Until around 2008, Plant City enjoyed a strong economy. In the early 2000’s, our economy was so strong the community was able to conduct fundraising campaigns for several Plant City nonprofit organizations, which raised $2 million to $3 million each. When the national economy weakened into recession, Plant City followed suit.
With area-wide support from the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Council, local leadership for economic development in our changing economic environment has come from two primary sources, the City of Plant City and the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce.
The city has funded economic development support from the chamber at about $65,000 per year for many years. Using those funds, the chamber has excelled in some areas of economic development, including the development of city-wide events such as the Pig Jam, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Bike Fest, Strawberry Classic Car Show, and the New Teacher Coffee.
The chamber has also worked with member organizations like the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, Hillsborough Community College Plant City, and Hillsborough County Schools. And it has worked with city departments, such as Bruton Memorial Library and the Recreation & Parks Department.
Training business leaders through the annual Plant City Leadership program has identified and developed future leaders for Plant City.
The chamber has strengthened the important economic development support function: our quality of life.
In the past year, the City Commission has reviewed the critical core of Plant City’s economic development – new business recruitment and existing business retention – and concluded that we can and must do better. The bottom line of business recruitment and retention is job creation, and Plant City has taken some significant hits in this area over the past few years with the loss of employers like Smithfield.
With his demonstration of strong competence in economic development in several public leadership positions in the Tampa Bay area, Mike Herr has been hired as our city manager, and we have charged him with strengthening economic development and its all-important core: business recruitment and retention.
Business recruitment and retention is not easy or we would not be where we are today as a city. But using his expertise, Herr has moved to recruit new economic development leaders for us, such as Randy Larson and David Sullivan for an economic development council. Larson is a former city commissioner, mayor, and state and national business executive, while Sullivan is an area bank executive.
We have already achieved some successes, with new private housing, business and industrial development projects, and progress on the city’s Midtown and Northeast Development Plans announced. Herr has Plant City on track for even more successes in the future.
But Plant City is a small city, and we are not big enough for any individual organization to go it alone. Our past successes have been built on businesses and organizations working together for the good of the city, with many people working in multiple roles in different organizations. Accepting and using the interlocking structure of Plant City has been the basis of many of our accomplishments.
This is especially true in an area with business recruitment and retention challenges and competition from other cities. Building on the strengths of many organizations, Plant City can build our economy back to the point where we are once again strong in all areas.
As it has in the past, it will take effective and open communication among many different people and organizations. We are fortunate to have people such as current chamber leaders Nate Kilton and Marion Smith, and current city leaders Rick Lott, Billy Keel, Mary Thomas Mathis, Mike Sparkman, Bill Dodson, Mike Herr, Randy Larson and David Sullivan to lead the dialogue and build a plan that takes advantage of the strengths of many organizations for the benefit of all of us who call Plant City home.
Felix Haynes is a co-owner of the Plant City Times &Observer.