TAMPA, Florida. – Courtney Jackson could have chosen just about any city to launch her cybersecurity business three years ago, but for her, Tampa had a lot to love.
“The weather, the fact that it’s a tax-free state, and we just wanted somewhere different,” said Jackson, founder and CEO of Paragon Cyber Solutions.
A Navy veteran, Jackson left the DC area laden with defense contracts in 2019 and took a leap of faith in Tampa. So far, she says, it’s paid off. Her startup has grown to eight full-time employees, all veterans like her, and she recently landed her first major contract with MacDill Air Force Base.
“There are a lot of organizations that are very small business friendly here,” Jackson said. “The Chamber of Commerce is very active and very useful. The mayor’s office, different organizations with the military, like Hiring Our Heroes. These organizations exist in other places but for me, coming from the DC area, I think Tampa is a different level of support.”
In 2021, Forbes ranked Tampa as the nation’s top emerging tech city.
It is an industry that has developed rapidly. Technology now rivals the financial sector as the city’s top industry, according to the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council (TBEDC).
Over the past decade, IT businesses have doubled in the Tampa Bay area. According to data from JobsEQ, 3,686 IT and software companies were registered in the region in 2021 compared to 1,821 in 2011. At the same time, more than 24,000 technology industry jobs were created in Tampa Bay.
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That’s largely thanks to the TBEDC, which said it’s focused on the tech industry.
“It’s an important sector because it provides quality jobs,” said Steve Morey, senior vice president of economic development at TBEDC. “It’s an industry that’s here to stay and will lead to the longer-term success of this community.”
TBEDC’s courting of tech companies is paying off. The region has seen an increase in the number of technology companies moving to the area in recent years.
In 2021, three major companies have set up headquarters in Tampa: Suzuki Marine, Signode, the packaging division of Crown Holdings, relocated from Chicago, and OPSWAT, a cybersecurity company, relocated from San Francisco.
Startups and new companies have also relocated or established their headquarters here, including NuMedTechs, HSP Group, and Shufflrr.
This year, AFC Logistics moved its headquarters from Chicago to Tampa, and British company Clarify also established its US operations in Tampa. Other companies announcing expansions in Tampa include Avanade, Branch, and CoinFlip.
Jackson said she was regularly contacted by industry peers about her choice to start her business in Tampa.
“I get these questions often,” Jackson said. “Tampa is an amazing place to start a business. I think it’s now a new technology hub.”
The city has also become a training center for tech workers. The University of Tampa and the University of South Florida have rapidly expanded their degree programs in technology and cybersecurity.
“The University of South Florida offers the most cybersecurity-specific certificate and degree programs in the state,” said Katie Whitaker, associate director of cybersecurity outreach for Cyber Florida at the ‘USF.
The University of Tampa is currently constructing a six-story, 105,000 square foot building to house all of its information technology related programs.
Technology degrees have become extremely popular fields of study at both universities.
“We have no problem filling seats, that’s for sure, because it’s a very lucrative industry,” Whitaker said. “A lot of students, even at the bachelor’s level, find jobs before they even finish their program. And starting salaries tend to be in the six figures.”
With a growing local talent pool, a tax-friendly business environment and an attractive quality of life, industry experts believe that more and more tech companies will be inclined to relocate to Tampa Bay.