Some finding economic shift creates career options
PALM HARBOR - Patrons of Sweet Caroline's Bakery might be surprised to learn that the co-owner selling them a rum-almond croissant is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Marine infantry officer who served three tours in Iraq. Rich Cannici, who in November opened the shop named for his wife, is somewhat surprised himself to be there. The 30-year-old New Jersey native became a civilian 21/2 years ago to remain in Tampa with his new bride and launch a career in high-tech sales. That job fizzled when businesses stopped investing in pricey software improvements. Cannici again joined thousands of workers making new career plans, figuring that skilled trades, from doctors to accountants to pastry chefs, would become solid occupations in the future. Cannici's appraisal, which led him to Sweet Caroline's, is matched by Florida labor analysts and academicians who study what jobs are hot - and not. The gainers in the Tampa Bay area: professional and business service jobs, which are expected to grow 4.5 percent a year to 2013, followed by manufacturing, health, education and entrepreneurship, found business researchers at the University of Central Florida.The losers: Construction, housing-related jobs such as mortgage brokers, and government work. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area is expected to show moderate to high economic growth, with personal income growth expected to average 4.6 percent a year through 2013, a December report by the UCF College of Business Administration shows. Job growth statewide will not return to the construction sector until the second quarter of 2011, and it will be two decades before construction employment reaches pre-recession peaks from 2006, the UCF report said. Despite the difficulty business people have today in obtaining financing, positions are being created in emerging job sectors, said Sean Snaith, director of UCF's Institute for Economic Competitiveness. "I think what happens when you go through recessions as long and deep as this one, that people who might have lost a job and haven't had much success finding one find themselves nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit latent in themselves," Snaith said. Long-term occupational trends can be difficult to predict. Nonetheless, economic development specialists in Tampa Bay have notions about new jobs that are likely to evolve. Chris Steinocher, the senior business development official for the Tampa Bay Partnership, a seven-county economic development organization, said investments in research, development and engineering from nonprofit groups such as SRI International and Draper Laboratory are beginning to materialize locally. "It's not to say all our successes will be in the sciences," Steinocher said. "We have a tremendous amount of depth of talent and resources in the services. Tampa Bay is well-positioned to become the destination where the world comes to translate information to intelligence. "Consider the folks like Nielsen Media or Catalina Marketing that crunch a ton of data that becomes more valuable. Add in shared services operations in our area - Coca Cola Bottling, Lockheed-Martin, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Citi and many others, as well as large employers processing financial transactions for the world like DTCC (Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.) and JPMorgan. "As intelligence becomes the competitive advantage in the new economy," Steinocher said, "our current strengths and existing industries seem well-positioned for continued growth." Transportation may also create jobs and a climate for more positions, Steinocher said. The widening of the Panama Canal by 2014 could enhance trade through the Port of Tampa and create transportation-related jobs in multiple fields, from trucking to warehouse operations. The high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando, planned for late 2014, will enhance the area's image. Steinocher and others say the Tampa-Orlando area will be considered a "super region." "Sure, there will be a great deal of jobs created in construction, design, information technology and manufacturing for the new infrastructure," Steinocher said. "What we all need to begin to do is identify the opportunities once these new transportation systems are in place. It's a new paradigm which I'm sure we have much to learn." Keith Norden, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., said some sectors for which Tampa's economy is known - financial and accounting services, information technology and software development - will continue to strengthen the local economy. "We fully expect our life sciences sector to do very well as it continues maturing and as we begin to home in on and become better known globally for specific areas of specialization, for example cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer research," Norden said, citing the University of South Florida. "We also expect to see and are already experiencing an increase in inquiries from firms that deal with homeland security, complex encryption services, alternative energy and energy-related businesses. "People with IT, language skills and security clearances are in demand in these fields," he said. MacDill Air Force Base and those who have recently left the military "provide us with an excellent competitive edge." The area should continue to be a fertile ground for entrepreneurs, the economic development officials agree, with groups such as the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, Creative Tampa Bay, the Florida Venture Forum, USF's Small Business Development Center and others supporting startups of all kinds. New state programs - including the Innovation Fund, Opportunity Fund and the Economic Gardening Fund - will help create jobs, they say. Many assume that a recession is a bad time to start a business, but that isn't necessarily true, UCF's Snaith said. That's where Cannici, the ex-Marine, found himself four months ago. "A lot of people are in this situation today, where you suddenly are forced to step outside your comfort zone," he said. Cannici, who was assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill, met his future wife when she was working for Safety Harbor's parks department. She also has changed careers, starting a pet walking and care business. They married, bought a house and, in August 2007, Cannici began selling Oracle and PeopleSoft software for EMS Consulting of Tampa. He began successfully, but 2009 was difficult, and Cannici was making only 60 percent of his sales quota. "I knew they could not keep me at that rate," Cannici said. "I had to find another job, or we would likely have to sell our house at a loss and move out of town." He thought about returning to the Marine Corps, but discovered another option. By chance, Cannici's mother bought a bachelor's cake for his wedding in 2008 from a bakery in St. Petersburg. It was run by Michael Ostrander, who had 40 years' experience as an executive pastry chef. Ostrander's clients through the years had included Donald Trump and the Hyatt hotels. Yet Ostrander was in a pickle himself, having sold off equipment at his St. Petersburg shop while planning to move into a new business development in Trinity in Pasco County; it failed to materialize at the last moment. Cannici had money saved from when he was in Iraq: "You have no place to spend it there." Ostrander had pastry chef's skills and plenty of local cachet, and Cannici's mother knew of his dilemma. So Cannici and Ostrander forged a business relationship with a handshake, and in November they moved into a vacant storefront, a former Palm Harbor pastry shop with stoves, a walk-in refrigerator and freezer. Tampa Road is a busy thoroughfare, but Cannici and Ostrander had no money to advertise and no signage to draw attention to a new business. They relied on word of mouth from the dozen or so people who wandered into Sweet Caroline's in the first month. Business picked up for the December holidays to more than 50 customers a day. They sought places to sell their pastries wholesale, such as Indigo Coffee in Tampa and Paciugo Gelato in St. Petersburg. Rare Accents, a beauty salon neighbor in the strip center, sent customers, and Cannici takes goods to local farmers' markets four days a week. Cannici's wife helps out in the shop, along with his mother. He has hired two full-time assistant bakers who work with Ostrander. They offer daily Twitter specials and a free small cup of coffee inside the tiny shop, where they produce specialty cakes in addition to lighter fare. Cannici and Ostrander work, on average, 12 to 14 hours a day, every day, although the bakery at 3347 Tampa Road is closed on Mondays. That's when they clean, restock from weekend sales and run errands. They expect to break even in the next few months. Cannici then can hire more help and begin to learn from Ostrander - who also teaches a "pastry boot camp" for the public - how to be a chef himself. "The only way we've been successful to this point is with Michael's reputation and help from family and friends," Cannici said. In many regards, his challenges are not unlike those he encountered at the Naval Academy and in Iraq. "They drilled into me it the first day at the academy that you need to take the initiative and not rely on someone else to take the lead," Cannici said. "On deployment in Iraq, we could not be scared to make mistakes, you had to be willing to take risks. "You never know what's coming around the corner, so you've got to just forge ahead, like we are doing here."
Reporter Ted Jackovics can be reached at (813) 259-7817.