Employment & Economy in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater
White sand beaches that beckon for miles and record-setting golden sunshine have long lured tourists to Florida’s southwest coast and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, but in more recent years the metropolitan area known as the St. Petersburg-Tampa-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area has diversified from tourism and fishing businesses into technology-related industries, education, manufacturing, military activity and even professional sports franchises.
Pinellas County’s county seat, Clearwater, is lapped by the Gulf of Mexico to the west, and at 114,361 residents is the area’s second-largest city. So many retirees flock here for the climate, laid-back lifestyle and comparatively low cost of living that the average age skews older, 44.4 years, than in most other U.S. municipalities, and those numbers have been rising for the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Census. As far as education, more than 1 in 4, or 27.6 percent, held a bachelor’s or higher degree, and the median household income from 2011 through 2015 was $44,198, the Census said. Hotels for five major chains are among the top property taxpayers, but high-tech, light manufacturing, financial and service industries also are strong.
At 260,999 people, St. Petersburg, 20 miles south, is the biggest city in Pinellas County, the fourth most populous in Florida and at the heart of the state-dominating, seven-county media market known as the Tampa Bay Area. Sixty percent of Florida’s high-tech industries are in St. Petersburg, though six other industry clusters — manufacturing; financial and professional services; film and digital media; life sciences; information technology; and defense and security — also are major sectors, according to the city’s Office of Economic Development. Commercial growth and tourism also have stayed strong in the face of a challenging economy since 2008. St. Petersburg holds the Guinness World Record for consecutive sunny days (768) and is a favored destination for retirees. Its beaches on Tampa Bay are ranked highly. The mean age in 2016 was 41.8, and 30.9 percent of the population held bachelor’s degrees or higher; median household income for the four years ending in 2015 was $45,748, the Census reported. The biggest employer in 2016, the city found, was the Baycare Health System Inc., its 56 hospitals having 22,900 employees.
For April 2017, the unemployment rate in Pinellas County was 3.6 percent, better than the nation’s 4.4 percent. Industries of the county’s past — citrus farming and cattle ranching — have been largely replaced by companies catering to space-age needs, such as Jabil Circuit (St. Petersburg) and Tech Data Corp. (Clearwater), and information-driven marketing firms like HSM (Home Shopping Network), Nielsen, Catalina Marketing and ValPak. Pinellas County Economic Development (PCED) projects a population jump for the Tampa Bay Area from its present 4 million to 6 million by 2030. Currently, consumer spending totals $70 billion annually, and the workforce numbers 2 million, making it No. 20 in the U.S. in terms of job growth, the PCED says.
Pinellas and Hillsborough counties’ most abundant resources are free: sunshine, balmy temperatures, subtropical and tropical vegetation such as hibiscus, tree orchids and palms, beaches and blue surf. These assets draw tourists and retirees, and their accommodations and activities furnish much of the region’s money. Hillsborough County, in addition, has extensive fossil phosphate deposits that have been mined since 1888 for fertilizer.
Rail, Road, Air and Water Access
The Tampa Bay Transportation Network, which includes Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, connects the area by land, sea and air.
Three interstates run through Tampa — I-4, I-75 and I-275, which loops off I-75 north of the city and curves west, crossing Old Tampa Bay on the Howard Frankland Bridge before passing through St. Petersburg and rejoining I-75 by way of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge south of Tampa. U.S. highways include U.S. 41, U.S. 92 and U.S. 19. There are numerous state routes as well, and two additional bridges that span Tampa Bay or Old Tampa Bay: the Courtney Campbell Causeway and the Gandy Bridge. The fastest way across Tampa is the Leroy Selmon Crosstown Expressway, an east-west toll road that links to the Gandy Bridge and U.S. 92 over the bay. Because of the ports and highway network, over-the-road trucking is strong. In 2012, Tampa Bay had about 143 million square feet of industrial space, 76 million square feet more approved for development and 500 miles of CSX Transportation railroad and siding, according to the region’s most recent regional profile. CSX runs a freight route into St. Petersburg as well.
