Rick Homans, Tampa Bay Partnership
Rick Homans talks Tampa Bay Partnership's mission pivot, regionalism and changing the way we look at workforce development.
On this episode of SPx, Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership joins Joe and Ashley in the studio to talk regionalism. Despite Tampa Bay's standing as the 19th largest metropolitan area in the country, fractured advancement efforts have hurt the region's development and hindered collective productivity and wage growth. The Tampa Bay Partnership is looking to bridge the gap, creating a high level organization to work on the thorniest issues plaguing the region, including workforce pipeline and transportation. Homans talks the storied trajectory of his career - through journalism, politics and economic development - he shares stories of his work with Richard Branson and his thoughts on the state of journalism today.
- Rick Homans is president & CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional organization working toward the success of the entire Tampa Bay metropolitan area.
- Tampa Bay is the 18th largest metropolitan area in the country, "but we often operate like a bunch of medium sized cities or medium sized counties," said Homan.
- Instead of working together, the cities of Tampa Bay have historically competed against one another. "We just have a so much better chance of being successful if we all went in together for one meeting and said, "Here are the three things that we want." And we'd probably walk out with them if we did that."
- Homans' professional career has taken a number of turns to get him where he is today. He started as a journalist - a reported, editor, then owning his own publishing company. Then moved into a political career in New Mexico, running for mayor (and losing), and then being appointed to Secretary of Economic Development.
- The Tampa Bay Partnership is one of only a handful of true regional organizations, including Tampa Bay Tech and Tampa Bay Water. The business community is primarily separated by county and city through Chambers.
- One major issue that the Tampa Bay Partnership is currently focused on is regional transportation. "It's adding another organization that will help to make the county-based ones even stronger., but at the same time by connecting them to each other and creating a regional system."
- Regional competitiveness report: The Tampa Bay Partnership put together a data-driven report to compare the Tampa Bay region to other similar regions.
- Good news: "There's a lot of growth happening here, and we're top ranked, in the top three to five of the cities that we look at nationally, in terms of growth of jobs and population."
- Bad news: "As you look more closely and you look at our average wages, our median household income, our gross regional product per capita, we are at the bottom of the list. We're 19 or 20 out of the 20 communities that we study."
- Educational attainment: Percentage of the population with a bachelor's degree or higher - Tampa Bay - 28% compared to: "The communities that have the highest gross regional product per capita, the highest average wages are coming in in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 percent.
- What that means for the region: "Either they're doing a better job of retaining the ones that they educate and attracting new young people who have education. And that's key to economic growth, is to have that level of education in the market."
- Transportation: "We're 20 out of 20 with our transit supply. If you start to move that, what kind of impact does that have on other indicators in terms of access to jobs and affordability things like that?"
- When Homans took the reigns of the Partnership, he was tasked with turning the organization's focus from economic development to public policy and advocacy.
- Homans looked to regions like Minneapolis/St. Paul, Cleveland and Charlotte to find out what other cities were doing in terms of regional advocacy and where to get started.
- Employer-led Demand Driven Workforce Strategy: A multi-year effort undertaken by the Partnership looking at the demand side of the market to see how supply (degrees and certificates) can better meet the demand.
- The previous Partnership was comprised of both private and public money. When it dissolved and restructured, the Partnership only accepted private money.
- Local news: "And I'm dismayed by what's happening in newsrooms, and especially at the local level, how there is such severe cutbacks on journalists and reporters and editors and the coverage of local news. Because I think that's absolutely essential for an enlightened citizenry."
- As a former journalist, Homans looks through every report as a journalist would, extracting the story and responding to those points up front.
- Homans' shout-out is to Marc Blumenthal, creator of Synapse Innovation Summit.
"One of our greatest weaknesses in Tampa Bay, as I mentioned before, is our division, how we are fractured and how we're so parochial in our thinking and in our actions."
The Tampa Bay Partnership went through a dramatic rebirth in 2016. Previously a public-private regional economic development organization, president and CEO Rick Homans says the Partnership began to recognize its waning influence among thriving economic development organizations throughout the Tampa Bay region. The Partnership voted to dissolve itself and stand up something new – an regional advocacy organization fueled entirely by private money.
Its purpose, Homans described in the St. Pete X podcast, is to tackle the thorniest of thorny issues, those that can only be managed at a regional scale. “We’re the 18th largest [metropolitan area] in the country, but we often operate like a bunch of medium sized cities or medium sized counties. And in many cases, we find ourselves competing with each other, arguing with each other.
“I’ve seen numerous communities from Tampa Bay follow each other into rooms to pitch the officials for something,” Homans said. “Where we just have a so much better chance of being successful if we all went in together for one meeting and said, ‘Here are the three things that we want.’ And we’d probably walk out with them if we did that.”
Some of those major advocacy issues, like transportation, were obvious to the Partnership from the start. Others required a deep dive into regional data. The Partnership commissioned a massive data overhaul in 2017 and published its first Regional Competitiveness Report in November 2017. The report compared the Tampa Bay MSA (Tampa – St. Pete – Clearwater) to 19 other regions, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orlando, Raleigh-Durham, Seattle, Houston, and others.
There was good news – as the 18th largest metropolitan area in the country, Tampa Bay ranked #2 in job growth rate.
But the study also set off major alarm bells in the areas of average wage (Tampa Bay ranked 19 out of 20), median household income (20 out of 20), transportation (20 out of 20) and high school graduation (18 out of 20).
The alarms didn’t stop there.
“The real wakeup call for us was as we looked at the talent indicators and we looked at the level of educational attainment in our population,” said Homans.
“An example would be for the 25 years and older, the percentage of the population that has a bachelor’s degree or higher, I think we’re around 27, 28 percent,” he continued. “Well, the communities that have the highest gross regional product per capita, the highest average wages, are coming in in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 percent.”
