Economic development organizations that seek to recruit and retain businesses — incentives in tow — are as plentiful as beaches in Florida. Yet one major city, St. Petersburg, has been left on the sidelines.
City leaders recently took steps to change that, with the formation of its own economic development corporation. Pinellas County has had an economic development entity for years, which encompasses St. Petersburg. But St Pete, in stark contrast to Tampa's prominent EDC, has had nothing to focus on the city itself.
“We want to get up every morning and put the welcome mat out,” says St. Pete Chamber of Commerce President Chris Steinocher, part of the group putting together the St. Pete EDC. “We want to be a well-rounded community and really become a destination where people want to be over other places in the country.”
Many EDC leaders on the Gulf Coast have similar sentiments, which makes it a crowded market. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. has been wooing a major company headquarters to town, for one. And the Bradenton Economic Development Corp. recently introduced a revamped strategy for attracting and retaining companies.
St. Pete officials will forge ahead. Fundraising for the organization is going on now, with plans to open the doors next year. “Dollars will be invested from the private and public sectors,” Steinocher tells Coffee Talk. “It's an opportunity for everyone to contribute toward an overall healthy St. Pete.”
Some EDCs are criticized for bright shiny object syndrome: chasing a trendy business to come to town, at the expense of companies already there. But Steinocher says St. Pete won't forget current companies.
“We want those here first to feel the love,” he says. “We want to put our arms around everyone and make sure they are successful. That way, we will attract others who want the same thing.”