Grow Smarter 2.0: Community-Led Initiative Prioritizes Equity and Inclusion in St. Petersburg Economic Development Work

The Grow Smarter Strategy, developed in 2014, is a strategic economic plan highlighting the assets and opportunities St. Petersburg. It was shaped by expert thinking based on best practices in national economic development trends, and informed by deep local input and voices, including more than 75 interviews, 12 focus groups, and 1,500 survey responses about goals for St. Petersburg’s future as a place to live, work, play.

Grow Smarter is community-led. Seven workgroups made up of community organizations, businesses and individuals with expertise in key content areas, such as entrepreneurial growth, job creation, housing and marketing, deploy the strategy. Grow Smarter is supported and housed by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and informs the economic development activities of the City of St. Petersburg. Among its accomplishments are the formalization of the Innovation District and the founding of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation.

A new round of funding for Grow Smarter is fueling the continued efforts to enhance quality, diverse economic growth in St. Petersburg—with a redoubled commitment to making sure that all residents get connected to economic opportunities.

“St. Petersburg is a dynamic city with tremendous momentum, not only in the economic growth we are currently experiencing in our business and development sectors but in the talented citizens that live here and the talented individuals that are relocating here,” said Ryan Griffin, Grow Smarter Board Chair.

“The Grow Smarter Strategy is a transformational opportunity for our businesses, non-profits, government and citizens to collectively come together with a shared focus on inclusive prosperity that will have a lasting impact on St. Petersburg’s culture and future. The impact of this new culture will keep the future for our Sunshine City very bright for years to come.” Griffin added.

Funding for the continuation of Grow Smarter comes from a multi-year grant totaling $1.2 million from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. The Foundation’s mission is achieving health equity in Pinellas County. Since a person’s income touches all aspects their life, including health and well-being, economic development can be a powerful component of improving health and advancing equity. The greater one’s income and assets, the lower one’s likelihood of disease and premature death, according to research by the Urban Institute and Center on Society and Health.

“When economic development efforts are equitable, communities are healthier and more prosperous overall,” said Randall H. Russell, President and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. “Health is not just access to a physician, it is the ability to live one’s life with access to education, housing, mental/physical health services, and more. By investing in people who are currently disconnected from opportunity, Grow Smarter will contribute to overall improved health outcomes in our community.”

A key differentiator of Grow Smarter from many traditional economic development efforts is the priority it places on equity and inclusion. This means unlocking the full potential of the local economy by expanding opportunities, growing quality jobs, increasing entrepreneurship, ownership and wealth for all residents of the community, but particularly for low-income residents and communities of color, whose wages and employment rates currently lag behind those of other communities.

As a highly collaborative program, Grow Smarter will be influenced by partnerships with other equity-focused community efforts currently underway, such as One Community, The New Deal, The 2020 Plan, the South St. Pete Community Redevelopment Area, and workforce development efforts at the Pinellas County Urban League.

An additional resource made possible by the funding, a consulting firm with expertise in equitable economic development nationally, PolicyLink has been engaged to advise Grow Smarter on strategies for ensuring that community involvement and economic benefits reflect the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.

About Grow Smarter St. Petersburg

Grow Smarter is an initiative that brings together 80+ organizations working in a number of areas for cross-sector collaboration with key stakeholders and members of the business community. The initiative is based around the Grow Smarter Strategy, a comprehensive, integrated, data-driven community plan to enhance St. Petersburg’s competitive position and provide quality, diverse economic growth. Grow Smarter St. Petersburg was developed in 2014 as an economic plan for the city. The strategy was shaped by expert opinions and community input from over 75 interviews, 12 focus groups, and 1,500 survey responses. The strategy has informed the economic development activities of the City, resulted in the formalization of the Innovation District, and directed the founding of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation.

About the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg is a private foundation formed in 2013 following the sale of the nonprofit Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. It is the steward of community assets dedicated to supporting health equity in Pinellas County. The Foundation inspires and empowers people, ideas, information exchange, organizations and relationships to end differences in health due to social or structural disadvantages and improve population health.