This more-than 20 point spread in educational attainment pointed to major concerns for Tampa Bay’s talent pool. Despite the abundance of colleges and universities in the area, the attainment figures for those who call Tampa Bay home are lagging in comparison to similar regions.
Another indicator, bachelor’s degree attainment combined with the target age (millennials 24-34) proved concerning too, as it is a predictive indicator of the economic prosperity and growth of an area. Tampa Bay ranked 19 out of 20 regions, with just 28 percent of 25-34 year olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The top region, Raleigh-Durham, came in at 51.7 percent.
These finding prompted a shift in attention toward talent pipeline (or lack thereof) in Tampa Bay. Despite small-scale efforts to boost talent pipeline, from companies like TechData working with the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg’s Ex-Labs program, as outlined in the Catalyst #AgileEducation series, to see serious changes in indicators throughout the region, the culture of multiple sectors must shift.
The Tampa Bay Partnership is taking on that challenge. It kicked off a research phase to hone in on successful national models, thanks to a two-year $300,000 grant from JPMorgan & Chase.
“We’re actually now embarking on a multi-year effort,” Homans explained, “and we’re focused on what’s called an employer-led demand driven workforce strategy.
“Rather than kind of pushing the supply of labor and degrees forward, looking at it from the other side where you’re understanding what the demand is in the market for specific degrees and education and certificates,” said Homans. “And then you’re … viewing it almost as a supply chain issue.”
This approach is not original. In fact, the Partnership is following a model from the U.S. Chamber called Talent Pipeline Management, and cities around the country have already implemented the strategy.
In June 2018, the Tampa Bay Partnership brought a group of 15 Tampa Bay leaders in business, nonprofit and education to Houston to study what Talent Pipeline Management has looked like in Texas, and how lessons that Houston learned from their UpSkill program can be applied locally.
UpSkill is Houston’s industry-led collaboration that works with local stakeholders to “strategically expand the talent pipeline and attract talent to high-demand careers in the industry sectors considered the drivers of the region’s economy.”
UpSkill has utilized the U.S. Chamber Talent Pipeline Management approach in booming sectors like the healthcare, construction and petrochemical industries, to connect employers with long-term talent pipeline needs with educational institutions. They found serious gaps.
For Houston to remain competitive in some sectors, the region needed more skilled workers with higher educational attainment than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree. In the healthcare sector, Houston was experiencing a shortage of nurses with four-year degrees, while local colleges and universities were churning out nurses with two-year degrees. Lack of communication was hindering forward progress and economic growth, until UpSkill brought the right players around the table.
Tampa Bay is likely facing those same challenges, but they have yet to be identified. Finding the target industries that propel the Tampa Bay economy, or have the potential to, given the right labor pipeline, is the essential first step.
“Being able to have much more clarity from the business side to the community colleges to the public-school system to the four-year universities of exactly what’s needed for our businesses here to prosper,” said Homans, “to be able to hire the right kind of people to grow.”
“We’re in the process now of identifying the first employer collaborative that would represent either a specific industry or a cross industry function,” explained Homans in the SPx podcast recorded in late July.
“You know, like finance or H.R. or technology, and to focus on that first one and get it up and running really well with the aligned supply chain and then be able to replicate it for the next one, the next one, the next one.”
The Tampa Bay Partnership was set to conclude the research phase in October and set a strategy through the end of 2018. Implementation should begin in early 2019.
Once implementation starts, successes will lead to replication in other industries and cross-industry skills. “It will provide very specific results that we’ll be able to track. We’ll have a dashboard. We’ll be able to track the talent pipeline and how it’s performing for this specific industry. And then we’ll be able to replicate that.”
It all comes back to shared, transparent and accessible data, says Homans. “That’s an example of using the data that we learned from this report, convening leadership and moving forward with a specific action plan that will deliver results.”
"I've become, in many respects, I think, a real expert to the degree that I can without a formal education in that workforce development. Those are the skills I learned as a reporter, to ask a lot of questions, to listen, to read and to report out on what I'm learning."
Table of Contents
(0:00 – 0:50) Introduction
(0:50 – 2:30) Regional Expansion and Partnership
(2:30 – 4:10) Rick’s Background
(4:10-23:20) “St. Pete 2.0” & Rick’s Role
(23:20 – 27:45) Economic Development to Advocacy
(27:45 – 41:07) Rick’s Political Life in New Mexico
(41:07 – 43:33) The Importance of Good Journalism
(43:33 – 45:53) Mark Blumenthal
(45:53 –46:37) Conclusion
Joe: In addition to Ashley – joining us on SPX is Rick Homans, the president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
Rick: Thank you very much. Great to be here.
Ashley: It feels like our second episode because we’ve been picking Rick’s brain probably for the last, I would probably say, 30 minutes.
Joe: And vice versa.
Ashley: Yes. It’s been a mutual exchange of picking. And it’s one of the things we called out immediately, you know, SPX, St. Pete X, and a lot of the St. Petersburg group entities have a St. Pete flair. And now we’re talking to the man that is really leading the charge in sort of the regional expansion of data and insight and really the advancement of this area.
Joe: I mean, I do feel like I’m cheating on St. Pete right now, so if the guilt comes through in my voice, it’s real.
Rick: Well, that’s the problem we’ve got. We’re all one big place. We’re all in this together. We’re not competing with each other.
Ashley: We’ve long wanted to have you as a guest. Joe and I both participated in some data collection in service of some of the work that you’re doing and some of the outcome reporting of that. And I think we both said to each other more than once this is the work that we’re doing on a granular level now we’re witnessing some pioneers address it from a regional perspective. So, congratulations to you.
Rick: Well, thanks. Thanks. No, the Partnership, as you say, is working on a regional scale, and we think that’s just so critical because we are a large metropolitan area. We’re the 18th largest in the country, but we often operate like a bunch of medium sized cities or medium sized counties. And in many cases, we find ourselves competing with each other, arguing with each other. And, you know, I’ve been to Washington and Tallahassee and I’ve seen numerous communities from Tampa Bay follow each other into rooms to pitch the officials for something, where we just have a so much better chance of being successful if we all went in together for one meeting and said, “Here are the three things that we want.” And we’d probably walk out with them if we did that.
