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Community Voices: Grow Smarter St. Pete – Why does equitable economic growth matter?

Sridhar Sundaram



A Look Back

The Grow Smarter Initiative was launched in 2014 based upon the recommendations of a study conducted by the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and the City of St. Petersburg to assess St. Petersburg’s competitive position as a place to visit, live, work, and do business. The study provided a holistic strategy focused upon economic development and community development, and laid out an implementation plan for the future.  

The framework for the strategy is founded on the development of its PEOPLE (a strong workforce), advancement of their PROSPERITY (building wealth through high-paying jobs) and creating a sense of PLACE (desirable to live, visit and work). Key initiatives laid out by the Grow Smarter Steering Committee members as immediate priorities included the establishment of the Economic Development Corporation and the Innovation District. The committee also identified SIX areas as high priority for the community to activate the implementation plan.  Later a seventh area was added to highlight the need for affordable housing.

  • District and Corridor Development – focus on redevelopment and revitalization of key districts and corridors
  • Targeted Job Creation – intentional strategy to create more high-paying jobs
  • Awareness Building – highlight the assets and opportunities available in St. Petersburg
  • Entrepreneurial Growth – curate and grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the City
  • Coordinated Education & Training – enhance the education and training available to develop a strong workforce
  • Culture & Community – preserve the qualities that make St. Petersburg a sense of place
  • Housing – alleviate the need for affordable housing at all levels

The success of the Grow Smarter initiative is largely influenced by the community-wide participation in the assessment and the activation of community partners to implement this plan.  Evidence of the successes can be seen in the data below when compared with benchmark cities:

Source: Market Street Study St. Petersburg


Durham, NC






Population Change 6.2% 11% 7.3% 12%
Average Annual Wage $50,679 $62,435 $52,577 $47,441
Change in Annual Wage 8.9% 4.7% 9.7% 10.3%
Change in Median Household Income 25.6% 11.6% 8.6% 15.1%
Poverty Rate 13.9% 17.1% 15.1% 18.2%


Looking Ahead

While much success has been achieved in St. Petersburg by adopting the Grow Smarter initiative, there is still important work to be done. This is primarily captured in the 2019 Pinellas Equity Profile study conducted by the Foundation for Healthy St. Pete. Additional data from National Equity Atlas confirm the need for continued work in the area of racial economic equity. A sample of such data includes:

  • Unemployment rate – In 2015 people of color experienced unemployment at a rate of 10.1% compared to 7.3% for Whites.
  • Home ownership – Only 38.9% of the Black population owned homes compared to a high of 68.1% for Asian.
  • Poverty rates – In 2015 poverty rate for Blacks were over 30% compared to just over 12% for Whites.


Why is it important for St. Petersburg to focus on achieving racial economic equity?

  • In Pinellas County, based upon 2016 data the GDP would have been higher by about $3.6 billion if racial economic inequities were eliminated.
  • In St. Petersburg, based upon 2015 data people of color would have averaged $41,080 in average income without racial inequity, compared to the actual average income of $23,927.  This would translate into significant buying power for people of color.


Next Steps for Grow Smarter St. Petersburg

A three year, $1.2 million grant from the Foundation for Healthy St. Petersburg is funding the next phase of the Grow Smarter initiative. The Grow Smarter Steering committee has reviewed and revised its mission and strategic goals as follows:

Mission: Build an inclusive, multi-sector initiative to create equitable economic growth in St. Petersburg.

Goals Economic Growth: Increase the overall economic prosperity of St. Petersburg

Equitable: Narrow the economic gaps by race and place in St. Petersburg

Inclusive, multi-sector engagement: Ensure a culture of inclusion and engagement for Grow Smarter


Interested in participating in the Grow Smarter initiative?

Anyone who loves St. Petersburg and wants to contribute to inclusive prosperity in the community is welcome to participate in Grow Smarter. One way to get involved is to attend the upcoming Grow Smarter Summit, to be held in December.

Dr. Keesha Benson, the Grow Smarter Facilitator, is available to answer questions or discuss involvement and can be reached at Please visit or for ongoing opportunities to get involved.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Mason Morfit

    February 1, 2020at7:27 am

    The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum and artist Jane Bunker have created the Woodson Warriors Scholarships Fund to award funds to St. Petersburg qualified African American college-bound youth through the auction sale of Ms. Bunker’s paintings and donations to the fund.

    Last year’s efforts raised $43,000.00 which was awarded to 17 scholars. The goal for 2020 is to raise and award $100,000.00 through the auction on April 11, 2020 5-9pm at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum, 2240 9th St So.,St.Petersburg FL.

    For more information see

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