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Pinellas business group calls for regional alliance in economic development marketing

Margie Manning

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Mike Meidel (standing), director, Pinellas County Economic Development, addressed the Pinellas County Economic Development Council.

A rebranding plan by the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. is drawing fire from the Pinellas County Economic Development Council.

The plan by the Tampa Hillsborough EDC to change its name to the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, effective Oct. 29, “has undone years of collaboration across the Bay and it’s disappointing to hear that,” said Ron Mirenda, a member of the Pinellas County Economic Development Council.

The Pinellas council, made up of business leaders appointed by the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, approved a motion from Mirenda Thursday morning, saying the council fully supports regional economic development, retaining independence for individual counties and operating in an alliance for marketing.

The council is the most recent group to speak out against the move. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick 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. Kriseman also asked both the Tampa Hillsborough EDC and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, which plans to change its name to the Tampa Bay Chamber, to reconsider their decisions.

The Tampa chamber did not respond to a request for comment. The Tampa Hillsborough EDC declined comment, saying it would respond directly to Kriseman first before making a public statement. As of Thursday, the organization had not sent its response.

Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development, told the council that the new branding would create confusion in the marketplace.

“Our biggest concern is people will go their website, Tampa Bay EDC, and think they’re getting information on all the counties in the area, when in reality they’re only seeing sites available in Hillsborough County,” Meidel said. “We have a good working relationship with them and have shared projects in the past. When we are unable meet a company’s needs in Pinellas, we tell them about it and they’ve done the same for us. But that’s staff dependent and we don’t know what will happen in the future. It’s difficult. It’s a violation of trust for them to have done this without talking to us first, and it just makes us uncomfortable that there will be that open communication that we rely on if they are going to take on that name.”

Businesses considering a relocation may suffer as a result, Meidel said. “If [the Tampa Hillsborough EDC] receives a lead and are unable to meet it and don’t pass it on to us, we may have companies that never even consider Pinellas County that thought they knew every site available.”

Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners Chair Karen Seel, who also chairs the economic development council, told the business leaders that the county commission agrees with the council’s stance. “We will be sending a letter, saying we need to cooperate in selling Tampa Bay, honoring each county and each city as we partner,” Seel said.

The Pinellas County Economic Development Council met in St. Petersburg at The Greenhouse, a public-private partnership between the city of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, that offers business owners and entrepreneurs with the education, resources and assistance.

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