The Port of Tampa Bay, Port of St. Petersburg and Port Manatee are all major U.S. seaports, with the Port of Tampa Bay, the largest, handling 14.2 million net tons of total bulk and general cargo in fiscal year 2016 and about 813,000 cruise passengers a year, leading to a $15 billion annual impact and nearly 100,000 related jobs, the port says. Five cruise lines now make callsthere.
MacDill Air Force Base
MacDill Air Force Base, activated in 1941 on the tip of the peninsula that divides Old Tampa Bay/Tampa Bay from Hillsborough Bay, is the second-largest employer in Tampa, says the city’s 2014 Comprehensive Financial Report. It hosts both the U.S. Central Command, responsible for U.S. security in 25 nations, the U.S. Special Operations Command, whose charge is the global war on terrorism, and the 6th Air Mobility Wing, which refuels U.S. military aircraft worldwide. The nation’s Hurricane Hunters also are based here. According to MacDill’s 2014 economic impact statement, the base has a total economic impact of about $2.9 billion, with about 15,000 military personnel and 73,000 retirees and spouses of military retirees in the Tampa Bay area. The base had a total military and civilian payroll of about $1 billion for 18,853 total employees in 2014.
In 2014, the Special Operations Command broke ground on a $34 million 90,000-square-foot Joint Special Operations University. The campus is the sole academic institution devoted to the study and practice of special operations. In addition, Tampa’s University of South Florida, at the direction of state lawmakers, has set up the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, which provides interdisciplinary training, research and resources for government agencies and private enterprise. The school also offers graduate and undergraduate certificates in National and Competitive Intelligence, a benefit of partnering with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Hillsborough Community College has certificate programs in Homeland Security as well. In St. Leo, 35 miles north of Tampa, St. Leo University has instituted a Master of Science degree in Cybersecurity. All these new resources will be associated with new hires.
Seventeen miles to the northeast lies Tampa, Florida’s third-largest city (369,075 residents in 2015) and the county seat of Hillsborough County. The military has been a presence since the U.S. Army set up Fort Brooke in 1824 at the mouth of the Hillsborough River, near what is today the Tampa Convention Center. Until the 1880s, the population dawdled but starting in that decade jumped from fewer than 800 people to more than 30,000 in 20 years, thanks to the discovery of rich phosphate deposits, a new railroad and the birth of the cigar industry. The Port of Tampa facilitated imports of “clear Havana tobacco” from nearby Cuba for hand-rolling into cigars, which the railroad then carried all over the United States. The industry’s peak year, 1929, saw more than 500 million cigars rolled in the Ybor City neighborhood. These days Tampa has moved to national defense, real estate, service industries, retail, finance, insurance, shipping by air and sea, tourism and professional sports as its main economic engines. Food matters too, for residents as well as the thousands of tourists. Since 2012 when the city council moved to protect its culinary turf, Tampa has had an official sandwich, the “Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich,” which differs from other cities’ lesser Cuban sandwiches by the addition of Genoa salami to its shredded pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on white Cuban bread. On March 29, 2014, 121 of Tampa’s food trucks mustered to capture the Guinness title, crushing Miami’s 2013 count of 62.
The city’s 2014 Comprehensive Financial Report noted Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Tampa included Publix Supermarket, WellCare Health Plans, Jabil Circuit and Tech Data Corp. MacDill Air Force Base, home of the nation’s Hurricane Hunters and air refueling operations, attracts defense contractors, and there is also a healthy higher education presence: the University of South Florida, the University of Tampa, Hillsborough Community College and Stetson University College of Law. Bristol-Myers Squibb opened a 70,000-square-foot North American Capability Center on Jan. 30, 2014; HealthPlan Services is expanding its Tampa headquarters and plans to add more than a thousand jobs by 2018; and insurance, banking and credit card giant USAA is pouring $164.3 million into its Tampa-area operations that will require an additional 1,215 jobs by 2019. In 2015, residents had celebrated an average of 43 birthdays and had a median household income of $43,740.
