Since its inception five years ago, the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp., tasked with recruiting new companies and helping existing businesses, has announced nearly 2,000 new jobs in the city – and it’s expecting that number to drastically grow in the coming years.
The St. Pete EDC celebrated its five years of accomplishments, and the region’s success, at its fifth annual meeting Thursday at the Don CeSar.
“The EDC was created to market St. Pete as a great business location with the goal of bringing companies here. But marketing alone cannot always be enough, there has to be a coordinated effort by a team of folks to show the company we are working with that St. Pete could be a great fit for them and continue to assist them long after the relocation is made,” St. Pete EDC President J.P. DuBuque said.
In 2021 alone, 94 new companies were added to the city’s pipeline and 630 target industry jobs were created, according to the EDC’s data. Target industries identified in St. Pete include data analytics, financial services, manufacturing, and marine and life sciences.
The EDC highlighted companies that have made St. Pete its home in 2021 or announced plans to relocate to the city in the near future.
The most recent case is Spontivly, a Canadian-based company known for its community management platform. It announced it would move its HQ from Canada to St. Pete this year.
“Honestly, St. Pete and the Tampa Bay region were not on our radar. We were looking at cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle,” co-founder Anthony Nagendraraj said during the event.
The company was introduced to the region through its participation in the Tampa Bay Wave’s TechDiversity cohort in 2021. Spontivly was also a semifinalist in the Startup of the Year Summit. “The growing tech scene really made us want to be in this community,” Nagendraraj said.
In late January, Spontivly closed its six-figure, pre-seed round and said it will be raising another round.
The company plans to hire 65 people over the next three years.
Other companies in attendance and recognized included tech startup Shamrck, which made the announcement last month it was relocating to St. Pete from Mississippi. Shamrck is an artificial intelligence-powered career exploration platform that helps schools create better career and technical education programs by connecting students to employers.
CitrusAd, a global e-commerce media firm, was also recognized. It opened its U.S. HQ in St. Pete and hired 50 team members and is still hiring.
The list continued with mentions of cybersecurity firm Code-X that opened its global headquarters in St. Pete, as well as CodeBoxx, another Canadian-founded tech company providing coding education courses; CodeBoxx also moved its HQ to St. Pete.
“When we decided to look at the Tampa Bay region, we spent a couple of days over on the other side, and then we ultimately came over to this side. The difference in terms of the energy could not be any more different,” CodeBoxx co-founder Meg Charles said.
“It was about the community. This is such an eclectic group of people. We love the art scene here. I was frankly surprised by the food culture – I’m from New York,” she chuckled.
One day,she met with DuBuque for lunch, during a rainstorm. Nonetheless it didn’t damper DuBuque’s plans of taking her on a site-scouting tour from the Carillon area to downtown. DuBuque also connected Charles with former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and introduced CodeBoxx to Seedfunders, which provides funding and mentoring for pre-revenue technology concepts.
During the annual event, the EDC spotlighted the progress of other projects and significant announcements in the region, one of which was the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub and its main and largest tenant, Pole Star.
The Maritime and Defense Technology Hub is at 450 8th Ave. Southeast, formerly used as the SRI International building. It is the first-ever hub of its kind in Tampa Bay. The facility, adjacent to the Coast Guard station, was created to have spaces for companies seeking a waterfront location to deploy vessels and have a hyper-secured site for highly-classified operations.
The tenant Pole Star is a London-based marine company that collects real-time data on everything from active vessels on the water and issues including piracy, collisions and predicting weather patterns. The company works closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and marine officials. “We had to identify a high-security location that would allow us to have 24/7 operations and support the Coast Guard,” Ben Minichino, President of Pole Star, said during the event.
Minichino said he was living in Barcelona, Spain at the time when the company started site searching. “We found the Ceridian campus and that became our temporary home. We began to work with [Innovation District Director] Alison Barlow, the mayor’s office and the city council about [moving to] the SRI building. It was purpose-built for us,” Minichino said. “As we moved into the Maritime and Defense and Technology Hub, we are really excited to not only be here in St. Pete, but we are working with some amazing tech companies with the same [industry] barriers and we are all figuring it out together.”
Additionally, he said the company has identified “amazing talent” in St. Pete.
Another major win that put St. Pete in the national headlines was the announcement of business mogul Cathie Wood relocating her ARK Invest firm from New York to St. Pete.
In October, Wood said she’d inked a lease for 10,000 square feet of office space in downtown St. Pete, at the 200 Central building. She also bought naming rights for the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, which will be the first in Pinellas County purposely constructed to focus on entrepreneurs.
She and her team believe the city has the potential of becoming “the next Austin.”
Following the EDC’s relocation and expansion success stories, the organization outlined several initiatives for the new year, including conducting a perception study that will determine how out-of-market company executives and site selection consultants view St. Petersburg.
The perception study findings will be released this year.
The EDC is also in the process of updating its strategic planning and investing in new technology.