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Incentive money clawed back from departing Draper Lab might pad Pinellas rainy day fund

UPDATE: We heard from a Draper Laboratory spokesman who says it's not accurate to say that the company is completely pulling up stakes and leaving the Tampa Bay area. Rather, the company is focusing its work here on "rapid prototyping" technology for customers like U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, according to an email from media relations manager Jeremy Singer. That work for now is ongoing at Draper's St. Petersburg facility, and the company is establishing a new office in the Tampa Bay area, Singer said.

The news that Draper Lab would be pulling up stakes from Tampa and St. Petersburg was a blow to Tampa Bay's high-tech job sector, but incentive dollars the company has to give back will likely pad Pinellas County's rainy day fund.

County Administrator Mark Woodard on Tuesday told the County Commission that Pinellas will be getting back some of the $2 million it gave to Draper as incentives to open a facility in St. Petersburg. How much money is coming the county's way is still unclear, but Woodard said $1 million is a "reasonable estimate at this point in time."

In the 2016 proposed budget, the county's general reserve fund is about $90.3 million, or 14.4 percent of the general fund. The county's policy is to set aside an amount equal to least 15 percent. In dollars, the shortfall is about $3.6 million.

Draper, whose expertise ranges from missile guidance systems and drone technology to advanced medical delivery systems, was drawn here in 2009 with an incentive package of up to $30 million that included money from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, the city of St. Petersburg, USF's Research Foundation and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council as well as matching funds from the state. The company announced in April that it was leaving the area, saying its initial plans to grow in Florida weren't working. The company employed a few dozen people in Tampa and about the same number in St. Petersburg.