Two weeks ago, members of the Hillsborough County Commission took turns eviscerating Rick Homans, the head of the Tampa/Hillsborough County Economic Development Corporation. Criticisms included learning secondhand about a report that Homans had been talking to surrounding counties about a joint economic development effort without taking it to the BOCC, as well as gripes that he had neglected to include Commissioners on overseas business trips. Being the leading funder of the organization, the County as a whole seemed singularly unimpressed with the EDC leader, and called on him to address the board at their next meeting.
What a difference two weeks makes.
This time with Homans standing front of them after he had already met personally with five of the seven board members since his tongue-lashing, the tenor was significantly warmer, though one of his his harshest critics — Commissioner Al Higginbotham — remained silent throughout the discussion.
Saying that "nothing beats face-to-face personal communications," Homans was contrite — but not too contrite. He thanked the board members for meeting with him, acknowledging that he had dropped the ball in keeping them in the loop with what's happening with his agency. He then humblebragged that he was "pretty aggressive" at times, saying that he tended to challenge the "old way of doing things, especially if I think a new approach can deliver better results."
Commissioners had also voiced concerns about his lack of involvement with the recent IIFA "Bollywood" Awards, branding, transportation and collaborating with Pinellas County. Homans opted not to discuss publicly his responses to those concerns, however, instead saying that he hoped through his personal meetings that he had successfully addressed their concerns.
And though they may have issues with his style, Commissioners appeared hard-pressed to take issue with what he and his team have accomplished since taking over the EDC at the beginning of 2012, such as increasing private funding from $800,000 to $2 million annually; helping to bring in 10,000 new jobs and $750,000 in new capital investments to the county; and helping lead the county to the most job growth in the state, with more than 2,000 more new jobs than Jacksonville and Orlando combined, — with a 5.6 percent unemployment rate below state and national averages, and home values up 46 percent.
Commissioners that spoke so critically earlier this month took a decidedly softer tone. But Commissioner Sandy Murman said that she wanted to be sure that Homans was recruiting businesses that ultimately landed in Hillsborough — and not an outlying area like Pinellas or Pasco. "Our taxpayers would not be happy if we were using our dollars to say, get a company in Pinellas County or something like that," she said. "I’m very sensitive to that and I know people in my district are."
Commissioner Victor Crist said he understood "the dynamics of regionalism," saying his only concern was the lack of communications between Homans' office and other commissioners.
Undoubtedly aware of the political dynamics, Homans' office just happened to release moments before his appearance the news that Quest Diagnostics had opened a new facility in Tampa that will add 350 new customer service, logistics and human resources jobs by 2015. Homans made sure to mention that when extolling the virtues of the agency.