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Dave Sobush, Director of Policy and Research with the Tampa Bay Partnership, Addresses Executive MBA Class

By Keith Morelli

Dave Sobush

TAMPA (January 7, 2019) -- Dave Sobush, a true guru when it comes to economic drivers and indicators, painted a dissonant picture of the Tampa Bay region with some encouraging – and some disheartening – brush strokes, before an Executive MBA class earlier this month.

Sobush, director of policy and research for the Tampa Bay Partnership, appeared as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series, a program that brings business leaders, movers and shakers to the classroom to speak candidly about various leadership-related topics. About 60 Executive MBA students in two cohorts were in attendance. Students in the program are already executives in the private sector and public service.

Sobush talked about this year’s partnership-sponsored regional competitiveness report, which over the past three years has compared the Tampa Bay region to 19 other metropolitan communities across the nation. The report offers extensive analysis of economic data to determine how the region fares against those communities.

Tampa Bay, as a term that refers to the communities surrounding the actual Tampa Bay, first emerged as a brand in the 1970s with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It wasn’t until the 1990s that local business interests began pushing Tampa Bay as a brand and sold it on the merits of its location, weather and other amenities. But even then, representatives from each of the myriad of communities within the Tampa Bay region were competing against themselves in trying to entice businesses and corporations here.

That’s when the business leaders began to work together selling the entire region, from the bass-rich lakes of Citrus County to the sun-soaked beaches of Sarasota County and all points in between. Three years ago, the Tampa Bay Partnership embarked on a quest for data to compare this community each year to those other metro areas.

The focus of Tampa Bay promotion is now set on improving drivers and indicators to make this community a better place to live, said Sobush, himself a 2003 graduate of the USF MBA program.

“We spoke to 100 businesses and (nonprofits),” he said, “and asked them, ‘What are the needs of the people you serve?’”

That was the start, he said, of itemizing the economics of the community, determining how it measures itself and how those measurements can be changed for the better.

The outlook? It’s a mixed bag, Sobush said. Downsides include high school graduation rates are dismal compared to the other communities, as is unemployment and poverty. The gross regional product per capita ranks dead last.

On the upside: The Tampa Bay region represents the ninth largest economy in the nation and there’s a lot to be encouraged about. More people move into the region each day than in any of the other communities in the survey and the lack of transportation options here – considered a key in addressing several other deficiencies – is being addressed with the recent passage of a sales tax to fund those transportation needs.

“It’s a great place to live, a great place to study and a great place to do business,” he said. “Everybody’s cheering for the Lightning, wringing their hands about the Buccaneers and wondering what’s going on with the Rays.”

The Distinguished Speaker Series gives students a chance to learn from Fortune 500 executives, entrepreneurs, philanthropists and international business speakers who share their business lessons, talk about successes and failures. Many of the speakers are former Executive MBA students. Past speakers have included Mark Mondello, CEO of Jabil, Bob Dutkowsky, former CEO of Tech Data, Matt Silverman, president of the Tampa Bay Rays and Kenneth Feld, chairman/CEO of Feld Entertainment.