Can Tampa Bay serve as a guide to restoring the American Dream?
In 1988, Tampa, Florida was featured by futurist John Naisbitt as America’s Next Great City. Yet decades would pass without the city being able to hold on to its greatest treasure; it was a haemorrhage of talent graduating from its major universities to companies located in other cities in America.
Paella – a hodgepodge of Cuban, Spanish and Italian cuisine – is a delicious and popular dish in Tampa. Yet just seven miles north of downtown Tampa, another hodgepodge was brewing – this stodgy one. Sprawling development patterns, weak public transit options, and car-centric streets created a hellish landscape right out of the Squid Game for pedestrians, cyclists, and residents.
Once nicknamed “Suitcase City” and now known as “Uptown”, the community is home to More than 40,000 university students and 50,000 other inhabitants– people from all corners of the globe seeking their share of the American Dream.
This was all happening in the eyeshadows of high-end anchor institutions, including the University of South Florida, a best research university; Moffitt Cancer Center, one of the best cancer hospitals in America; Busch Gardens, a top tourist destination; and the James Haley Veterans Hospital.
The Anchors were like islands unto themselves, separated from the surrounding population by berms, fences, guards, and inhospitable patterns of development that made walking between the giant institutions impossible.
Take a page from communities like Buffalo, New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; Saint Louis; Detroit; and many other emerging innovation districts, we’ve learned that the secret sauce to retaining talent is creating a place where people want to live, work and play.
Restoration began in earnest in 2014 when Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa joined forces with the Tampa Innovation Alliance — now called Soaring City, a 501c3 urban tech ecosystem developer — to transform Uptown into a community magnet for big tech companies.
Ground Zero is a 100-acre former mall built in 1974 by Eddie DeBartolo. The old mall is a thing of the past and has been replaced by an evolving mixed-use innovation campus named RITHM, which stands for Research, Innovation, Technology, Habitat & Medicine. RITHM is within walking distance of the University of South Florida and three major research hospitals and is being redeveloped by New York-based developer RD Management with connectivity in mind.
How do we do this? I call it the Tampa 3.
Inspired by the Tampa Defense 2 that changed football, we’re rolling out the Tampa 3 approach to transforming the region.
1. MANIC COLLABORATION
Brian Lamb, global head of diversity and inclusion for JPMorgan Chase and former chairman of the USF board of directors, challenged the Uptown community five years ago to engage in manic collaboration. “Be relentless” in reaching out to others different from yourself, he said, and “work together to solve big problems.” It sounds easy, but take a look across the country in places like San Francisco, for example, and you’ll notice the gap between rich and poor widening.
Soaring City Innovation Partnership serves as a convener for anchor institutions and residents to meet and find ways to work together to solve problems. I believe that large communities and large companies must learn to listen to us and find ways to collaborate. We’ve created a place at RITHM where everyone, from the President of USF and the CEO of Florida Blue to community residents, can come together to solve problems and make a difference.
2. RUN TO YOUR PERCEIVED WEAKNESS AND MAKE IT YOUR STRENGTH
When I took over as executive director, some were derided ‘Siberia North’. Fowler Avenue, the main east-west state highway connecting I-275 to USF, had been widened to eight lanes in the 1970s, killing family businesses and replacing them with unsightly strip malls, pawnshops and check cashing shops.
Many in our own community have urged visitors to our anchor institutions to avoid the road where possible. We flipped that idea by partnering with the Florida Department of Transportation District 7 to begin transforming Fowler Avenue into Innovation Boulevard.
We met with various companies to build a world-class destination within walking distance of Fowler Avenue. Family businesses and businesses that once feared Fowler Avenue are rethinking their own presence and developing plans to create attractive destinations for residents and visitors.
We’ve learned that perceived weaknesses can become huge opportunities if you’re willing to challenge the status quo. Do not be afraid of a road, as in our case, or of your own challenge. Instead, run to it and make it your strength.
3. CREATE A BLUE-COLLAR TECHNOLOGY WORKFORCE
In July 2021, Soaring City was challenged by Florida Blue to moonshot Uptown to close the income gap and break the cycle of generational poverty that grips so many of our residents. How? In large part, by “Tony-Starking” our workforce.
We partnered with Rony Abovitz, founder of Magic Leap, and Guy Gilliland of the Boston Consulting Group to develop a plan for Tampa’s regional metaverse, set in Tampa’s Uptown innovation district, to transform low-skilled workers into skilled and blue-collar technicians. workers.
Together we launch a moonshot to capture what Kevin Kelly featured in Wired Magazine as the dawn of a third great platform to digitize the world and make it accessible and relevant for everyone.
Companies should look inward and find ways to develop their workforce. We found that skilled workers are happier workers, able to better support themselves and their families, and are much more optimistic about technology and its place in their community.
I think taking the time to train your most entry-level worker using immersive Web3 technology is another critical component if America is to compete economically on the global stage, as well as build resilient communities at home, stable and prosperous.
It’s what we do in Tampa and it’s also something you can do to build your own communities and help restore the American Dream.
Mark Sharpe is the Director of Potential for Booming City!P and specializes in the intersection of entrepreneurship and public policy.