If not now, when? Why one Tampa Bay company sees great value in new Regional Resiliency Coalition

Part 2 of a 2-part series.

On August 23rd, 2018, Ron Gregory stood before the Tampa City Council to voice his support for the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, a new alliance of local governments working together on climate change planning activities.

“As local government leaders try to address climate change impacts at the local level, they will face a myriad of funding, logistical, and political challenges. The Regional Resiliency Coalition represents an opportunity to efficiently and effectively coordinate climate resiliency activities across jurisdictional lines,” Gregory testified. 

Gregory is a vice president and senior planner at AECOM’s Tampa office, where he has worked for more than four decades. AECOM is one of the world’s largest engineering, construction, and planning firms, with $18 billion in revenue in 2017, and more than 77,000 employees worldwide (including 388 in Tampa, and roughly 1,200 in Florida). He’s also a Tampa Bay area native. Ron Gregory with AECOM and C.J. Reynolds with USF's College of Marine Science at the historic Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition.

Gregory is one of a growing number of executives in the Tampa Bay region who sees great value in a Resiliency Coalition between local governments. But why go on the record now? 

“It’s really simple,” says Gregory. “On an issue like this, if not now, when?” 

Gregory reckons that resilience is good business as much as it is good corporate (and personal) citizenship. “We would love to get work out of this. But first, we live here,” he says while pointing out that he lives on the water in Clearwater, and that AECOM’s office itself is on the water, on Rocky Point. 

“Corporations sometimes get a bad reputation. We are not a charity, but at the same time, AECOM is very active in the environment, socially and otherwise. We are very keen on being citizens of the public,” says Gregory.

Carving out a corporate role

When it comes to a problem as big as sea level rise -- which could destroy up to $161 billion of economic activity across the Tampa Bay region by 2060, Gregory reckons that good corporate citizens can’t stick to the sidelines. 

“You try to prevent the problem. It’s cheaper to prevent a problem than to fix it.”

“Governments here need help. They need to break down silos,” Gregory explains. This, he says, is something that’s going on in cities and regions around the world, often with support from AECOM, which has a dedicated climate and resilience group. “If local governments are going to start this process, we should help,” he says.

Erica Harris, a Tampa-based member of AECOM’s 100+ staff-strong climate and resilience team, concurs that collaboration within government -- and across to the private sector -- is the way forward. 

“Establishing partnerships is the direction I see a lot of other regions across the country moving, and I think a lot of local governments are recognizing the power of breaking down silos and moving toward a collaborative approach, particularly with such a large-scale problem as climate change that will affect municipalities and resources on so many different levels,” says Harris.

Harris’s and Gregory’s enthusiasm for the Coalition stems from the success stories they are seeing unfold across other cities and regions, small and large, far and wide -- a unique vantage afforded by AECOM’s global scope.

Darryl Henderson, VP of Public Policy and Bus., Devel., at the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce and William Horne II City Mngr., of Clearwater at the signing.The 100 Resilient Cities program, led by the philanthropic Rockefeller Foundation, is one initiative that Harris’s team is contributing to -- and learning from. In this program, participating cities are given resources to build collaboration across government departments and with local nonprofits and businesses, so that a wide range of parties can identify the area’s climate change vulnerabilities -- and prioritize the best way to respond. 

Greater Miami is participating in the program. There, several local governments are using part of the resources provided by the Rockefeller Foundation (and its partners, like AECOM) to equip so-called Chief Resilience Officers to coordinate adaptation, economic development, and resource management within local governments, and to share these insights across the region through venues like the Southeast Florida Regional Compact on climate change. Southeast Florida’s decade-old Regional Compact was in many ways the blueprint for Tampa Bay Resiliency Coalition.

“Perhaps what’s most important throughout the program is the communication that happens between so many key players that may not have been talking before,” explains Harris. 

“It’s amazing to watch what happens during large workshops and meetings that take place throughout the process when we put such a diverse group of people into the same room and suddenly everyone starts to realize that they’re all working toward a common goal.”

Learning from experience

Gregory also points to projects AECOM is involved within the San Francisco Bay Area, a region with many parallels to Tampa Bay. “It may not be apparent to people right now, but the issues in San Francisco are very similar to what we face here in Tampa Bay,” according to Gregory. 

Like Tampa Bay, the Greater San Francisco Bay Area sprawls over a wide area, including 10 counties. In both cases, a large bay both connects and divides local governments. One effort that AECOM is involved within that Other Bay Area is the Adapting to Rising  Tides project, which aims to join up the adaptation planning efforts of local, state, and federal governments. One initial output of the project? Open source adaptation planning tools, data, and visualizations that can be used by anyone, including community groups.

Harris is quick to point to one big difference between San Francisco and Tampa Bay: strong state support for local efforts. In 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Executive Order B-30-15. The Executive Order sets aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets and directs state agencies to incorporate sea level rise into their planning and programs. Florida remains without a statewide sea level rise adaptation plan, although in 2016 the state Legislature passed a law requiring coastal local governments to incorporate future flood risks into their land development regulations. Another recent piece of legislation, California Assembly Bill 691, requires local holders of state public trust lands to conduct sea level rise planning.

“The fact that we’re working on so many projects in California because of this legislation means that we have a lot of insight into which plans work, which don’t, and what the roadblocks are. Florida doesn’t have these requirements, but it can learn from what we’ve done elsewhere,” says Harris. 

For both Gregory and Harris, the Tampa Bay region needs to get regional resilience right, both to save resources and to get access to new ones. Susan Glickman, one of the key figures behind the Tampa Bay Resiliency Coalition, also emphasizes the importance of collaboration to win public and private resources for climate change projects. Tampa Bay officials sign in to create the new coalition to address sea level rise, climate change, and resiliency.

And part of the enthusiasm? For both, the Coalition represents a chance to bring their expertise home.

“It’s especially meaningful to get involved because, as a local, I understand that the success of the Coalition will ultimately benefit everyone in the area,” Harris says. 

“How exciting would be it be to live in a region that is serving as a model for collaborative regional planning and decision-making and know that you were a part of it?”

So far, 22 Tampa Bay local governments have agreed to join the Coalition, which was formally signed on October 8, 2018, at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council meeting. The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council office is located at 4000 Gateway Centre Blvd #100 in Pinellas Park.  

To learn more about climate change adaptation efforts in the Tampa Bay Area, read previous stories published in 83 Degrees here.

Read part 1 of the 2-part series in 83 Degrees.
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Read more articles by Zac Taylor.

Zac Taylor, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow at KU Leuven in Belgium, where he studies climate change adaptation in cities, with a focus on real estate and finance. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Leeds in the UK and holds degrees in urban planning from U.C. Berkeley and the London School of Economics. You can reach him on twitter @zacjtaylor.