Insurance and banking operations in Tampa threatened by Irma

Register now

(Bloomberg) -- Everyone thinks of downtown Miami as Florida’s Wall Street, but Tampa has grown into a major financial center in its own right. Now, there’s a chance that it may bear the brunt of the ferocious hurricane barreling toward the peninsula.

Hurricane Irma shifted track Saturday, elevating the risk of severe damage in Tampa, a city that’s grown rapidly as high-paying jobs moved to the region. Some 6.3 million Floridians are now under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders, and although residents of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties on the east coast have been preparing for days, those on the opposite side of the state just woke up to the new forecast.

Over the past two decades, tens of thousands of finance industry jobs were created around Tampa, including positions in accounting, legal and human resources. Insurance company MetLife has around 1,500 employees in sales and back office jobs in the region, including at a campus in Tampa, according to Kim Friedman, a spokeswoman. Citigroup operates a 92-acre campus there and employs around 5,400 workers, close to half its 14,000-person Florida staff. THe company’s Sabal Park campus, where most Tampa employees work, will be closed Monday, according to spokeswoman Elizabeth Kelly.

Tampa-area finance and insurance jobs have grown 14 percent in the past five years to 81,700, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. As a group, that puts it in the top five among non-government industries.

The storm has everyone on alert, said Craig Richard, the Tampa economic development group’s chief executive, who lives outside the evacuation zone and was staying put. “I’m confident we can recover quickly and continue to grow the financial services sector,” he said.

"Structurally, I think they’re going to be fine," Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa said Saturday in a Bloomberg Television interview. But it’s just a question of “getting their employees back in here to do what they need to do."

For many financial institutions, Tampa offered a location in a convenient time zone with office space available at a fraction of New York’s, part of a strategy sometimes called nearshoring. In the recent past, at least some of those jobs ended up in countries such as India.

JPMorgan Chase, which has around 5,000 workers in the Tampa area, said all Florida offices and branches will be closed Monday. Spokesman Michael Fusco said the bank’s Tampa employees are mostly at four locations supporting corporate and investment banking, auto finance, card services, and other businesses. He said the sites closed Friday afternoon. Work is being handled at other locations throughout the U.S.

Depository Trust & Clearing Corp., an organization that settles U.S. securities trades, also has a major operation in Tampa.

Some financial institutions expanded into Tampa as a risk management strategy to spread out exposure in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. They now, instead, face a catastrophic natural disaster on their doorstep.

Bloomberg News