Appreciating the power and influence of Moms

If you want to appreciate fully the value and success of 83 Degrees, you need to think back to about 2003. That was the year Economist Richard Florida, newly published author of “Rise of The Creative Class’’ (and later "Who's Your City?'') came to Tampa to talk about the value of creatives in defining a cool city.

His message to more than 500 business and community leaders packed into what we now know as The Straz was enlightening at the time: If the Tampa Bay region wants to compete with other cities in the global marketplace to attract talent, it has to establish a narrative about being hip and cool.

How to do that? Florida was asked at an equally packed reception in Ybor City.

It’s really pretty simple, he said, create opportunities for the young and the restless and they will come. And they will talk about it and share it in social media. And, perhaps more importantly, they won’t leave. A strong economy, he said, often starts with the rise of the creatives — the artists, the makers, the designers, the techies, etc. — all those folks everyone else wants to be. They create cool neighborhoods simply by moving in. Others follow. 

The late Deanne Roberts was chairing the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and championing author Florida’s message. The Tampa native, successful local business owner, proud graduate of USF, founder of Creative Tampa Bay and mother of two sons, soon made it her mission to create opportunities to attract and retain talent in the Tampa Bay region.

She and her close circle of mom friends came up with yet another idea that soon gained traction. Create networking and engagement opportunities for the Bay Area’s young professionals to establish ties that bind people to communities. The moms -- Roberts, Ginger Watters, Dianne Jacob and Diane Egner (3Ds & a G) -- all had teens or twenty-somethings who were thinking about their futures. How do we keep them here or at least bring them back after college, became the conversation over wine. Lots of evenings. Lots of wine. Lots of ideas. The result? Emerge Tampa was born.

By then Creative Tampa Bay counted about 4,000 members and Emerge Tampa was soon well on its way with more than 600 young professionals getting engaged in Tampa Bay.

Then along about 2008, Roberts attended a national conference on cities where she wanted to learn more about urban communities and what others were doing to grow their creative classes and establish their cities’ reputations as cool places to be. There she heard a presentation by the ownership team at Issue Media Group, a startup new media company based in Detroit. The secret to changing the narrative about your own city, they said, requires telling your own stories.

Model D, an online publication in Detroit, had been working since 2005 to change the narrative about Detroit. Their goal was and is to report on economic gains in the city. While traditional media seemed obsessed with telling the stories of Detroit’s demise, Issue Media Group set out to tell its successes. To tell the stories of property investments, jobs being created, talent, innovation, diversity and environment. More than 1,000 small ideas moving the community forward.

After initial success in Detroit, Issue Media Group was invited to try the same strategy in Pittsburgh to begin to change the narrative about that city, which no longer produces steel and isn’t as football centric as the Steelers would have you believe. Pop City emerged as the online publication to tell Pittsburgh’s stories of arts and creativity, research and development, investments and innovations.

Soon Cincinnati came calling (Soapbox Media) and then followed other mostly Rust Belt cities floundering under the weight of history and the economic challenges of change.

Come to Tampa Bay, Roberts urged. She and Peter Kageyama, then president of Creative Tampa Bay’s board and owner of a small marketing firm in St. Petersburg, soon welcomed Issue Media Group to town. (Kageyama, author of “For The Love of Cities,’’ now works as an adviser to cities around the globe to help them capitalize on their own creative industries and people. He’s also polishing a second book that promises additional insights from his urban observations and experiences in the U.S. and abroad.)

Changing the narrative to one that reflects reality

Concerned that the narrative about Tampa and surrounding cities was either nonexistent or limited to tourism, retirement, and citrus, Roberts and Kageyama started drumming up support for Issue Media Group to tell the region’s stories about creatives — and about entrepreneurs, techies, researchers and all the other smart people who call the region home. They saw an Issue Media Group publication as the natural successor to Creative Tampa Bay, which no longer exists.

By April 2009, Issue Media Group had decided to come to town. A team of about a dozen local advisers was sitting around outdoor tables (sipping Ybor Gold and Cuban mojitos) at the Columbia Cafe on the balcony of the Tampa Bay History Center talking about how to get started and what to call the local publication.

One of IMG’s owners, Paul Schutt, held his arms upward toward the perfect April blue skies as a sunny breeze coming in off the water lifted his coattails and said, “This is what I love about Tampa Bay. Every time I visit, I just can’t get enough of this.’’

Someone else at the table asked, “What is the temperature today?’’

A quick check of the iPhone weather app showed, “It’s 83 Degrees.’’

“That’s it!’’ opined a 20-something at the table. “Let’s call it ’83 Degrees’!’’

The name quickly caught on as a description of the welcoming business climate as well as the incredible lifestyle choices we get to make due to the year-round weather in our pristine natural environment. (Note to self: Get outdoors more!) Our goal — to pick a name that everyone in West Central Florida could embrace whether they lived in Brooksville or Sarasota, in Clearwater or Lakeland, in St. Petersburg or Tampa — was realized.  

The first online edition of 83 Degrees published on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009. 

Since then, we’ve added Focus Areas, connected people and spurred collaborations at 15 fabulous community conversations as part of our "Not Your Average Speakers'' series, refreshed our design to better serve mobile readers, built up our team of writers and editors, and launched a new For Good section. Every story published -- 638+ features and 2,741+ news items so far — is online every day all day. 

Our audience has grown from fewer than 5,000 in the first year to about 240,000 this year. Almost all our readers were living in Florida when we started; now 35 percent live outside of Florida. Readership is up 39 percent year to year from 2013, according to Google Analytics. 

In coming years, we plan to grow even more, produce special reports and tackle a few new innovative projects around urban living and placemaking. If you want to be part of our success and are thinking about getting engaged (or re-engaged) as an underwriter of stories to brand your company or organization next to Tampa Bay's talent, innovation, diversity, environment, let’s talk! 

Celebrate, celebrate! Dance to the music

But for now, it’s time to celebrate.

We’re so excited. We just can’t hide it. 83 Degrees is turning 5 and we’re having a party! 

The big birthday bash is Friday, Nov. 14, from 6 to 9 p.m. at The Vault, 611 N. Franklin St., in downtown Tampa. Paul Schutt and Peter Kageyama plan to be there, as do community and local thought leaders as well as people we have featured in stories — and you’re invited. 

We’ll provide music, entertainment, munchies and libations with the help of our partners, including The Wilson Company, Akerman, Cigar City Brewing, White Book Agency, Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay, Stageworks Theatre, Onli Beverages, Working Women of Tampa Bay and Tito’s Handmade Vodka

Advance tickets cost $20 each. You just need to register here.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Diane Egner is publisher and managing editor of 83 Degrees Media. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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Diane Egner is a community leader and award-winning journalist with more than four decades of experience reporting and writing about the Tampa Bay Area of Florida. She serves on the boards of the University of South Florida Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications Advisory Council, The Institute for Research in Art (Graphicstudio, the Contemporary Art Museum, and USF’s Public Art Program) Community Advisory Council, Sing Out and Read, and StageWorks Theatre Advisory Council. She also is a member of Leadership Florida and the Athena Society. A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism, she won the top statewide award for editorial writing from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors while at The Tampa Tribune and received special recognition by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists for creative work as Content Director at WUSF Public Media. Past accomplishments and community service include leadership positions with Tampa Tiger Bay Club, USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy (WLP), Alpha House of Tampa Bay, Awesome Tampa Bay, Florida Kinship Center, AIA Tampa Bay, Powerstories, Arts Council of Hillsborough County, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Diane and her husband, Sandy Rief, live in Tampa.