Spearheaded by the Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation, St. Pete economy stayed resilient through COVID-19 thanks to the city’s strong foundation and appeal in attracting both people and businesses. Resilience and collaboration has enabled Economic Development Corporation and the city to successfully grow despite the pandemic challenges, President and CEO J.P DuBuque told Invest:Insights.The EDUC is working hard to bolster inclusivity in the region and recruit complementary industries that mesh well with the local culture.
Last year was a disruptive year for the travel and hospitality sector. For Visit St. Pete Clearwater, this landscape allowed them to reassess priorities. The organization altered messaging and focused on attracting local visitors from other parts of the nation, President and CEO Steve Hayes told Invest:Insights. Their new campaign Rise to Shine has 20,000 people registered and the winner will get an all expenses paid trip to St. Petersburg, with airfare, personal cabana on a private beach and more. The organization is being creative in attracting people in a safe way in order to build back confidence in travelers, he said. There is much pent up demand both internationally and locally and the Tampa Bay region is ready for it, he said.
The transition away from fossil fuels is happening. While this transition is slated to create jobs, industry leaders are tasked with figuring out what this transition may look like. Integral Energy is hard at work ensuring the training for the jobs of tomorrow are ready, President and CEO Anddrikk Frazier told Invest:Insights. University does not need to be the only answer. Many of these jobs can be accessed through vocational or high school training, he said.
Real world experience is key for all students, not just for those that can get internships. For Ringling College of Art + Design, it has been incredibly important to initiate this type of experience. As a higher education institution focused on creative learning it is important to be in the classroom, however, the college was able to transfer all of their classes online, President Larry Thompson told Invest:Insights. Having a major such as virtual reality exemplifies how the college stays ahead of the curve when it comes to being a leading art school based in technology, Thompson said.
We sat down with a panel of experts, including Denise Sanderson, city of Clearwater’s Economic Development and Housing Director; Opp Zone Capital Principal Jeanine Blake; Brion Lindseth, Co-Founder, KLB Business Law, P.C.; and Derek Mateos, President, Matcon Construction Services, to discuss Clearwater’s Opportunity Zone, how they successfully partner with the private sector to develop projects, and why Clearwater is the ideal place to do business.
At the peak of COVID’s uncertainty, Tampa Bay’s Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP hosted a 24-hour hotline that took calls from CEOs and advised them on COVID related concerns. This was a community effort which was important for the firm to be involved with, Managing Partner Ronald Christaldi told Invest:Insights. Technology has permanently changed the legal sector however there is still a face-to-face human element that is lost in online trials and mediations, Christaldi said.The human spirit will continue to grow in this environment and adapt, he remarked.
In the COVID environment, Pasco-Hernando State College has been keen on meeting students where they are. Online classes will continue with hopes of more in person this summer as the nation begins to emerge from the pandemic, President of the College Dr. Timothy Beard told Invest:Insights. The higher education sector will play a critical role in tackling the economic inequalities, Beard said.
Throughout 2020, energy and utility companies rolled with the punches to battle both COVID and extreme weather challenges. Liquified natural gas will be more important moving forward as it can help states with situations like what happened in Texas at the tailend of 2020. Liquified gas can be stored much more efficiently than other forms of energy, TECO Peoples Gas President T.J. Szelistowski told Invest:Insights. Though no stranger to extreme weather, Tampa Bay is increasing its profile regarding its technology sector and STEM related jobs. STEM talent is essential and Tampa Bay is taking the right steps to addressing the jobs of tomorrow, Szelistowski said.
Staying hyper vigilant during the COVID-19 health crisis has been top of mind for leaders in the healthcare sector. In Tampa Bay, Pinnacle Home Care has been able to navigate the challenges of the crisis and administer care to its clients, many of which are eldery and immunocompromised, thanks to education and technology. Telehealth and providing technology to the elderly to keep them connected has enabled Pinnacle Home Care to provide the best service possible during this time, CEO Shane Donaldson told Invest:Insights. The home care provider is hiring 80 to 100 people a month as addressing the need for nurses is of paramount importance to their organization, he said.
Community banks have and will continue to play a vital role in the local economy. For Pilot Bank, although there was some initial hesitancy to use technology in the early days of COVID, both the bank and the clients were able to onboard easily, President Rita Lowman told Invest:Insights. For example, the early days of the ATM system were filled with uncertainty but now it is a standard part of the industry, the same is likely to happen with the COVID-inspired changes, she said. However, human touch will remain an important aspect of the industry, and she looks forward to reconnecting with clients in person soon.
Experts believe Florida is poised for a strong recovery by the end of 2021, especially as industries like the service sector begin to recuperate. In the meantime, the passing of another stimulus package is essential to the recovery process, PNC Financial Services Group Florida Economist Abbey Omodunbi told Invest:Insights. The first stimulus packages last year enabled the Florida business ecosystem to weather the storm better yet further assistance is needed in the recovery process. The housing market is a bright spot throughout the state and is predicted to remain strong in 2021. Overall markets like Tampa, Miami and Orlando have performed very well despite the tumultuous landscape, Omodunbi said.
SBA loans have been key in helping businesses maintain operations throughout the pandemic. These loans are essential and can really propel businesses forward at this moment in time, Florida Business Development Corporation’s President and CEO Bill Habermeyer told Invest: Insights. The SBA 504 loan program is vital in helping small businesses and clearing up any kind of misconceptions around fees is important, he said.
Evolution and adaptation are key factors for the commercial real estate industry and have allowed industry leaders such as Franklin Street to perform well despite the pandemic related challenges. Retail will always exist, Franklin Street CEO and Managing Partner Andrew Wright told Invest: Insights. Healthcare continues to move more and more into ambulatory space as the reimbursement model allows them to do so. The state of Florida will continue to provide favorable return on investments considering the influx of people and capital, Wright said. And within the overall Florida market, the I-4 corridor continues to be a very attractive investment location, he said.
In what has been a tough year for the overall hospitality industry, boutique hotels are better prepared to weather the storm than larger hotels who have historically relied on the conference and large scale conventions business. The increased focus on sanitation and improved cleaning standards are here to stay and technology will continue to improve the guest experience, Joe Collier, President of Mainsail Lodging & Development, told Invest: Insights. Empathy and increased communication has also helped weather the COVID related challenges, he said.
The Pinellas County Commission has been overloaded with anti-mask advocates requesting the ordinance be repealed. Although COVID-19 cases have slowed in Pinellas County, Commissioner Kenneth Welch remains cautious against eliminating the very tool that has helped regulate the spread of the coronavirus. The board of commissioners is also working in coordination with the public schools to implement the safest practices for reopening. As for Welch’s future, he has decided to enter the race to become the next Mayor of St. Petersburg. Welch has publicly endorsed Rene Flowers, current Pinellas County School Board member, to be his successor.
The initial rollout of the PPP loans were met with some frustration and an overall mood of anxiety. Chris Stewart, Tampa Bay Market President for Centennial Bank spoke about the initial loan application process and anticipating that there will be some of these same feelings once the forgiveness portion of the Payment Protection Program begins. He touched on being continually impressed by his team’s handling of these new challenges and their overall resilience.
While telemedicine has been a useful resource that has been available to the public over the last few years, it was a technology that hadn’t had its full potential realized by professionals and consumers alike. With the extreme pressure put on the healthcare industry by the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has now been thrust into the spotlight as a goto tool for healthcare professionals and patients. This was one of the topics David Pizzo, West Florida Market President for Florida Blue, spoke to Abby Melone about as well as stressing that education to the community is key as we move forward into a world post-pandemic.
Chaos management is critical during this time of economic volatility and uncertainty. It is important that have clear expectations and that there may not be clear or immediate solutions in this current economic cycle, Finance CAPE Chief Integration Officer Gino Collura told Invest: Insights. Fear, however, is an amazing driver, and businesses have to recognize it to make appropriate decisions.
The travel and tourism sector has been one of the most impacted by the effects of the coronavirus. However, Florida and Tampa Bay are resilient and confident the region will meet pent up demand for tourism. Visit Tampa Bay has taken measures to ensure a safe landing from the economic impact the pandemic has had on the sector, Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada told Invest: Insights. Tampa will be the host of exciting events come 2021, mainly Super Bowl LV in February.
Much like other professional services, the legal sector has seen a lot of changes over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. There’s been a decrease in real estate transaction activity, but an uptick is likely once eviction notices are allowed to be processed, Gunster’s Tampa Office Managing Shareholder William Schifino told Invest: Insights. Technology forever changed the legal profession with trial work, hearings, and judges all transitioning to video and digital platforms.
The Galen College of Nursing in Tampa Bay is experiencing an uptick of applications through the coronavirus landscape. Nurses are the heart of a hospital said Program Director Glen Cornwall in an Invest: Insights interview. Nurses ensure the operations run smoothly and touted the great collaboration between the college and Tampa Bay’s medical community.
Phase 1 of the reopening of Florida is underway and while it is beneficial for many of the local businesses in the state, there are many health considerations that have to be kept in mind as it relates to the diverse population. Dr. Charles Lockwood, Senior Vice President of USF Health and the Dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, expressed this sentiment to Abby Melone as he discussed the future for Florida while the state attempts to flatten the curve. He spoke on the flattening of the curve not being a linear timeline but rather full of ups and downs, at least for the time being.
While nothing could ever truly prepare someone to lead their community or organization through an unforeseen pandemic like COVID-19, there are certain learned skills and traits stemming from previous social and economic disruptions that can be applied to handling this situation. Frank Hibbard, newly elected Mayor for the City of Clearwater, spoke with Abby Melone about the challenges of coming into his position at the height of COVID-19, and applying some of the lessons he learned from the first time he was the city’s mayor during the Great Recession.
