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A renewed vision for Grow Smarter: Where economic development and equity meet

Megan Holmes

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Randall Russell of Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg & Chris Steinocher of St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce at Friday's Grow Smarter Summit.

What role does economic development have in health equity? That was a central question raised last week when The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg announced a $1.2 million multi-year grant to the City of St. Petersburg’s Grow Smarter Strategy.

Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg CEO Randy Russell expounded on the decision to fund Grow Smarter during a conversation with Greater St. Petersburg Chamber President & CEO Chris Steinocher during the 2018 Grow Smarter Summit held Friday morning. The St. Petersburg Chamber manages the Grow Smarter Strategy and recently hired a dedicated staff to further the strategy’s efforts.

Grow Smarter was developed in 2014 and is comprised of seven strategic focus areas and five target job sectors, and its progress is steered by seven multi-sector, community-led work groups formed by business leaders and citizens. The strategy has taken time to find its footing. December 2017 brought the initiative’s inaugural summit, and 2018 brought much the same message but with a new tone, thanks to the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.

“Health is more than healthcare,” read the screen behind the pair as they discussed how Grow Smarter fits in with the Foundation’s work. The Foundation seeks to end differences in health due to social and structural disadvantages, and bases its work on the social determinants of health, a national model adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and many others. According to the model, explained Russell, “your actual health outcomes depend about 20 percent on your access to healthcare and 80 percent on all of the other life conditions, income, relationships, schooling, access to transportation, housing.”

It’s all of those other life conditions that are deeply intertwined in Grow Smarter. Russell believes the Foundation, a source of private philanthropic funding, can provide the “long term fuel and unfettered commitment that a collective impact like this needs.”

Both Steinocher and Russell spoke to the scale of inequity in St. Petersburg, and the ability for a multi-sector initiative like Grow Smarter to make a collective impact. “You have a problem that you can wrap your arms around because of the size of the population,” Russell explained, “…if we employed 3,500 to 5,000 people in Midtown, it would completely change the structure of people of color in our community. This is doable, this is manageable, we can think about that.”

The language of the 2018 summit focused squarely on inclusion and equity more than ever before. “I didn’t know what equity meant,” Steinocher candidly admitted. “It’s not just, ‘let’s help everybody and everybody will rise.’ We began to really buy into this notion of ‘let’s go where we have the most critical needs, let’s invest in those and watch how it all sprouts.’”

As St. Petersburg moves into year five of Grow Smarter, bolstered by new funding, a dedicated staff, and the collective hopes of the community, we will look for forward motion. 

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