PINELLAS PARK — Until recently, few people— including locals — knew that this city and the adjoining area are a nerve center for medical businesses.
But now they know it. And city, business and educational leaders are ready to take advantage by creating a hub or district designed to attract more medical-related businesses.
"If we can entice folks to come here, then we're ahead of the game," council member Rick Butler said.
The idea began to take shape in July 2011 after St. Petersburg College president Bill Law visited Pinellas Park City Manager Mike Gustafson. The visit was one of many Law, who was newly appointed, made to area officials as a kind of personal meet and greet. Law suggested the college and the city might want to create some kind of partnership.
That sounded good to the city, so staff members "took a look around. We hit up our business database," said Joe Incorvia, a city planner. The staff was surprised to find about 140 medical-related businesses, such as doctors' offices and labs, within about a mile radius of the Park Boulevard and 66th Street N campus, which houses many of SPC's medical majors.
The fit seemed a natural basis for a partnership.
They formed a team with members from the City Council, SPC, the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce and business owners from the area. Bankers asked to join the group.
"They want to create some special lending packages for businesses in this area," Incorvia said.
The group plotted a focus area around the college, much of which is in Pinellas Park's redevelopment area.
The goal is to encourage more medical-related businesses to come into the focus area and to expand the ones that are there. Doing that could mean many things, including more flexibility with city zoning rules or preferred financing and management packages.
The advantages are many if it succeeds. SPC students will have a chance for nearby internships and jobs. Residents will not have to travel far for medical care. The city's tax base will grow. Property values will go up. The area's appearance will improve. And the group will have a bigger lobbying clout.
The vision goes much further than the focus area in the city center.
Butler said the council and staff are already considering ways to help revive, revitalize and attract more medical businesses to the city's industrial areas. Those areas already house such giants as Optek and Transitions Optical.
The flexibilities and strategies that are successful in the initial focus area could be extended to the industrial area. And, the city could help with lobbying state legislators for changes that would make the state more competitive in attracting businesses.
The work is expected to pay off in increased tax revenues, and new businesses and jobs. But, city officials say, it's also the right thing to do for companies that choose to locate in Pinellas Park.
A lot of those companies are hurting," Butler said. "It's on the radar screen and we're definitely going to be working very, very diligently in reviving that whole segment of the economy, in our city at least. They're dying now."
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.