Economic yearbook 2009
Still seeing strength in manufacturing and life science.
St. Petersburg / Pinellas County
Pinellas County’s population density and the scarcity of buildable space during the boom has turned out to be a silver lining for the area. “We weren’t hit as much by the construction downturn,” says Mike Meidel, economic development director for Pinellas County. “We don’t have all our eggs in one basket.”
While St. Petersburg and the rest of Pinellas continue to be a tourist destination and a retirement haven, two high-profile technology companies, SRI International and Draper Laboratory, are poised to change the business community. “Just the fact that they are here brings interest in the area,” says Dave Goodwin, economic development director for St. Petersburg. SRI International’s 30,000-sq.-ft. marine technology research and development facility is under construction in downtown St. Petersburg.
Apart from technology, St. Petersburg’s downtown is feeling its share of economic pain. The city’s landmark BayWalk retail complex is in foreclosure, and a public auction for the property in February failed to attract any buyers. Still, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker says interested parties have contacted his office. He adds, “I’m hoping that we can put something together in the next six months.”
Businesses to Watch
» Clearwater-based eMason is playing a key role in helping financial institutions evaluate residential mortgage workout options. “I’m in the right place at the right time,” says company founder and CEO Jane Mason. The Clarifire web-based software application is being used by Fannie Mae, Bank of America and other mortgage-servicing firms to respond to customer requests for loan modifications and other mortgage actions. Started five years ago, eMason employs 50, up from 25 a year ago. To meet demand in early 2009, eMason has been hiring five to 10 business analysts, programmers, project managers and other technology-oriented professionals a week. The company plans to expand its products to the insurance industry by the end of the year.
» Three years ago, Sam Phillips, dean of the School of Orthotics and Prosthetics at St. Petersburg College, University of South Florida researcher Kathryn De Laurentis and graduate school friend Charles Pfeiffer launched Fourier Designs in Largo. Their first project is a prosthetic wrist that improves a person’s ability to button a shirt or lift a spoon. Working with Enterprise Florida, the company received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant that allowed them to successfully apply for a $100,000 phase one SBIR grant through the National Institutes for Health. Next up is an application for a $750,000 phase two SBIR grant that will allow the company to begin clinical trials.
People to Watch
Sidney W. Morgan, president of central Florida commercial operations for Humana, is in charge of developing and implementing strategic initiatives, including the new Humana Cares healthcare facility in St. Petersburg.
» Paul Reilly will become president of St. Petersburg-based Raymond James Financial on May 1. In 2010, he will succeed Tom James as CEO, one of the highest profile jobs in the Tampa Bay area. A native of St. Petersburg, Reilly joins Raymond James Financial from executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, where he is executive chairman. Reilly has served on the Raymond James Financial board of directors since 2005.
Lakeland / Polk County
Halfway between Tampa and Orlando, Lakeland and surrounding Polk County have attracted clusters of industrial warehouse and distribution facilities. Despite the recession, business is still coming. “We’ve had two 50,000-sq.-ft. deals in the last few months,” says Steve Scruggs, executive director of the Lakeland Economic Development Council. Business activity slowed in the last six months of 2008, but, he says, “January picked up significantly.” Scruggs says that residential and retail activity continue to be slow, but, he adds, “Commercially — office and industrial warehouse — we’re continuing to see activity and doing deals.”
Businesses to Watch
» Colorado mail order pharmacy and benefits management company WellDyneRx is investing $20 million to establish a southeastern operations center. The company has leased 66,000 square feet and over the next two years will hire 670 workers, including pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, call center workers and accounting and information technology personnel.
» GTech Printing, a printer of gaming and lottery tickets, will open a 100,000-sq.-ft. facility in Lakeland this spring. The company initially will employ 100 and add 100 or more jobs over the next three to five years.