The 250,000 people who attend St. Pete Pride events create a $22 million economic impact in the city, said Luke Blankenship, executive director at St. Pete Pride.
“I’m sure many of you feel that impact through the events and just people coming into your doors,” Blankenship said, during a panel discussion Wednesday at Now Trending, a quarterly lunch for members of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
St. Pete Pride has kicked off five days of events that will culminate in the TransPride March and the Tech Data St. Pete Pride Parade Saturday night along the waterfront, and a street festival with 230 vendors in the Grand Central District on Sunday.
The economic impact likely is greater than $22 million, because the culture that Pride creates goes beyond the week or month of events and celebrations, said Bobby Poth, owner/broker of Poth & Associates, a boutique real estate firm in downtown St. Petersburg.
“People are coming here because of that. They’re leaving areas like San Francisco, which are highly progressive, with a high tax base and high property values, and they’re coming here and spending their money on a vacation home or a primary home,” Poth said.
That has a trickle-down effect on other business, he said, citing a recent report that said the average home sales has a $71,000 impact on Florida’s economy.
“So when people buy houses here, they hire lawn care, they buy supplies for their house, they shop at our businesses, they visit our restaurants, and that’s well beyond that year that they buy their home,” Poth said.
Poth’s own business has benefited as well, with a growing number of LGBT clients.
“I attribute about $2.5 million in sales to LGBT buyers or couples that have come to the area, which is probably about half of my individual sales this year, and that’s a huge increase from prior years,” he said.
Poth credited organizations such as St. Pete Pride, Equality Florida and Metro Inclusive Health, which hosted the Chamber event. This is the second year that Poth & Associates has participated in Pride.
“I can’t attribute any individual sale to doing that, but I can see a significant increase in our LGBT clientele because of our visibility in the organization, the recognition that we get and our participation,” Poth said.
There are also statewide impacts, said Todd Richardson, Pinellas County development officer for Equality Florida.
“Florida is a tourism state. Our No. 1 industry is tourism. It is so important that St. Pete is seen as a place that is inclusive, diverse and welcoming,” Richardson said.
St. Petersburg has embraced the Pride movement, said Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the Chamber.
“What we’re trying to do in St. Pete is to allow everyone to shine. We want to look in everyone’s eyes and say, ‘Who are you, what can we do together, how can you grow and live your dream here in St. Pete,’” Steinocher said. “If we did that for every individual, they will do the rest of it. Every entrepreneur will create jobs and wealth, and start investing in great organizations like this and others, and take care of the neighborhoods, but you have to provide a space where people feel safe, that they belong and that they matter.”
Several years ago, St. Petersburg ranked low on the Municipal Equality Index, an annual evaluation by the Human Rights Campaign that measures resources available for the LGBTQ community. St. Pete had a score of 62, a failing score, Steinocher said. Since then, the score has gone up to 100 and the city has maintained that score for four years.
A series of steps were involved in that, starting in 2002, the year of the first St. Pete Pride parade.
That was also the year Equality Florida helped the city pass its first human rights ordinance, said Jim Nixon, who serves dual roles as Mayor Rick Kriseman’s LGBTQ Liaison and marketing manager at Metro.
“Mayor Kriseman signed a proclamation for Pride in 2014 and passed legislation that put protections in place for city employees, non-discrimination policies and procurement contracts. Those set the pace and brought the city together in that inclusive vibe,” Nixon said.
Earlier this month, the City Council approved a resolution to track and monitor the city’s procurement of goods and services from LGBTQ-owned businesses.
Among the services Metro offers is inclusivity training for businesses. The Chamber has participated in the training, as has the St. Petersburg Police Department and several hospitals. One big focus is how to navigate the language around the transgender community, including the correct pronouns, said James Keane, director of development.
“The hope and the goal is that people have a better understanding of people who identify differently than themselves and that they are open to changes and how to be really welcoming and inclusive of everyone,” Keane said.
Equality Florida also has a program, called Equality Means Business, to spotlight employers in Florida that have adopted their own comprehensive non-discrimination policies because they understand diversity is good for business.
“I hear a lot of businesses say, ‘I support everyone. Why should I clearly specify who I support and who is welcome to shop here?’” Poth said.
But because sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes under federal laws and people can be denied housing or get fired from their jobs, it’s important to tell the LGBTQ community that a business wants to work with them, Poth said.
Equality Florida is backing national and state legislation that would provide broader protections, Richardson said.
“We are inching closer, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “Until everyone is protected in Florida, we are still going to be seen as a place that is not inclusive and not diverse. It hurts us when we’re trying to bring talent from New York or San Francisco, couples won’t come to Florida if one of them can be fired because of who they are … Everyone’s voice is so important.”