A Southern Migration

J.P. DuBuque, President & CEO, St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation

If you had told me when I graduated from Salisbury University with my master’s degree in 2001, the same place where I was born and raised, that I would be moving to the gulf coast of Florida years later with a boat, a family and a career in economic development, I honestly would have thought you were out of your mind.

I was born and raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I had my people, good people. For years I thought I knew exactly what the rest of my life was going to look like, and let me tell you, it is far from what it is now!

In 2012, my badass wife Patti, who worked in the property management industry, was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was a position in St. Pete that would really progress her career. With a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, rerouting our lives was not really on our radar, but it was worth it for us to take a look. She deserved that. So, we did lots of research, we went down and checked out the area. We looked at the schools and explored as much as we could of downtown, the waterfront, arts districts, and surrounding communities.

Ultimately, when we were done trying to see everything we possibly could, Patti and I sat down at 400 Beach Seafood Restaurant just to relax and take it all in. By the way, their roasted blue cheese oysters are the best around! As I was sitting there, staring at this vibrant community and the beautiful shores of Tampa Bay, I realized there really were no drawbacks to relocating. Of course, there was the physical act of moving, but that would be short-lived. So, sitting there enjoying a locally brewed IPA, my first of many to be had, Patti and I made the decision to call this community our new home. And since then, we’ve never looked back.

Since moving here 8 years ago, I have found out things about myself that I didn’t know - I am a beach guy, I am a city guy, I am a guy that tries new things, I am a Floridian. St. Pete has shattered; No, obliterated any preexisting feelings that were in the back of my mind about cities in Florida. This City is me, it’s spunky, it’s funky, it’s all-encompassing, it’s where I’ve found my new people, and it is where my Maryland people are flocking to every chance they get. St. Pete has provided the best opportunities for my family, and it is where I’ve found an incredibly rewarding career that I am so passionate about.

Shortly after Patti accepted her new job, we started looking into school systems for our children. As for schools, we saw many public schools that were highly ranked. We even saw how in their later years, our children could go to specialized middle and elementary schools and high school academies that fit their interests. This was so new to us but so desirable and exciting for our family! We found a home near an elementary school that worked perfectly for our children and our family.

While Patti was getting acclimated to her new job, I played the role of House Husband for a few months and really got to know our new city. Starting off my love affair with the ‘Burg. Instantly, I noticed that I could be in the parking lot of an NFL team, an NHL team, a major league baseball team, or a professional soccer team in under 45 minutes, what’s not to love? I remember telling my wife this, and I still stand by this: I could probably go to a different restaurant in this area for each meal every day for 10 years and never have to go back to the same one. St. Pete’s foodie and craft brew scene is truly second to none.

Now, as I have been here for 8 years I have become accustomed to how uniquely great this city is. With seven arts districts (and counting), 20+ museums and galleries, more than 1,000 annual events, abundant outdoor activities, and an average temperature of 73.7 degrees, I think I may already be in heaven. St. Pete offers the regional assets of a dense metro area, but somehow maintains a small-town feel. You always feel like you are supporting a small business and a down-to-earth individual when you go into a new business or area.

I always tell people if they want a perfect depiction of what St. Pete is, they need to go to The Saturday Market, impressively one of the largest in the Southeast, by the way. Every Saturday, residents and visitors gather for one epic farmer’s market with live music, local artisans, and unique vendors. This is the epitome of St. Pete.

After we had settled for a few months in our new home, I began my job search and was pleasantly surprised how quickly I landed a great role.

Fast forward a few years and I am leading the St. Petersburg Area EDC as President & CEO with what I consider to be the coolest job of all time- I get paid to tell people how much I love St. Pete! Working for the EDC has awoken a passion of mine to encourage economic prosperity and job growth, and to work with businesses who are interested in moving their companies, teams, and families here. Economic developers understand that every job that we help a business to create is a family that we are all helping and a community that we are able to largely impact - that’s how I like to think about it. There is nothing more rewarding.

While it is easy to talk about how great St. Pete is, I am living proof of a recovering banker- former Northeasterner and trailing spouse who made the southern migration and every day is reaping the benefits both personally and professionally. I share the ease of moving, finding a job after my spouse did, finding amazing schools, and simply finding my people. Everyone here is so open, with it becoming a popular spot for people to move, there are so many in the same position of looking for their tribe and there are so many different kinds of people and activities here, I can’t imagine anyone feeling out of place.

Every ‘Burger (once you move, you will understand that term) has a St. Pete story. It’s a story like my 400 Beach story, it is the moment they realize that St. Pete is the place they want to call their home. My southern migration is like so many others. I have a newfound love of this crystal-clear blue-green water. My kids have been given the opportunity to go to a performing arts high school, which is unheard of where they would have grown up. And, I have been able to expand my personal development, both culturally and in my career. Moving here was simply the best decision for my family, for mine and my wife’s career, and for our overall happiness.

I will warn you, there is one caveat to moving down here. You should probably splurge on an extra bedroom because all of your friends and family will want to come to visit after seeing your photos and hearing how happy you are.

So what are you waiting for? Make sure you let me know next time you are coming down here, or even thinking about it! I like to think that I am one of the best, and more persuasive, tour guides for this city!

Connect with J.P. DuBuque on LinkedIn or contact us to learn more.