A “great reset” and game-changing shifts compel urban theorist Richard Florida to think big about Tampa Bay, Metro Orlando and parts in between. Area leaders hold similar views — and are taking action. Rail disappointment notwithstanding.
The 80 miles or so between Tampa Bay and Metro Orlando have never been so close. For years, the two locales have worked together on numerous fronts. But now, they are taking an even friendlier stance. Even embracing. Really.
OK. There's some obvious competition, maybe a bit of natural rivalry, such as for sports fans, tourists and perhaps a corporation relocation here or there. Strengthening cooperation, though, is evident. Necessarily.
Recent shifts toward a new economy are driving public, private and institutional leaders to unite to compete on a global scale. Together. As a result, Tampa Bay and Metro Orlando just might become a “Super Region.” Believe it.
For starters, the Central Florida Partnership and the Tampa Bay Partnership — organizations with substantial business, civic and political clout — have buddied up in nearly unprecedented fashion. And the economic implications of a merger are equally clear and huge. Having a combined population of 7.2 million residents and a $277.2 billion Gross Metropolitan Product, in approximate numbers, this 14-county, coast-to-coast area (including Brevard, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Citrus, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, Seminole and Volusia counties) has the ninth-largest metropolitan economy in the nation, with the potential to successfully compete with international economic markets. By 2050, according to some forecasts, this Super Region could, in fact, drive Florida’s economy. The entire state's economy.
Somewhere, Richard Florida is smiling.
The man with the curious (and coincidental) last name isn't the least bit surprised. Actually, he's been predicting such an outcome for some time.
Simply, as among the world's leading public intellectuals, best-selling book author, consultant and director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, Florida contends it's all part of a “great reset” with “megaregion” implications.
According to Florida, the recent economic crisis has reset the conditions for technological innovation, product consumption and consumer demand. Those changes, when taken together, will spur a fresh era of growth and prosperity, plus define a new geography of progress and stimulate business opportunities. As part of this reset, a denser economic landscape, organized around megaregions, will drive the development of new industries, jobs and a whole new way of life.
In turn, Tampa Bay–Metro Orlando will become a super-region and, combined with Miami, will compose a megaregion.
From a historical perspective, Florida compares the current down economic cycle to the long depression of the 1870s and the Great Depression of the 1930s, each of which was followed by changes to the economic and physical landscape as well as demographics and technology. The 1870s downturn prompted public and private investment that led to industrialization and the growth of cities for manufacturing. The Great Depression brought public and private investment that resulted in the growth of suburban communities. In both cases, the crises — periods of “creative destruction,” as Florida labels them — lasted about 20 years. Accordingly, the future demographic shift will create megaregions, with the chief commodity being human capital.
“The megaregions of today perform functions that are somewhat similar to those of the great cities of the past — massing together talent, productive capability, innovation and markets,” Florida explains. “Essentially, through the shared use of resources and talent, neighboring regions can prosper by shifting their focus from county boundaries to economic centers.
“It's no longer just nations, states or metropolitan areas that propel our economy forward. It's really these aggregates of metropolitan areas called megaregions.”
Heady stuff, for sure. But real and inevitable, adds Florida. “The old way of living isn't working,” he asserts, pointing to slow, steady shifts. “People don't wake up thinking there's a new world order. It evolves. The way it evolves is that millions and millions of people begin to reset their individual lives. They begin to live and work differently. The [economic] crisis has made people aware of that.”
At stake for regions is nothing less than global competitiveness.
More urban think from Florida: In the 21st century, he says, the emergence of globalization has made national boundaries mean less. Consequently, “nation” is beginning to lose some of its appeal as a logical unit of analysis, while “megaregion” is being perceived as a parallel macro structure — integrated sets of cities and their surrounding suburban areas. The world's 40 largest megaregions, he notes, account for two-thirds of all global economic activity and 85 percent of the world's technological innovation while housing just 18 percent of its people.
If a region isn't among those top producers, Florida says, it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant: “The competition has gotten much harder. To make a great place, to make a great city, to make a great region, the game has been upped. We're competing against the world.”
Notably, the world's largest megaregion is Greater Tokyo (55 million people and $2.5 trillion in economic activity). The largest of North America's megaregions is "Bos-Wash," stretching down the East Coast corridor and encompassing the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Home to more than 50 million people, it produces more than $2.2 trillion in economic activity, an output greater than that of the United Kingdom or France and more than double that of India or Canada. The second-largest, "Chi-Pitts," covers more than 100,000 square miles, counts 46 million people and produces $1.6 trillion in economic output. Taken together, U.S. megaregions produce more than three-quarters of the country’s economic output and the bulk of its innovations.
