The biggest health care crisis in a century has brought to the fore some of the nation’s biggest voices, and few are bigger than Ballard Partners.
As Florida’s most prominent Governmental Affairs firm, with a Top 10 powerhouse D.C. practice, the firm has adjusted how it works but not the way it works.
As Americans learned to Zoom and hyped a good Skype, face-to-face meetings have disappeared, as have the lunches and mixers. In an industry built on trust and personal connection, just how would COVID-19 affect its effectiveness, not to mention the business itself?
Cue Tampa Bay, where Ballard’s experienced and wholly committed four-member team — Cruz, Josko, Gorrie and Ramos — wake up every day knowing just how much the community is looking to them to come through. For local businesses on the ropes. For local government needing help. For people looking for a reason to believe that tomorrow would be just a little bit better and safer than the day before.
The firm’s third Florida office (after Tallahassee and West Palm Beach) is staffed with natives of the Greater Tampa Bay area, a detail that matters.
Ana Cruz, the managing partner of Ballard Partners’ Tampa Bay practice, is a Tampa native well-known in state and national political circles who’s spent decades building relationships with local, state and federal officials and the business community. Over the past 20 years, Ana built a coalition of clients around a reputation for getting things done, from helping professional sports teams find a home, to negotiating cable franchises and Uber’s entrance into Hillsborough and Orange counties. Now, she’s negotiating around the clock to open ambulatory surgical centers and non-COVID elective operations and procedures.
As she does, she brings it home where another major COVID warrior lives, her partner Mayor Jane Castor, who is generating national headlines for her for a first responder’s gravity and empathy.
Todd Josko gets it, after a professional career that has run the gamut from big politics and big business to making a big difference for the Tampa Bay region. Josko, who directed west coast campaigns for Jeb Bush’s 1998 gubernatorial run and Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, is a Sarasota native who has advised Fortune 500 companies for 15 years and, more recently his fiancee in a new coffee/bakery business they hope to launch once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror.
Today, Josko is all-in, from helping the lawn care industry be deemed essential to getting health care centers back on track. “We’re problem solvers.”
Adding experiential heft and national credential to Ballard’s Tampa Bay brigade is their own resident health care maven, Tampa native Jan Gorrie, the longest-serving member of the office who’s right in the middle of issues impacting the availability, delivery and funding of medical help.
“I have never worked harder,” said Gorrie, who, armed with a master’s degree in public health and a masterful grasp of health care policy, now represents every medical school in the State of Florida.
A couple of months ago, as many students were looking forward to traditional graduation ceremonies, Gorrie called a contact at the Department of Health and asked if graduating students could be fast-tracked into the system to help fight the virus. It proved to be prescient, as two days later, state officials contacted Gorrie with the same request.
Gorrie, who’s briefed the White House Coronavirus Task Force, believes Florida may have passed its peak on the COVID-19 curve, is currently working to help hospitals like Tampa General — operating at only one-third of its normal capacity — to open up to other medical cases again.
Carlos Ramos, a former government aide in the state House and a veteran campaign operative and the fourth member of the Tampa Bay team, is focused on local government affairs and outreach to the community. As much as anyone in Ballard’s Tampa office, Ramos understands how important it is to learn before speaking, and listening before leading.
“A significant component to our success as a firm is our ability to adapt and deliver regardless of the situation,” Ramos said. “Whether we are in a local library meeting with a neighborhood association or walking the halls of the Capitol, our team has the relationships and the hands-on experience to know how to work with people of all backgrounds and experiences. I think this quality is rare in our industry today.”
Known for being client-driven, Florida-based Ballard Partners now serves more than 200 state and local clients in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The Tampa office represents local, county and state government interests, transportation, public universities, the financial sector, construction, businesses large and small, and the medical community beginning with regional hospital dynamo Tampa General.
Ballard Partners didn’t stop there, opening a Washington, D.C. office in February 2017 staffed by policy experts and former presidential advisers. Today, that office has become the sixth highest-grossing lobbying firm in the nation’s Capitol with clients ranging from Amazon and General Motors to Major League Baseball and the Motion Picture Association of America.
This week the firm announced the opening of a new office in Tel Aviv, Israel — its first international office — headed by a former Member of Congress and a veteran World Bank adviser.
This vertical integration, from local and state to federal and international, has made Ballard Partners a unique, one-stop-shop that can serve local clients in need of federal help as well as national clients looking for representation in America’s third-largest and most diverse state.
“Regardless of who’s working with a client on a day-to-day basis, we oftentimes leverage our local offices, our Tallahassee headquarters, and our DC practice to achieve clients’ goals without having to enlist other contacts and other firms to cobble together a winning team,” Cruz said. “It means we can move fast, and know we are moving as one.”
“Whether you’re talking about the local, state or federal level, we are uniquely positioned to come through for clients, especially during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” added Gorrie. “We are a close-knit team with a not so closely-held secret that we are able to succeed where others have not fared as well.”
“Our consistent No. 1 ranking in Florida and top-performing Washington Base, makes Ballard Partners hugely impactful for clients who need local, state and federal help simultaneously,” said media consultant Adam Goodman, who works out of the D.C. office.
There has never been a more critical time to have that capacity than now. “The government affairs profession is one where it’s very important to be able to see around corners,” Josko said. “During this time, it’s even more important to be able to see around corners.”
Gorrie believes the trend is heading the right way. “I feel that the peak was probably even three weeks ago,” she said in late April. “We’ve had facilities like Tampa General Hospital that are underwhelmed by COVID patients but have not been able to open up for the normal course of business.
“My waking hours are spent trying to figure out what steps we really need to take responsibly to get over that hump so that not only hospitals and physicians can open up, but everybody else can.”
In recent weeks, the Washington and Tallahassee offices have been putting out high-level bulletins about the coronavirus, a succinct news digest and links to the latest government actions. Regular clients look forward to them.
Gorrie said she shares the updates with the owners of the yoga studio where she attends (now distance-modified) classes. The office sends the health bulletins to businesses large and small, hospitals and physicians. A huge part of Ballard’s philosophy is providing clients with good data, which they can then use to make smart decisions.
“We will have great stories to share,” partner Josko said, “about clients who are contributing to the recovery, and others who need our help maneuvering through the recovery.”
Cruz added, “at a time like this, it’s an honor to not only be asked to serve, but to know you can.”