Dr. Sri Sundaram, dean of the Kate Tiedemann College of Business at University of South Florida St. Petersburg, is the new chair of the steering committee for Grow Smarter, a strategic plan and economic development initiative to enhance growth in St. Pete.
Sundaram succeeds Ryan Griffin, a business attorney and restaurateur, who has chaired the committee for the past two years.
Grow Smarter, with seven strategic focus areas and five targeted job sectors, kicked off its fifth year Friday at the Grow Smarter summit, an event that put a strong emphasis on equality and inclusion in economic development. The program highlighted accomplishments and new initiatives — among them StPeteWorkforce.com, a website launched by the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. and CareerEdge. The website is designed to help employers find connections to organizations that can help them with workforce recruitment, training and development, said J.P. DuBuque, president of the St. Pete EDC.
Sundaram’s appointment as Grow Smarter steering committee chair was announced at the end of the summit. He serves on the executive committee of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, which developed Grow Smarter in a partnership with the city of St. Petersburg in 2014.
When he was asked by the nominating committee to take on the chairmanship, he realized it was a good fit, he told the St. Pete Catalyst.
“As the dean for the College of Business, my philosophy has been in higher education you are part of regional economic development,” he said. “I’ve been working closely with the Chamber on economic development initiatives, and I thought this would a be a wonderful platform for me to take on. It’s not new for me, but it’s on a larger scale.”
Sundaram’s appointment follows a $1.2 million multi-year grant from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg to the Grow Smarter strategy. The funding is designed to fuel continued efforts to enhance quality and diverse economic growth in St. Pete, with a commitment to make sure all residents are connected to economic opportunities.
“It’s exciting to me to see that we can impact the community as a whole,” Sundaram said.
FSG, a global social impact consulting firm, also has been working with Grow Smarter to take the initiative to the next level and focus on “collective impact.”
Collective impact is the commitment of a group of residents and professionals from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a complex social problem at scale, said David Garfunkel, an FSG associate director, while speaking at the summit.
Collective impact works well when it also incorporates equity and inclusion, Garfunkel said. That means effectively including community voices into initiatives that previously were institution-heavy, and engaging everyone in conversations around race, class and power — key issues behind current problems, Garfunkel said.
FSG is helping Grow Smarter understand best practices used in other communities, Sundaram said.
“We are the hub and we have spokes connecting us to other community organizations. Our goal is to work with them, to collectively grow smarter and grow together.”
As Grow Smarter evolves, Sundaram wants the steering committee to take a close look at the organization and how it continues to get better. “My goal is to continue to refine this and get even sharper, with very specific metrics for 2019 and 2020,” he said.
Grow Smarter’s Targeted Job Creation workgroup is taking a similar approach, said DuBuque, who is chair of the workgroup.
Grow Smarter has focused on the five industries initially identified in 2014 as key to growth — marine and life sciences, specialized manufacturing, financial services, data analytics and creative arts and design.
“What we want to do is go back and confirm these targeted industries,” DuBuque said. “A lot has changed in four years and we want to make sure we’re still focused on the right ones, so over the next year we’ll be going back to do that.”