In Hillsborough County, unemployment has fallen steadily from the 12.1 percent jobless in the dark days of 2010 to 3.9 percent in May 2016, and area leaders are projecting employment growth of 2.5 percent annually. In 2014, the biggest employer was the Hillsborough County School District (26,000), followed by MacDill Air Force Base (14,500).
A few of the entities that can provide useful economic information about the area are:
Tampa Bay Partnership
4300 W. Cypress St., Suite 700
Tampa, FL 33607 813-878-2208
A partnership between regional economic development organizations, stakeholders and businesses in eight counties, including Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, to conduct regional research and coordinate lobbying efforts for growth and development.
Economic Development Corporation
101 E. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 1750
Tampa, FL 33602 813-218-3300
This partnership between the public sector and private corporate investors is Hillsborough County’s lead economic development agency and the official local representative of Enterprise Florida, Inc.
Tampa and Florida in general struggled through the Great Recession. At its worst point, the Tampa metro area had nearly 153,000 people out of work and a total unemployment rate of 11.9 percent. But today the economic picture has turned completely around. According to the New York Times, the metro area has expanded its employment by 24 percent since December 2009 and now ranks fourth in the U.S and No. 1 in the state of Florida for the most growth. For direct links to 52 companies that each employ more than 1,000 people in the Tampa Bay Area, go to www.tampabay.org/site-selection/major-employers.
At the national level websites such as www.monster.com, www.careerbuilder.com and www.indeed.com have extensive search capabilities as well as resume tips, forum support and professional networking options.
The National Military Spouse Network, a networking, mentoring and professional development organization, has a wealth of career information on its website, www.nationalmilitaryspousenetwork.org. The group aims to help military spouses build a meaningful, sustained career path and offers a library of articles that touch on topics like entrepreneurship, resume tips, self-promotion and more as well as a membership-only discussion forum. The organization also features companies that are military spouse-owned or military spouse-friendly on its Homefront Business Listings page.
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
107 E. Madison St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399
The department promotes economic betterment through workforce programs, community development opportunities and economic development initiatives and programs.
1580 Waldo Palmer Lane, Suite 1
Tallahassee, FL 32308
A business-led statewide network of career developers who work directly with employers to find, develop and keep talented employees.
Employ Florida Marketplace
Part of the Employ Florida network of workforce services and resources, this online tool helps connect employers and job seekers.
400 S. Fort Harrison Ave.
Clearwater, FL 33756
The website guides prospective employees through the application process for a variety of Pinellas County jobs in an array of fields
Four locations in Pinellas County 727-524-4344
Hours vary by location.
Find tools and resources; job fairs; training; career planning; re-employment help; labor market information; military transitioning; internships; youth programs; and much more.
Pinellas County Economic Development
13805 58th St. N, Suite 1-200
Clearwater, FL 33760 727-464-7332
It connects local entrepreneurs to business resources and helps develop strategic ways to expand and grow.
City of Clearwater
Human Resources Department
Municipal Services Building, First Floor
100 S. Myrtle Ave.
Clearwater, FL 33756
The Clearwater Human Resources Department uses its website to carry out its mission: “To optimize the city’s human resources capability by acquiring, maintaining, developing, and retaining, a diverse, highly qualified, motivated, and productive work force.”
City of St. Petersburg
Municipal Services Center, Third Floor
1 Fourth St. N
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
The St. Petersburg Human Resources website provides listings of full- and part-time county jobs available and step-by-step instructions to apply online for these jobs with St. Petersburg, the largest town in Pinellas County and the fourth-largest in Florida.
601 E. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33602
Along with county job openings, the website covers employee benefits and retirement information.
