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New leadership alliance will foster equitable growth

Mark Parker



Chris Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, speaks at a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony with Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders (left) and Mayor Ken Welch. Photo by Mark Parker.

Chris Steinocher is working to eliminate “smoky room” deals and discussions and create a more inclusive economic development environment in St. Petersburg through a new leadership alliance.

Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said he wants to ensure the entire community helps determine the city’s future. He unveiled plans to form a Grow Together Leadership Alliance to city council members at Thursday’s Economic & Workforce Development Committee meeting.

The consortium will feature 40 business, organizational and community leaders dedicated to ensuring equitable growth and prosperity. The committee’s chairperson – currently Councilmember Ed Montanari – will serve as the Alliance’s city liaison.

“Everybody wants their fingerprints and footprints on St. Pete,” Steinocher said. “And that’s a good thing – that’s why we’re so awesome. But how do you keep everybody together? Because we all have unique notions of what prosperity and success mean to us.”

The Grow Together Leadership Alliance succeeds the Grow Smarter initiative implemented in 2015. That partnership between the Chamber and local leaders led to the St. Petersburg Economic Development Council’s (EDC) creation, the Innovation District’s formation and the St. Pete Greenhouse’s development.

However, Grow Smarter’s leadership realized the rapidly evolving city has new problems, needs and opportunities. Local partners will now build an inclusive and transparent “system of action” that aligns with Mayor Ken Welch’s five pillars for progress.

Those include equitable development, art and business opportunities; environment, infrastructure and resilience; housing opportunities for all; education and youth opportunities; and neighborhood health and safety.

A graphic showing a Grow Together Business Alliance example objective. Screengrab.

Councilmember John Muhammad noted he served on the Grow Smarter steering committee. “It looks like we’ve come a long way from arguing about whether or not to put ‘equity’ in the mission statement,” he said.

Muhammad added that some members requested refunds due to that debate. Steinocher said those discussions embodied his “smoky room” analogy.

“To me, the biggest (Grow Smarter) takeaways are that nobody cares more than the next person,” Steinocher said. “Everybody cares about this community. So, if you feel like you have the right answer and you care more than anybody else, you’re dangerous.

“I’ve learned that if you’re willing to know that you’re in a room full of people that are just like you and so passionate, you’re going to be better.”

Consulting firm Compass Productivity will design and facilitate a four-step implementation process. Connecting Chamber, city, business and community stakeholders with people best suited to help achieve a specific goal is a program focus.

Brian Caper, economic and workforce development director, said the Alliance would create specific strategies and objectives around the five pillars. Officials would update those regularly through a transparent process.

He explained that stakeholders would measure results quarterly and annually and adjust efforts accordingly. Caper said the Alliance would meet throughout September and October, and the quarterly action cycle would begin in November.

“We believe we’re better together,” Steinocher said. “There’s that story of two horses. Each horse can pull 8,000 pounds, but if you put them together, they can do 24,000 pounds.”

He believes the Alliance will help the city achieve its next level of prosperity and success. Steinocher said the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete, the EDC and the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership are investing in its formation.

Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz said it was time to replace Grow Smarter. However, she noted that the initiative was a data-driven, comprehensive process that included national best practices.

She sought assurances that the Alliance would create similar actionable results. “I don’t want fluff,” Hanewicz said.

Steinocher said the Alliance would incorporate recently completed study recommendations and rely on consultant and stakeholder expertise. “But also know there is an amazing magic in convening on a regular basis,” he said.

“It keeps things honest and real when you have to come back to a quarterly meeting and look everybody in the eye and say what you’re up to,” Steinocher said. “Please know that while this is not fluff, the first, say, nine months to a year, is about how do we come back into the community.”


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