Grow Smarter, the economic development initiative focused on reducing gaps by race and place in St. Petersburg, has nearly 50 ideas to work on in 2021.
The suggestions came from participants in Friday morning’s online Grow Smarter summit. Ideas ranged from ensuring a Covid-19 vaccine is available for everyone to creating an awareness campaign around climate change, and a host of others.
See the ideas that got the most votes from Grow Smarter summit attendees below.
The ideas fit into five priority objectives that also are the focus of “Chamber Next,” a St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce plan for moving forward with a focus on equity, said Chris Steinocher, president and CEO.
“We want to be the Chamber of Commerce that is unrecognizable from anything in the country, because we are going to take care of everyone in this community,” Steinocher said. “It’s a business proposition. If this entire community is successful, don’t you think every business would be successful?”
The chamber, along with the City of St. Petersburg and the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, are partners on Grow Smarter, which pivoted in March to address the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the initiatives that resulted from that pivot were the city’s Fighting Chance Fund, which provided $6.2 million to 2,356 small businesses and individuals, and a Business Resiliency Team, which provided emergency response to help companies navigate the crisis.
Grow Smarter also funded WIFI hot spots in economically-challenged parts of the city and is building community technology hubs. A Grow Smarter scholarship program at St. Petersburg College helped 14 students get the education they need to work in in targeted industries and will continue in the future.
As many as 170 people were online during the summit and most took part in small group breakout sessions that proposed ways to activate the priority objectives identified by the Chamber. Participants also voted on for the top ideas for each priority. Here are the results:
Business and job growth
- Recruitment and retention. Support, training, additional resources, connections (networking and jobs). Diverse workforce + community we serve.
- Prioritize apprenticeships and paid internships in partnership with technical colleges and K-12 institutions.
- Industry-specific opportunities for the underserved to have upwardly mobile career pathways through workforce development and education training, following Grow Smarter industries.
Workforce diversity and quality
- Expand opportunities for apprenticeships, introduce children to wider career opportunities, result in certifications and promote a more diverse workforce.
- Hire more minorities (enforcement, measuring, tracking). Access to mentoring and coaching.
- Have organizations look like the community you serve. Genuinely address implicit bias. Blind resumes, structured interviews, scoring system questions, end panel interviews, evaluation systems independent of a group but evaluate later as a group.
Space options to live and work
- Community needs to reduce the home ownership gap between Caucasian and African American community. Develop more multi-family affordable housing (rental/owned). Continue that effort. Welcome to receiving recommendations to enhance programs.
- Reimagine how we support work and education through intentional infrastructure development and use of existing commercial space and focusing on housing that is affordable for all income levels.
- Zoning policies for accessory dwelling units (extended families, income, affordability, possibly live/work) – opening more areas for that throughout the city.
Sustainability and resiliency
- Create a public policy that intentionally addresses the lessons learned during Covid about minority communities and small businesses, and effectuate that through better navigation and training.
- Transportation (trolley, PSTA, bicycles, scooters); regionally connected initiative/rules/regulations on how to safely use transportation (enforcement is necessary).
- Incentivize sustainability programs, projects, funding. Emergency plans for small business owners. Asset mapping.
The online voting function did not work for a fifth priority area, community quality of life, but some of the ideas suggested for that priority included addressing food deserts, realizing the vision of St. Petersburg as an arts and education destination, and working to make schools and neighborhoods more inclusive.
All of the ideas will be considered for the 2021 Grow Smarter plan, said Jocelyn Howard, manager of Grow Smarter.