Joining the big leagues

"Joining the big leagues" Continued...

But thanks in part to a robust oil and gas sector, Oklahoma City's unemployment rate of 5.5 percent is well below the national rate of 8.2 percent. When Margery Turner, vice president for research at The Urban Institute, recently graded the nation's 100 biggest metropolitan areas on "how much economic security they offer families in these tough times," Oklahoma City topped the list. -Brandon Dutcher


This August the national political spotlight will shine on Tampa, Fla., as it hosts the Republican National Convention. For its center stage moment Tampa officials will be promoting the city's brightest spots: its famed nightlife in the Ybor City historic district, one of the nation's top zoos, its nearby beaches on Florida's west coast, and the roller coasters inside Busch Gardens. Now boasting professional football, baseball, and hockey teams, the area is no longer just a place for sports fans to watch spring training baseball games.

Long considered a great place to retire or vacation, Tampa has seen a nearly 15 percent population growth over the last decade with another 10 percent growth predicted over the next five years. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area's population of more than 4.2 million makes it Florida's second-most-populous area and the fourth-largest in the Southeast. But it is not all retirees. The area's 18-34 age group, drawn here by the housing boom, now amounts to 20 percent of the population, and that number is rising.

But the housing market that fueled the region's growth now plagues Tampa. Home prices have dropped more than 45 percent since 2007. Nearly 19 percent of homeowners are delinquent on their mortgages. The area's 11.2 percent unemployment rate has remained well above the national average. Those numbers are big reasons why CNBC and Sperling's Best Places in January named the metro area the most stressful in the nation.

But that dismal title was not on the minds of 19 Christian business leaders during a recent daylong gathering. They are part of a network of more than 60 Christian business executives in the Tampa area that includes the president of Tampa Bay Steel and the CEO of Kforce, one of the nation's largest staffing services firms. Together, they employ thousands of workers and control hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. The Tampa region is home to the largest concentration of members of the C-12 Group, a nationwide network of evangelical executives.

Scott Hitchcock, who leads the monthly meetings for the Tampa area C-12 Group, said the members strive to have transformational influences in their hard-hit community. Richard Hayes, who owns a marketing firm, donates up to 40 percent of his billable hours to helping charities, and the entire group has given time and money to renovate dilapidated homes in the area. This culminated in the groundbreaking last summer for two new cottages for Tampa's Hope Children's Home. Surrounded by live oaks, the large, colonial-style homes each have room for 10 children and a pair of house parents.

The homes were built to be energy-efficient and would have cost about $500,000 each. But C-12 members provided 60 percent of the cost. Group member Jay Fechtel's construction company led the effort and secured supplier donations for additional materials. Plans are underway to build four more homes and a central playground. -Edward Lee Pitts


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