Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Business

St. Petersburg unveils plan for jobs recruiting arm similar to Tampa's

A sea change is under way in how St. Petersburg intends to recruit companies to move jobs here.

Once passive, the city was content to lend a hand only if a business came knocking. But emboldened by its downtown renaissance, St. Pete now plans to aggressively pursue companies and jobs in specific industries like marine science and health care.

To accomplish that, the city is creating its own economic development corporation, or EDC, much like the successful Tampa Hillsborough EDC that has become the powerful corporate jobs recruiter on the eastern side of Tampa Bay.

St. Pete's EDC, whose formal name has not yet been set, would be a public-private partnership — meaning it would be backed by leadership and funding by both the city and its private business sector. It would operate as a separate unit of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

Details of the EDC were shared with me Tuesday by St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and Alan DeLisle, city development administrator, who most recently helped lead city development in Louisville, Ky., and Durham, N.C. St. Pete Chamber CEO Chris Steinocher called the EDC "an opportunity for St. Petersburg to seize the momentum" of being on the upswing.

The EDC still has plenty of details to be worked out, and its initial funding budget will be modest. But there is clear enthusiasm for the idea. Both city and chamber execs invoke the name of Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough EDC, as the type of go-getter St. Petersburg wants running its own EDC.

Tomalin, DeLisle and Steinocher all say St. Pete wants a "dealmaker" who can help recruit the types of higher-skills jobs any metro area would covet.

Would a St. Pete EDC spur more toe-to-toe competition with Tampa? Homans answered diplomatically. What's good for Tampa is good for St. Petersburg, and vice versa, he suggested.

"Wherever a recruited company lands in the metro market they are hiring people, affecting real estate prices and making a stronger metrowide economy," he said.

Still, there may be some minefields ahead. The state's chief job recruiting organization, Enterprise Florida, operates via a network of EDCs or related groups when handling job leads and structuring incentive deals with companies. Enterprise Florida works with one entity per county to streamline its efforts and minimize potential conflicts. The Tampa Hillsborough EDC is that single entity in Hillsborough County. In Pinellas, it is the county's economic development arm.

How might a St. Pete EDC fit in a statewide network whose seats are already filled?

DeLisle said that concern is not even on the city's radar. He suggests the new EDC could simply become a better conduit for St. Pete to work with the county on potential recruiting projects.

This much we know: The era of passive St. Pete economic development is ending.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]

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