Search: Cafe con Tampa

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Here are some photos from Roberto Torres’ appearance at Café con Tampa, which happened on Friday, March 6th — a mere two months in the past, but it feels like a lifetime ago. He gave a talk titled Choosing Tampa as the destination to live, work, and play.

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Roberto is the founder of Blind Tiger Café, which started with a single shop in Ybor City, and has since expanded to 7 locations. Six of these locations operate under the Blind Tiger name, with the last one being Endeavr Coffee, which operates in the Embarc Collective startup accelerator center. Roberto also bought Cass Street Deli earlier this year.

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He’s a pillar of the community, always extending a helping hand whenever he can. Among his recent good deeds is participating in the Restaurant Workers Relief Program, which converts restaurants across the country into relief kitchens. Cass Street Deli provided meals to service industry workers who lost their jobs or had their hours cut.

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I’ve written a fair bit about Roberto in this blog — here are all the articles that mention his name.

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Back in January, I wrote:

Someday, perhaps a decade from now, when we’re all looking back at how far the Tampa Bay area has come, we’ll look back and remark at the key role that Café con Tampa played. Every Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. in the Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club, Tampa’s most active, engaged, involved, and well-dressed citizens gather to hear important topics given by interesting speakers while enjoying a delicious breakfast in beautiful surroundings.

(Again, this was just in January, but it feels like another life.)

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Back in the pre-pandemic era, every Friday morning at 8:00 a.m., some of Tampa Bay’s most engaged citizens come to the main room in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club to attend Café con Tampa, a weekly gathering where guest speakers talk about issues that the Bay and the world beyond. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and hosted local heroes Del Acosta,President of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, and Bill Carlson, Tampa City Council Member for South Tampa, and President of the communications agency Tucker/Hall.

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Café con Tampa’s in-person gatherings at Oxford Exchange may be on hold for the time being, but they still people coming to speak — online! Check out the Café con Tampa Facebook page and the Café con Tampa YouTube channel to see past and upcoming guests.

You might also want to check out my prior articles featuring Café con Tampa.

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Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Someday, perhaps a decade from now, when we’re all looking back at how far the Tampa Bay area has come, we’ll look back and remark at the key role that Café con Tampa played. Every Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. in the Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club, Tampa’s most active, engaged, involved, and well-dressed citizens gather to hear important topics given by interesting speakers while enjoying a delicious breakfast in beautiful surroundings.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Last Friday’s edition of Café con Tampa’s guest speakers Rick Homans from the Tampa Bay Partnership and Moez Limayem, Dean of the USF Muma College of Business, who talked about the newly-released 2020 Regional Competitiveness Report. This is the third year this report was released, and it compares the Tampa Bay region to 19 similar metro areas in the U.S. using economic indicators.

You can view the report online here.

The report paints a picture of an area with great potential and great disparity. In a meeting when the report was released the day before, Dave Sobush, director of policy and research at the Tampa Bay Partnership, had this to say:

“The Tampa Bay that many of us enjoy is not the Tampa Bay experienced by many of our neighbors, and while we should be proud of all that we’ve accomplished in recent years, we should also recognize that we can – and must – do better.”

Here are my photos and notes from the event:

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

  • The mantra: “What gets measured is what gets done.”
  • When the Amazons of the world look at us to see if they want to set up shop here, they look at the hard data, and not the “fluffy stuff”.
  • In the report, they paid attention to six specific “proven,” “unimpeachable” drivers of regional competitiveness, namely:
    1. Economic vitality
    2. Innovation
    3. Infrastructure
    4. Talent
    5. Civic quality
    6. Outcomes

They started by citing some statistics from the report.

First, the good news. Of the 20 regions in the comparison, Tampa Bay is number one in net migration!

That’s one of the factors in Tampa Bay’s business establishment start rate…

…as well as the share of its jobs which are in the “advanced industry” category:

Tampa Bay placed in the top 10 for 14 other indicators.

And then there’s the rest of the story: Tampa Bay placed at or near the bottom for 20 indicators, including percentage of working poor: 43% of Tampa Bay residents fall into working poor category.

Of the metros in the list, Tampa Bay placed second-last, with Orlando at the bottom:

Here’s median household income: Tampa Bay is at the bottom of the 20 metros, with a mean of $55,701.

Tampa and Orlando also have the highest pedestrian and cyclist fatality rate, with Tampa being only slightly better than Orlando:

Tampa’s at the bottom of the list when it comes to availability of public transit, which is measured via revenue miles per capita, which measures the number of miles traveled by public transit vehicles during revenue service. If you live here — and especially if you moved here from a city with usable transit options — this is no surprise:

Educational attainment is another big economic indicator, and once again, Tampa is near the bottom:

We’re at the bottom in labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the working-age population that’s either:

  • employed, or
  • unemployed and able to work and actively looking

When I first moved here, I got into a conversation with a taxi driver who’d immigrated here. He said “The best thing about this place is that I’m a genius next to the locals.” He may have had a point, based on these education achievement numbers:

Another place where we’re rock-bottom: Per capital GRP — gross regional product, where you take the value of goods and services produced in the region and divide it by population:

  • These are major economic and structural issues
  • Looking at where we stand in comparison to other regions, it’s tempting to say “Thank God for Miami, thank God for Orlando,” which place worse in some indicators
  • The numbers get worse for women and people of color
  • “Are we for taking from rich and giving to the poor? That’s not the idea”
  • Economic mobility is the American dream
  • Of the 20 million Americans born in the 80s, those born in the northeast and midwest are likely to be better off than their parents. However, if you were from the south or southeast, that’s considerably less likely to be the case.
  • The southeast trend isn’t irreversible, nor is Tampa Bay doomed.
  • Minneapolis was once where we were now, but they took steps to bring them to where they are today.
  • You may be surprised to find out that a lot of research shows that the number one factor in upward economic mobility is the availability of public transit

Q & A

Q: We’re seeing wage growth in other parts of Florida outpacing our own. The state overall has 2 times Tampa’s wage growth, and in the case of Miami, it’s three times. We also have higher costs of housing. How do we fix this?

A: We’re not attracting the right level of jobs. We looked at signals and indicators in LinkedIn and Indeed.com, and for Tampa Bay, the opportunities and the path to growth are in work in the financial and IT sectors. We also have to resolve the problem that for the same jobs, people in Tampa Bay are paid less, even when you account for cost of living.

Q: So the report says that improving housing, education and public transport is necessary. Who’s doing that?

A: These are very important — especially having a reliable transit system. The economic situation in Minneapolis was bad until transit improved. We’re just part of a team, and the team that will deliver the necessary solutions has to be a bigger team than us. What we need to first do is realize that it’s okay to talk about our weaknesses — as long as we start addressing them. If we come back here every year and depress people, everyone will hate us!

Q: I’m trying to bring back the Urban League of Hillsborough County back. Will you help us?

