Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn had one message for USF students.
“It’s a turning of the page in this city’s history,” he said to students Monday night in the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater. “Get involved.”
Buckhorn addressed students with Vice President for Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall at a town hall event meant to strengthen the partnership between the City of Tampa and USF.
“Intellectual capital is mobile,” he said to students. “You can go anywhere in the country and do what you do. If we’re going to capture you here, we’re going to have to create a city that’s hip, that’s cool, that’s progressive and celebrates diversity here. It is our diversity that make us strong.”
Buckhorn said he will travel to Israel with College of Medicine Dean Dr. Stephen Klasko in December to seek investors for the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), a $30 million project that will focus on enhancing medical technology.
Forming a partnership with a major research institution such as USF is a large economic driver for the community, Buckhorn said.
He compared Tampa’s potential growth to the Palo Alto economy spurred by Stanford University, which formed the basis of Silicon Valley that houses the world’s largest technology corporations, including Google and Apple.
“The key is to move it from the laboratory and petri dishes into the marketplace,” he said. “We’re going to have to do things differently. The regulatory process in the city of Tampa is not nearly what it needs to be.”
USF political science professor Susan MacManus moderated the town hall meeting, and asked Buckhorn and Meningall questions submitted by students and other attendees. Meningall addressed students’ questions regarding USF, while the mayor answered those about the city.
Questions ranged from job growth to public safety.
Buckhorn promised a “light at the end of the tunnel” for USF graduates entering the work force, and said he anticipates job growth from “organically grown companies” in the Tampa area.
“Florida is still a crack addict for real estate and development, and that is not a sustainable economic development strategy,” he said. “We need to make the city more competitive and clean up bureaucracy.”
The economic future, Meningall said, is greatly dependent on USF graduates.
“When you graduate from here, we want you to compete with the best and the brightest nationally and internationally,” she said. “USF hopes to ensure education is not outdated and practical.”
Buckhorn said implementing mass transportation in Tampa is essential for the economy to grow.
“We are the only jurisdiction of our size in this country that doesn’t have some type of multimodal or mass transit option,” he said. “We’ve got to change that. There are people in this county who may never ride that train, but I can guarantee their kids will have a better future if they vote for us. It makes us competitive as a community.”
Meningall said forging a partnership with the city of Tampa is crucial to the city and university’s success.
“We want to educate you so you ultimately lead and change the world,” she said. “The brand equity of your degree will bring you back more than you’re investing now. The University is striving to make changes that will not only change the city of Tampa, but the landscape of higher education.”
One student asked if Buckhorn supported the Dream Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition. Currently, 12 states allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.
“Am I supposed to be in favor of it?” he asked the audience.
After cheers from the audience, Buckhorn turned red in the face and stuck his right thumb up.
“OK, I’m in favor of it,” he said. “In all seriousness, though, I’m not involved in passing education policy. I end up being involved to the extent that it fuels the jobs I hope to create.”
Meningall said the Dream Act is something that USF would have to balance with serving in-state constituents.
“It gives an advantage to the state education system (to educate local residents),” she said. “An innovative state system has to go beyond the state. We also have to ensure we employ those innovative approaches to educate those that come to the state to change it.”
MacManus told students about the importance of their involvement in the political process. During the mayoral election in March, the USF voting precinct had the lowest voter turnout in the city of Tampa.
“Young voters are critical,” she said. “You do make a difference.”
Buckhorn said he hoped to see more involvement from USF students.
“Believe in this city,” he said. “Believe in this generation. When I’m done, this city will be a different place. When I’m done, it’s your turn.”