After years of planning, it seems Pinellas County is on track to begin work on a new state-of-the-art business incubator in St. Petersburg’s Innovation District.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration announced July 29 that it would invest $7.5 million to design and construct a 45,000 square foot incubator facility to catalyze the formation of new technology and advanced manufacturing companies in the Tampa Bay Area.

This project is a collaboration between the county and the city of St. Petersburg. The city will provide the land on the Southwest corner of 11th Avenue South and Fourth Street. The county will contribute matching funds of up to $4.5 million.

The operator of the incubator will be the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, currently housed at 501 First Avenue North in St. Petersburg. The county also plans to seek additional project funding from the state of Florida and private sector investors.

"This investment by the EDA, along with support from Pinellas County and our partners at the city of St. Petersburg, will help launch the next generation of entrepreneurs in our community," said Commissioner Karen Seel, chair of the 2019 Pinellas Board of County Commissioners. "We're grateful for this wonderful opportunity."

This project is located within the city of St. Petersburg's Innovation District and the city's Community Redevelopment Areas, as well as a federal Opportunity Zone. The proposed split-level, two-story structure with an atrium will include a prototype lab equipped with 3D printers, a podcast studio, educational and collaborative space, a coffee shop and space for corporate innovation partners.

Plans call for the design and construction to take place over a three-year period from the date of the grant award.

"St. Petersburg's thriving Innovation District will provide the seeds for entrepreneurial growth for this new business incubator," said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. "My thanks to the United States Economic Development Administration for recognizing the potential within the St. Petersburg Innovation District, and our partners in Pinellas County for their leadership and vision, as well as our own Economic Development team for working so hard on this project."

The newly constructed building will facilitate an innovative environment to house an incubator program that will launch business ventures that create high-tech career opportunities.

In Pinellas, more than 95% of businesses are entrepreneurs and small businesses with 50 or fewer employees," said County Administrator Barry Burton. "This commitment by Pinellas County extends our support of local small businesses and entrepreneurship to further economic growth and job creation in our community."

"This is the next step in our evolution," said Tonya Elmore, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center. "We're excited for the construction of this purpose-built incubator that will foster high-tech and advanced manufacturing ventures. The programs provided will include coaching, mentoring, educational opportunities, access to investment and more innovative programs aimed at early-stage entrepreneurs."

Pinellas County is one of the Florida counties declared a federal disaster area due to Hurricane Irma. The hurricane illustrated the county's reliance on industries more easily subject to disruption by natural and/or economic disturbances. Local officials believe that the incubator is important to the region's efforts to strengthen its economic resiliency by diversifying and broadening its economic base and strengthening its high wage industry sectors. The incubator will help create a more entrepreneurial, diversified and resilient economy.

"Increasing economic resiliency will be a significant goal of the new Tampa Bay Innovation Center,” said Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development. "By further diversifying the economy and creating an environment for technology jobs, we can actively encourage smarter growth and higher wages for our citizens."

This project is funded under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (PL 115-123) (PDF), in which Congress appropriated to EDA $600 million in additional Economic Adjustment Assistance Program funds for disaster relief and recovery as a result of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, wildfires and other calendar year 2017 natural disasters under the Stafford Act.