A: Yes — we can talk about inequality or inequity. We need to look at zip code data vs. genetic data. Too many people are being left behind: there’s a 46% unemployment rate in certain neighborhoods in St. Pete. If we want to be among the best, no one in Tamp Bay should be left behind. We need to give people a chance regardless of race and zip code, and if we do that, we all win. This isn’t just a moral imperative, but a pragmatic one.

Q: How do you balance the effort to bring in companies vs. growing local companies? I’m thinking of ConnectWise, whose acquisition turned many employees into millionaires.

A: One reason ConnectWise was successful: USF alums! It’s important to keep our businesses here and give them the power to expand. We’re seeing increasing activity in the tech space at all levels, from large companies at the Synapse Summit to startups at Embarc Collective.

Q: The report covers a lot of things and the project of improving Tampa Bay may be too big. Can we focus on getting started with small improvements, such as raising teacher salaries, making the most of existing transit resources, and raising the salaries of the working poor?

A: We need a regional strategy. We’re just doing the research and making recommendations; we don’t have a plan for Tampa Bay. We’re trying to provide tools and data to formulate a plan. The good news is that there are a lot of things going on here in Tampa Bay to make things better. The bad news is that we’re fragmented and don’t talk to each other.

Q: What are solutions to our transportation issues? We got the sales tax to fund transit improvements approved — how do we use it now? How do we deal with the bridges, which are a choke point? Improvements of any sort could cost billions, and we still have people fighting the transit tax.

A: Right now, Tampa Bay is at 10 revenue miles per capita. In comparison, Seattle is at 30. We’d like to see it go up to at least 20, which would be a big deal. There are currently two valid projects for regional connectivity: Regional bus rapid transit using right of ways and shoulders, and CSX (a big challenge, but we need to look at it). We’re light years ahead of where we were 3 years ago — let’s develop the vision and plan to get the rest of the way.  It will take time, but we need the effort.

Q: What are the dangers as we move the needle?

A: Cooperation between different groups and area, and sharing of expertise.

Q: Job growth comes largely from small businesses. Was there any attempt to separate small businesses in the report?

A: We looked at small businesses and entrepreneurs and counted them in. We found that for these businesses, early stage funding is the number one challenge. One of the warning signs in the report is that the rate of job growth is steadily declining.

Q: Is it wise to focus on elements of our transit system or focus on it as a whole?

A: It should be viewed as a whole, in order to better find ways to increase coverage and reliability. We have expertise and the data — we need to act! And yes, the ferry is a component of the system.

Q: Part of the problem is that when you talk to people from outside about Florida, they think of Miami and Disney, and that’s it. How do we solve this and get more people to think of Tampa Bay?

A: There’s the Global Tampa Bay initiative. We need it to send out a unified message, as the various counties in the region compete and send different signals. The gap between us and competitors is increasing, so we need to figure out what our regional brand is. There are good models to follow, both inside and outside Tampa Bay.

Café con Tampa is a weekly gathering where people interested in the issues that affect Tampa Bay and the world beyond meet to learn and share ideas with interesting, entertaining (and sometimes infuriating) guest speakers. It takes place every Friday between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. in the wonderful setting of Oxford Exchange, a combination of restaurant, book store, gift shop, co-working space, design studio, event venue, and one of the best “third places” I’ve ever set foot in. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and put together by local heroes including Del Acosta and Bill Carlson, City Councilor and President of the communciations agency Tucker/Hall. Admission is $12.00, and it not only lets you into the event, but also gets you Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast spread. If you want to see interesting presentations and have great conversations with some of the area’s movers, shakers, and idea-makers — myself included — you should attend Café con Tampa!

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Photo by Tampa Bay Times. Click to see the source.

Someday, perhaps a decade from now, when we’re all looking back at how far the Tampa Bay area has come, we’ll look back and remark at the key role that Café con Tampa played. Every Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. in the Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club, Tampa’s most active, engaged, involved, and well-dressed citizens gather to hear important topics given by interesting speakers while enjoying a delicious breakfast in beautiful surroundings.

Friday’s speaker at Café con Tampa was Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, who’s campaigning in the Democratic primary and aiming to become Florida’s next governor.

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to attend Café con Tampa, as work and my speaking and conference schedule have kept me busy. This was the first one I’d been able to attend in weeks. It was good to be back.

Traffic and a shortage of parking spaces (there’s a lot of construction around Oxford Exchange) meant that I missed the first twenty minutes of Gillum’s appearance. As I entered and paid my admission — $12 well spent, in my opinion — I was told “You’re in time for Q&A…the best part!”

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

I walked in just in time to catch a rather aggrieved older gentleman asking where Gillum got the notion that the law preventing former felons from voting even though they have served their time in prison is a relic from the days of Jim Crow. Gillum, who’s probably no stranger to this sort of question, explained the true intent of this kind of voter disenfranchisement with great aplomb and considerable charm.

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

Among the other topics discussed were:

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

Near the end of his session, Gillum talked about the traditional greeting of the Masai people of southern Kenya and northern TanzaniaKasserian engeri?, which translates as “And how are the children?” He pointed out how that greeting underscores the high value that the Masai assigned to the well-being of children, and how much better we all could be if we adopted the same attitude.

Note: There’s a little more to the greeting “And how are the children?”. According to this 2012 Guardian article, the typical Masai greeting is sopa, which translates as “Hello”, and it’s the start of a long greeting process which can include “How is the homestead?”, “How is the weather?”, “How are the cows?”, and “How are the children?”. This isn’t all too different from conversations that any one of us may have had here in North America, where the question “And how’s your family” is likely to come up. Still, the fact that the use of “How are the children?” as a greeting is surprising enough to be a memorable rhetorical device while “How’s business?” isn’t illustrates where our priorities lie.

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

As with most Café con Tampa gatherings, there were more questions than time for them. The questions continued in the atrium, with Gillum surrounded by all manner of recording devices:

Photo by Yours Truly. Click to see at full size.

I went down to the atrium to hear the questions they were asking Gillum, and in the process met with two gentlemen from St. Petersburg’s ACT (Arts Conservatory for Teens): Herbert Murphy and Alex Harris, who spoke at Café con Tampa a couple of weeks ago. They saw the accordion — which I bring to events like this because it starts conversations — and we got into a great conversation about music, technology, and where the two intersect. Herbert and I even talked about having me do a presentation with their students, and I’d be more than happy to take them up on that offer. If you want to meet interesting people in Tampa Bay, and possibly collaborate with them and start something potentially great, you should check out Café con Tampa.

Café con Tampa is a weekly gathering where people interested in the issues that affect Tampa Bay and the world beyond meet to learn and share ideas with interesting, entertaining (and sometimes infuriating) guest speakers. It takes place every Friday between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. in the wonderful setting of Oxford Exchange, a combination of restaurant, book store, gift shop, co-working space, design studio, event venue, and one of the best “third places” I’ve ever set foot in. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and put together by local heroes Del Acosta and Bill Carlson, President of the communciations agency Tucker/Hall. Admission is $12.00, and it not only lets you into the event, but also gets you Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast spread. If you want to see interesting presentations and have great conversations with some of the area’s movers, shakers, and idea-makers — myself included — you should attend Café con Tampa!

