St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman wants economic developers throughout the Tampa-St. Pete area to take a page from the books of local law enforcement and fire rescue agencies.
Just as those independent life safety agencies and their officers cross jurisdictional lines when needed, Kriseman is suggesting economic development corporations, agencies and chambers of commerce follow suit to collaboratively attract more businesses to the region.
Kriseman has proposed an “Economic Development Mutual Aid Agreement,” in which those involved in business recruitment would formally agree to provide each other with assistance and cooperation as it relates to economic development. He emailed a letter Thursday to local leaders outlining the plan, and said if there is consensus to move forward with the concept, he would direct the city attorney to work on a draft agreement for review and input.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement to the St. Pete Catalyst that she backs regional collaboration. (See Castor’s full statement below.) Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton also indicated support for the plan during an interview with the Catalyst, as did the chairs of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater St. Petersburg Economic Development Corp.
Kriseman’s proposal was prompted, at least in part, by news that the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. are changing their names to the Tampa Bay Chamber and the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council. The EDC said it will begin using its new name Oct. 29 at its annual meeting.
Kriseman asked both organizations to reconsider their decision, saying it hurts collective efforts and reverses progress that has been made to date.
The Tampa Hillsborough EDC declined comment, saying it would respond directly to Kriseman first before making a public statement. The Tampa chamber has not responded to a request for comment.
‘Tear down the wall’
In the Oct. 17 letter, Kriseman recounted a history of competition between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. “There were trust issues and little collaboration, especially when it came to economic development,” he wrote.
Since 2014, when he was elected mayor, Kriseman said he has worked to “tear down the wall” that separated the communities. He had the support of former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and said in his letter that Castor feels the same way.
Kriseman cited collaborative economic development issues such as trade trips to Chile and Canada, and efforts to recruit Amazon HQ2. While each geographic area is unique, “We knew that new or existing businesses relocating to one side of the Bay was to the benefit of both sides of the Bay,” Kriseman wrote.
In his letter, he detailed how an economic development mutual aid agreement could work:
“For example, if the Tampa Hillsborough EDC is attempting to recruit a business to Tampa or somewhere else in Hillsborough County, and after that business visits Tampa and makes a determination that neither Tampa nor anywhere else in the county is a good fit, the EDC would encourage that business to consider St. Pete and Pinellas County, making the needed introductions between the business representatives and the economic development officials from Pinellas County and St. Pete. Likewise, if the St. Pete EDC learned from an executive that St. Pete cannot meet the needs of a potential business, the St. Pete EDC would first connect that executive with Pinellas County officials prior to sharing such as lead with economic development officials in Hillsborough County and Tampa.”
Kriseman emailed the letter to 11 economic development, government and civic leaders. The Catalyst reached out to them for response.
Through a spokeswoman, Castor said: “We’re at a very pivotal position in the region where we have economic drivers across the Bay Area looking to come together to pitch, across the globe, all of the unique and defining characteristics we have to offer. We could not be more excited to convene the region to showcase our neighborhoods, our individual identities, and our multiplied strength. We’re a region founded on our diversity and it’s that diversity that welcomes and invites our collaboration.”
Burton, the Pinellas County administrator, said it’s an opportunity for this area to address economic development as a region.
“When companies look at an area, they look at the workforce. If you look at the Howard Frankland Bridge, it’s busy in both directions. For us to address economic development from the perspective of an employer, it makes a lot of sense,” Burton said.
The Pinellas County Commission discussed regional economic development collaboration during a workshop Thursday, after Commissioner Janet Long wrote an opinion, published in the Tampa Bay Times, about the issue. Long wrote that neither the Tampa Hillsborough EDC nor the Greater Tampa Chamber consulted with their counterparts across the Bay about their name changes and the use of the “Tampa Bay” brand by one county hurts the region.
Economic development staffs in both counties already work together, Burton said, but Kriseman’s proposal could be a more formalized way of doing so.
“I am certain that a well-defined economic development mutual aid agreement will benefit each of us and elevate our region in an increasingly competitive global marketplace,” Kriseman wrote.
The St. Pete Chamber and the St. Pete EDC also cited the global marketplace in a joint statement from their chairs, Bill Kent with the Chamber and Chad Loar with the EDC.
“Our two organizations, the Sts Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation, appreciate and applaud our Mayor’s continued tenacity to ensure our city and our region compete on the global stage. We thank him for his call to ensure all the business organizations in our region work better together. We’ve worked hard the past eight years building an economic development infrastructure in St. Pete that now offers real value to all our regional partners. Our organizations stand ready to be part of any efforts to maximize the effectiveness of the valuable private and public dollars invested in our missions,” the joint statement said.
The intent of Kriseman’s proposal is similar to sentiments offered by entrepreneur Tony DiBenedetto earlier this week at a panel discussion sponsored by Trenam Law in Tampa.
“We have a large region here. We are acting more like a region and less like an individual city. When I first came here, it was St. Pete against Tampa and there’s still a little of that, depending on the kind of business you are in. But to me it’s just one big metro area. The more that comes together, I think that’s a selling point,” DiBenedetto said, in describing his idea for a new approach to marketing the Tampa-St. Pete area.