EDCs are changing and collaborating

This is an ongoing special section. Part 1 of the series includes three perspectives from different Tampa Bay area economic development organizations. More to follow.

To get a snapshot of what is happening in the Tampa Bay region, Tampa Bay Business and Wealth is reaching out to as many economic development organizations as we can find to ask them about wins, challenges and things that are exciting them for the second half of the year.

Here’s what they had to say.

Cynthia Johnson, director of Pinellas County Economic Development

Pinellas County Economic Development

Cynthia Johnson, director

What has been one of your organization’s big wins so far this year?

We had the great pleasure of doing our groundbreaking on the Ark Innovation Center. And if you’re not familiar, the Ark Innovation Center is a 45,000-square-foot incubator that we are building, in the innovation district, in the city of St. Petersburg.

And with that innovation center, we have been able to really leverage the partnership of the federal government, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, our local city partners, the city of St. Petersburg and our contracted operator, which is the Tampa Bay Innovation Center. Tonya Elmore, and her team, are going to operate the Center for the county. And we leveraged that opportunity to engage one of our newest corporate partners, Cathie Woods [chief executive officer and chief investment officer] with Ark Invest. The new center will be named the Ark Innovation Center and it’s scheduled to be completed July of 2023.

This center is designed to be the place where we can not only research disruptive technology, but we can really cultivate and grow entrepreneurs in that space. As we grow entrepreneurs in that space, we look to the Tampa Bay Innovation Center to really bring in those wraparound services to help cultivate those entrepreneurs with coaching, mentorship and podcasting opportunities, within the rooms. We’re also going to have some event space in the Innovation Center, which is big for us in the innovation district to have that space where we can convene, have pitch competitions and provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to showcase their innovative technologies and share their new ideas with the general public.

What we’ve decided to do is take a fresh approach to economic development. We are updating our Pinellas County Economic Development strategic plan. We’re really focusing on continuing to assist business expansions, making sure that their footprint, and their workforce, are working together to ensure that other industries who come into our space really have an ecosystem that make things work for them.

It sounds like collaboration is important.

Economic development has always been a team sport. And, for us, as we move forward as an organization, collaboration is key to the development of a resilient community. Because in economic development, our goal is to not only develop a resilient community but develop a community where our citizens, as well as our business citizens, feel a sense of belonging. And they feel that sense of belonging when we work together.

One of our regional collaborations is around our international business development efforts. We have collaborated with the Tampa Bay EDC and the Pasco County EDC. And we have created what we call Global Tampa Bay, which promotes international business development opportunities and markets our region to our potential international customers.

What haven’t we talked about that you think our readers should know?

We have a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion with our services. We are keenly focused on making sure that we are seeking, and supporting, opportunities for entrepreneurial growth. And as part of that our vision for Pinellas County Economic Development is to create a sustainable community with equitable development for all our citizens, be it our business community or our residents.

And in order for us to really advance that vision, and to make sure that Pinellas County remains competitive in the global economy, we are really focused on growing a strong, diverse economy and we’re focused on supporting, and developing, a talented workforce.

We want to create a resilient community for prosperity for all our citizens, where they feel a sense of belonging, where investors want to invest their money and people want to live. That’s one of the things that oftentimes gets overlooked.

Lisa Krouse, CEO of Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County

Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County

Lisa Krouse, CEO

Erin Silk, Vice President, Business Development Services

What are some of the great accomplishments that the EDC has been able to deliver?

Krouse: I think part of the success of the last year has been the collaboration that we have had with our community partners. For example, we have really paid close attention to those individuals, and those organizations, in the community that I would consider to be an important stakeholder. Let me give you some examples.

We have been committed to building a strong collaborative relationship with the Bradenton area EDC.

One thing we worked on together was 26 West, which is the Entrepreneurship Center at State College of Florida. So between the Bradenton area EDC and the Sarasota County EDC, we have a program that we have developed through State College of Florida, where we can reach out to, whether it be a CEO, an international company, or just a visiting executive, someone that is interested in more of a long term stay in either Sarasota County, or the Bradenton area, and we have a commitment from State College of Florida to give us 90 days, free of charge, office space and the full facility support.

Another example would be Visit Sarasota County. We have jointly embarked on a social media campaign and a marketing campaign that’s called Live Where You Want to Work. With that campaign, we have targeted different areas of the country so that we can facilitate having a pipeline of talent for the businesses that are here in Sarasota County.

We’re building strong partnerships within the community that we have come to rely on, but we’re really doing something on a much more intimate level so that we’re making a difference for the business community.

There are a lot of benefits to being here and we know this because we have a flood of people, something like 1,000 people a week, moving down here.

KROUSE: One thing that’s been good for us is the Sarasota Bradenton Airport, which is the fastest growing airport in the country. What we’ve encountered is a lot more people are getting easier access to Sarasota and to Sarasota County. And, so, I met a gentleman the other day and he has offices in 19 cities around the world and because now that we have a direct flight here to Sarasota from his market, and his home base, he was in town and looking around. It’s really opened the door and made our community a lot more accessible to companies.

