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Grow Smarter’s 2020 chair issues a call to action

Margie Manning



Attendees at the 2019 Grow Smarter Summit at the Center for Health Equity

Tashika Griffith, the incoming chair for the Grow Smarter steering committee, promises to be a visible presence in the community, calling on as many people as she can to contribute their ideas about equitable economic growth in St. Petersburg.

Tashika Griffin, 2020 chair, Grow Smarter steering committee

Griffith, provost for St. Petersburg College Downtown and Midtown campuses, was introduced Friday morning at the Grow Smarter summit, as several hundred people gathered to talk about the city’s economic development strategy, including inclusive growth by race and place.

“We may think we know from our 30,000 foot level what a community needs, but I need to hear from the community to make sure that it’s aligned with what you really need,” Griffith said.

She succeeds Sri Sundaram, steering committee chair for the past year and dean of the Kate Tiedemann College of Business at University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Sri Sundaram, outgoing chair, Grow Smarter

Like Griffith, Sundaram stressed the collaborative nature of the work.

“We function as a catalyst, but all of you are partners doing the most important work,” he said.

There’s been progress in the past five years since the launch of the Grow Smarter initiative, an economic development strategic plan for St. Petersburg housed within the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

The median income in St. Petersburg has grown by 25 percent since 2014, and poverty is down by 14 percent. But there’s still work to be done, Sundaram said, citing continued gaps in median household income by census tracts and disparities in homeownership and in high school graduation rates by race. Reducing those differences would have a significant impact on the economy of the city, he said.

He outlined three priorities for Grow Smarter:

• Increasing the overall economic prosperity for the city

• Narrowing the gap between race and place. “No matter where you are and who you are, we want to make sure you still have opportunities”

• Creating an inclusive community with a focus on collaborative partnerships

To foster inclusivity and collaboration, much of the time at the Grow Smarter summit was spent in small group discussions with each of the six Grow Smarter working groups.

Those groups have been meeting monthly and each have developed their own priorities. They are:

Entrepreneurial growth: Map the entrepreneurial ecosystem of St. Petersburg, develop agreed-upon measurement of entrepreneurial activity, and benchmark with other cities for 2020.

Targeted job creation: Update and communicate target industries, create a formalized business retention/expansion strategy team, support the development of the workforce resource map and continued alignment of workforce development.

Coordinated education and training: Effort mapping around the Grow Smarter target industries, convene groups to address identified gaps from a practice standpoint (i.e., racial gaps in high school graduation rates), map the cradle-to-grave pipeline for each of the target industries identified in Grow Smarter

Culture and community: Showcase diverse local grassroots efforts that are unique to the cultural and community fabric of St. Petersburg, continue the development and promotions of world-class recreation amenities and unique events and attractions that also raise the awareness of St. Petersburg’s destination appeal, develop and promote amenities-in-community as a strategy that embeds arts and culture into projects and programs city-wide

District and corridor development: Extend St. Petersburg’s downtown successes to other parts of the city, consider innovative transit-related initiatives to link other areas with downtown, encourage participation in the city’s review/debate about zoning in coastal high hazard areas, complete unified mapping and alignment of key events of all districts and corridors from 2018

Housing: Assess the overall housing needs of the city of St. Petersburg, effort mapping for housing efforts in the city, promotion of accessory dwelling units within St. Petersburg, zoning overlay education.

Summit attendees rotated around tables set up for each working group within the main hall at the Center for Health Equity, the newly opened office for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. The foundation last year awarded the St. Pete Chamber a $1.2 million grant to support Grow Smarter, allowing the initiative to hire three staff members.

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