MLV 2021: Vision, Diversity, Transformation

Energy was abundant as our 2021 Metro Leadership Visit kicked off. After having to take a year off, it was clear everyone was ready to be inspired while exploring Tampa and spending time connecting with one another.

While on the ground in Tampa, we saw amazing projects and heard from extraordinary leaders. Reflecting on this time, three words encompass what we saw in Tampa:

Vision | Diversity | Transformation

Mayor Castor, City of Tampa, is a true visionary, committed to Transforming Tampa’s Tomorrow by focusing on the key issues of housing affordability, transportation, sustainability and resilience, development services and workforce development. Mayor Castor has assembled a top-rate team that is using her strategic plan to truly transform the city.

As leaders on this visit, we must also have vision. The vision to imagine what the Charleston region can be and have the drive to create change.

Regarding diversity, we were in a city with a very diverse population (43% White; 21% Black or African American; 28% Hispanic) and it is evident Tampa has fully embraced diversity. Multiple times I heard comments around the number of impressive female leaders we had the opportunity to hear from. From leading the city, to the Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator and everything in between, there were numerous female leaders providing the vision required to advance Tampa.

Tampa was not the only thing that was diverse though, so were our attendees. MLV 2021 featured our most diverse group of attendees to date. It is not just important, but critical, that our delegation of leaders be diverse in all essences – race, gender, LGBTQ, industry, backgrounds, etc. This not only enriches the trip, but ensures diverse minds are part of addressing our region’s challenges and working towards solutions. While we still want even greater levels of diversity, we are so grateful for each and every attendee who took this journey with us.

Now for some highlights from the trip…

Housing Attainability:

Mayor Castor is focused on addressing the housing affordability issue facing her city, in fact she has committed to creating 10,000 affordable housing units by 2027. With 145 people moving into the city each day, it continues to put constraint on the market and their rent prices are simply unattainable.

With only four percent of vacant land, they must be very intentional about growth and the utilization of redevelopment. They are also looking to pair housing and transit, creating better access to transit stations and ultimately increasing the value of the neighborhood.

The City of Tampa is working to utilize every tool in their toolbox. They are exploring creative solutions to begin to meet their critical housing demands – everything from expedited permit approvals, developer incentives, redevelopment and protecting the existing affordable housing.

“No neighborhood will be left behind in the city while I am Mayor.” – Mayor Castor, City of Tampa


Tampa is taking nothing and turning it into thriving communities. First up is Water Street Tampa, the world’s first pre-certified WELL community. The developers took a desolate, industrial area and turned it into a thriving community featuring residential, office, hotels and entertainment. It features nine million square feet of density across 56 acres, with a $3.5 billion total investment. It is built on the foundation of wellness, walkability, sustainability, technology and connectivity.

“Vision, timing and good capital structure is allowing us to do this.” – David Bevirt, Strategic Property Partners, LLC

The Heights/Armature Works – SoHo Capital purchased the 50-acre riverfront property in bankruptcy with the vision of creating modernized neighborhood offering entertainment, work space and shops, and residential. All with the goal of creating jobs. They created this unique space by honoring its history and recycling as many original materials as possible. SoHo Capital also understands that the river is for everybody to enjoy and created a space that is accessible to be experienced by every citizen.

MacDill Air Force Base:

MLV trip attendees had the unique opportunity to visit the MacDill Air Force Base and hear from Commander Col. Benjamin Jonsson. MacDill is very similar to Joint Base Charleston in that it is also a joint base and works closely with JB Charleston for the refueling of C-17s.

The base is home to two combatant commands, 33 mission partners, 7,721 active-duty, 4,545 civilians, 4,539 contractors and 24 KC-135s. MacDill has a $2.87 billion economic impact.

Col. Jonsson spoke about the importance and value of community support for the base, a common theme we hear from our own Col. Marc Greene. Both MacDill and JB Charleston are bases service members want to be stationed at and both communities have high veteran populations, infusing our community with the great talents of our retired service members.

Not only did we receive an insightful briefing, but we had opportunities to tour a KC-135 or participate in refueling and flying simulators. An experience not soon to be forgotten.

Minority Business Accelerator:

The Tampa Bay Chamber launched their Minority Business Accelerator in 2019 to help black and Hispanic businesses reposition themselves to attract capital, scale their business operations and increase sustainability in the marketplace. The two-year program pairs participants with business and finance mentors and provides practical tools for change to position participants to increase capacity, create jobs and build wealth.

We were honored to hear from a panel of past participants and to say this session was inspiring would be an understatement, especially as our Chamber gears up to launch our program in January 2022. Here are some key takeaways from the panelists:

  • The accelerator helped me uncover my blind spots and where my success was limited.
  • It is a life changing program for the right company, at the right time.
  • We don’t need charity, just guidance. This program said, “don’t judge us by what we say but by our actions.”
  • Mentors must go through as rigorous of a process as the applicants as they are a critical component to a participant’s success.
  • Participants must be coachable – it is essential.


Just like our region, Tampa is struggling with transportation infrastructure and building a robust transit system. Transportation is part of Mayor Castor’s strategic plan and a $3 billion infrastructure plan has been passed.

While the city of Tampa is in Hillsborough County, the MSA also contains Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties. This wide reach resulted in over 40 different transit studies being conducted, all of which boil down to four main buckets:

  • Connecting region
  • Expanding service and frequency
  • Transit supportive policies for growth and affordable housing
  • Safe access and mobility for all

We heard from HART’s new CEO, Adelee Marie Le Grand, who is working on the future of transit in Tampa. She understands that placing affordable housing near transit is critical along with the need for a regional approach.

“You don’t have to ride transit to support it. You just have to understand the benefit it brings to your community.” – Adelee Marie Le Grand, HART


We ended our first night in Tampa aboard the Yacht Starship for dinner and a presentation on tourism from Santiago Corrada of Visit Tampa Bay and Jill Manthey of the Yacht Starship.

“We are a treasure chest and we are going to give you the keys to unlock that treasure.” – Santiago Corrada, Visit Tampa Bay

Similar to Charleston, tourism is a critical component of Tampa’s economy. They understand that tourism drives business and they work across sectors to drive economic growth. While they struggled during the pandemic, they have been able to rebound quickly and April 2021 was actually their best on record.

You may have asked, “why Tampa?”. Even though the Tampa region is bigger, we share many of the same challenges – talent, education, attainable housing and transportation. Tampa provides a framework for leaders from our region to envision solutions and explore alternative approaches.

Our time in Tampa was filled with unique experiences and impactful content, but, most importantly, time to connect and build valuable relationships. New relationships were formed while old ones were nurtured. 74 business and elected leaders took time away from their busy schedules to learn, think, explore and spend time together building a common vision.

Will you take time to be part of this important trip in 2022? Stay tuned for the location announcement and how you can sign up.

And finally, a huge thank you to each of our sponsors. Without your continued support, Metro Leadership Visit would not be possible.

Presenting Sponsor:
TD Bank

Hospitality Sponsor:
Hilton Garden Inn Charleston Waterfront

Breakfast Sponsor:
BlueCross BlueShield of SC

Dinner Sponsors:
Cantey Tech Consulting

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