Here are Café con Tampa presentations that I’ve written about:

 

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Josh Frank addresses the audience at Cafe con Tampa.

Every Friday morning at 8:00 a.m., some of Tampa Bay’s most engaged citizens come to the main room in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club to attend Café con Tampa, a weekly gathering where guest speakers talk about issues that the Bay and the world beyond. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and put together by local heroes Del Acosta,President of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, and Bill Carlson, President of the communications agency Tucker/Hall.

Josh Frank addresses the audience at Cafe con Tampa.

Click the photo to see it at full size.

Today’s speaker at Café con Tampa was Josh Frank, who has an interesting — and controversial — idea: turning Interstate 275 from a highway into a boulevard like San Francisco’s Embarcadero or Paris’ Champs-Élysées.

Here are my notes:

  • I’m an area native, originally a St. Petersburger, now living in Ybor City
  • So I understand the context of I-275, how people use and see it
  • Spent a year working on the TBX project

TBX is short for Tampa Bay Express, a project that was so unpopular with the people that it’s since been changed and rebranded as Tampa Bay Next. Many people still call it TBX, especially since many believe that it’s just TBX, part two.

  • Sat at tables with various people who would be affected, talking to them about what they liked and didn’t like about their neighborhood
  • At the end of the process, I left feeling dissatisfied
  • Spent next 6 months on my urban community thesis, which focused on people’s interest in community, walkability, safer streets
  • That’s when I came to the conclusion that it’s feasible to turn the stretch of 275 from a highway into a boulevard at grade with transit
  • It allows more cross streets, which you can’t have right now
  • It makes the areas around 275 more walkable
  • Right now, without cross streets, there are certain parts where it can take an hour to cross 275
  • It opens the question “What if you had more transit and light rail?”

Click the photo to see it at full size.

  • Of all the traffic on 275, only 35% is “regional” — people from Wesley Chapel and other areas outside the city
    • The other 65% is local
  • DOT is studying alternatives, and replacing 275 with a boulevard is one of 7
  • By 2019, they will conclude the study and start the decision-making
  • I totally get the frustration of seeing this area flounder when it comes to choosing a solution
  • DOT would have us study other cities, I would rather have other cities study us!
  • We have the opportunity to be leaders in urban design
  • We’re going to spend billions on TBX
  • Think of this way: what can we do given those funds?
  • I don’t want to see that money wasted on a project that at its end, “fills up”, and then requires another project to address its shortcomings
    • That’s what will happen to TBX

Click the photo to see it at full size.

  • The boulevard would increase the economic potential of those areas around it
  • It’s an opportunity to lift people out of depressed economic situations
  • Take away the interstate, you get 37 acres of developable land
  • In those areas around 275, the people who live there spend 33% of income spent on transport
    • Compare that with people in similar economic circumstances in Boston: they spend only 18% of their income on transport
    • Imagine what they could do with 15% of their income freed up

Q&A

Click the photo to see it at full size.

Did your studies include health-related data?

  • Yes
  • Studied fine air particulates and air quality around 275
  • If you can’t walk from your house in Tampa Heights to a couple of blocks away in Ybor because of 275, you’ll walk significantly less — you’ll always opt for the car, even for traveling walkable distances

A page from the documents that Josh passed around. Click the photo to see it at full size.

Would there be an elevated expressway for fast-moving cars?

  • In the boulevard design, there’s a median in the middle, which you can use for all sorts of things, including transit, or an elevated expressway
  • Why not just have all the fast-moving traffic using 75?
    • It parallels 275, and is close enough to 75 that travel time between the two is negligible
    • There’s less environmental and property value impact
  • My design tries to solve as many problems as possible
  • Other uses for that median:
    • A large storm drain to help control flooding
    • Municipal fiber / Google fiber
    • It’s a big blank slate that’s ripe for creative ideas

Photo: Embarcadero in 1989 and 2015.

The Embarcadero, San Francisco, before and after.

Where else have they done a conversion of a highway into a boulevard?

You may want to check out Congress for the New Urbanism’s Highways to Boulevards pages, which cover highway-to-boulevard conversions in Boston, Chattanooga, Madrid, Milwaukee, Paris, Portland, San Francisco, Seoul, and Vancouver.

Aerial photo of Tampa's 'Malfunction Junction', the I-275/i-4 interchange.

Tampas “Malfunction Junction”, the I-275/i-4 interchange.

With the boulevard, what happens to Malfunction Junction?

  • With 275 turned into a boulevard, Malfunction Junction goes away
  • You remove the knot, which removes the congestion and increases efficiency
  • It also frees up a ton of land for neighborhoods to develop
  • You don’t get 37 acres in a prime area opening up very often
  • It’s an opportunity for us to think about the bigger picture

A page from the documents that Josh passed around. Click the photo to see it at full size.

What impact would a downtown baseball stadium have on your project?

  • Any stadium that gets brought into downtown needs to be strongly transit-oriented
  • Simply adding more roads will lead to what I call the “Fat guy, bigger pants” problem: the guy buys bigger pants while trying to lose weight, and never sheds pounds

Will the boulevard project be completed in my lifetime? I’m 59 now.

  • I’m 28, I’d love to see it completed before I’m 40
  • The problem is that here in Tampa Bay, we don’t work so well together
  • There are so many organizations involved, and each wants a specific thing
  • In San Francisco, a project like this would be done in 10 years
  • In order to succeed, it would require so many agencies to work together on a scale that hasn’t been done before
  • It would take:
    • One person with enough sway
    • Or one group with enough interest
    • Or a large enough group of people to agree to work together

A page from the documents that Josh passed around. Click the photo to see it at full size.

Is there an adequate amount of visionary leadership to support this?

  • I wish there was
  • Any urban solution takes a champion
  • Some people would say Jeff Vinik is that champion, but he’s not a publicly elected person — he’s serving his commercial interest and those of his investors
  • We wouldn’t have built 275 today the way we did 40 years ago

A page from the documents that Josh passed around.

Did you include hurricane evacuation routes? The 275 intersections at Nebraska, Florida, Busch are all failed intersections, and in a hurricane, the intersection at Waters would be submerged.

  • Have not been able to cover all the angles in my plan
  • Turning 275 into a boulevard would allow for managing those intersections, which you can’t do right now
  • Evacuation isn’t always the solution, either: more people died as a result of the Hurricane Rita evacuation rather than from
  • If you design the boulevard as an economic development engine, developers will want to come in and build their units around it, and not Wesley Chapel or South Hillsborough
  • Bringing people into dense mixed-use developments is as important as hurricane evacuation

A driverless shuttle bus under consideration by HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority). Click the photo to find out more.

