TAMPA - Unlike previous trips to market Tampa abroad, Mayor Bob Buckhorn's visit to New York City last week focused on the soft sell. Buckhorn went to the headquarters of financial services companies with footprints in Hillsborough County. He was joined by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, Temple Terrace Mayor Frank Chillura and Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. "We're building on key relationships," Homans said at a Monday morning press briefing about the trip. "We led with 'We're here to say thank you.' " Over the course of last week, the group visited PricewaterhouseCoopers, Time Warner, JPMorgan Chase, Citi and UBS. Along the way, they also spent last Thursday with Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg as the Rays took on the New York Yankees.
Asked Monday if the visit to Yankee Stadium included talk about a future Tampa baseball stadium, Buckhorn was momentarily speechless. "Umm," he said before adding: "We had a wonderful social chat. We talked about everything but the stadium." Sternberg said this weekend he had no plans to move the team out of the Tampa Bay area. The team's lease at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field runs through 2027, but Sternberg has made no secret that he'd like to find a new home for the team - possibly in Tampa. The trip also included a visit with the management and operations committee of the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp., which processes stock trades at its offices in New Tampa. DTCC's Tampa center handled 1.7 quadrillion stock trades last year alone, Managing Director Eric Miller said Monday. DTCC has been expanding its Tampa staff as part of an effort to decentralize its operations and hedge against a disaster - natural or manmade - taking down its operations. It now has more than 500 employees in Tampa. The Tampa center proved its worth in the fall, Miller said, by helping the company keep and running after Superstorm Sandy blacked out Wall Street and the rest of southern Manhattan for days. "All of those transactions had to flow through our Tampa community," Miller said. Part of the soft sell was reminding those New York-based companies of all the things Tampa has to offer, from its educated workforce to an increasingly urban living environment to wages that run 10- to 20 percent lower than the national average for financial-services jobs. There was no sugarcoating of Tampa's problems, such as its lack of a regional mass-transit system, Buckhorn said. "All of the areas where we could do better pale in comparison to a high-tax, high-regulation environment," he said - like New York. Woven amid the handshakes and getting-to-know-yous was another message: The next time you grow, think of Tampa. "I think all of them are capable of adding more employees here," Buckhorn said. "We look more attractive." In 2011, Tampa beat out Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., to lure an expansion of Time Warner's business services division that promises to create 500 local jobs by 2016. Last month, Tampa hosted its second yearly shareholders meeting for JPMorgan Chase. On Friday, New York magazine offered its readers a five-point vacation plan for visiting Tampa, a two-hour plane ride away. On that same day, New Yorker author George Packer was in Tampa to promote The Unraveling, his book about the collapse of the housing market. The Tampa area - and southern Pasco County in particular - have a starring role. A review of Packer's book last month in the New York Times said Tampa "seems like Hell on earth now." Buckhorn laughed off that assessment Monday morning. "If Tampa is Hell, I'm getting an asbestos suit because I'm staying," he said. "Out of this we will be stronger." [email protected] (813) 259-7871 Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO