By: Rick Danielson
May 8, 2018
ST. PETERSBURG — For its first-ever business development trip, the Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. headed to San Francisco, the tech-business world’s pricey capital, with a pitch about another bay area where sticker shock is not so big an issue.
“San Francisco is a very, very cool place, but oftentimes it’s hard to live there because of the sheer size of it and the cost,” said EDC president J.P. DuBuque, who booked the trip after talking with local San Francisco ex-pats about why they moved from there to here.
DuBuque and Mayor Rick Kriseman had a total of 11 meetings with seven companies from Wednesday to Friday morning of last week. Some are looking at expanding operations outside of California. One is thinking about a wholesale move.
“Our goal was to make sure that we were on their radar and to see if we could give them enough information to get them interested in looking into a little deeper at the possibility of us being that east coast hub for them,” Kriseman said.
No names are being released, but the companies they visited occupy various corners of the tech landscape — software development, fintech and technology manufacture — from Sausalito on the north to San Jose on the south. They’re growing, with annual sales in the $10 million to $50 million range. Some are or have been on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private firms.
“Talent was the primary thing they were talking about,” DuBuque said Monday. Some were thinking about new offices for engineers, others for sales and administrative services jobs. Several mentioned a need to expand data analytics operations.
That was encouraging, Kriseman said, because data analytics has been targeted by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Grow Smarter” strategy and has become a fast-growing employment sector for the city. Of about 3,000 net new jobs created in St. Petersburg from 2016 to 2017, nearly half were at data analytics companies.
“It fits well in our market,” Kriseman said.
DuBuque and Kriseman pitched St. Petersburg’s growing pool of tech professionals, its quality of life and its affordability — of people, office space and residential real estate. DuBuque said executives took note when they heard that they could get a 3,000-square-foot condominium in a prime tower overlooking Tampa Bay for what they would pay for a three-bedroom home in a so-so neighborhood there. Similarly, the guys from St. Petersburg told them Class A office space in downtown St. Petersburg goes for about a third of what they pay for Class B space on a corporate campus there.
Before the meetings, none of the California companies had given much thought to St. Petersburg, DuBuque said. Now all say they are considering it, and DuBuque is looking to arrange some visits.
Kriseman and DuBuque also visited:
• The San Francisco headquarters of PandaDoc, a document automation company that added a St. Petersburg office in 2017.
• San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell. That meeting was brokered by Tim Schar, SunTrust Bank’s market president for the Tampa Bay area, who has San Francisco connections from his days as an executive with ApplePie Capital.
• A Jabil innovation center similar to a lab planned for Jabil’s new corporate campus in St. Petersburg.
The nonprofit EDC paid for Kriseman’s airfare, hotel room, and meals. DuBuque declined to say how much the organization spent. The EDC receives financial support from more than 50 corporations, the city of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
A second business development mission is likely this fall. For that, the EDC could look at New York, Chicago or Atlanta. St. Petersburg competes against cities like Austin, Charlotte and Nashville for corporate expansions, and, DuBuque said, “I want to make sure that the places where they’re coming from know we’re an option.”