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Ten local companies to watch in 2021

Margie Manning

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The Tampa-St. Petersburg business landscape may look very different by this time next year.

The first dirt could be turned for what promises to be the tallest building in St. Petersburg. A new bank is likely to be making loans with an environmental focus. The growing technology sector may get a boost if a local cybersecurity firm goes public.

Here’s a look at 10 companies (plus a few more) to watch in the coming year.

• Tampa Bay Rays. The future of the Major League Baseball club is likely to become a lot clearer during 2021. The Rays have said they are standing by a plan to split their season between the Tampa-St. Pete area and Montreal, but they have not said where they would play locally. The club’s lease at Tropicana Field runs out at the end of the 2027 season. Brian Auld, Rays president, suggested earlier this year that the team has until January 2022 to make a decision on finding a new home.

St. Petersburg officials are waiting to see what the Rays have to say about the future of the Trop site when the city opens requests for proposals to redevelop the 86-acre site on Jan. 15. City officials are in the midst of a broad community outreach effort to ensure the wellbeing of the city’s Black community is incorporated into the redevelopment project.

• Climate First Bank. The first new bank to set up headquarters in St. Petersburg in at least a decade, Climate First Bank expects to open in the second quarter of 2021. Ken LaRoe, founder and CEO, chose St. Petersburg for its headquarters because of the city’s environmental ethos.

The bank, which is leasing an office at 5301 Central Ave., will be a full service institution with a focus on businesses committed to sustainability. The bank expects to offer dedicated loan options for solar photo voltaic, energy retrofits, and infrastructure to combat the climate crisis.

• First Home Bank, the only other bank currently headquartered in St. Petersburg, is going into 2021 with its own focus on making credit available to minority- and women-owned businesses. The program has an “aggressive goal” of distributing more than $50 million in loan funds locally in the next two years.

First Home was one of the larger participants in the Paycheck Protection Program in 2020, but has said changes in the program are needed before it can commit to taking part in the next round of PPP lending.

And, while not headquartered here, Beach Bank, a Fort Walton Beach-based bank, is making a big push into the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. The bank has one office in the Westshore area in Tampa and is “extremely interested” in St. Petersburg as well as Sarasota-Bradenton, said Chip Reeves, president and CEO.

• Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. The largest hospital in St. Petersburg enters 2021 with new ownership. Nonprofit Orlando Health bought Bayfront Health St. Petersburg Sept. 30, marking an end to about seven years of control by publicly traded companies. John Moore, Bayfront’s new CEO, and LaTasha Barnes, chief financial officer, say they will build on the hospital’s legacy in the community and enhance quality, expand services and improve the physical plant.

• Red Apple Real Estate. The New York-based company has said it will begin construction in 2021 on 400 Central, a 1.3 million square foot development with a luxury residential condominium tower, a boutique hotel with meeting and event space, retail and restaurant sites and Class A office space. When the $300 million project is completed, it will boast the tallest building in St. Petersburg.

A few blocks west and south, a much different real estate project is taking shape.  Joe Furst, founder and managing principal of Place Projects, wants to turn the large parcels of vacant land along 22nd Street South into a development with mid-rise buildings housing ground-floor modern industrial uses and arts-related retail with offices and residences on the upper floors. He’s hoping his plan for a new category of zoning — industrial mixed use, or IMIX — is incorporated into the ongoing StPete2050 plan, a visioning process for how the city will look over the next 30 years.

• United Insurance Holdings Corp. There’s been a turnover in the leadership team at United Insurance Holdings (Nasdaq: UIHC) since John Forney, the long-time CEO of the St. Petersburg-based property and casualty insurer, left in June. In the six months since Daniel Peed has been chairman and CEO, the company, which does business as UPC Insurance, has scrapped plans for a new downtown headquarters, raising questions about previously announced plans to hire 300 new workers.

The company has seen its earnings take a beating from losses caused by hurricanes and tropical storms. UPC indicated a shift in strategy earlier this month, when it said it would sell its personal lines business in four states in the northeast and focus on growing its specialty commercial property business.

• KnowBe4. The Clearwater-based cybersecurity training firm, with a simulated phishing platform, could become one of the next publicly traded companies headquartered in the Tampa-St. Pete area.  Reuters reported in September that KnowBe4 was working with investment banks on an initial public offering. Stu Sjouwerman, founder and CEO of KnowBe4, earlier told the St. Pete Catalyst that he was starting to run the privately held company as if it were a publicly traded firm.

If it goes public, KnowBe4 could draw national focus on the burgeoning cybersecurity sector in the area, with other fast-growing companies such as deepwatch in St. Petersburg, which just raised $53 million, as well as ReliaQuest, a Tampa company that raised $300 million in August, and A-LIGN in Tampa.

• Tampa Bay Wave, a nonprofit that houses and services technology startups, will launch its CyberTech|X Accelerator, with a focus on cybersecurity firms, early in 2021.

• The Historic Manhattan Casino. The city-owned property at 642 22nd St. S., in the heart of The Deuces, a traditional hub for Black-owned businesses, homes and entertainment, will get a new life in 2021.

Callaloo Group, which has a contract with the city to run the historic property, is taking memberships for restaurateurs interested in being part of its new food hall, slated for a soft opening in late January or early February.

Rising Tide Innovation Center is opening a small business center and coworking space at the site.

• Raymond James Financial, Dynasty Financial Partners, Doyle Wealth Management and other financial service providers. One of St. Petersburg’s economic pillars is the financial services sector, so leading companies in the industry always bear close observation.

Raymond James (NYSE: RJF), one of the largest employers in St. Petersburg, laid off 4 percent of its global workforce in September, as the Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding economic conditions cut deeply into earnings. The company said it continues to keep a close eye on expenses. Raymond James owns 1.25 million square feet of office space in the Carillon Office Park as well as 65 undeveloped acres in Pasco County. As Covid-19 accelerated the work-from-home trend, Raymond James could find its real estate needs shifting as well.

The pandemic did not slow merger and acquisition activity in the sector, and Raymond James has been a participant in that, announcing two deals at the close of 2020. Raymond James is buying NWPS Holdings, a Seattle-based independent provider of retirement plan administration, consulting, actuarial and administration services, as well as Financo, a boutique investment bank focused on the consumer sector.

On the flip side of M&A activity, Doyle Wealth Management, one of the largest wealth management firms in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, will have new ownership in 2021. CI Financial (NYSE: CIXX), a Toronto-based wealth and asset management firm, is buying Doyle, with the deal expected to close any day now.

Dynasty, which provides wealth management and technology platforms for independent financial advisory firms, has been flourishing since planting roots in St. Petersburg in 2019. In October, Dynasty said it would close its New York office and consolidate all of its operations at its St. Pete headquarters at 200 Central downtown, bringing more new jobs to the area.

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