Local tech community: Growing fast, deep and strong

The tech community in the Tampa-St. Pete area is strong and growing stronger, says Daniel James Scott, CEO of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum. He shared his assessment of local tech talent and innovation at a March forum hosted by the Tampa Downtown Partnership. 83 Degrees reprints his remarks here.

Good morning! I’m spending the first few hours of my 50th working day with the Tampa Bay Technology Forum here with you because I believe in the power of Tampa’s downtown to attract, create and nurture jobs that will be the backbone of this region’s economic future.

And technology jobs will lead that charge.

I spent the last four and a half years as the co-founder and associate director of the entrepreneurship program at USF St. Petersburg. It was a difficult decision to leave those students – they are bright, motivated, technology natives. I’ve had students leave to teach at the Flatiron School coding program, join Y Combinator, and even get named to the top 25 under 25 in New York City tech. More important to me, I’ve had students stay for great paying jobs in tech and even start tech companies, raise money and create new great paying jobs for their peers.

I was recently quoted in an article by Bob Trigaux saying “I would not have left the university if I felt I could not make a big impact doing this.” And by this I mean help foster a stronger tech workforce environment for Tampa Bay.

So … can we do it? I would argue we already are doing it.

We have the bench strength.

For every two employees in the workforce, Tampa Bay has a student in K-12 or higher ed. Within a 2-hour drive radius of where we are sitting this morning (at the Tampa Downtown Hilton), we have access to more college students than enrolled in the entire state of Colorado – by the way, ranked multiple times as the second most educated state in America.

And those students here in Tampa Bay are entering a job market seeing a double digit growth in new IT positions from when they started as a freshman into their late twenties. Livibility.com, when ranking Tampa as one of the top 100 best places to live this year, named technology as one of four industries that “anchor Tampa’s economy.”

Let me step back for a minute and share with you that this isn’t a bad city for jobs to begin with.

Tampa was named a consecutive four times as one of America’s Promise Alliance’s 100 Best Communities for Young People. 

Last year, WalletHub named Tampa one of the 25 best cities to start a career and 6th most active lifestyle when not working.

This year NerdWallet highlighted Tampa as the 3rd best city for Millennial job seekers in all of Florida. 

In their study they found that the average salary in this city is 28 percent higher than the average of the 93 other cities they analyzed.

28 percent higher!

And – get this – the average IT salary in the Tampa Bay region is over 150 percent greater than that.

I know, some of you are skeptics – like me on occasion – and are thinking “well that’s great, but we don’t have access to the kind of world-class talent that they have in California.”

And to you I share that Florida is the 10th largest contributor of talent to Silicon Valley, just behind the entire country of India.

Yeah … great little stat, but what about the talent left behind?

Well, as Exhibit A, I would offer the Tampa Bay WaVE, just a block from us here this morning, who in just a couple short years have helped support over 40 startups raise $12 million of investment capital and create more than 200 tech jobs here in downtown.

As Exhibit B, I present the fact that IT salaries alone account directly for just around 8 percent of Tampa Bay’s GDP. 

As Exhibit C, I circle back around to the Tampa Bay Technology Forum and our recently announced strategic plan. 

Five parts.

Benchmarking: We need to establish a ranking system comparing regional and national benchmarks. Develop Tampa Bay’s Technology grade.

As part of this, we are again partnering with such organizations as CareerSource Tampa Bay, and the Hillsborough and Pinellas EDCs to conduct another IT Gap Analysis survey – a three-year update to, and expansion of, the groundbreaking research collected originally in 2012.

Environment: We need to promote and represent Tampa Bay as an accepting environment for emerging and disruptive technologies and business models.

If you are not familiar with downtown Tampa’s own – and TBTF member – Laicos, and their incredibly useful personal social aggregation mobile app Fuse, then we just aren’t doing a good enough job being a nurturing home to downtown’s emerging tech scene. If what I just said sounded like a lot of technical jargon, then that’s two strikes against us today.

Growth: We need to create a better platform for growing & retaining technology/STEM talent in Tampa Bay.

We’ve talked a lot about this so far today, so I’ll skip ahead.

Voice of Technology: We need to be a single and unified voice for Tampa Bay Technology & Digital initiatives.

The Tampa Bay Technology Forum will be launching a new website by the end of this month to better tell this story locally and nationally. That doesn’t mean we’re sitting on our hands in the meantime. This year alone, TBTF’s efforts have led to over a dozen regional and national stories highlighting our community’s tech scene.

Flagship Events: We need to create a brand identity to attract world-wide attention to the region

In addition to the five signature events we will produce this year – one being a technology-focused career fair, by the way – we are actively supporting other events to wave the flag. Just this year, we participated in a handful of activities for Startup Week. Last month, I keynoted the Southeastern Entrepreneurship Conference at the University of Tampa. And last week, we took a founders role in the Gasparilla Interactive Festival at the cruise terminal.

Case closed, if I do say so myself.

So in a nutshell, that is where we stand on technology: a solid talent pipeline, into a thriving community, with plans to get even better in the near future.

Thank you for your time.
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