Not lost in all this bustle is Tampa Bay–Metro Orlando. Florida acknowledges vast potential, which he says can be easily noticed via illuminated global mapping — viewing the billions of lights that millions of Floridians switch on every night — and remains evident by virtue of recent collaboration. “They're [Tampa Bay–Metro Orlando leaders] beginning to see themselves as economically interconnected,” he comments.
Those leaders, indeed, are intent on turning their own switch.
On April 28-29, for the third consecutive year, the Tampa Bay Partnership and Central Florida Partnership will gather business and civic leaders to promote regional thinking. In 2009, University of Pennsylvania professor Jonathan Barnett and his team of graduate students at the PennDesign Studio were brought in to serve as consultants for “Connecting for Global Competitiveness: Florida's Super Region,” an 18-month project managed by myregion.org, a group composed of Central Florida public, private and civic leaders. With the help of PennDesign students, Barnett had managed two other studies in Florida and consulted on several international projects in Cambodia and China.
According to myregion.org, the purpose of Connecting for Global Competitiveness was to “demonstrate the potential advantages of coast-to-coast connectivity to develop a Super Regional strategy for transportation and land use, economic and workforce development, environmental sustainability and quality of life issues.” Aside from the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Central Florida Partnership, other project collaborators included the Central Florida Development Council, the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, Progress Energy, the University of Central Florida Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies and Workforce Central Florida.
Last year, the process continued, with Barnett presenting the results of Connecting for Global Competitiveness. The study identified major development opportunities related to transportation and proposes a comprehensive system of local transit, incorporating existing plans and coordinating them with a high-speed rail network. The study also proposed an alternative scenario of 44 percent less land consumed, 1 million acres conserved and $270 billion saved on new roads that would not need to be built, meaning that the region would be “growing up,” not “growing out.”
Additionally, work has been accomplished to integrate One Bay, a regional development program from the Tampa Bay area, with How Shall We Grow?, a similar initiative from the Central Florida region. In doing so, leaders hoped to “identify important commonalities and work toward creating consistent language to be used when discussing super-regional issues.”
Lots of issues — and lots of potential.
As noted in the study, the super-region, stretching across Central Florida, includes world-class airports; international seaports; Lake Nona's medical city in Orlando, comprising a growing cluster of top healthcare, educational, life science and biotech enterprises; a high-tech corridor supporting hundreds of developing high-tech companies; the University of South Florida's Polytechnic Campus in Lakeland; USF’s new Innovation Corridor in Tampa; the University of Central Florida's Institute for Simulation and Training; NASA; numerous top educational, healthcare, life science, aerospace and biotech organizations; world-renown tourist attractions; and burgeoning metropolitan areas.
Progress made? Absolutely. Smooth sailing? Far from it.
Last fall, a proposed sales tax to pay for light rail in Hillsborough County was nixed by residents. The referendum would have instituted a 1 cent sales tax intended for transportation improvements, including the light-rail system. Supporters said the tax and the resulting improvements would bring jobs and revenue to the area; opponents said they didn't think the tax would cover the cost of the project.
That roadblock served as a prelude to disappointment surrounding regional high-speed rail. In 2009, the Obama administration's pledge of $8 billion for high-speed rail brought cheers from rail proponents nationwide. And a subsequent $2.4 billion federal commitment to the state of Florida elicited raucous applause. The dollars nearly matched the projected $2.7 billion to build an 84-mile high-speed line between Orlando International Airport and downtown Tampa.
Essentially, the state's high-speed rail project would be paid for almost entirely by the feds, with Washington agreeing to send Florida all except $280 million of its cost. Moreover, some companies vying to run the trains indicated they would cover the state's share, because they were willing to take an upfront loss in hopes of getting a leg up on operating a second high-speed rail line from Orlando to Miami, as well as other fast trains outside Florida.
The project was designed to be built, for the most part, in the median of Interstate 4, where a 44-foot envelope has been preserved for that purpose for years. Right of way was preserved in the 1990s, and bridges have been built higher and wider to accommodate high-speed trains. Other portions of the project outside of I-4 were designed to primarily follow existing public rights of way. With construction scheduled to commence next year and operations to begin by 2015, trains would have run at least hourly and at speeds of up to 168 mph. Travel time between downtown Tampa and Orlando International Airport, including five stops, was projected to be less than one hour. Forecasts estimated that approximately 2.4 million riders would use the system in its first year of operation, at a rider cost of $15 to $30 for a one-way ticket between OIA and Tampa.
