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Tampa-St. Pete’s gig economy is growing

Margie Manning

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Uber and Lyft drivers, along with food delivery employees, are among the workers driving the growth of the gig economy in Tampa-St. Pete.

The number of nonemployer businesses – a U.S. Census Bureau designation for businesses without paid employees —  jumped about 10 percent in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in 2017, compared to the previous year.

Most nonemployers are self-employed individuals operating very small unincorporated businesses, which may or may not be the owner’s principal source of income, the Census Bureau said. Nonemployer businesses generally are viewed as a proxy for the gig – or sharing – economy which gained momentum in the Great Recession that begin in 2007 when a large number of people lost their jobs.

Florida was the top state for the percent increase in nonemployer business growth in 2017, while Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, along with four other counties in the Miami and Orlando areas, had some of the largest percentage increases in the nation, a news release said.

Sean Kennedy

“Uber and Lyft and food delivery services are responsible for the vast majority of the increase … and it’s only in the last two years that those companies have flourished here,” said Sean Kennedy, vice president of entrepreneurship and community development for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and manager of the St. Pete Greenhouse, a partnership between the Chamber and the City of St. Petersburg.

At the Greenhouse, Kennedy sees a lot of people who are starting businesses that won’t be their primary source of income, at least initially, but will supplement their income. That includes artists, freelance trainers, professionals such as accountants and others in the service sector, he said.

“In a strong low unemployment universe like we have now, people are less apt to quit their job and start a business and leap headfirst into entrepreneurship,” Kennedy said. “This gives people the opportunity to scale into it and begin to build something for themselves, as part of a long-term plan to establish a larger business.”

There are risks and uncertainties around health insurance and wages. Gig work often does not provide a steady paycheck every week.

“The psychology of having a regular paycheck and health insurance is huge,” Kennedy said. “It’s an emotional leap for people to abandon that, so I would tell anyone if there is an option to scale into it before you quit your job, to take that option.”


Related story: St. Pete entrepreneur launches venture to support the gig economy


The factors in favor of gig work are the opportunity to pursue a passion or a lifestyle.

“You can set your hours, as long as you are setting them to be all of the hours,” Kennedy said. “It’s definitely not a path to do less work.”

Total sales, or receipts, at nonemployer businesses also increased in 2017. Nationally, receipts increased 5.6 percent, adding more than $65.7 billion from 2016 to 2017.

Both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties outpaced the nation in that measure as well.

In Pinellas, nonemployer business receipts were $4.16 billion, up 14.2 percent, while in Hillsborough County, there was a 15.4 percent jump to $5.8 billion.

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