What about the autonomous vehicle argument?

  • Autonomous vehicles are brought up a lot in the planning profession
  • I think autonomous vehicles have a purpose, especially for the “first mile” and “last mile”
  • I don’t see Jeff Vinik building Channelside around autonomous vehicles
  • Instead, he’s building around streetcars to aid in density
  • I think autonomous vehicles are fascinating and have plenty to offer for future transport
  • We don’t have to do autonomous vehicles all at once, but phased in
  • We could have country’s first autonomous bus pilot program

A page from the documents that Josh passed around. Click the photo to see it at full size.

Why wasn’t transit included as part of the Crosstown Expressway plan?

  • It was planned by a DOT of a different era
  • The DOT is different today
  • It takes a lot of time before transit gets implemented in a city
  • As far as transit in concerned, Tampa’s in that “awkward teenager” phase, a growth phase
  • We can either come out of it with a transit plan like that cities like Charlotte have, or we end up in car-centric gridlocks like Atlanta and LA

Minneapolis has same problem that we have: 2 cities, and many counties. Yet they managed to build an independent body to handle transit. Is there something like what they have brewing here?

  • I haven’t heard of anything like that here
  • Keep in mind that unlike Minneapolis/St. Paul, there’s a huge body of water separating our cities, so our situation’s not quite the same
  • I’d love to have the ferry as a transit option
  • In the end, our transit problem will require not just one, but a bunch of solutions
  • “There is no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot”

Other discussion

  • FDOT is rolling out a variety of things, including a regional transit study next year
  • There are local groups, like Citizens’ Acedemy, who are working on webinars explaining transit planning and its terminology to laypeople, so they know what city planners are talking about
  • We have an opportunity: What other ways can we adopt a better conversation? How else do we engage in the conversation and engage citizens? How do we get people involved?
  • I lament a lot about how there isn’t much citizen representation at these meetings
  • There are great initiatives:
    • People uniting to ride the bus more often
    • There are a lot of community design session where you can give feedback on transportation and walkability
    • We have to start valuing this as business owners and entrepreneurs
  • I could easily pack up and move to Denver or Portland, but I want to stay here

  • If you’re building a building, consider how the building affects the public realm before the bottom line
  • If you hire architects and engineers, consider best practices

Photo by Chris Vela, Sunshine Citizens.
Click the photo to see it at full size.

I-275 lowers property value

  • The City of Tampa is funded primarily via property tax
  • Lowered property values mean lowered tax revenues
  • Any high capacity roadway lowers property values
    • A study of realtors’ outcomes and the effects of noise pollution showed that for ever decibel over 55 (about the same level of noise as in a restaurant or office), you lose $1800 off property value
    • The 275 corridor’s average noise level is 85db, which means 275 lowers property values by $54,000
    • That means that 11 miles of property is depressed
  • At the same time, property values increase around transit stations
  • The boulevard’s combination of noise reduction and transit could bring surrounding property up from depressed to market value to above market value
  • Maybe that’s how you fund HART or extend the streetcar
  • 275 is a massive anchor

More about Café con Tampa and Oxford Exchange

Café con Tampa takes place in the wonderful setting of Oxford Exchange,  a combination of restaurant, book store, gift shop, co-working space, design studio, event venue, and one of the best “third places” I’ve ever set foot in. Every Friday between 8 and 9 a.m., Café con Tampa features not only interesting guest speakers, but an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government. If you want to have interesting conversations with some of the area’s movers, shakers, and idea-makers (and enjoy Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast spread), you should come to Café con Tampa.

My favorite seat at Café con Tampa: big, comfortable, and near a window with the view of University of Tampa’s Henry B. Plant Museum.

Café con Tampa speakers whom I’ve covered in this blog include:

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Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

Every Friday morning at 8:00 a.m., some of Tampa Bay’s most engaged citizens come to the main room in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club to attend Café con Tampa, a weekly gathering where guest speakers talk about issues that the Bay and the world beyond. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and put together by local heroes Del Acosta, President of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, and Bill Carlson, President of the communciations agency Tucker/Hall.  Over the past little while, I’ve had the chance to attend, enjoy Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast buffet (it’s part of the $12 admission), and see some interesting speakers, including:

Dr. Todd Willis

Tomorrow’s (Friday, August 18) speaker is Dr. Todd Willis, and he’ll be talking about the Physician’s Assistant Program at the USF and the expanding healthcare workforce. If you’d like to attend, the admission is $12 (cash only), and it includes a nice breakfast spread including fruit, Oxford Exchange’s fantastic bacon/egg and egg sandwiches, bread, a really good granola cereal, coffee, and tea. There’s even a deal for students or other grassroots community leaders who can’t afford the meal; talk to Barbara at the door for details.

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Rick Baker. Creative Commons photo by BAJohnson — click to see the source.

Last Friday’s guest speaker was Rick Baker, mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida from 2001 to 2010, and one of the two leading candidates for St. Pete’s 2017 mayoral election (the other is the current mayor, Rick Kriseman, making this election the Battle of the Ricks).

At the time of writing, the election’s going Baker’s way; the polls from last week say that he has a 6-point lead over Kriseman, and in their July 28th editorial, the Tampa Bay Times endorsed him for mayor. Bill Carlson introduced him by talking about times when he and Baker went for neighborhood walks around St. Pete. “Where most people see the empty lot,” Bill said, “Rick would point out the newly-renovated house, or the fixed sidewalk.”

Here are my annotated notes from his talk:

  • I was first elected mayor in 2001 — elected on a Tuesday and sworn in that Sunday
  • I had to sell my stocks and do the transition from my firm in a very short time
  • On Monday, my first day on the job, I was already at work, talking about a drug rehab center in St. Pete
  • Soon after, I had to fly to [Florida state capital] Tallahassee on short notice, and it was suggested that I fly there with Mayor Greco [Dick Greco, Tampa mayor from 1967 – 1974 and 1995 – 2003] on Tampa’s plane
  • My thought was “Tampa has an air force?”
  • So I flew to Tallahassee with Mayor Greco and Bob Martinez [Tampa mayor from 1979 – 1986], who are two friends that I keep in touch with to this day

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

  • I’m running for mayor of St. Pete
  • I come from the business world, and I’m a strategic planner
  • I believe that if you’re going to run something, you must start with a strategic plan
  • That strategic plan should start with a mission statement
  • My mission statement: Work to make St. Pete the best city in America
  • People used to say “Best city, really?”
  • My goal has to be “best city” — If I set the goal to be the “Work to make St. Pete the 4th best city in Florida”, who will follow me?
  • People are naturally drawn to quests for excellence
  • If you have the right vision, you won’t fail for lack of resources
  • If you stay laser beam focused on a big goal, you’re going to do fine
  • The number 1 job of any mayor is public safety
  • After that, another big job is to improve the economy of the city
  • If you have great things going on in a city but no jobs, it’s no good
  • I want to promote not just new businesses, but also existing ones
  • 80% of new jobs coming into city are going to come from existing businesses
  • I try to go around and ask businesses these questions:
    • What is the city doing well?
    • Where are we falling short?
    • Are you thinking about expanding?
    • Are you thinking about leaving?
  • People that can’t get work can’t buy houses, cars, and other necessities, and they don’t stay

