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Pat Kemp talks (about low-paying) jobs before a group of Tampa millennials

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A recent Census Bureau report reveals what many people in the Tampa Bay area know all too well – that the area doesn’t pay that well in terms of annual salary compared to other major regions in the nation.

The median household income in Tampa Bay is $48,911. That’s dead last among the top 25 metro regions in the country, and the only region in the top 25 below an average salary of $50,000.

“We have to look at our economy and what we’re doing here because that separates us from so many other places in terms of driving our wages and driving our economy,” recently elected Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp told a group of millennials in Ybor City on Wednesday morning.

Speaking at the Blind Tiger Cafe on 7th Avenue to discuss the economy and how millennials are impacting job creation, Kemp said that she’s just now learning about all the things the county is doing on the economic development front. One of the biggest surprises she says she’s learned in her short time on the board is the fact that there are thousands of Hillsborough County employees making less than $12 an hour. “That’s stunning to me,” she said.

Speaking about a recent tax-incentive deal the county has made with a window manufacturer, Kemp says she’d like to find a way that new jobs that do come to Hillsborough County pay a certain wage.

“I want them to put something in there that’s like a minimum wage of $12 an hour or something before we subsidize,” she said. “I don’t know what models we have for that or if we just create out own, but I’d really like to see that be part of the protocol for that fund.”

She also said that while business and economic leaders in the Tampa Bay area want to attract educated millennials to the region to reach up to the Austin’s and Charlotte’s of the world, the number of people with undergraduate college degrees in the area is twenty-seven percent, under the national average of thirty-five percent, and below areas like Austin and Boston, which are around forty to forty-five percent. Kemp emphasized that the number of people with college degrees was just one measure of measuring the area, but an important element.

A longtime activist, attorney and and aide to lawmakers like Kathy Castor and Sara Romeo, Kemp for the first time holds elective office. That means being accountable to voters.

Andrew Machota, the head of New Town Connections which presented Kemp’s appearance, expressed concerns about how much lower the pay is Tampa Bay than around the rest of the nation, and asked what her vision was to cure that?

Kemp said she didn’t have any immediate answers, but said she knew what she didn’t want to do.

“When we were subsidizing Walmarts and retail which I just think is ludicrous for minimum wage jobs, that they would be here anyway,” she replied. “I’m going to try to support going local, keeping the wealth here and looking at that avenue as a form of prosperity rather than bringing in the chains and retailers who would come here anyway.”

Although the issue has long past, Kemp again brought up her opposition to the awarding of a $6.25 million subsidy in early 2013 by the BOCC to land a Bass Pro Shops, the chain store mecca for hunters and recreational fisherman. “I don’t know why. That was $6 million that could have been used for economic development … .it’s like crazy, right?

Kevin Beckner, Kemp’s predecessor representing District 6, was the only board member to oppose the measure. Commissioner Sandy Murman recently expressed no regrets for her vote, saying that the county’s return on investment will come back within three years.

Kemp said the county and the state has relied too long on low-paying tourism jobs and then segued into criticizing the county for failing to increase transportation impact fees on new development for decades.

Discussion of what is now known as mobility fees then propelled Kemp to drop talking jobs and segue into talking about one of her passions, public transit, which then dominated the rest of her address.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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