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HIGH-TECH PROJECT SEEN AS LOCAL JOB ENGINE

Nearly two years after state and city leaders wooed SRI International to the area, construction on the high-tech giant's new downtown research facility will kick off Thursday with a groundbreaking ceremony.

City leaders hope the 38,000-square-foot, city-owned facility adjacent to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg will mark a new era in job creation and encourage other high-tech companies to make St. Petersburg their home.

The $8.6-million project will provide 500 temporary construction jobs at a time of economic downturn.

The county and state have agreed to cover $10-million for construction. If the project goes over budget, SRI will cover the rest.

The city will lease the facility to SRI for $1 in annual rent for 10 years. In return for tax incentives, SRI agreed to employ 50 by the start of this year and hire another 10 to 15 each year, reaching 100 employees by 2012. The jobs are supposed to carry average salaries of $55,000 to $63,000.

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young and Mayor Rick Baker are scheduled to attend the groundbreaking. Construction should be completed by November 2009, said Rick Mussett, the city's development administrator.

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