Ashley: And it’s interesting—and I’ll let you tell the tale. But, you know, coming from early in your life, growing up in Boston, school in Wisconsin but found yourself in New Mexico as your career sort of took bloom. And coming to Tampa Bay with some political experience and also some experience in media, and if you think about the merging of those two practices you’re in the right spot. But talk about the work that you did in New Mexico.
Rick: Well, I’ve grown up in a family and I think my personality is I love to do things that make a difference wherever I am. And there’s kind of a legacy of public service, so my life has always crossed between journalism, starting as a reporter, editor, owning my own publishing company to political. Working on campaigns in Massachusetts and Philadelphia. And then ultimately in New Mexico running for mayor myself of Albuquerque in 2001, losing the race but then working for Bill Richardson, who was running for governor and doing all of his policy work from A-Z. And then becoming his Secretary of Economic Development. And so, I spent about ten years together with Governor Richardson, and that was a real eye opener to work at that level in a policy situation. And it was a great blending of the skills I had learned as a reporter to become an instant expert on a multitude of subjects, and then be able to synthesize the information presented and then act on it. So, I’ve always enjoyed doing that and this job right here is a terrific blend of all of that together.
Ashley: Can I say something that probably has never been said to you. I’m really glad you lost.
Rick: Well, I am a firm believer that you learn a whole lot more through losing than you do through winning.
Ashley: Yes, because now we get the great fortune of having you in our area, and you talk about the ability to extract information and stories through journalism, but ultimately, it’s about interpretation. And Joe and many of the St. Petersburg group’s initiatives, we’re always talking about St. Pete 2.0, and I think that we don’t struggle with a lack of information. I think the next step is interpretation, assimilation and action. And so, I think that we’re sort of speaking the same language in terms of it’s one thing to sort of know what the issue is, but what do you do, and how do you interpret that, and your role in that?
Joe: Yes, it’s about tangible things, right? We’ve talked about potential a long time, we talked about the renaissance a long time. And I think a big part of becoming the next year city is you have to have that collaboration that you’re talking about. I just don’t think we can do it on our own.
Rick: And I think, you know, you guys are involved with the St. Petersburg Group and the partnership is very much a similar kind of convergence of CEO type individuals on the regional scale. And one of the really interesting things about working with CEOs is they demand results. They are impatient. There’s an urgency, and you can’t tap dance, you can’t talk sort of rhetorically or conceptually for too long. You’ve got to have an action plan and you have to deliver results. And I’m very much that way too, so I thrive in that environment. So that’s really the culture of the partnership, is to be action oriented and results oriented.
Joe: So, with all the acumen at the table on both sides of the bay, why is it—you know, businesspeople clearly understand the power of working together. That’s why mergers and acquisitions happen. Economies of scale. All of that. What do you see as the major impediment to not transferring that knowledge from what works in business and how I do a lot of things to – we can’t do that as a region together.
Rick: Well, it’s interesting in the business community, as well. I think one of our greatest weaknesses in Tampa Bay, as I mentioned before, is our division, how we are fractured and how we’re so parochial in our thinking and in our actions. And we really don’t have very many regional structures at all that cover the metropolitan area. The Partnership is one of probably three or four. There’s Tampa Bay Tech, the technology group. There’s the Tampa Bay Water that was created about 20 years ago now to deal with regional water issues. But beyond that there’s not a whole lot. And actually, you get into the business community and our primary business organizations are defined by their geographic boundaries, too. There’s the St. Pete Chamber. There’s a Pinellas County. There’s Hillsborough County. The Tampa Chamber. And while they try to work together on some levels, there’s not a great sort of assimilation. Or, each community has its own business leadership, and so part of what we’re trying to do is to create another level that can pick up on the most thorny kind of challenges facing Tampa Bay. And a small group of highly influential people try to tackle those.
Joe: So clear. Ashley’s waiting to say something..
Rick: Shut it down.
Joe: But I think there’s an important perspective there, right? Because we put out a lot of language about collaboration, but perhaps – it has to be bottom up, but at the same time I think you can have companion organizations that sort of work to do that without having to break down the structure of the local organizations. They would be companion organizations with a different mission.
Ashley: I also think that in addition to—when you talk about business acumen. I think the two other issues at play is that even though the different entities have their own identified issues and there may be some similarities I think that—you’ve talked about how media can play a role in overall buy-in. if we all agree that not smoking is a significant issue that we all play a role in, then how it’s integrated into school curriculums, how it’s integrated into PSAs and overlaying nonprofit missions across the region. I think that it’s that proliferation to get that optimal buy-in, I think we’ve lacked. And irrespective of sort of checking a box and agreeing on some major areas where we should be advocating for change. And I think another one is we’ve long struggled to articulate with many of our guests when we talk about an issue that we want to solve for, and the brilliance, and the regional approach and that collaboration is the business acumen to walk entities through what that looks like and what that means for their bottom line. And I’ll use that nonprofit community as an example. If we know that there’s a redundancy of services and sort of mapping that crosses over that could best benefit from maybe a merger, maybe, a collaboration, consolidation, you name it, maybe there’s territorialism involved, but there’s also a lack of business prowess to understand how to do it. And that may actually parlay into some talent concerns, ultimately, for the region. But I think that there’s a paralytic effect to the lack of true business acumen that we may be struggling with.
