The notion that real products trump PR, pitches, and community generated awards is hardly a new theme on this blog, but in light of recent events and press coverage (good and bad) in the region, it deserves repeating. I know some may view this as me taking a shot at local EDCs and status-quo business leadership, but keeping our collective egos in check while focusing on what is sustainable needs to be ever present in our discussion of economic measurements and the non-hyped make up of the business / tech community.
Bob Trigaux’s recent article in the Tampa Bay Times titled “It’s not jobs, but quality of jobs that matters…“, highlights the issue of economically uplifting and sustainable growth vs. just measuring raw new job / unemployment numbers. We can’t sit back and slap ourselves on the back just yet because the recent growth in jobs is a false benchmark and the volatility in our economy is no better than those of the last pre-recession feel-good metrics. While I am thankful for jobs that are putting people back to work and paying a living wage, more service, construction, and tourism jobs do not strengthen our long term economic strength as a region. It’s not all about tech and innovation, those jobs are only a portion of our economy but we need to be honest about what contributes to economic sustainability and what is just the fodder used to justify an economic development incentive package or hype yet another ribbon cutting ceremony.
As for the tech ecosystem growth, early last year in a letter I sent to Bob (which he published on the Times OpEd page). In that note, I brought his attention to the fact that we use too broad a brush when talking about tech and its contributions to the local economy. The press, fueled by economic development marketers, politicians, and academics like to tout our innovation-based economy and the many achievements of our region based on new “tech” jobs, number of patents, or the presence of a new source of venture capital that has landed here as if they were a higher life form visiting from another galaxy. As I have said before, not all tech is real tech and just because you have a laptop on your desk or a smart phone in your pocket does not mean you should be counted as a tech worker. I created the following three categories to easily identify a way to represent our “tech” worker population.
- Companies that buy and use technology — this would include most of Tampa Bay’s employers (financial firms, professional services, call centers, etc.)
- Companies that enable tech (logistics or profession IT services) — Tech Data, Jabil, Tribridge, PWC, KPMG, most of MacDill AFB’s vendors, etc.
- Companies that develop and sell tech — Fair Warning, Numara (now BMC), ConnectWise, MyMatrixx, etc.
Understanding and embracing this fact will help build our region’s credibility and lay the ground work for more honest and focused marketing of our successes. This is crucial for our growth as a tech-friendly region, these distinctions and the value that each brings in terms of workforce, wealth and global recognition is what helps redefine our economic DNA so we can celebrate what is working and nurture what is underserved. No amount of rebranding or feel good (poorly researched) press makes you a better region and painting the tech community with one big brush not only diminishes the efforts of those actually developing new products and organically generating high-skilled jobs, but it also perpetuates the notion that all we need is better PR or some type of manufactured swagger to provide our region with the credibility to compete in a dynamic global economy.