A laid-back beachy vibe. A growing artsy culture and entrepreneurial spirit. Historic Southern Charm mixed with Midwest Nice.
That’s St. Petersburg, Florida: Creative. Authentic. Welcoming.
And Bustling. Make no mistake, the ‘Burg as a business destination is being discovered.
In 2021 alone, St. Pete attracted 12 new companies and 630 target industry jobs were created, according to the Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation, and the momentum has continued. St. Pete’s target industries — identified for their growth potential — are data analytics, financial services, specialized manufacturing, marine and life sciences, and creative arts and design. These new companies join a passionate business community with everything from huge employers such as Raymond James, Jabil and FIS to a thriving small business community.
“Every business contributes to our culture and character and they’re all important,” says J.P. DuBuque, CEO of the St. Petersburg EDC, a public-private partnership. “The new businesses that are a good fit are the ones that want to really be part of our community and help us grow and enhance and maintain our culture, the thing that we all love so much.”
During the pandemic, this midsize peninsular city also shined as a comfortable, welcoming remote locale as businesses around
the world let their workers work from anywhere: Just bring a company laptop and plug into the city to live, work and play.
Hundreds arrived and stayed, as remote work seems destined to stick around for many enterprises. What’s more, initiatives put in place over the years promote an entrepreneurial culture, and that’s bearing fruit with startups popping up and scaling tech businesses creating dozens of jobs.
“We’ve been on a roll. People have realized that Florida is a good place to be, that Tampa Bay is on everybody’s radar, and then they find their way to St. Pete,” says Chris Steinocher, president & CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “This isn’t something that just happened in the last six months. It’s been, I’m going to say, at least a 20-year overnight success story, but it came with a lot of conscious efforts of our community.”
“We’ve been on a roll. People have realized that Florida is a good place to be, that Tampa Bay is on everybody’s radar, and then they find their way to St. Pete.”
Nine years ago, leaders from government, health care, the business community, city services and the neighborhoods came together under the shared desire to strategically manage this growth — to grow smarter, not grow crazy.
So far, the Grow Smarter strategy has helped to establish an innovation district just south of the downtown core that’s home to University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus, two major hospitals and dozens of companies. Grow Smarter also attracted funding to create the lively Warehouse Arts District and formed the St. Pete EDC. Grow Smarter’s goal is also to reduce African American poverty at the greatest rate in the country, and that has been achieved the last two years, Steinocher says. “We didn’t want to do just one thing. We felt like the sun needed to shine on everyone in St. Pete.”
A Commitment to Local
To be sure, the Sunshine City has very good bones — that is, smart urban planning, starting with 137 public parks including seven miles on the waterfront and a truly walkable downtown.
With a Grow Smarter strategy in hand, the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, for instance, is focused on smart land use, particularly with redevelopment projects in the works, as well as strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem and empowering St. Pete’s creative culture. That includes committing to a comprehensive arts strategy the Partnership participated with the City and the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, but it’s broader than art, says Partnership CEO Jason Mathis.
“It’s the funky culture you experience walking down Central that is so authentic,” says Mathis, referring to the homegrown restaurants, bars, breweries and unique shops. “City leaders from around the country have come here to look at it and say, how did this happen, how is there such a commitment to local?”
The city is celebrating one of its largest redevelopment projects, The St. Pete Pier, which opened in 2020. A downtown pier in St. Pete dates back to 1889 and was developed into the Million Dollar Pier & Casino in the 1920s. Locals will definitely remember the Inverted Pyramid Pier of 1973. Now it’s a 26-acre art-infused parklike experience with places to stroll, bike, dine, shop, swim, fish, take in a concert or enjoy drinks watching the sun set on the city.
The world-famous Dali and the city’s nine other museums beckon visitors and locals alike, and with the Florida Orchestra, St. Petersburg Opera, American Stage and more, there’s always a live performance to take in.
Prefer sports? Take in a Rays or Rowdies game. The city hosts more than 1,000 events every year.
“There’s a joy for life in St. Pete. There’s a real sense of community, there’s a sense of pride and acceptance. St. Pete is the place where anyone can feel comfortable,” says Terry Marks, CEO of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. “There’s a continual emphasis on quality of life, diversity and equality, and all of that adds to the richness of the city. It’s an extraordinary place to be.”
This article by Nancy Dahlberg originally appeared in Florida Trend.