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City approves EDC budget increase but asks for annual plan, report

Brian Hartz

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J.P. DuBuque, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp.

At its March 4 meeting, St. Petersburg City Council agreed to increase the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp.’s budget by $200,000 over a four-year period.

Currently, the EDC receives $100,000 per year. The new agreement will see its annual budget increased to $150,000; in exchange, EDC President and CEO J.P. DuBuque will provide to the council an annual plan and report that summarizes the organization’s activities and results over the course of the year.

The new agreement runs through Dec. 31, 2024. The EDC will be required to submit a plan outlining its proposed activities for the year by March 1. Its annual report will be due by Jan. 31.

Sophia Sorolis, director of the city’s economic and workforce development department, said the increase is needed because of St. Petersburg’s rapidly rising national profile.

“We find ourselves, in St. Petersburg, being a very desirable place and wanting to capture every marketing and promotion opportunity that we can,” she said at the meeting.

However, funds will not be paid out automatically, Sorolis said.

“What will happen each year, is the city will receive from the EDC an annual plan. And at that point in time, the city will be able to review the EDC’s annual plan for what it plans to do in the coming year. And hopefully we’ll all be aligned on those deliverables. If we’re not aligned, then the city has the opportunity to ask the EDC to revise anything that the city is not comfortable with. And then, if we come to an agreement, the city will make the payment.”

The EDC is a relatively new organization, having been formed in 2016 as part of the city’s Grow Smarter Initiative. It has played a role in bringing several high-profile companies to the Sunshine City, including Dynasty Financial Partners and iSocrates.

As part of the March 4 city council presentation, DuBuque submitted the EDC’s metrics dashboard for the year ended Dec. 31, 2020. It said the EDC assisted 11 companies in 2020 and had 81 projects in its pipeline that would create a total of 455 quality jobs.

The agency’s website, StPeteEDC.com, received 5.5 million impressions last year as opposed to 1.9 million in 2019 — possibly driven by the Covid-19 pandemic that has seen many individuals and companies relocate to Florida from northern states. The EDC’s number of social media followers was also up sharply, increasing from 2,400 to 4,400.

“We are the only organization in St. Petersburg that is dedicated to telling the story of St Petersburg as a business location with the goal of uncovering leads for corporate projects that can add jobs that enhance inclusive prosperity in our community,” DuBuque said at the meeting.

“When we find those projects, we then work with the companies on a one-on-one, concierge basis to help them mitigate challenges and take advantage of opportunities by connecting them to the people in programs that can help them be successful. Our proactive approach is allowing us to be part of conversations that we would not have been part of part of just five short years ago.”

The EDC last year also helped launch a job board, BecomeStPete.com, that received more than 8,600 impressions in 2020, according to the organization’s metrics dashboard. Also last year, the EDC added 56 working leads to its sales pipeline.

“What that means,” DuBuque said, “is that we opened up conversations with 56 different companies about a location in St. Petersburg. These are not some random companies that we pulled off the Internet. Those are companies that we had real conversations with as a result of those companies being added to the pipeline.”

DuBuque added that 2021 is off to a great start for the EDC in terms of the number of companies with which it has opened discussions.

“I’m hesitant to get too far out over my skis talking about 2021,” he said, but “thus far, we’ve already added 30 companies to our pipeline. That’s 30 new conversations that we’ve had with companies in just 60 days. So I’m bullish on what 2021 is going to look like from a care and connection standpoint.”

DuBuque said the extra $50,000 per year would be allocated to the EDC’s marketing efforts. District 1 Councilmember Robert Blackmon, expressing his appreciation for the value of the agency’s work, said, “I’m extremely supportive of this agreement and the increase because I think dollar for dollar it’s going to see a massive return. St. Pete looks more attractive than ever to businesses who are looking to relocate or looking for satellite offices. This is such a nominal dollar amount that if you get even one business to relocate here, it is an incredible financial return.”

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