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

  • I’m a new urbanist
  • I believe in pedestrian scale: a walkable city with dog parks, skate parks, the arts
  • I wants St Pete to be the cultural center of Florida
  • Under my administration, we brought the Dali into the core of downtown
  • I spent a couple days with Chihuly and brought him in [there’s a Chihuly gallery in St. Pete]
  • We rebuilt the Mahaffey Theater to be what is it today
    • If you went to the old one and went inside, you’d have it idea it was right by the water because it didn’t have the nice windows facing the bay like it does now
  • Brought St. Pete College downtown
  • Midtown is the most economically depressed part of the city
  • I see St. Pete’s community and business leaders volunteering their time even though they’re busy people
    • It’s a very important asset to the city, and I have great respect for that
  • There were no dog parks when I came into office
    • I signed the city’s first one into existence
    • The lawyers told us not to do it — too high liability
    • The day before our first dog park, we broke ground on library (I built 5 as mayor) and it had the attendance you’d expect
    • Then we built dog park next day for a mere $9000, and 200 people showed up for the opening — the crowd was so big that locals initially complained: “Get these people out of park!”
    • Everybody loves them, they’re really cheap, we’re going to build lots of them
    • People make friends at dog parks
    • They contribute to socialization and quality of life in the city
    • You feel differently about a place when you walk to it and through it
  • Also important: playgrounds, for the same reasons as dog parks
  • Also important:
    • Skateboard parks
    • Libraries
    • Rec centers
    • Athletic centers
    • Public schools
  • All of these make for better neighborhoods

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

  • Started the Mayor’s Doorways program, which awards prepaid Florida scholarships awarded to at-risk kids if they maintain mid-level grades, good conduct, and stay away from drugs and crime
  • Instituted program for recognition and incentives for school principals whose schools showed high standards or improvement
  • Developed the A+ Housing program for interest-free loans for down payments for teachers who bought a home in St. Pete with an additional incentive: “If you stayed a teacher, the loan was forgiven”.
  • There were many improvements in public schools during my term
  • I don’t take credit for them, but the mayor has a bully pulpit to press things forward
  • I want to work with association of builders and contractors to create apprenticeship programs, where you can learn a trade, get paid to go to school and work

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

  • You may be surprised to hear that the number one complaint made to the city was about sidewalks
  • Before I came in, it would take 30 months to get a sidewalk fixed
  • Before my time, the 911 response times in St. Pete was 7.1 minutes. The national average was 7. I brought it down to 5.8.
  • Not only did I request performance reports on many city services, I had them put online in graph form, explained in non-bureaucratic language

Q&A

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

You have repeatedly said the mayor is a non-partisan position. Will you state for the record that you won’t campaign for the Republicans if you become mayor?

  • [This question was asked by an attendee who introduced herself as a member of the local Young Democrats]
  • That question is an attempt to inject partisanship into the race
  • Our charter says it’s not partisan
  • I support the Republicans, but I did not operate as a partisan mayor

St. Pete has been a welcoming place for the LGBT community. What will you do to continue support of that community as part of the city’s economic development?

  • [This question was likely asked because Baker avoided attending it during when he was mayor]
  • I participated in Pride with the Rowdies [in an event that took place separately from St. Pete’s main Pride parade, a couple of weeks prior]
  • I believe in seamlessness, and not seams dividing us, whether it’s gender, sexual orientation, or race…or even if they live in St. Pete
  • I judge on people on my team based on their ability and willingness to make St. Pete the best city
  • I had LGBT members on my cabinet

 

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club. Note: Baker’s use of the word “seamlessness” is most likely a reference to an idea he put forth in his 2011 book The Seamless City: A Conservative Mayor’s Approach to Urban Revitalization That Can Work Anywhere.

 

How will you increase taxes to improve public transportation?

  • So you’re asking me to make a political commitment to raise taxes? That won’t happen.
  • I think your real core concern is transportation
  • Needs to be looked at regionally
  • We don’t just live and work in St. Pete — some of us commute from St. Pete to Tampa, Clearwater, and other places, and some people commute to St. Pete from outside
  • Worked hard in 1999 to get a better north-south corridor
  • Trying to make US 19 a controlled access corridor, and same for 118 to connect it to I-275
  • I would like to be able to go from downtown St. Pete to Dunedin without stopping for a light
  • I’m also big on bike paths
  • In 2000, St. Pete was bad for bikes and pedestrians — it was deadly
  • As mayor, I created city trails, built new sidewalks, shortened sidewalk repair time, and built the largest bike trail system in the Southeast

What will you do to keep St. Pete affordable for small businesses and homeowners?

Would you commit money to continue the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project?

  • I will not commit money to a specific project here
  • I rode it, and it was quite nice, but I would need to review it from a city perspective

Assuming Tropicana field became available, how would it fit with your plans for the city?

  • I’m very careful about assumptions like that
  • I was on the baseball committee at the Chamber of Commerce back in the 1990s
  • My first job as mayor would be to work with the Rays and find a solution
  • I’d already had discussions with the Rays, even before I announced my campaign
  • And if Tropicana Field became available, you’re looking at 85 acres in the core of one of the hottest cities in the Southeast

How do you view light rail?

  • It could be a solution between Tampa and St. Pete
  • It’s like food, it’s gotta be the right thing
  • We’d need to evaluate it; I do think it’s a good thing

I don’t want to make this a partisan question, but back in the 80s it never occurred to me to ask what party a mayor belonged to. But with the current political situation and St. Pete’s “strong mayor” system, and a largely Democratic city council, it does. If you become mayor, there will be hard feelings. How might you end the divide?

  • Your premise is that you don’t want to suck me into a partisan question, but this is one
  • You worked with me on [St. Petersburg Mayor from 1991 – 2001] Dave Fischer’s campaign [apparently the person who asked this question and Rick Baker know each other — Joey], and he was a Democrat. Yet I ran his campaign for mayor.
  • When I was mayor, a newspaper did a survey of everyone I appointed to office and checked their registrations. It turned out that there were more Democrats than Republican. I didn’t know that, because I never checked.
    • This has not been the case in the last 4 years, but that’s the way I would run my office

One-on-one

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

Café con Tampa runs on a fairly strict 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. schedule since in takes place within a private club, and as the organizers like to say, “the lease runs out at 9”. This means that the Q&A ends at 9 and most attendees file out and make their way to the rest of their day, but there are always a number of stragglers who stick around to network and ask the guest speaker one-on-one questions. Between my recent attendance and the accordion, I’ve gotten to know some of the regulars, and stayed to catch up with them as well as ask Baker a question. While waiting to have a moment with him, I listened as other people asked him their questions.