The Florida Department of Transportation was planning to bid out the main part of the project early next year, with private entities submitting bids to complete the design of the system and then to build, operate and maintain it. FDOT’s goal was to secure firm construction bids and have the private sector cover operating costs. And the Orlando-Miami high-speed rail line would have followed.
The project quite possibly could have made the super-region the hub for the first high-speed rail system in the country. Instead, for proponents of rail, there is angst and anger.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, not convinced of the project's ability to pay for itself long term, rejected the federal aid in late February. Project proponents won initial stays of execution and entered the case into the Florida Supreme Court. Among other statistics, they cited that building the Orlando-Tampa high-speed rail line would create roughly 5,750 construction jobs and more than 12,000 spin-off jobs during the four-year construction period. And, at inception, the Orlando-Miami high-speed rail line was projected to create 9,750 jobs.
At press time, however, rail appeared dead. Yet, there was resolve.
In a joint statement released following Gov. Scott's decision, the CEOs of the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Central Florida Partnership reiterated their commitment to developing the long-term potential of Florida's super-region:
“The Tampa Bay Partnership and the Central Florida Partnership seek to create sustainable, productive and inclusive prosperity for our Super Region. This is not a short-term proposition, but one that requires long-term vision, discipline and investment. To accomplish this goal, we have to develop the drivers for regional prosperity, which include innovation, talent, health, education, economic development and infrastructure. The proposed High Speed Rail project would have helped our region and our state enhance each and every one of these drivers materially. …
“The proposed High Speed Rail system would have created a powerful link among all of these high-potential centers across our Super Region, driving their growth and continued success. We, therefore, supported this project as a crucial investment in our future and one well worth making.
“We cannot allow the demise of this project, as unfortunate as it may be, to impede our efforts to develop the potential of our Super Region.”
Richard Florida, too, holds out hope. The visionary urban theorist, with history on his side, has witnessed the regional advancements of Tampa Bay–Orlando and maintains a view of promise.
“The great task of the next 20 years is building the connective fiber and avoiding disconnection,” he concludes. “The key to the future is putting all those assets together and using them well. It's actually very doable.”
Who Is Richard Florida?
Richard Florida is an educator, author and consultant.
As an educator, he is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and professor of business and creativity at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Previously, Florida held professorships at Carnegie Mellon, Harvard and MIT.
He is author of the international best-selling books “The Rise of the Creative Class,” “Who's Your City?” and, most recently, “The Great Reset.” He has written numerous articles for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, The Boston Globe and Financial Times. He's been featured as an expert on MSNBC, CNN, BBC, NPR and CBS, among other media outlets. And he's one of the world's most-sought-after speakers on global trends, economics, prosperity, competitiveness and growth.
In addition, he is founder of the Creative Class Group, a global advisory services firm, charting new trends in business and community.
Orlando's Buddy Dyer takes a lead role in putting Florida's Super Region on the map.
As the dean of Florida’s big-city mayors, having served in office since 2003, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has worked to advance the idea of Orlando’s being the “Next Great American City.”
Among his efforts, Dyer engineered a downtown resurgence anchored by the construction of Amway Center, and he's leading the effort to diversify the economy by nurturing industries like digital media, life sciences and biotechnology, modeling, simulation and training, and aviation and aerospace.
At the same time, Dyer has hung his hat on regionalism. Since his first day in office, he has fostered increased cooperation and partnership with the Tampa Bay area and been a fierce advocate for the expansion of mass transit — right in lockstep with Richard Florida's thinking. Many people, in fact, directly credit Dyer with the Legislature's creation of Florida’s first-ever comprehensive blueprint for a statewide rail network. And, when Gov. Rick Scott first publicly opposed the Orlando-Tampa rail link in mid-February, Dyer was in immediate contact with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Florida’s congressional delegation to find ways to ease Scott’s concerns about the project. Similarly, through his work with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he has become a national voice for America’s cities in advancing the need for a nationwide high-speed rail network.
“You have to work at it [rail], and there are a lot of people who believe in the concept,” he says.
Mostly, he contends not only that collaboration with Tampa Bay is necessary, but also that it makes business sense. He cites frequent communication and “great” working relationships with area mayors. “We have some great synergy already,” he notes.
“There is just a natural fit along the I-4 corridor, combining forces rather than competing against each other.”