Rick: Going back to our conversation before we came on the podcast about as you set up these new sort of structures, you don’t want to diminish what anybody is doing. Our efforts in transportation and regional transit is a great example of—the strategy there is to create a new organization that is doing something that’s not happening today, which is regional transit. So, HART in Hillsborough County is not doing that. PSTA in Pinellas County is not doing that. There needs to be an organization, so part of its function is to bring the other players around the table and create an environment of collaboration so that as the regional system is put into place the county-based systems are aligning their routes, their equipment, their investments that they’re making into a larger structure. So, it’s not taking away from anybody but it’s adding another organization that will help to make the county-based ones even stronger., but at the same time by connecting them to each other and creating a regional system. So, it’s not trying to impose something. It’s trying to reinforce and to build and make it stronger, but to have the players sitting around a regional table together.
Joe: So, I think a lot of that is subject dependent, as well, because when you use Ashley’s example of smoking prevention, I think that that doesn’t directly—I mean, it obviously impacts many things, but it doesn’t directly impact a Chamber. And so, I think to get people aligned on that is a tough slog, and I think it’s a slog that people have failed at because you’re trying to bolt on meaning. It’s common sense meaning, but it doesn’t align with the infrastructure that they’ve built within their organizations. Transportation more closely aligns and impacts more directly everybody. And so, it can be more readily absorbed, and so I think a lot of that is subject matter. And I think, again going back to that key perspective, of overlaying organizations versus the ground up approach. I think you’re really setting yourself up for that tough journey if you try to impose these things that are logical and true but not baked into the sort of ecosystems that people have created over time.
Rick: Yeah. And there’s a lot of power that comes from the ground up, from the grassroots and from those organizations that are already in place. And I find ourselves being extremely sensitive to that as we begin a regional conversation to be very aware, sensitive to and acknowledging of and supportive of all the work that’s already been done on a county scale.
Ashley: Well, similar to the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete. we had Randy Russell on here and they have a model that a lot of community assessment, essentially, where you bring people in to essentially capitalize on the groundswell of information. And they even compensate individuals and entities that come and lend their expertise and their insights to better inform ultimate decisions. And you took a similar approach, or your organization did. Spent a lot of time hosting roundtables, and the conversations morphed from key areas of what are your pain points, what are the goals for your mission and organization. How do you measure outcomes? Because in my specific session there was a conversation about talent, education, graduation rates, and we were all measuring success very differently. So if you look at what it takes to graduate high school or what it takes to actually even graduate VPK and move into school age programming, it varies, and so we may not be boasting ourselves to the degree that we could, presumably, if we have a different way of assessing performance based, you know, in comparison to the other 19 regions.
Rick: You’re talking about the regional competitiveness report that we introduced last year. And we’re in the process of putting that together again for this year and actually taking it more online, so it will be much more accessible to people, customizable and kind of consumable. So that’s very exciting to do. But the goal there is to create something, a platform, so that we can – of data and indicators, each of which has a very human side to it – so we want to get into that as well. But where we can come to some agreement as to what’s important to us and what do we measure as we go forward. And if we’re developing strategies around how we plan our community, the health of our community, the vibrancy of our community, what are the indicators that we want to measure and what are the outputs that we’re going to look to affect.
Ashley: Give us a teaser. What are some of the areas or issues that are covered in this competitiveness report?
Rick: I think sort of the headlines that came out of last year was a couple things. One, which is what we know, that there’s a lot of growth happening here, and we’re top ranked, in the top three to five of the cities that we look at nationally, in terms of growth of jobs and population. Things like that. But as you look more closely and you look at our average wages, our median household income, our gross regional product per capita, we are at the bottom of the list. We’re 19 or 20 out of the 20 communities that we study. The real wakeup call for us was as we looked at the talent indicators and we looked at the level of educational attainment in our population. An example would be for the 25 years and older, the percentage of the population that has a bachelor’s degree or higher, I think we’re around 27, 28 percent. Well, the communities that have the highest gross regional product per capita, the highest average wages are coming in in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 percent. So much more of an educated population that’s there. Either they’re doing a better job of retaining the ones that they educate and attracting new young people who have education. And that’s key to economic growth, is to have that level of education in the market.
Ashley: And you may have opened a can of worms because, evident in our roundtable that shared these outcomes, you look at education attainment been an issue, you could probably assume that there are multiple variables or factors contributing to the low attainment rate, right. Whether it’s transportation to schools or the structure of the family unit and what’s happening there to food insecurity. So now you may have gotten yourself into a hole.
Rick: And that’s a good can of worms to open up, because we have to see the connections between these issues and some of the really fascinating work that’s taking place. One of the partnerships we developed through this work was with USF with Dean Moez Limayem at the College of Business and they have a center for creative analytics and data there. So, we’re partnering with them, but what they’re bringing to the table in addition to sort of real time data is they’re able to enter in for all these 20 communities that we compare ourselves to, all of the data going back 10, 20 years for all the communities. And what they’re looking for are correlations between these indicators. So, what are the ones that have the highest leverage? If you move the graduation rates coming out of high school, does that affect three other indicators in there? If you move the average wages, does that affect the affordability index? Or transit. You mentioned transit. We’re 20 out of 20 with our transit supply. If you start to move that, what kind of impact does that have on other indicators in terms of access to jobs and affordability things like that?
Ashley: That’s brilliant. Congratulations on that partnership, because, to my earlier point, it’s largely been identified that that’s something that’s missing. We’re past being able to identify those different levers. You can all agree that there’s an issue, but understanding the indicators and what’s accessible, what’s doable, what’s tangible. To Joe’s point, what’s actionable and then to your earlier point being able to share that and to provide narrative to support it.
Joe: And I think it’s also huge that it’s on the platform like it is because it gives people the incentive that they can find their own incentive to go and use the data to serve themselves. But in the process of doing that they’re absorbing these different perspectives and these different aspects. And that lets them, without being told, but discover for themselves through this, again, self-incentivized processes getting value for their own needs. They’re also learning about the connections, and that’s the way you can start to get people to absorb that into their operations and their foundations.