Having come from the city that elected Rob Ford, who used to rails about “the war on the car” and against cyclists, it’s unusual for me to hear a conservative mayoral candidate talk about the importance of walkable cities, and how people really come to appreciate places that they walk to and through. To one person, he recommended that they read Richard Florida’s writings on the Creative Class and the value they bring to cities. To another, he talked about how it wasn’t always obvious to taxpayers that putting money into cultural and liveabilty was actually economic development. He also talked about how municipal governments more often can’t change a city for the better through direct means, but often do so indirectly by putting the right elements into place.

I asked him one question: With your involvement and influence in the community as a private citizen, why run for mayor again? I’ve talked to a number of people who’ve had similar positions, and while they enjoyed their leadership stint, they say they’d do it only once, and never again. His answer was simple: there’s only so much he could do as a private citizen, and that current mayor Rick Kriseman’s mishandling of a number of issues — including the sewage debacle, in which 200 million gallons of sewage was dumped into Tampa Bay — inspired his run.

Also worth reading

Screenshot of SaintPetersblog article, 'In Tampa, Rick Baker refuses to talk about partisanship in mayoral contest'

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to SaintPetersblog’s coverage of Baker’s talk.

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Peter Schorsch at Café con Tampa

by Joey deVilla on August 4, 2017

Café con Tampa is a weekly gathering where people interested in the issues that affect Tampa Bay and the world beyond meet to learn and share ideas with interesting, entertaining (and sometimes infuriating) guest speakers. It takes place every Friday between 8 and 9 a.m. in the wonderful setting of Oxford Exchange, a combination of restaurant, book store, gift shop, co-working space, design studio, event venue, and one of the best “third places” I’ve ever set foot in. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and put together by local hero Bill Carlson, President of the communciations agency Tucker/Hall. If you want to have interesting conversations with some of the area’s movers, shakers, and idea-makers (and enjoy Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast spread), you should attend!

Today’s speaker at Café con Tampa was Peter Schorsch, political consultant and political journalist, and publisher of SaintPetersblog and FloridaPolitics.com. I’m a regular reader of SaintPetersblog and an occasional reader of FloridaPolitics.com, and I also recall Schorsch’s name from that time he broke a Starbucks “pay it forward” line on the principle that it was a cynical marketing move on Starbucks’ part, and that participants were driven by guilt and the need to save face, rather than by a spirit of generosity. Since moving here, I’ve found Schorsch reliably informative and entertaining, so I made it a point to catch his presentation today.

Here are my annotated notes…

  • I have the best gig in Florida politics!
  • I get to take shots at every big name in the game from my comfortable vantage point in lovely St. Pete
  • I feel like a Robin Hood, taking money from Florida Power and and giving it to the readers
  • I’m more excited about my job right now than I’ve ever been!
  • I’m also proud of something I wrote recently, about Jack Latvala’s run for governor: “If there’s one mammal who has done more to bring dollars to north Pinellas’ economy than Winter the Dolphin, it’s state Senator Jack Latvala.”

Click the photo to see it at full size.

Click the photo to see it at full size.

  • “I am a walking conflict of interest,” since I report on political news and am consulted as a resource by politicians
  • I think SaintPetersblog’s coverage of St. Pete politics is second to none
  • We also help local political journalists — when the Tribune went down, we offered a lifeline
    • Some came aboard and stayed, some went, some still contributing
  • Our biggest recent political story was getting [Tampa Bay Lightning owner / local real estate magnate] Jeff Vinik on the record to say that he was one of the secret investors for the Tampa Bay Times
  • That goes to show that the Times, although it is pound-for-pound the best newspaper in the country, still faces the same conflicts of interest because of the money it accepts
  • The Weekly Planet and Creative Loafing once provided an alternative to the Tribune and Times, but now that role’s filled by St. Petersblog
  • You can’t dismiss me a just a blogger; I’m not always writing in my underwear. Well, maybe sometimes.
  • SaintPetersblog is a silly name, and Florida Politics is a much better one. Luckily, we were able to get the Floridapolitics.com domain when it went up for sale eBay. We got it for $18,000.
  • We’ve got great reporters like A.G. Gancarski and Scott Powers writing for us
  • We have the largest political reporting footprint in the state
  • We also have a magazine that’s pretty much the Teen Beat of Tallahassee; that is, it’s glossy photos of lobbyists. It may not be exciting to you, but the lobbyists are clamoring to be featured!
  • Our bread and butter is email — our Sunburn mailing list (SaintPetersblog’s daily political news summary)
    • Email may sound old-fashioned, but I think it’s the future of journalism

Click the photo to see it at full size.

  • 2018 will be busiest cycle ever for Florida politics
  • There are so many key races:
    • Governor
    • Agriculture Commissioner
    • CFO
    • Attorney General
  • There’s also the Constitution Revision Commission. [In 1968, Florida became the only state that allows for its state constitution to be revisited and changed through a regularly scheduled commission called the Constitution Revision Commission. They meet once every 20 years, and 2018 is the next such year, and they will review and approve proposals on constitutional topics that run the range fromgambling to education to redistricting to the courts, and the impact of those decisions will be felt for the next two decades.]
  • Many initiatives will be on the ballot, including:
  • Pay particular attention to the special elections: the people who win these often end up 8 years later in roles such as Speaker of the House
  • In 2018, the demographic changes that were predicted to help Florida Democrats will take their effect
  • The Democrats are recruiting better and better candidates, especially in South Florida
  • The Puerto Rico bankruptcy will also be a 2018 election issue
  • Orlando is a battleground unto itself
  • [Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives] Richard Corcoran got what he wanted last session and will go deeper into policy issues
    • You’re going to see him really make his move in the coming months
    • Over wine and cigars, he personally told me that he’s absolutely running for Governor
    • Any of the hemming and hawing you see will be just for show
    • By Easter, you’re going see his campaign signs on people’s yards
  • I’m excited to talk about Governor’s race! There are some good candidates out there.
    • There’s John Morgan, the “Hamlet of Hemp”, the 800 pound gorilla
    • [Bible-thumping yet bleeding-heart liberal businessman] Chris King: You’d be surprised — a lot of smart people around him, he has a great record in the private sector, and if you were to meet him in person and talk with him for a while, you would be thoroughly impressed by him

Click the photo to see it at full size.

  • I do love the Tampa Bay Times, but I also love beating up in them
  • My relationship with the Times is horribly acrimonious
  • Rick Baker told me: “They will not stop until they put you in jail.”
  • If you asked the Times who Public Enemy Number One is, I’m second after the Scientologists
  • I regret my bad relationship with them
  • When SaintPetersblog was just me, I had to set my hair on fire just to get attention, so I took shots at what I thought was the Times doing bad reporting
  • [Tampa Bay Times political editor] Adam Smith is like a cop itching for a fight — ready to put down the badge and go for it
  • Other local journalists see that we’re trying to help them and keep them employed
  • I like to say we run a halfway house for journalists
  • Outside of the Times, we maintain relationships with local journalists

Q&A

When you advise politicians, what company do you bill as?