What is your EDC working on now?

Krouse: As we look at our community, we’re creating the roadmap for next year. One of the things that’s especially important to us is the digital and creative sector.

When we look at the Ringling School of Art and Design, and we look at the soundstage, it’s a campus, it isn’t just a soundstage. It’s a tremendous campus that they’ve built. We look at the businesses, and the growth, that’s taking place in our county, we believe that the creative and digital sector is one for marked growth.

Erin Silk, Vice President, Business Development Services of Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County

As we visit so many of our industries, what we’re seeing is a lot of technology. Whether it’s artificial intelligence, or the use of phones, it’s endless. But there’s a lot of opportunity, I think, to build on the talent that’s produced with our local colleges and universities.

Silk: I was at Ringling on Wednesday and I was so pleased to hear that Sarasota has the highest concentration of Ringling graduates anywhere in the world. They’re staying, and they’re working, here. And that really gives us a competitive advantage because our creative talent is immersed in our community.

Also, the EDC is working with Sarasota County government and the city of Northport as they bring online more industrially zoned opportunities, since the demand has been so great, since COVID[-19]. Our industrial vacancy is low here right now. We’re working with our municipalities to help as they bring more space online, potentially, for industrial users. So that’s something that we’re going to be working on over the next six months.

What else would you like to share with our readers?

Krouse: I think we are looking at the amazing future ahead of us. As we look at the leadership coming into economic development, I would suggest that business as usual is not the way we are looking at things in Sarasota County. We’re taking considerable pride in the fact that we have individuals on our team who are willing to say perhaps we should be looking at things a little differently than the way things were done 10 years ago. We have gone through so much strain, and stress, particularly the last two years, that it warrants a relook at the way we should be conducting our economic development activities.

Craig Richard,
president and CEO of Tampa Bay Economic Development Council

Tampa Bay Economic Development Council

Craig Richard,
President and CEO

What would you say are some of the biggest wins that you’re excited about so far this year?

Most people think of wins as corporate relocations and announcements. We have other ways that we can talk about big wins, including some new initiatives. But some of the bigger corporate relocation, and expansions, are also big wins. On that front we have Avanade, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture. They announced this year that they’re bringing 500 software engineering jobs to Tampa. And that, to me, is the type of validation in emerging tech that a metro like the Tampa Bay area deserves. We’ve been quietly building the type of tech ecosystem that is getting recognized by CBRE and Forbes as an emerging tech city and tech hub. And finally, we’re getting some name brand companies that are recognizing that as well. We’re really pleased about that.

Another thing is our continuation of our Visit Tampa Bay partnership, which is called Make It Tampa Bay, and this is a talent attraction campaign. Recently, Hillsborough County just funded a second round of that which will allow us to expand our efforts into some other major metro markets.

Are there any unique challenges you think Tampa is facing that other cities are not?

As our metro area grows it’s experiencing very similar issues, and challenges, that other major metropolitan areas are experiencing like congestion, availability of housing, affordability of housing and availability of talent. Those are all universal issues in major urban areas. So, we’re experiencing similar issues as the Dallas’ and Phoenix’s, places like that. What makes us unique is the way that we respond to those things. Acknowledging that these are issues and working with all our partners, and stakeholders, to address these things is going to be the difference on whether we’re successful as a region.

The worst thing we can do is ignore these issues. We just need to lean into it and methodically work to address them. They didn’t happen overnight. We’re not going to solve them overnight.

What can you share with our readers about some things you’re working on, or plan to be, in the back half of the year?

This year we commissioned a competitiveness analysis. Hickey Global [which completed the analysis] is a site selection company that has handled major relocation projects across the country. And what we asked them to do was help us determine, or identify, where our strengths and weaknesses are in our various targeted industry sectors.

When you look at our top competitors within those industry sectors, we’re kind of in the middle of the pack. When you break out the criteria for which selection consultants use to judge us against our competitors and we’re diving deeply into those criteria to see how we can differentiate ourselves in some of the areas that we probably don’t stack up as well.

This coming year we will be undertaking a revision of our strategic plan and the basis will be to really start developing strategies that can help move the needle on competitiveness within each one of our target industry sectors and working with our partners to make them aware of what our findings are, and this is different than what we’ve been doing in the past. We will always be continuing to focus on the business development side of the house and making sure our messaging is out there and making sure companies that are looking for a place to expand, and relocate, consider us but we also must make sure that we’re making improvements to be more competitive.

What else haven’t you had a chance to talk about that you would like to?

The key thing is that economic development is more than just the headlines of what new companies are coming to town. It’s about how are our community is benefiting from the prosperity that’s been generated in the marketplace and economic development organizations pivoting towards ensuring that the community is benefiting from this momentum.

We’re evolving and adapting to meet the needs of our community, just like any other business, and we’re excited about that. That’s the fun part of my job, how to keep us fresh, relevant and impactful.

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