Rick: Yeah. When I was brought in to lead the partnership I was basically given the keys to the car and said we want to shift from an economic development marketing organization to public policy and advocacy. You figure it out. And so, I immediately kind of figuratively hit the road and start looking at other models in places like Minneapolis and Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Columbus and Charlotte and saw that one thing common to all these places is they did a really good job of benchmarking their community’s performance against others. And they were data driven and fact based and research based in what they did. So, I brought this concept. Not an original concept but deriving from success in other markets to the table. The first conversation around the table was, well, that sounds like a good thing to do but we’re not going to release that publicly, are we? Because that was the mindset. It was very sort of “Ooh, there might be some bad news in there,” and we’re accustomed to just trumpeting out the good news. And so, we’ve got to be careful. And my answer back was that’s key to this being successful, is owning it releasing it, and I said if a company is looking at this market they have access to all this data. If they’ve got any smarts at all. And so, they know it coming to the table. They’re going to be far more impressed if we know it and we’re doing something about it than if we kind of shine it on and pretend that we don’t have an issue with it.
Joe: And that’s been a big pivot, because I will tell you most of the assessment types of gatherings I go to now actually push how bad we’re doing this, as much as how good we’re doing it. That has really changed that mindset to “Hey let’s take this as a challenge and let’s do better.” That was an important shift.
Rick: Well, I mean, we all know that on a personal level. You know, self-awareness. You gotta recognize what areas where you need improvement and then work on them in a methodical kind of calculated way.
Ashley: I admit to no wrongdoing. One of the things I wanted to mention, when we were listening to some of these outcomes, there was somebody in the room that talked about not only being able to identify the different levers that would influence change but been able to quantify financially. If we invest, let’s say, X number of dollars in something quantifying what we stand to lose or quantifying what we drive into our community, and I think that that’s another layer that might be missing. I think that really get in, get us where it hurts and understanding what not doing something has to our property values, to our children’s opportunities and quantify that in dollars could be pretty powerful at one point.
: Absolutely. Last year when we introduced this report with Dean Limayem at USF, they were able to unveil kind of their initial modeling and correlation work that they did. So they were able to then put up a chart with looking where we are today and looking five years in the future, and they say based on what we saw here from graduation rates, for example, if we move this by one percent or two percent, watch what happens to the circles on this chart in terms of other indicators in Tampa Bay. And they put it, they started the cycle, and the arrow went straight up and everybody started cheering in the room because they saw a path forward based on the data that was in front of them.
Ashley: Personally, in our non-profit we’ve looked at Harvard studies that measure outcomes for education specifically, and Harvard did a study. Every dollar that’s invested in early learning—I’m just giving an example—yields about 6:9 in return to the community through jobs, through crime reduction, through health care costs because you can make correlations between an educated individual and maybe some different decisions they make with regards to nutrition or drugs or what have you. And so, I think that that might be a layer of the rhetoric that may be largely missing when we talk about the contextualizing of some of these peer static numbers that we have.
Rick: And these kind of conversations, as you said, Joe, before, this is part of the pivot. These are great conversations to have where we’re making these connections between these things. But we’ve got to have a platform of good data to work from. Otherwise we’re just throwing around conjecture and opinions and anecdotes, and it’s got to be based in some hard data. And that’s what we’re trying to do here, is create that platform for the community to use. But then we’re taking this, and, you know, I said the alarm bells that went off with talent. So we’re actually now embarking on a multi-year effort and we’re focused on what’s called an employer led demand driven workforce strategy where, rather than kind of pushing the supply of labor and degrees forward, looking at it from the other side where you’re understanding what the demand is in the market for specific degrees and education and certificates. And then you’re pulling that out of—viewing it almost as a supply chain issue. So being able to have much more clarity from the business side to the community colleges to the public-school system to the four-year universities of exactly what’s needed for our businesses here to prosper, to be able to hire the right kind of people to grow. And the supply chain, as we refer to it, appreciates that very much because they get a whole lot more clear direction that they haven’t had to date. So, there’s a model out there that we’re following from the U.S. Chamber called Talent Pipeline Management. Again, we’re not original. It’s been done in dozens of other communities before but never here. And we’re in the process now of identifying the first employer collaborative that would represent either a specific industry or a cross industry function. You know, like finance or H.R. or technology, and to focus on that first one and get it up and running really well with the aligned supply chain and then be able to replicate it for the next one, the next one, the next one. But that’s changing the culture. It will provide very specific results. We’ll be able to track. We’ll have a dashboard. We’ll be able to track the talent pipeline and how it’s performing for this specific industry. And then we’ll be able to replicate that. But that’s an example of using the data that we learned from this report, convening leadership and moving forward with a specific action plan that will deliver results. And I think we want to walk the walk from the partnership level and that’s the same thing other groups can deal in their own different areas.
Joe: I was curious. Just backing up, I’ve heard about the move away from economic development originally before you joined, but I never got this sort of logic behind it was such a big change for the partnership, to move away from economic development to advocacy. Do you know why that happened?
Rick: I think at one level, 20 years ago, 25 years ago when the partnership was originally stood up, the leaders envisioned a true regional economic development organization that would market Tampa Bay as one, and primarily Hillsborough, Pinellas County. Fast forward and Hillsborough has its own very professional EDC with—the president of it now is the existing chairman of the International Economic Development Association. So, a very qualified guy, Craig Richard. In Manatee, there’s Sharon Hillstrom with the Bradenton area. In Polk County, there’s Sean Malott. Bill Cronin is up in Pasco. There’s really seasoned pros in each one of the seats. Mike Meidel here in Pinellas running and JP is running the St. Pete EDC. So, you’ve got a very seasoned group of professionals running these organizations, and they are accustomed to kind of doing it their own way and they’ve created good collegial partnerships between themselves. So, there’s not really the need any more at that level for one organization to do everything. And I think at some point it would be beneficial for these EDCs to develop some sort of slightly more formal structure to represent and market Tampa Bay as a metropolitan area versus being perceived as competitors with each other. But they need to do that themselves. It’s not up to the Partnership to step in and say, “Hey come around the table.” So, what was really missing was on these issues like transportation, on workforce development, on the role that the partnership played 20 years ago with the water issue, is the ability to kind of assert ourselves as a region and tackle some of these tough issues that can only be dealt with on a regional scale. And there was no organization that was doing that. They were doing it in the counties and in the cities, but nothing overarching. So, again, modeling after what they saw happening in other markets, particularly Minneapolis, there was as a group called The Itasca Project up there, which was a group of about 10 CEOs of the companies that were headquartered there. And they were able to leverage their collective influence to move the needle on some big, big issues. And I think the leadership sitting around the table said we could do the same thing here if we organize ourselves differently. I would just say at the time one of the big things was the Partnership had a mixture of public and private money in it. So, it actually had elected officials sitting at the table and the biggest change that we made in June of 2016 when we dissolved the old organization, we stood up a new one, was we only accepted private money into the partnership. We don’t allow a public dollar to come in.
