CLEARWATER – In November 2011, the Clearwater City Council approved an economic development strategic plan as a roadmap toward economic prosperity. At its Feb. 19 works session, Denise Sanderson, the city’s assistant director of economic development and housing, briefed the council on the plan’s performance during fiscal year 2011-2012.
The long-term plan will take 10 or more years to implement, Sanderson said. Its guiding principles are tax base diversification, higher paying jobs and business vitality. These goals will be accomplished by helping current businesses expand and new businesses to form.
The plan’s five goals are: better use of land, a healthy investment climate, the retention and expansion of existing businesses, development of new businesses, and making optimum use of the physical locations and human talents that are available. Those goals will be accomplished by using the 18 strategies and 64 “action items” listed in the plan.
There are six priority strategies in the plan. They are: creating a technology district downtown and in the East Gateway area, adopting an incentive policy and creating tools for expediting the desired development, refining the existing Business Retention and Expansion Program, establishing an employment center overlay district along U.S. 19, creating a medical center overlay district in the area around Morton Plant Hospital, and enhancing public amenities and aesthetics.
The fiscal year 2011-2012 work plan laid the foundation for moving forward, Sanderson said. It assisted in gathering information, creating systems, establishing protocols and hiring staff. The areas of focus were a technology district, an incentives policy, business retention and expansion, redevelopment of the U.S. 19 corridor, and marketing and promotion.
A technology district was created in the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency area of downtown. Eight surveys identified twelve companies that qualified to be part of the district. And a six-member technology council was formed to advise the city on the best way to proceed.
An information technology infrastructure study of the technology district was performed. It found that, in four downtown commercial office towers, 62 percent of the 500 to 600 employees work in IT or software companies. In addition, the city has helped the iDatix tech firm move into its new quarters in the East Gateway.
As part of its incentives policy, the city researched and bookmarked incentives. It also purchased a computer model that tracks economic and fiscal impacts. And it prepared an economic development property tax exemption.
Business retention and expansion was a major goal, Sanderson told the council. Finance and insurance; data management, analytics and services; software; health and human performance; professional services; high-tech electronics and instruments; and marine and ecological activities are all part the mix needed to achieve that goal, she added.
“A workforce environment with higher skills will be an entry-level requirement for the growth industries of the coming decade,” according to the PowerPoint presentation Sanderson used.
Business retention and expansion are major goals of the plan. To achieve those goals, the city is tracking leads and using state data to create a target list. Other tactics include establishing new protocols to retain and expand existing businesses, and using SalesForce.com to track business data,
The U.S. 19 Corridor Redevelopment Plan that was adopted in December 2012 will be included in the economic plan. It will assist with site selection and provided the names of groups interested in the redevelopment of the U.S. 19 corridor.
A brochure summarizing the plan has been prepared. It will be distributed at the meetings where the plan is explained to several business and tourism groups.
Goals for fiscal year 2012-2013 include focusing on an IT/software district, an incentives policy, business retention and expansion, new business development, marketing and promotion, and staff development. To further those goals in the technology district, the city will support the tech businesses already there, establish a virtual incubator program, evaluate the feasibility of an incubator, and continue meeting and working with the IT/Software Council and local property owners.
An incentives policy will develop and implement incentive programs and seek an ad valorem tax exemption for companies that are eligible. The business retention and expansion program will be expanded to conduct 200 business visits a year and create other resources. The contamination removal at the former CarPro site will be finished, and healthcare businesses will be asked to identify their needs.
A marketing phase will promote economic development through the Internet and the press. And it will be dovetailed with such regional plans as the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Pinellas Transportation Plan, and the Tampa Bay Partnership’s Regional Business Plan.
A new economic development coordinator will be hired to focus mainly on the tech district and the healthcare industry. He or she will be paid by the Community Redevelopment Agency.
Councilman Bill Jonson called the plan “a magic bean that we can grow into a giant.”