Economic development is more than real estate plays and financial incentives. It’s also about telling the story and creating a brand around a location.
That’s why two St. Petersburg publishers say their media outlets are serving as economic development engines for the Tampa Bay region.
Starting May 1, Tampa Bay Business & Wealth, a monthly magazine direct mailed to 15,000 business decision-makers in the Tampa Bay area, will have a new section, Action & Venture, featuring startup news and profiles of companies from the St. Pete Catalyst PitchLyst.
“The content that we’re sharing with Tampa Bay Business & Wealth is specifically around startups and getting people who were previously not tech investors to understand that tech investing is not as mysterious and scary as they once thought,” said Joe Hamilton, the St. Pete Catalyst publisher.
Wealthy investors in Tampa Bay historically have focused on the real estate and hospitality sectors. By telling stories about startups and their founders, Hamilton and Bridgette Bello, CEO and publisher of TBBW, say they are changing the narrative around Tampa.
“People come to places because they’re drawn to them by the story of that place. Silicon Valley has a built-in advantage because of the story that Silicon Valley has,” Hamilton said. “We’re working to make sure that readers who find our content understand we have as much going for us as any of these places. The more that story gets told, the more we attract success and that builds on itself.”
Branding is key, Bello said.
“If you think about how Silicon Valley became what it was, how Austin became what it was, even Charlotte to a certain degree became what it was, it was around the narrative and what the brand of the city was and what they were known for,” Bello said.
She cited conversations with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, as well as with Craig Richards, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and J.P. DuBuque, president of the Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp.
“They were the ones who told us that what we were doing was being a part of economic development. They are right. We’re telling the stories that haven’t been told, the brand of this city through the CEOs’ eyes, through the people who are the ones building business in this community,” Bello said. “By elevating those companies, by giving them a print component that goes to 15,000 CEOs, by giving them a digital and an audio component through St. Pete Catalyst, they’re getting exposure that there’s no way they would get without the two of us.”
Economic development and journalism aren’t always in sync, with economic developers emphasizing positive attributes of a community and journalists writing about issues that often don’t paint a community in a positive light.
For Hamilton and Bello, the distinction is in the approach to those issues.
“Every problem has a potential solution,” Hamilton said. “If we can understand the challenges that we have and if we come at it with ‘here are some people’s thoughts on how we can solve these problems,’ then it’s a forward and elevating mindset that we’re creating versus a judgmental and status quo mindset.”
Perspective is important, Bello said. For instance, when a local company is bought by a firm out of the area, instead of emphasizing the loss of a local headquarters, she focuses on the value built by the local firm and its industry appeal.
It’s a similar perspective to those in the startup community, who tout successful exits, such as the multi-million dollar sales of homegrown companies such as myMatrixx and Tribridge. The CEOs of those companies have since become investors and mentors in other local startups.
“We have a giving community and a sharing community,” said Hamilton, who also is a partner in Seedfunders, a St. Petersburg-based investment group focused on early-stage technology companies. “As we work with a lot of startups through Seedfunders and PitchLyst, there are constantly successful C-level executives who are interested in sharing their wisdom and giving back to these young companies that are helping to renew our job base. A lot of times they don’t know how and where to get to them, or that they exist. So as we share information, it’s only natural that people who have skills will see those needs and those people will connect through our shared storytelling.”
That might mean the startups get funding, or they get advice from a mentor, Bello said.
“At the end of the day, it means economic development,” she said.