Ashley: That was a question I was about to ask you. The private sector, how much do you think we over inflate our role in systemic change? Because if you talk about policy influence and, you know, in the roundtable someone said what’s not on the list is who is in office, and who we have elected and just how much we’re not seen in terms of the public sector and how much of a role that plays, ultimately, in this change.
Rick: Yeah. I mean, the elected officials play a huge role, and we actually have not been – in Tampa Bay – very active at all as a business community, for one, in affecting those races and identifying you who would be a good leader to have in these key positions. And then coalescing around that individual to move them in or to move somebody out who is holding us back from the kind of progress that we need. So other communities have a lot better developed kind of experience with that. Tampa Bay is very immature, I think, in that way. And I think that’s one of the things that we have to move forward with very cautiously, slowly because there’s a lot of landmines as one gets into the political environment, because there’s corporate agendas, and there’s community agendas and sometimes they intersect, and sometimes they conflict and one has to kind of navigate through all that. So, it’s a tough thing to do, but I think we are having those conversations within the partnership and they’re intriguing, interesting conversations to have.
Ashley: And taking back to your political life in New Mexico when you were a campaign manager for Richardson and then you moved into the EDC, leadership of the EDC there. You had a pretty big gig that led to an interesting meeting with a very influential person that we all may know. I’d love for you to share that story.
Rick: I was the secretary of economic development for Richardson. Part of our strategy was to get in on the ground floor of brand new industries, and one of the obvious ones for New Mexico was commercial spaceflight. And the emergence of what we are now seeing is the reusable launch vehicle industry, the idea of a booster rocket going up and instead of falling into the sea and being discarded, actually flying back and landing and being used again. And there was suddenly an explosion of new technologies related to reusable launch vehicles. And so, when we took off as a group of old NASA pioneers, because we had the backup landing strip for the space shuttle in New Mexico and a NASA facility, they came to me and they said if this industry starts to go there are plans already developed for an inland spaceport, and it’s perfect because it’s restricted air space. It’s at a high level so you’re not burning as much fuel to get into space and it’s in a remote location. So, it’s ideal spot.
Joe: And it’s already well trafficked with alien visitors, anyway, right?
Rick: Well, that was one of the jokes. We’re doing this to give those guys a route back home, you know? So anyways there was the X Prize Cup and Richard Branson and Burt Rutan and the white knight in spaceship. And so, it launched our interest in building a spaceport. And I flew over to London and hung out in the waiting room of Virgin Companies there and got into see Will Whitehorn, the president of the Virgin Companies and Virgin Galactic and recruited him and Richard Branson and his boss to come to New Mexico and locate their very simple handshake deal between us all that if we build a spaceport they’ll locate their world headquarters and primary operating base at that spaceport. And that evolved over the next 24 months into about an 800-page legal document trying to define a facility that didn’t exist and a business model that didn’t exist, with legal obligations going both ways. Launched the spaceport and it’s now fully operational and waiting for Branson and his team to go through their final stages of testing, and we hope to begin commercial launches in 2019 from the spaceport.
Ashley: And this might be a segue to get into how you think, but you had an interesting insight that you picked up from Richard Branson that maybe have influenced you as well, just about his characteristics and his uncanny leadership qualities.
Rick: Just one thing working with their organization, it’s one of the most creative and driven organizations, and getting to know the people involved there. Just this combustible kind of combination of creative energy and innovation along with just a hard core driven work ethic. And very disciplined. Project managers. Everything’s got to go just right. But then in the middle of all that just explosions of ideas and creativity, and that, to me, came directly from Richard.
Ashley: Who you ironically describe is really laid back, right?
Rick: Well, I got to spend some time with him on Necker, his little island, with his home that’s burnt down a couple of times.
Ashley: Poor Rick.
Rick: Well, I had to fly him back for his big announcement in New Mexico on the state plane, and the only way we could do that is if a state employee went on the plane, so I had to go back with him and spend a night there with him. But I got to observe him at work, which was in his flip flops and his bathing suit and his T-shirt, sitting back in a little chaise in his “office” with open windows all around, with his assistant sitting in a little rickety table there, and her reading to him the emails that came in and him saying, “Well, tell them this, tell them that, tell them this. And just a very loose, kind of a laid-back style that he has. He’s dyslexic, so his absorption of information has to be very high level. It’s got to capture his imagination, his interest, right away. It’s got to be concise but it’s got to show where it’s going. And I learned a lot just through glimpses of that in the most effective kind of communication that one can have with a person that has a limited bandwidth for whether they’re a high-level CEO and they’ve got 100 things going on at once or whether they have dyslexia. It’s the same kind of principles of communication.
Ashley: Any tips?
Rick: Keep it succinct and go one by one and always ask specifically for an answer – is the way I position things when I’m dealing with my executives and like for people to deal with me.
Ashley: Avoid the abstract and sort of a long narrative. Cut to the chase and then specifically ask for feedback.
Rick: Yup. Joe, have we kept your interest?
