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County officials create new business alliance

Mark Parker



From back left: Councilmember Gina Driscoll; Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz; Mayor Ken Welch; Dr. Cynthia Johnson, economic development director for Pinellas County; and Councilmember Ed Montanari at the St. Petersburg Innovation District's State of Science and Innovation event. Johnson is helping form a new county business alliance. Photo by Mark Parker.

Pinellas County Commissioners recently approved dissolving an economic advisory council that ballooned to 100 members; a smaller, invite-only business alliance comprised of C-level executives will soon take its place.

Commissioners established the Pinellas County Economic Development Council (PCEDC) in 2003. Its 100 members represented local businesses, organizations and trade associations.

However, a county document states, “Over time, the ineffectiveness of electing and maintaining a board comprised of 100 members became more cumbersome than the benefits gained from holding meetings.” Commissioners approved repealing an ordinance establishing the PCEDC without discussion at a July 18 meeting.

Dr. Cynthia Johnson, economic development director for the county, said administrators are now creating the One Pinellas Business Alliance. While they are still establishing its membership structure and engagement format, she expects to begin sending invitations to join this fall.

“The purpose will be a fact-finding committee that will provide industry insights and perspectives,” Johnson said. “These industries that we spend a lot of our time focusing on are those industries that typically have higher wages.”

Dr. Cynthia Johnson, director of economic development for Pinellas County.

Target industries include aviation, aerospace, manufacturing, professional and financial services, national defense and homeland security. While Johnson believes the PCEDC was a “very useful initiative,” she said the new business alliance would provide valuable insight in a more manageable fashion.

She said the C-level executives and stakeholders comprising the alliance would provide feedback and information from an industry perspective. They will not have policy approval authority, but administrators will utilize their insight when implementing initiatives.

Johnson explained that stakeholder engagement opportunities help provide a “full picture” for local leaders to create a more sustainable economy for residents. The business alliance’s guidance will help Pinellas officials ensure they have the proper tools to recruit and retain companies and support an evolving workforce.

“It’s not just about the job,” Johnson added. “It’s really about the whole ecosystem that includes infrastructure development, quality of life, talent development and the ability to showcase Pinellas County as the ideal business destination – where investors want to invest, and people want to live.”

Johnson noted that the overarching goal is strengthening relationships. While she said the economic development department already emphasizes maintaining close connections, Johnson believes the new alliance will serve as a “springboard” to attract new investment.

She said the department is “very intentional” with its work plan and programming structure and used the county’s Employment Sites Program (ESP) as an example. The Brooker Creek South building – the first industrial project supported by the initiative – recently sold in a $22.3 million deal.

County officials have committed over $90 million in ESP funding to help construct and redevelop facilities that support target industries through four application rounds. Johnson called the program an “investment in infrastructure to create modern, relevant space” that fosters growth and attracts companies.

“Those kinds of decisions come because we’re listening to industry, and they’re telling us what they need,” she said. “They’re telling us, ‘We need more modern space.’

“We all know that Pinellas County is perfectly positioned for redevelopment. So, as we redevelop, we’re being very intentional by making sure that we’re investing the resources we have to create this space.”

In addition, Johnson noted that her department has held three international trade missions collaboratively with regional partners. Its Small Business Enterprise Program has supported $28 million in county procurement contracts in 2023, nearly matching last year’s total through the third quarter.

Johnson expects the new business alliance to begin bolstering economic development efforts in 2024. While the PCEDC may have had a similar name to her department, she stressed that “we’re not going anywhere.”

“We’re busy,” she added.








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    August 8, 2023at4:31 pm

    So, the County will ignore hospitality and the arts, 2 major economic drivers? At some point, the quality of life here will stop attracting the industries the County feels are more important.

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