  • “None of your damn business!”
  • Well, you can do some research and it wouldn’t be too hard to connect the dots
  • One of those companies is Extensive Enterprises Media (see the super-fun fact below!)
  • Anybody can advertise with us
  • We’ve beaten up on our mentors
  • None of our reporters will ever say that we’ve told them to lean one way or another
  • People know where I stand, but I don’t tell my reporters where to stand
  • I do try to get reporters to cover the things that the other outlets aren’t covering
    • For example, we write about underdogs
    • I like being the one result you find when you Google for the early days of big names who were once considered to be long shots

How do you deal with the big problems of journalism today, such as the war on truth and clickbait?

  • I think your question is better put as “How do you deal with fake news?”
  • We don’t do stories like “Charlie Crist put his finger in a light socket, click here to see what happened next!” but wow, from the money and readership that those stories would generate, it’s tempting
  • We choose to write stories about Florida politics that other people don’t cover
  • I compare myself to a chef with a couple of 3- and 4-star restaurants, as opposed to someone with a big chain of fast food joints
    • I take pride in being smaller, and producing higher quality
    • Think of it as the difference between Mise en Place and McDonald’s

How do you think Trump will affect the 2018 elections in Florida?

  • Florida is not very impacted by Trump politics yet
  • However, it clearly a hotbed a Trump support:
  • It became clear from that poll that showed that he could beat Jeb in Florida
  • What I find interesting is Adam Putnam veering right to be like Trump and doing things that are uncharacteristic for his middle-of-the-road approach like embracing the NRA
    • He’s doing this because he doesn’t want to be “Jeb 2.0”
    • He’s capitalizing on his opponents calling him an NRA sellout by actually selling an #nrasellout t-shirt on his site
    • Not really that guy; for most of his career, he’s been reliably center-right
    • The lesson he learned from Trump is that authenticity sells, even if you’re full of shit
  • Let me state it right now: Adam Putnam will not be governor
  • We forget there’s a big senate race, but it will be boring:
    • You’ve got a Democrat in his 70s and [Florida Governor and human-python hybrid] Rick Scott, the most on-message politician to climb out of a test tube
    • They will run an uninteresting campaign that will largely be a referendum on the Trump administration

In a story that you’re publishing about a politician, do you disclose that you’re advising them?

  • Voters and readers are so interested in the information that the conflicts of interest aren’t as big a deal
  • Will the Times put “Jeff Vinik is our secret sugar daddy” at the bottom of every story they write about him?
  • I frame myself as a managing editor, my job is to take my reporters’ defense and fight for them

What do you do if someone were to approach you with a story?

  • It would have to be in our wheelhouse — Florida politics
  • We’d love to be the go-to source for a story
  • We’re faster — on smaller stories, we’re a little more “shoot first, ask questions later”

Do you think that in the age of Trump, we’ll see more Rick Scotts — more self-financed candidates?

  • Perhaps Francis Rooney in Naples…he’s been all sorts of things: multimillionaire, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and ran for Congress
  • Trump is so unique, he’s an oyster scarred by the New York tabloids
  • Trump is a product of the times

How do you think transportation issues will play out in Florida politics?

  • We’re leading the way in the race to legalize autonomous cars
  • Look at all the stories about driverless cars and semis
  • The trend towards Uber is anti-rail
  • Rail as a concept is not attractive to voters; it’s a 19th-century concept
  • Even when people decide to go with rail transit, there are implementation issues:
    • Consider the rail system in St. Pete — the city is divided along racial lines, with most black people living south of Central Avenue
    • But the rail cuts off at Central Avenue and doesn’t go south, where the people who need it most actually live
    • If you say you’re going to put a rail spike in one spot, 7 people will disagree because they have their own idea about where it should go
  • Who will be the advocate for a rail initiative?

Super-fun fact about Extensive Enterprises

As soon as Schorsch uttered the phrase “Extensive Enterprises”, my first thought was: As in the fake business that acts as a front for Cobra from the ’80s G.I. Joe animated series? And yes, that is the case. When Schorsch stated this, I was the only one in the room who laughed and clapped. Café con Tampa needs more geeks!

He even mentioned the names of the Crimson Twins, Tomax and Xamot, the two psychically-linked mirror-image twins who are both high-level Cobra operatives…

and the co-CEOs of Extensive Enterprises:

Here’s a G.I. Joe clip featuring the twins in business mode…

…and here’s a clip that’s got everything, including businesses buying politicians, the twins’ psychic link, and just all-round terrible eighties cartoon scripting:

(I’ll stop now before I shame myself any further.)

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Michelle Royal at Café con Tampa

by Joey deVilla on July 14, 2017

 Café con Tampa is a weekly gathering where people interested in the issues that affect Tampa Bay and the world beyond meet to learn and share ideas with interesting, entertaining (and sometimes infuriating) guest speakers. It takes place every Friday between 8 and 9 a.m. in the wonderful setting of Oxford Exchange, a combination of restaurant, book store, gift shop, co-working space, design studio, event venue, and one of the best “third places” I’ve ever set foot in. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government. If you want to have interesting conversations with some of the area’s movers, shakers, and idea-makers (and enjoy Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast spread), you should attend!

Today’s speaker at Café con Tampa was Michelle Royal, CEO and founder of RIDG, which is pronounced “ridge” and short for Royal Innovation Design Group. A consultant, entrepreneur, and speaker based in St. Petersburg, she helps people and organizations create breakthroughs in the way they think and act, which are very necessary in this day and age. She gave an interesting talk and started some lively discussions today. Here are my annotated notes…

  • I work in innovation and disruption
  • I was raised in the Subway franchise world. My family owned first the Subways in Arkansas, well before it had caught on in the U.S., never mind the world, and learned a lot of business and entrepreneurship
  • When I first moved here, I changed lines of work — from psychology and therapy to real estate
  • That’s how I found Tampa Bay’s creative economy, just as it was getting ignited
  • During that time, I attended conference that changed the trajectory of my life, launching me into the world of innovation and design
  • I landed in the perfect suite of mentors, who taught me how to engage in the innovation process

  • We love to use the word “disruption” a lot these days
  • There’s currently an overload of data, so it’s not surprising that data analysis is now a big field
  • To me, the big issue these days is the workforce
  • I’m an engineer, but not of software or hardware, but humans. That’s where I’ve chosen to innovate.
  • The work we do is around innovation is to help us hedge against intractable problems coming our way
  • Accenture’s CEO recently said that half the jobs there did not exist 4 years ago
  • There are new roles – the transition is happening
  • Over the next 10 years, both our workforce and the nature of work will transform
  • I’m concerned about automation and augmentation
  • My passion around disruption is to tap into things that empower us

  • In order to take on disruption, you need to cross these five thresholds:
    1. Commitment: The willingness to understand and do what it takes to move beyond the effects of disruption, using our most powerful tool, our mind. This is largely about reality setting, and it will be required as digital and human worlds collide.
    2. Alignment: Ensuring that all parties concerned are together in understanding and direction. It’s the right answer to the question “Do we see things from the same perspective?”
    3. Focus: Attention paid to and around immediate risks and opportunities that you want to take advantage of.
    4. Capabilities: How much time, talent, and money can we pour into the disruption opportunity?
    5. Network strength: What network resources are there to help you tackle this risk opportunity? Can your customers handle the change?