Joe: You have. I knew we were going to have to segue and we weren’t getting out of here until Ashley talked about Richard Branson, so she jumped in and got that.
Ashley: That was actually a nice segue.
Joe: Was it? I think it was pretty forced.
Rick: Well, one of our great experiences was when he came out to see this location for Spaceport America, and I flew from Santa Fe in a helicopter with him, and one of his top guys Alex Tai and Will Whitehorn. So, the four of us were in a helicopter together with our little headsets on and our speakers. And we hadn’t named the facility yet. And I realized I’m sitting here with probably the best branding expert in the world. And what an opportunity to go through an exercise to name the spaceport.
Joe: He’s just going to tell you Virgin Space Center, that’s the problem.
Rick: No, so I introduced the idea, we started throwing out names and I’ll give credit to Richard. Spaceport America came out, and it was simple, straightforward and it just made sense, and we all looked at each other and we said, “That’s it.”
Joe: Those are the best ideas when it happens like that. So, my segue is you’ve had the unique position of being a long time in the journalism space building newspapers and then transitioning into the political space. You’ve seen both sides of it, so with all the rhetoric flying back and forth what is your sort of take on news and politics and the interplay between the two? More specifically, I’d love to hear what your experience was on the political side, having to deal with journalists, having been one previously.
Rick: It’s not a question you gave me in advance to think about. I will tell you that I love news. I love newspapers. I walk out every morning at 5:45 to pick up my Tampa Bay Times from the driveway. I’m very traditional in that way and I love to spend a good half hour reading through the paper. And I’m dismayed by what’s happening in newsrooms, and especially at the local level, how there is such severe cutbacks on journalists and reporters and editors and the coverage of local news. Because I think that’s absolutely essential for an enlightened citizenry. And I think the news media plays a critical function there that’s key to our democracy. So that’s a high-level thought, but I think we’re seeing it play out in some somewhat destructive ways now by the disintegration of that industry at the local level. And seeing the ability for organizations, individuals to generate their own news, and whether one calls it fake news, or fabricated news or user generated, there’s all these different channels and people can kind of pick what they want to hear and go with that. So, I think there’s a really important discussion taking place about where we go with that. And I think that goes back to the importance of hard data and facts and figures and good research that has to be part of the equation going forward. From a political standpoint, I mean, I ran for mayor. I loved it. I have to confess. I came in fifth out of seven in the race.
Joe: Crushed two people, though.
Rick: I didn’t crush them. I squeaked out at a fifth-place finish. And there were some huge issues around my race in particular, which had to do with campaign financing and me having to challenge some. It’s a whole nother story but going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and getting tagged with a particular story that was really a side story compared to the campaign, and also with 9/11 that happened just a month before the election. Those were two of the contributing reasons why I didn’t do a little bit better in the race. But, no, I’ve always taken a kind of a big picture towards the media, towards reporters, to coverage, and my approach has always to be very open, transparent, responsive. Never hide from a reporter’s call. If I can’t answer something, just to say it, but I always err towards openness and transparency and responsiveness. And I will say that coming here to Tampa Bay I found amongst many of the leaders a real defensiveness when it came to the media, and I found it very harmful to opening up a more constructive dialogue. And I’ve tried to do that differently.
Joe: Being open is great, but you are giving up the power of your narrative, though, if you’re not careful, right? Just putting that raw data out there. And I think that’s what people get burned by. If you have people who need or feel like they need a certain level of gravitas, good or bad, or just intensity in and what they write, that they’ll tend to inflate things or whatever, and I think the loss of control is what….
Rick: Well, part of that is before you release something you think about it from the perspective of a reporter. When I’m putting something out in the public domain, I always read through it several times pretending I’m a reporter looking for what am I going to write about and making sure that I’m extracting those points and I’m responding to them upfront rather than waiting for somebody to ask me about them.
Ashley: I feel like I can understand some of the hesitation with regard to media, and I think that—you know, you spoke about the different channels and the leaning into fake news, or a lack of trust of sources and legitimacy, and I think that—somebody recently said that it used to be—and this is probably before that took place—that sort of innocent until proven guilty. Now we sort of live in a culture where it’s presumably everyone is guilty until proven innocent. There’s a different nature to our responsiveness and what we give the benefit of the doubt to, and I feel like it probably is a bit thornier of a climate now, in general.
Rick: Yeah. No, I would agree with that. Very much so.
Ashley: And I’m curious. Do you talk about how your news powers may have worked against you during your political campaign? Did that motivate you to sell your publication, or were there other motivations at play to sort of get you out of that business?
Rick: No. And I don’t think it worked against me. I think actually it helped, but there were some big issues that came up and I was able to kind of see I had never been before the subject of so many headlines. So that was an interesting experience to go through that I actually relished and found fascinating and learn from as I did it. But, no, before I got into the race I had divested of the—sold off the business newspaper and sold off other parts of my publishing company so that I could focus on running for mayor. And so that was a clear decision there.
Ashley: Do you miss it?
Rick: No. I love what I’m doing. I really do. I do miss the reporting part. I would say I’d go back to my roots.
Joe: Yeah, I know a place and it’s some good reporting.
Ashley: You can turn the tables on us if you want. [laughs] Ask us the questions.
Rick: But I found the process of reporting, of asking questions and listening, I found that very helpful, not only when I was a publisher selling advertising, because that’s what sales is all about, is asking good questions, and listening and providing a solution. But also, in the work I do now, as we get into the regional transit issue in transportation, I’ve become, in many respects, I think, a real expert to the degree that I can without a formal education in that workforce development. Those are the skills I learned as a reporter, to ask a lot of questions, to listen, to read and to report out on what I’m learning.
Ashley: It’s so interesting, now that you say that, I’m thinking about us connecting prior to going on the air, and you conversing with Joe, and you asked a lot of questions. And I really interpreted that as evident of a specific type of leadership. Really invested. Really connected. And that’s also evidence of your just innate curiosity, but I wonder if that enhances your leadership.