Although times are economically tough at the moment, there will be those individuals that bounce back quicker than the rest. Terry Igo, CEO of Tampa Bay Trust Company, informed Abby Melone that because his firm’s clients are sophisticated investors and have long term goals, there is a mutual understanding that this crisis is just a blip in time and they will be able to financially recover from it. He did express worries for the overall community because while he believes the stock market should bounce back, the retailers that will close and no longer have money to support other businesses will create a long term economic challenge.
Even during times of economic prosperity, a large portion of college students are financially strapped. Now faced with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of these college students are facing significant financial hardships for the foreseeable future. Dr. Steven Currall, the President of the University of South Florida, discussed with Abby Melone the multiple initiatives his school has taken on to financially assist students during this crisis. This includes the $17 million that came to the school via the CARES Act which all went back to helping their students, as well as the USF United Support Fund that provides direct support to USF students who have been impacted by COVID-19 and to assist in their future.
COVID-19 has presented many challenges for higher education, and for those newer institutions this has been the ultimate test of adaptability and resilience. In the case of Florida Polytechnic University, their President Randy Avent detailed to Abby Melone the struggles of quickly building an online platform and curriculum in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He expressed that the most difficult transition has been figuring out how to conduct labs via online education.
The cruising industry may be on an indefinite hold, but ports across Florida are working hard to keep operations as normal as possible. In the case of Port Tampa Bay, cruises were a significant part of their revenue but the fact that the Port is diverse in its offerings, product types and services using their facilities, has enabled them to weather the economic storm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Raul Alfonso, Executive Vice President & Chief Commercial Officer of Port Tampa Bay, told Abby Melone.
Arts and entertainment has been a key component in helping people distract themselves during this COVID-19 pandemic, as the masses have turned to streaming services and the internet for their entertainment. The challenge with this is that the normal support for arts and culture institutions and destinations has been drastically reduced, but thankfully community leaders like Amanda Thompson, Director of the Clearwater CRA, are leading the charge to try and boost support for the arts. She told Abby Melone that this includes an initiative to implement augmented reality so people can enjoy these arts destinations from the comfort and safety of their homes.
During and post COVID-19 small businesses are going to continue to need financial support. Mayor of the City of Largo, Woody Brown, recognized this and informed Abby Melone about a new business continuity package to help 360 local small businesses that would qualify. He also discussed the Recovery Team they recently put in place that will guide best practices for re-opening the city.
As Florida prepares to turn the page and start slowly reopening businesses in an effort to stimulate the economy after the devastating toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had, Governor Ron DeSantis has formed a task force to help guide this gradual process of returning to some sort of normalcy. Having just been confirmed to this task force this morning, Tampa General Hospital’s President and CEO, John Couris, spoke with Abby Melone about his role as a health expert on DeSantis’s task force and what this will entail as Florida officially plans to reopen.
COVID-19 caught the whole world by surprise, and any plans for the future have been thrown for a loop. This notion was echoed by Denise Sanderson, Director of Economic Development and Housing for the City of Clearwater, who spoke with Abby Melone about having to rewrite the script for the rest of the year. She also spoke on newly elected City of Clearwater Mayor, Frank Hibbard, having to jump right in and guide the city through this unprecedented pandemic as best as possible while still working remotely.
COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the world as a whole, the effects of which, both positive and negative, will linger long after the pandemic has passed. One of these long term effects will be the way healthcare is performed and delivered in the future, Dr. Ravi Chari the President of HCA West Florida told Abby Melone.
The transition to all online education was a swift decision that left a lot of higher education institutions scrambling to quickly adapt. This was not the case for Seminole State College, Georgia Lorenz, President of the College, told Abby Melone. She credits this to over 50% of the College’s student body having already been enrolled in an online course and familiar with the software.
Tampa Bay’s healthcare systems are at the forefront of the COVID-19 response and have been preparing for the worst case scenario, though it has yet to become a reality for the region. Michael Schultz, President & CEO of the West Florida Division for AdventHealth, discussed with Abby Melone the preparedness and great communal efforts of the healthcare sector in Tampa Bay as they endure this current reality.
The situation we all find ourselves in now has created unprecedented challenges, but these challenges are not without some opportunity. Phil Dingle, Managing Partner of HealthEdge Investment Partners, reflected on this in his conversation with Abby Melone as he discussed the demand on healthcare creating opportunity for healthcare focused private equity firms.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has created a world of new challenges that the local economy must now endure, but it does not have to be without help from local community leaders and organizations. Invest:Insights spoke to Kelly Flannery, President and CEO of the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce on the impact she is seeing on the local business community as well as how communication with local and State officials alike will help us weather the storm.
As the world adjusts to what many are calling a ‘new normal’, community leaders like Bill Mutz, the Mayor for the City of Lakeland, are taking action to quickly reactivate the local economy. In his discussion with Capital Analytics CEO Abby Melone, Mayor Mutz discusses tackling these new challenges head on