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Tampa officials apply for “TechHire” federal grant to aid University area

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

As the economy in Tampa Bay continues to slowly grow, one area that persistently remained low on the socioeconomic level has been the area around the University of South Florida in North Tampa.

There’s now a concentrated effort by local business officials to reverse that situation, culminating in the creation of the Tampa Innovation Alliance, a partnership between USF, Florida Hospital, Busch Gardens, University Mall, the Moffitt Cancer Center and 115 local businesses.

On Wednesday, a group of local officials led by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor held a news conference at the University Mall, where they announced that they will be submitting a bid for a “TechHire” grant. That grant could result in the distribution of a few million dollars to help develop a home-grown high-technology workforce and drive up higher-income employment in the area.

“We’ve got to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to have a good job and is trained and has the skills for the jobs of the future,” said the Tampa Bay area congresswoman.

Last March, President Barack Obama announced his “TechHire” initiative at a gathering of the National League of Cities. Under the program, his administration would provide $100 million in competitive grants to joint initiatives by employers, training institutions and local governments that target workers who don’t have easy access to digital training. The money comes from fees companies pay to the government to hire higher-skilled foreign workers under the H-1B visa program

“Specifically, the Tech Hire grant is going to provide our neighbors to the opportunity to get trained for digital careers, IT careers, cybersecurity careers for the employers in this area, and the employers of tomorrow who are going to move to this area,” Castor said.

The Tampa Innovation Alliance, created in partnership with other nonprofits and private employers last year, intends to transform about 15,000 acres of North Tampa neighborhoods into an economic and innovation zone, which would include a tech training program as one facet of the overall effort in the area.

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe leads the Alliance. He said the grant request is modest, but ultimately he says he doesn’t want incremental change.

“I want to see transformative change,” he said. The Alliance’s mission he said is about being a partnership and that every person who lives in the area “has an opportunity to participate,” he said.

Ron Barton, Hillsborough County Economic Prosperity, Assistant County Administrator; Sarah Combs, University Community Area Development Corp., Executive Director and CEO; and Ed Peachey from CareerSource Tampa Bay are all partners in crafting the grant application, which must be submitted to the federal government by March.

The grant application is due in March and the Tampa Bay area will compete nationally for its share of a pot of about $100 million available through TechHire.

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 mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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