Rick: Well, I’m not going to – you know – reflect on whether I’m a good or bad leader, but I will tell you that—
Joe: That’s his mayor candidate answer right there.
Ashley: Well, if you think about it, I mean, to talk about the act of empathy.
Rick: I think it’s critical to good leadership, is to have empathy and to be able to ask and listen. And so, in that note, I’ll let you finish your sentence.
Ashley: Oh, no. I think that it’s—I’ve observed similar meetings and the dynamic sometimes is a little bit more mutual, or sort of maybe there’s less contribution on behalf of the individual at play. Honestly, I think, to me, it immediately created an affinity for you. And so, I wonder if that’s worked really well for you as you’ve navigated different circles in different climates. Just your innate curiosity, because people like to talk about themselves.
Rick: They do, and they’ll often share very personal things, and deep things and share great lessons with you.
Ashley: Yeah. And think about what other leaders may lose in not having that approach. Trust, information, opportunity.
Ashley: You don’t like the fact that I went there?
Joe: No, I love it. Moving on.
Joe: We had Mike Pastreich on, who was the CEO of the Florida Orchestra. Just stepped down, but before that Hank Hine was on, and one of the things that jumped out at me was there’s sort of a what I would call critical mass. You have to have to make what they do work. And for the dollar you have to have a secure, beautiful museum to be the Dali museum. And for the orchestra you need to have 80 or 100 or whatever it is people who have practice and who are playing together. And anything below that, the value can kind of fall off the cliff. People aren’t going to go to look at one painting. You just can’t get the same thing out of it. But at the same time, they aren’t self-supporting mechanisms. None of those can exist without philanthropy. And I wonder if journalism might follow the similar track, because I think that one of the key factors of journalism—people always think about the reporter and the story, but that’s very granular and floaty, and what makes journalism a true check and balance to power, there’s a critical mass you have to have in the infrastructure behind that, the ability to go places, the ability to develop sources, the fact checking, the lawyers, the researchers, and all of that. And what we’re finding now is A – the institutions that did that are suffering. You see all the papers that are closing and losing that critical mass. And even the New York Times is starting to shrink its office space and they’re suffering financially because Facebook and Google are taking all their advertising money. And then what’s emerging from that is the supported model, which is Bezos coming in and being the funding source for The Washington Post. And now I wonder if at some point people are going to have to step up and support that critical mass in journalism the same way they do other nonprofits.
Rick: Well, we see that right here in Tampa Bay with the Tampa Bay Times. You’ve got the Poynter Institute, which is the owner of the Tampa Bay Times. We saw this past year twelve million-dollar investors in the organization. I can guarantee you they did not invest for a huge financial return, but they, from what I’ve heard, invested primarily because they believe very strongly that a good, quality, robust newspaper is important for a healthy community. So that’s what they were investing in the model that you’re you know suggesting. So, I think there have got to be some new models that develop there, but at the root of it we’ve got to keep the granular investigative detailed quality of what journalism has always been. If we lose that, which is what requires the resources to do, then I think we’ve lost something very precious.
Joe: So, we end every show with a shout out. This is some attention we give to some people who have done good work for a person, or a group of people have done good work and don’t get all the attention they deserve, or you just want to give them some more. Usually have some rules on this. So I’m going to say – can’t be anybody in Tampa. Has to be somebody in St. Pete.
Rick: You didn’t tell me that at first.
Joe: I’m just kidding. We love Tampa, and you’ve turned us all around. We’re ready. We’re ready to collaborate.
Rick: Well, you know, the person that came to mind as you were saying that was Mark Blumenthal, who you know drove this event called Synapse which is much more than an event. It’s actually a whole development of regional infrastructure around entrepreneurship and innovation and connecting people, and I’ve just been so impressed with his energy and his ability to kind of create something massive out of thin air. Not thin air at all. He brought all the pieces together and created that critical mass and really practiced collaboration and collegiality, and the first event was a huge success. And I know they’re building a web infrastructure to accompany it. And now they’re looking at doing it again later this year. So, I’m very proud of him and the work that he and his team did.
Ashley: He’s coming in, isn’t he?
Joe: He is. It’s a nice segue to show our collaboration and appreciation for Tampa. He’s actually scheduled to be a guest on the show in about two weeks.
Rick: Yeah. And he’s so far beyond Tampa. He’s truly the super region. And he’s a big thinker, and he’s an example of the—you have to look at entrepreneurship and innovation on a regional scale because that’s when you capture all the incredible assets that we have, and venture capitalists that we have and funding streams that we have. If you take something like that and you just work in the silo of one city, you’re constrained by the limits of the geographic boundary and you’re missing a lot of opportunities throughout the region that want to participate and want to access. And I think that’s what Mark is doing, is he’s opening up those channels so that we can all work together.
Ashley: How beautiful would it be if Mark named Rick? As his shout out.
Rick: He won’t.
Ashley: We’ve never have like a perfect alignment. Like stars crossing.
Joe: I’m just gonna say Rick’s name six or seven times. Kind of like hypnosis. Seed the idea in his head.
Rick: It would help if you wrote it and just put it right on the table.
Ashley: Can you all give me a word that rhymes with Romans? I’m trying to think….
Joe and Rick: [laugh]
Rick: Now you’re using my line.
Ashley: Well, you were an amazing guest. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Rick: It was a pleasure to be here. i really enjoyed it.
Ashley: Thank you.
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About the host
Joe Hamilton is the CEO of Big Sea, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Joe brings a strong acumen for strategy and positioning businesses. He serves on several local boards, including TEDx Tampa Bay, which grew his desire to build a platform where the area’s thought leaders could share their valuable insight with the community at large.
Ashley Ryneska is the Vice President of Marketing for the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Ashley believes meaningful conversations can serve as the gateway to resolution, freedom, and advancement for our city. Her passion for storytelling has been internationally recognized with multiple media accolades.