Forbes sits down with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for “A View from the Sunbelt”
April 19th, 2019
During the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation’s business mission to Chicago last week, Mayor Bob Buckhorn sat down with Forbes contributor Pete Saunders for an interview.
The two reflected on the Mayor’s eight years in office (he is term limited and will leave his post on May 1), how Tampa’s economy has evolved since the recession, waterfront development during his two terms, and what’s ahead for the city.
Below are some highlights from the interview. The full article can be found on Forbes.com.
Pete Saunders: Thanks for meeting with me. You’re coming to the conclusion of eight years in office. How was it?
Bob Buckhorn: Being mayor is the best job in America. I think any big city mayor can tell you, if you want a job that you can “do” and not just “be”, be a big city mayor. It is one of the toughest jobs in the country, but I cannot wait to get to the office every day. The challenges are significant, and some of the societal and generational issues are fairly intractable, but as mayors we’re far less political and far more pragmatic. We’re much more focused on results and less on the partisan politics. I’m a Democrat and proud to be a Democrat, but I’m not the Democratic mayor of Tampa, I’m the mayor of Tampa. On my tombstone, if you just put “he was a city builder,” I’d be very happy. For me, I couldn’t think of a better job in the world. I’ve had the opportunity to leave the city in better shape than it was given to me.
PS: What’s your story of Tampa? Before you assumed office and since?
BB: It’s a story of resilience, a story of resurrection. It was knocked flat by the recession, literally out cold. Florida in particular was hit harder than most any place in the country because we were so dependent on construction and real estate. To watch Tampa rise from the ashes and become one of the most exciting real estate markets in America really has been a difficult slog, but it’s a radically different place than it was eight years ago. When I first came into office I was faced with a $30 million deficit. I had to balance that budget within three months. We powered through that and now there’s a swagger there that never existed before. The proof is in the number of young people flocking to Tampa today.
PS: What would you note as your biggest accomplishments, and unfulfilled goals?
BB: It’s a journey and I’m just a small part in the success of this. But some of the things that put Tampa on the map include hosting the Republican National Convention (in 2012), hosting Super Bowls and National College Football championships, or our performance during Hurricane Irma. But it was the relentlessness of our driven community that would not accept failure. Are there challenges ahead? Absolutely. Transportation is one of them; Florida has developed with a car-centric mentality and that’s got to change. Climate change is real and we’re going to have to deal with it. Affordable housing and workforce housing is something every mayor in America is talking about. We’ve become victims of our own success, with areas of our cities that were once the least desirable suddenly becoming the most desirable.
PS: An outsider like me might look at Tampa’s economy as one fueled mostly by tourism. Is that still true? What powers Tampa’s economy today?
BB: The old perception of a tourism economy is pervasive and historically accurate. But that’s not the case now. Tourism will always play a role in Tampa’s economy. But Tampa is a young and vibrant city, less reliant on tourism than it used to be. We’ve been focused on changing our economic DNA, and we had to coming out of the recession. We had to move away from the cheap land/cheap labor/cheap taxes Florida model that worked in the past. A recent study by Chmura Economics ranked the Tampa metro area as the eighth-most diversified economy in America, a huge improvement over a few years ago. As long as you have sunshine you’re going to have tourism, but that won’t sustain us and allow us to build and pursue the jobs of the future.
PS: What’s ahead for Tampa?
BB: People have bought into the vision. More than 75% of Tampa residents believe Tampa is moving in the right direction. The next mayor will be responsible for driving the narrative and maintain the momentum. We’ve already talked about a lot of the challenges here. But as in so many cities, our growing prosperity hasn’t touched all parts of the city. As the new mayor writes the next chapter of Tampa, making sure that our prosperity reaches all segments will become a bigger piece of what they’ll do. Things like job training and housing will play a bigger role than in my administration. The transformation of Tampa is an ongoing saga and it’s time for the next mayor to write the next chapter of our story.
Read the full article here.