New St. Petersburg City Council committee focuses on jobs and economy

The Economic and Workforce Development committee was the most sought-out among council members.
St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari will serve as the chairperson of a new economic development-focused committee.
St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari will serve as the chairperson of a new economic development-focused committee. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 26|Updated Jan. 28

ST. PETERSBURG — A new City Council committee focused on jobs and the economy held its first meeting Thursday to shape its objectives.

The Economic and Workforce Development Committee elected its chairperson, Ed Montanari, and vice chairperson, Deborah Figgs-Sanders. They were joined on the committee by council chairperson Brandi Gabbard and Lisset Hanewicz.

The Economic and Workforce Development Committee was the most sought-after committee by council members. All eight members ranked it as a high priority, more than any of the board’s other seven committees.

A draft of the committee’s stated purpose said it is responsible for reviewing and recommending to the administration equitable policies, plans, and programs that promote employment growth while ensuring the upward mobility of its residents. That could include job creation and retention, public/private partnership strategies and incentive policies.

“The overarching goal for the committee is to ensure that the city’s continued growth and economic prosperity directly benefit all residents of St. Petersburg,” the draft read.

Hanewicz said she would like to include support for small businesses, more language on workforce employment and an outline of the city’s goals for economic opportunities. Figgs-Sanders said she’d like to include job creation and training, initiatives called for by the city’s structural racism and equity studies. Montanari wanted to focus on increasing available office space.

The 2022 City Council chairperson, Gina Driscoll, proposed creating the committee at a Dec. 8 meeting.

Driscoll said the new committee should relieve the Public Services and Infrastructure committee of some of its duties. She said she was inspired after she saw other cities that participated in a National League of Cities conference had a similar committee.

“We’re at a point right now in our city where if we’re not focusing on job creation, on attracting businesses, we’re going to end up being a residential, bedroom community to Tampa,” Driscoll said at the time. “We also want to make sure we’re creating jobs that pay the bills for people who live here.”

Driscoll’s proposal was deferred until the following week. Council members wanted more time to mull it over. Gabbard said at the time she wasn’t sold on creating another committee.

The proposal came back Dec. 15 and was approved unanimously, though Hanewicz was absent.

Council Chairperson Gabbard, who served as vice chair last year, is in charge of committee assignments. She assigned Driscoll to the committee as an alternate, meaning she can only vote if one of the committee members is absent.

Gabbard said her goal was to give council members an equal workload.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to remove incorrect information about who nominated Ed Montanari as chairperson of the Economic and Workforce Development committee of the Pinellas County Commission.