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PolitiFact fact-checks Bill Foster, Rick Kriseman on St. Pete economy

Tuesday's Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 mayoral debate offered competing portraits of the St. Petersburg economy since Mayor Bill Foster took over in 2010.

Foster said things are better, pointing to downtown construction projects and the declining unemployment rate.

"Unemployment in the city of St. Petersburg is below the state average," Foster said.

Challenger Rick Kriseman said things are actually more bleak.

"Unfortunately, since Mr. Foster's been mayor, we have less small businesses in the city of St. Petersburg, and there are less people employed in the city of St. Petersburg than there were prior to his taking office," Kriseman said.

PolitiFact Florida wondered who was right.

Foster got a Mostly True for his comment about the unemployment rate. City unemployment statistics are not super reliable, never adjusted for the season and based on a national survey. Still, the city's August rate was 6.9 percent, which was (barely) lower than the state's unadjusted rate (7.1 percent) and adjusted rate (7 percent) for the same time.

Kriseman's comment about fewer small businesses is False. For one, it's hard to say what exactly defines a small business, though experts told us most city businesses would be considered small. Kriseman's team pointed to city billings data in effort to support his point, but the number of businesses and the city's revenue from those businesses actually disproves his point at the debate.

His comment about fewer workers is also False. In fact, the opposite is true. The number of workers in the city is up since Foster took office, though still not at pre-recession levels. Economists said the city's recovery is the result of the same winds that are improving the national and state economies.

Before the debate, we fact-checked an ad from outside group Fact Check Florida that earned our worst rating -- Pants on Fire! The ad said Foster's $10 million fire fee proposal last year was "inspired by" Gov. Rick Scott. Scott had nothing to do with it and has not proposed anything like it at the state level.