City of Tampa
306 E. Jackson St.
Tampa, FL 33602 813-274-8911
Job line 813-274-8115
The City of Tampa’s new online application website lists openings, salary ranges, application deadlines and whether or not the job still is available, and includes an application template.
An employment agency can offer posts ranging from high-level administration to warehouse work. Many employers use agencies as their human resources department. Agencies advertise, interview, test and manage payroll. A temp-to-perm arrangement allows the employer and prospective employee to evaluate each other before committing to permanent employment.
Municipal and regional chambers of commerce include local employment agencies in their member lists, along with contact information. See Page 21 for a list of chambers of commerce in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
Always keep your resume up-to-date and have different resumes that target specific industries and highlight your skills that fit their job descriptions.
Compile several reference lists with a good variety of people and former business associates. Be sure to first ask each if you can use them as references.
Compose a comprehensive, catchy and succinct cover letter of no more than a page (this is no place to ramble). It will introduce you and your desire to work for the company. Have a knowledgeable friend check it for errors; misspelled words and bad grammar hint at carelessness and indifference. Know what the company does, and highlight your skills, work experience and education that apply to the position. Be aware that many employers now accept only online applications so get comfortable with computers.
Be prepared for an interview at any time. When you submit your application, a supervisor may want to talk immediately, or the phone may ring with a call from a hiring director. Compose and rehearse your one-minute self-promotional speech on who you are, an achievement or two and your strengths. It’s not vanity to make a good first impression. If a supervisor wants to know why she should hire you, be ready.
Always follow up with thank-you letters and calls. Even today, a letter as well as the quick-response email will separate you from a surprising number of the other applicants — to your advantage — and keep your name fresh in the interviewer’s mind. Judicious calls display your continued interest. Writing out beforehand what you want to say helps. So does rehearsal.
Be aware that due to the usually huge numbers of applicants, most companies are able to follow up only with candidates in whom they are interested. Don’t take it personally if you’re not notified that you didn’t get the job.
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE CIVILIAN OPPORTUNITIES
MacDill Air Force Base is an important local employer and an obvious place to begin for a military spouse or dependent looking for work: www.macdill.af.mil. Keeping in touch with the local civilian personnel office is sensible even though the job-getting process can be intimidating.
Visit www.usajobs.gov to search for Department of Defense jobs at MacDill AFB. In the search field “location,” type in MacDill AFB, Florida. On the specifically Air Force job site, www.nafjobs.org, civilians can see easily what jobs are available for them at MacDill. For Base Exchange jobs, visit the AAFES career page at http://odin.aafes.com/employment. You will need to register to access the site.
Starting your own business can be scary, but there are supporting agencies to look to for help. Pinellas County Economic Development (www.pced.org), the Pinellas County Small Business Development Center (http://sbdctampabay.com/pinellas), The Greenhouse (formerly the Business Assistance Center, www.stpete.org/greenhouse), Tampa Bay Partnership (www.tampabay.org/about-us/tampa-bay-partnership) and Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (www.tampaedc.com) all help entrepreneurs with support and assistance in developing new ventures.
The federal Small Business Administration, at www.sba.gov, has much information about loans and grants, starting and managing a business, contracting and local assistance. There are two districts in Florida, headquartered in Jacksonville and Miami; Tampa’s SBA work site, under the Miami office, is at 501 E. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 1210, or call 813-228-2100. Visit www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/districtoffices for more SBA locations.
In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered the creation of BusinessUSA, a one-stop platform for small businesses to get the services they need to make good hires and to grow. The service now offers personalized information and links on how to start a business, obtain financing, look into exporting, expand, find opportunities, learn about health care changes, be aware of taxes and credits, get help with hires, and ferret out regulations and green opportunities.
BusinessUSA is especially interested in increasing ownership among veterans, women, the socially and economically disadvantaged, Native Americans and Alaska Natives.