can make things happen.” Let the talent wars begin! Tampa isn’t Austin or Silicon Valley or Boston or Raleigh, but they don’t have to be. Beaches. Culture. Nightlife. Professional sports. And with Tampa’s weather and their low cost of living, this could be my last winter in Minnesota! “I see a lot more people coming to Tampa and staying here, and wanting to live here,” said Pete Sessa, who moved from New York to Tampa to open a new business incubator. With an average snowfall of zero inches and with winter highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s, this Minnesota native just might be ready to move.
Thanks for reading- I’m Scott Raymond. For over ten years, I have published content on entrepreneurship, emerging U.S. Cities, horse racing, specialization in youth sports, and more. I enjoy writing and researching. I live in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area with my wife Kari. My other interests include reading, horses, long walks outdoors, the National Parks, and college towns. I can best be reached at onehorsestable at gmail dot com.