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Catalyze 2024: Mike Swesey

Mark Parker

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We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about the upcoming new year 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 2024.

Mike Swesey became president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. amid “one of the largest, if not the largest” redevelopment projects in the nation.

Swesey, who officially succeeded J.P. DuBuque Nov. 6, was referring to the $6.5 billion transformation of Tropicana Field and the surrounding Historic Gas Plant District. He plans to capitalize on two of the generational project’s key aspects – publicity and office space.

“When site selection consultants and business influencers think of Tampa Bay, I want them to think of St. Petersburg as an option,” Swesey said. “We’ve come a long way over the past few years, but there’s a long way to go, and part of that is having the available space.”

The public-private Economic Development Corp. (EDC) keeps a contact list of 850 site selection consultants. Swesey wants to expand that list to 1,000 in 2024.

He also plans to send them bimonthly or monthly messages highlighting why another company chose to expand or relocate to St. Petersburg. Swesey said that the “simple” gesture has proven successful throughout his career and will ensure the organization and city remain in stakeholders’ consciousness.

However, Swesey said St. Petersburg’s available Class A office space is “almost negligible,” unlike most metro areas. “So, we don’t have the inventory on the shelf if we land a big fish,” he explained.

While the EDC will continue pursuing potential relocation opportunities, Swesey said the organization must bolster planning efforts. He also believes in-development office buildings and expiring leases will significantly increase options in 2025 and beyond.

Swesey plans to recruit companies in industries that align with the local workforce – professional, insurance and financial services. He also hopes to build on the city’s previous success luring mid-sized, advanced manufacturers that create 50 to 100 jobs.

“A lot of it is done with robotics and other technologies,” Swesey said of those companies. “And then anything around the blue economy and green technologies.”

He noted that Blue Innovations Group, which recently unveiled its first luxury electric boat, encompasses both categories. In addition, Swesey called growth-stage tech companies a local economic development “sweet spot.”

He compared supporting a startup with under 50 employees to hitting a single in baseball. “And if we hit singles all day long, we’re going to win,” Swesey added.

“We’re going to hit some home runs when we get some office space,” he said. “But currently, we’re going to hit a lot of singles and doubles and help the economy grow that way.”

Swesey spent the past two decades helping lead the Greater Des Moines Partnership in Des Moines, Iowa. He was “pleasantly surprised” at St. Petersburg’s welcoming community and downtown’s vibrancy and walkability.

Swesey said those aspects, the city’s oft-praised live-work-play environment, will continue attracting business leaders and companies. He pledged to ensure the EDC’s mission aligns with “keeping St. Pete cool.”

While the city has elevated its profile over the past five years, Swesey said, “We do have some work to do.” That is his foremost priority in the new year, and he believes keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in town will aid those efforts.

“We’re going to get so much press on the new stadium, nationally, and the new mixed-use development around the stadium,” Swesey added. “Having brand new or quality-built facilities with the amenities employees are demanding is important. We’ll have an abundance of that in a few years, but it’s going to take some time to build.”

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