The White House announced on Thursday that the Tampa Bay area has become one of 20 of the latest communities (and four in Florida) named to participate in its “TechHire” initiative that aims to equip Americans with the skills they need to land jobs in the tech industry. The announcement was made via the White House at 11 a.m., and an hour later, a press conference was held at City Hall in Tampa, kicked off not by Mayor Bob Buckhorn but instead by Mark Sharpe, the head of the Tampa Innovation Alliance, who said that while universities like USF are providing plenty of training to get young people the opportunity to compete for the growing number of tech jobs in the country, there are a number of others who have missed out on what is considered the “tech revolution.”
“What’s exciting is the that the Tampa Innovation Alliance and our district has been recognized by the White House as an innovation district worthy of their support, and the city of Tampa is emerging as a tech leader in this nation,” Sharpe said, emphasizing that everybody has the opportunity to compete for these jobs.
These so-called “innovation districts” have been popping up all over the U.S. in recent years. They’ve been described as geographic areas where “anchor” institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. Ideally they’re also physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail.
The Tampa Innovation Alliance kicked off nearly two years, fueled by a $2 million injection from the Hillsborough County Commission. It literally scored big time back in June, when it secured a $3.8 million grant from the federal government to develop training in the University Area of North Tampa, providing education specifically for technology-related jobs. That grant was the result of a partnership between CareerSource Tampa Bay, the University Area Community Development Corp., Hillsborough County, Tampa Bay Technology Forum and the Tampa Bay Innovation Alliance.
Through CareerSource Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County’s workforce development board, the Tampa Innovation Alliance is going to be working over the next three years to get the message out to approximately 1,000 local out-of-school youth and young adults to get involved. Employers across industries, such as BayCare Health Systems and Cognizant Technology Solutions, are partnering with the initiative in order to advance the economic health and technology industry of the community. The first meeting will be held at USF Research Park on Dec. 15.
“We will identify over 1,000 individuals who qualify for the program, but as the program evolves and we talk to our business partners,” said Sharpe. “There’s an understanding between the White House, CareerSource and the Department of Labor that they modify existing programs or add to existing programs to even train more workers.”
“Make no mistake, we have changed as a community our economic DNA,” said Buckhorn, referring to how the tech revolution has spread from places like San Francisco, Boston and Washington D.C. to areas like Tampa. “We are not dependent on selling real estate and selling Florida based on cheap land, cheap labor and cheap taxes. We are a different economy.”
Buckhorn said that there are as many as 40 percent of these tech jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree, so there are opportunities with those with the ability to learn coding skills. “This grant gives us the opportunity to touch those kids in that university area, and touch some of those kids who may not have that opportunity, or may not be able to afford to go to a four-year college, but yet with a little assistance and a little training could be productive matters for our society.”
Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said he recently returned from St. Louis, where he observed their innovation district and came away with two takeaways. One was that everyone in the community had to prosper, and that the local governments play a crucial role in “kickstarting” the effort to ultimately attract private money to invest in the community. “This is huge, because without trained workers, the private sector will never invest, because they can go find well trained people anywhere,” he added.
Other Florida communities named at “TechHire” areas by the White House are Alachua and Bradford Counties, Pensacola, and the Central Florida area, where the University of Central Florida, Valencia College and the Florida Institute of Technology will play a role in developing trainings to train and place 100 people within the next year and 400 people by 2002 into tech jobs.