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Catalyze 2022: Chamber of Commerce President Chris Steinocher

Mark Parker

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We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2022 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2022.

As president and CEO of the St. Peterburg Chamber of Commerce, Chris Steinocher has a front-row seat to watch the explosive growth sweeping over the region.

The numbers illustrate the growth. Iin the last year, Steinocher said, Pinellas County added $368 million in wealth resulting from an influx of people and companies migrating to the area.

Steinocher, who has led the chamber since 2011, said that transfer of wealth is proof that strategies implemented over the last decade were successful. While Steinocher believes the explosive growth has greatly benefited business leaders and visitors, he now wants the city to turn its attention toward improving the quality of life for an often overlooked but critically important segment of the area’s population – its workers.

“I think more thoughtful planning going forward is what I’d love to see us do,” said Steinocher. “I think we have to really be thoughtful about how we created this as an environment for the employees, the servers and the people that are working for all of us in the community.”

In 2022, Steinocher wants to shift the focus to creating a more hospitable environment for those serving up drinks in the bars, keeping the hotels running, bagging up groceries at Publix and teaching children in local schools.

“And putting out fires, God forbid there’s a fire,” added Steinocher. “We have got to make sure that we don’t become so white-hot that those who we need in our community just don’t find it to be their community as well.”

Steinocher believes the best way to achieve that goal is through creating pathways to and from the city. He realizes putting rails in the ground is a tough sell and instead would like to focus on putting boats in the water. Steinocher suggested operating ferries from St. Pete to Apollo Beach, noting that Apollo Beach has some great, affordable communities for first-time homebuyers.

Steinocher said a 20-minute boat ride could ferry people to their jobs in the city, sporting events, the beach or just a nice dinner.

“St. Pete has to be the leader in making sure we’re connected to the rest of the region so that our employees and visitors can all connect to us,” he said. “Because we’re just not going to be able to keep everyone here in this seven-mile across piece of land.”

Steinocher explained that when he uses the term employees, he also refers to the city’s many talented entrepreneurs and artists. He said watching the city’s success has been great, but now is the time to ensure the same success for the people that helped the city get to this point.

He called it caring for the creators rather than the consumers.

“Are those folks waking up and seeing the blue sky and water and going, ‘yeah, this is my place too,” wondered Steinocher. “That’s my big push for 2022.”

Addressing that issue, he explained, will lead to a more caring community. Steinocher said he has lived in the city for over 30 years and has found that the magic of St. Pete lies in its community spirit. He said it could be a survivor mentality stemming from living on a small peninsula, “and when the big winds come, we have to take care of each other.”

Steinocher said just having a conversation about where your Uber driver lives – and what his experience is like – would also lead to a more caring community. He said those conversations would spark more dialogue between developers and lawmakers and eventually create a more inclusive city for all. “We have to be the courageous leaders who care.”

Steinocher said the number of new entrepreneurs, ideas and innovations in the area excites him the most for the new year. He said St. Pete is becoming an innovation hub that spurs creativity throughout the entire region. Steinocher also believes the rest of the country will soon realize the wealth of great minds that populate the area, which will create even more of an intellectual migration.

“The eyeballs of the country are going to start looking at St. Petersburg and the whole bay area and say, ‘this is where I need to be because the smart people are there,’” said Steinocher.

Steinocher said companies the chamber has spoken with appreciate the Florida business climate. He said lawmakers are keeping regulations down and businesses open, and taking better care of employees would also make the city more attractive to “rockstar” business leaders looking to relocate.

The proof is in the statistics.

Steinocher said Florida receives $1.3 million in new wealth every hour. He said Pinellas County received $368 million in new wealth and gained 39,734 jobs in the last year, after accounting for losses. Steinocher called the county’s unemployment rate “astoundingly low” at 3.5%. He said during the height of the pandemic, 90,000 residents were unemployed. Today that number is 18,000.

Steinocher believes these trends will continue through 2022.

“There’s a signal out there that people really want a Florida climate for business,” said Steinocher. “And a St. Pete climate for life.”

 

 

 

 

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    Danny E White

    January 1, 2022at5:02 pm

    “Steinocher suggested operating ferries from St. Pete to Apollo Beach, noting that Apollo Beach has some great, affordable communities for first-time homebuyers.

    Steinocher said a 20-minute boat ride could ferry people to their jobs in the city, sporting events, the beach or just a nice dinner.”

    Does this mean the workforce would be encouraged and enabled to move out of St. Petersburg in order to find housing within their means, or is this suggestion part of a bigger picture which includes attempting to attract developers who are willing to create housing opportunities specifically for our essential workforce?

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