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Companies that ‘become St. Pete’ shine at annual meeting

Mark Parker

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From left: Mike Swesey, CEO the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation; Nicky Bruger, CEO of Digital Twin Marine; Anthony Nagendraraj, co-founder of Spontivly; Mason Salit, chief talent officer for Dynasty Financial Partners; Cathie Wood, founder of ARK Invest; and Matt Silverman, co-president of the Tampa Bay Rays. Photos by Mark Parker.

Local business development stakeholders celebrated St. Petersburg’s continued success in attracting new and expanding companies Wednesday evening. They also heard how keeping or losing the Tampa Bay Rays will create significant economic impacts.

The St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation (EDC) chose the city’s increasing wealth of “innovation, transformation and collaboration” as the overarching theme of its seventh annual meeting. The organization – now entering a new era – also showcased companies that “become St. Pete.”

Myriad city, county and area business leaders gathered in a packed USF St. Petersburg ballroom to hear the EDC’s recent highlights and future goals. Newly elected board chairperson Bill Kent said the organization, now overseen by CEO Mike Swesey, has launched a new five-year approach.

“The EDC has been in startup mode since its founding, and now we’re moving on to the next page,” Kent said. “And we are going to collaborate-collaborate-collaborate. No one organization can do all things for everybody.

“We want to make sure we’re all rowing in the same direction but in our lanes.”

EDC officials repeatedly stressed the importance of Class A office space. Kent said upcoming and recently opened projects like the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, 400 Central, Orange Station, the Historic Gas Plant District’s redevelopment and repurposing of outdated space in the Gateway District will help attract additional – and larger – companies to the city.

Kent said the EDC will work to “keep St. Pete, St. Pete” amid increasing growth. The organization will actively market the city as an inclusive and welcoming community to marginalized business owners.

“We’re working with our partners to ensure we’re all on the same page in promoting the Sunshine City and the businesses who are here and coming,” Kent said.

Mayor Ken Welch (left), Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton (right) and James Corbett, city development administer, were among the dozens of local leaders to attend the event Wednesday evening.

The Tampa Bay Rays

Swesey said becoming the “best version of St. Petersburg” involves the “largest business retention project” in the city’s history. That is the Tampa Bay Rays, who seek the city’s council’s approval to build a new $1.3 billion ballpark to anchor the Gas Plant’s long-awaited redevelopment.

He said the team, an EDC sponsor, provides about 750 full-time jobs. Swesey said employment soars to more than 2,000 on game days.

St. Petersburg has not seen a new Class A office building in 30 years. Swesey noted the proposed $6.5 billion redevelopment would provide 1.4 million square feet of additional space.

Swesey said the project would generate millions in new property tax revenues. He told attendees that losing the Rays and Hines development firm would send a negative message to the nationwide business community.

Swesey believes the project would create a “positive ripple effect that stretches far beyond” the former Gas Plant District. “I would argue it’s already happening, just with the announcement of the possibility …,” he said.

“This will elevate our game and take us to the next level,” Swesey added. “And we will compete in the 21st century against every city in the country – and the world.”

USF St. Petersburg, one of the Innovation District’s anchor institutions, hosted the annual event.

Becoming St. Pete

Attendees also heard from four founders who relocated their headquarters to the city and decided to “become St. Pete.” Swesey moderated the lighthearted discussion.

Panelists included Cathie Wood, CEO of ARK Invest; Mason Salit, chief financial officer for Dynasty Financial Partners; Anthony Nagendraraj, co-founder of Spontivly; and Nicky Bruger, CEO of Digital Twin Marine.

Dynasty has grown from 50 to over 120 employees since it left New York City for St. Pete in 2019. Salit said the increase proved Dynasty’s hypothesis that local universities and the city’s then-burgeoning reputation as a live-work-play destination would provide the talent needed to grow.

He also noted that candidates nationwide often say they have followed the company since it relocated to the city. “They know about St. Pete in a different way than they did five years ago,” Salit added. “We’re really excited to be a part of that and the community.”

Wood said ARK embodies the event’s innovation, transformation and collaboration theme. She noted the significance of headquartering in a city that embraces those values.

ARK also left the Big Apple for the Sunshine City, and Wood said Dynasty’s move significantly influenced that decision. “This place is perfect for ARK because it is anxious to progress and innovate in a surprising way,” she said.

“It’s not traditional, which also appealed to us,” Wood added. “The creativity is very organic – it’s very different from any other place we searched as we were looking around for our next home.”

In 2023, the EDC helped create 293 target industry jobs, announced nine new projects and added 58 companies to its economic development pipeline. Its website received 3.57 million Google search impressions. Visit the website here to view the EDC’s annual report and strategic priorities.

 

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