For a little more context, here’s RIDG’s video (it’s 6:35 long) about what it means to be “disruption ready”:

  • Dealing with disruption requires many kind of intelligence working concurrently:
    • Cognitive intelligence
    • Emotional intelligence
    • Social intelligence
  • Human problems require a level of interpretation and collaboration that cannot be done by machines — at least not by machines now or near future
  • There’s a lot of work to do, but we came out of an educational system that didn’t completely teach us how to do so
  • Remember: Machines cannot create meaning, nor can they motivate action to bring about change
  • My passion is for human engineering and preparing us for the future

Q&A

How would you suggest we re-orient Trump past his “prom fixation” — the need to be the most popular, the most talked-about person — in order to get him to make positive changes?

  • There’s a thing called synthesis genius that I like to use in this sort of situation
  • Ask yourself this: Was Trump the only disruptor in this election? Definitely not — so was Bernie, and even Hillary, in her own way
  • We had an election campaign rife with disruptors, and the biggest disruptor won
  • To get past an uncomfortable state, we need reality setting, which requires listening to others and understanding their realities. This is valuable, especially when faced with scenarios and complexities that are upsetting and terrifying
  • This calls for both “the right kind of crazy” and an environment of trust
  • Because trust is involved, innovation requires a character and integrity that we haven’t emphasized recently
  • How would I shift Trump’s mindset? I would point him in the direction of things that he wants. That’s going to be tricky, since right now, he’s getting exactly what he wants.

With all the current forces and factors affecting work, jobs are under threat. How do we have a society without jobs?

  • We have to shift our perspective and redesign what “work” is
  • There’s some great work happening on that front in the UN: take a look at their Sustainable Development Goals 2015 – 2030
  • The Singularity University in California has aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
  • Silicon Valley is not our savior! It will not save us from changes in workforce, food sources, or job opportunities. They’re solving some challenges, but only those that they deem worthwhile.
  • You need to be aware of where the U.S. stands on social progress? According to Social Progress Index, the U.S. is in the top 4 for innovation, but 19th or 20th in social progress
  • By “social progress”, we mean availability of basic human needs and foundations for well-being, including healthcare, some work to support family, basic education, opportunities for advancement

What about blue-collar work? Why is it being ignored or given less stature when there are many blue-collar jobs that pay as well as many white-collar ones?

  • We should look at Germany, and how they invest in trade schools
  • No matter what the work is — blue-collar or white-collar — the question to ask is: Can it be automated and replicated?

I’m fascinated by the use of the word “disruption”. How do you distinguish between disruption and just plain old evolution?

  • The difference between the two is the speed at which things have changed
  • There are all sorts of disruptive technologies that have appeared not that long ago: consider Facebook and Bitcoin
  • A lot of disruption is being driven by Moore’s Law

A note from Joey: Moore’s Law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who observed in 1965 that the number of transistors you could pack onto a chip doubled every two years. It’s since been diluted into the more layperson-friendly summary that computer power doubles every 18 months.

I’m in the restaurant business, where the predominant narrative is that there aren’t enough people to do the work. How do we attract people to do the work, which requires standing for a long time in “fire and ice”?

  • Millennials have a work ethos: they want work with meaning, that matters, and has an impact
  • I have an accounting client that’s afraid that their work in boring their workers, but in fact it’s helping their customers and making a lot of things for them possible
  • Either you know how you’re changing the world, or you’re not
  • It’s all about human engineering: knowing what motivates people and how to get it to them
  • We have to be passionate and care about what customers need
  • That’s what my work is: I’m in the business of reassurance

What do you think about things like the Blue Ocean Strategy or Lean Startup? 

  • There’s a religiosity about entrepreneurs in the popular media
  • I see the same 5 faces over and over on Wired and Fast Company talking about the same things
  • Silicon Vally will not save us, neither will companies whose prime objective is to raise value for shareholders
  • I read a recent Wired article on dealflow [the rate at which investors receive business proposals and investment offers] — Silicon Valley had 1,500 last year, New York had 800, and Florida’s not even on the map
  • Small communities cannot compete with Silicon Valley; our solutions have to be local and unique to our needs in order to properly serve us
  • We have to find things together  as a business community, work together and support each other
  • Certainty comes from capital, or grit and grind — and grit and grind needs community support!

In a world with increasing automation and an Orwellian corporate presence, with everything monitored and measured, how do we maintain a good quality of life and disrupt disruption?

  • This calls for something I mentioned before: alignment, between organizations and the communities they serve

Can or will government play a role in disruption or mitigating its effects, especially with Millennials not having had an impact on government yet?

  • If government is obsolete, we might as well throw in the towel
  • I’m on Alliance for Innovation, working with local governments to advance themselves
  • The landscape of policy and politics needs to change, and it’s up to us to define that change
  • Consider the question the electorate just asked: What if government was run more like a business? The answer, of course, is the current administration.
  • What experiments can we try? One possibility is micro-initiatives – $500 projects
  • Another experiment: the one in Times Square, where they put chairs in the middle and shut it off to traffic, before making the superblock investment, which is a way of reorganizing flow and making cities more liveable. They did this in Barcelona.
  • That’s one of the ideas we can borrow from Lean Startup — teaching people to think differently

Bill Carlson: I’m concerned about the messages we’re getting out to young people. I was recently at a meeting with local leaders, and one of them suggested taking all university funding, focusing it on solely STEM, and getting rid of “stupid [non-STEM] degrees”. What do we do about this, especially since in 10 years, it’s the white collar jobs that will get wiped out?

  • The Institute for the Future identified these as the top skills we’ll need:
    • Sense-making,
    • Various intelligences — cognitive, emotional, social
    • Working virtually and physically
    • Taking multiple pieces of info and creating meaning from them
    • Multimedia multitasking
  • These all sound like Millennial talents!

We talk about disruption like hurricanes — why don’t we talk them more as things we can use in our favor?

  • Uber does — they treat it as a tactic or tool. Consider the way they’ve disrupted employment law in order to further their business model
  • That’s the difference between a headwind and tailwind, for those of you familiar with sailing
  • It’s all about viewing disruption as something that happens to us or as something we can harness
  • There are unintended consequences
  • We have choices today — they might be killing us — but we have choices!

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