The Pinellas County Economic Development department expects to make a major announcement next week on the search for its next leader, following the retirement of longtime director Mike Meidel.
Meidel, the former Director of Pinellas County Economic Development, announced his retirement earlier this year after 17 years of service with Pinellas County government. Meidel has been a stalwart leader and was involved in successful initiatives focused on redevelopment, employer retention, business recruitment, workforce development and the implementation of the Penny for Pinellas tax program.
“We are very close to making an offer [for the position],” Kevin Knutson, an assistant county administrator for Pinellas County, said during the Pinellas County Commission meeting on Thursday.
Pinellas County started the national search several months ago.
Knutson said the department vetted many candidates and held dozens of interviews. A meeting was held recently between the candidates and Pinellas County staff.
Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton and Knutson sourced help from a group of residents who are with nonprofits and workforce development groups to aid in the interviewing process.
“That person is going to lead an effort to create a steering company to determine what governance looks like in economic development,” Knutson said about the next director. “It’s taken a while, but we want to be conscious that we are making a really good decision.”
Stepping up on true collaboration
In February, the department initiated discussions with its partners to address concerns – essential in understanding the goals a new director would have to meet.
“We learned that the collaboration needed some work,” Knutson said. “We started to understand there was a disconnect between our organization and our partners around the county that we weren’t really speaking with one voice.”
The department then formed a program bringing 22 leaders to the table to discuss resolving specific issues. The program included mayors, economic development leaders, members of chambers and CEOs of local companies.
“There was a lot of concern that deals were coming in that nobody was aware of, that folks didn’t hear about things until after the fact,” Knutson said.
He said there was consensus among the group for the county’s economic development department to take the lead. There was also a recommendation to talk with the private industry, from commercial to manufacturing, and take its needs into account.
“You’re seeing us look at this feedback and acting already. We are not going to wait to implement our work plan. We’ve already changed the way we are working with our partners. We are much more in the community than we were before,” he said. “We use to bring people to us to communicate and instead we are going out to them. Instead of telling them what we are doing, we are asking them questions.”
The group utilized Langley Economics LLC to help guide the discussions. Langley Economics Principal Michael Langley, who worked for the Tampa Bay Partnership, understands the dynamics of the region and interviewed members one-on-one on changes that could be implemented, he said.
The results from the input were used to develop the profile for the incoming director.
“When we hire somebody, it isn’t just to replace who we had, but rather someone who would be the face of our future and the way we want to do business,” Knutson said.