- March 9, 2021
Economic development officials in the Tampa Bay region love to talk up regional cooperation. A win for Clearwater, for example, is also a win for Bradenton, the line goes, because a job is a job.
Working together is so important officials from eight area counties have signed a memo agreeing to a ban on using incentives to aggressively woo a company for a move within the region. But that's probably not much solace to east Manatee County — which just lost a business to its neighbors to the north, St. Petersburg.
The firm, software developer GeniusCentral Systems, is moving from the HomeBanc building in Lakewood Ranch, just east of Interstate 75 on University Parkway, to a spot near downtown St. Petersburg. GeniusCentral, according to officials, will take its 60 employees and plans to hire 40 more with annual pay at or above 115% of the state average annual wage of $42,446. GeniusCentral can receive up to $500,000 in performance-based incentives from the state, city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County for the move.
The incentives, say Florida and local officials, were a necessity: GeniusCentral, in need of a tech-savvy workforce pool to match its fast growth, considered relocating to Austin, Texas or Boulder, Colo. GeniusCentral is a national leader in the niche of websites and loyalty-marketing programs for the organic grocery industry.
Officials at a press conference, including an in-person appearance from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, touted the move as another economic development victory. The move is a sign, say economic development leaders, that St. Petersburg is a player.
But there could be more to the move than St. Petersburg's up-and-coming reputation in startup and technology circles. For one, GeniusCentral CEO John Miles, named to his post in September when he replaced former top executive Dan Clarke, has ties to St. Petersburg. He's the former chief technology officer at St. Petersburg-based digital advertising giant Catalina Marketing and has a home on the water in Pinellas County. And Coffee Talk hears GeniusCentral, under Miles, recently hired new executives who also have connections to St. Petersburg.
Pinellas County Economic Development Director Mike Meidel says the firm's short move, from an economic development perspective, was defensive, not offensive. St. Petersburg, he says, was an option to keep the firm in Florida — not a way to poach a business from another county.
“We don't proactively seek this kind of project,” Meidel tells Coffee Talk. “We don't go after other counties. There has been some of that going on in the Tampa Bay area and in Florida. But we don't do that.”