Legend says that a flip of the coin determined the name of St. Petersburg, Florida.
That is fitting, because 132 years after its founding, this city of 265,000 people on the Gulf Coast of West Central Florida ranks as one of the best currency counters in the country.
More than 14,000 professionals are employed in high-wage financial services jobs in St. Pete, making the city the most concentrated financial services sector in Florida and double that of the average American community. One of five Grow Smarter target industries in St. Pete, financial services added the most jobs in 2019.
Comprising jobs primarily in three niches — security and asset management, insurance, and customer care — this industry cluster in south Pinellas County is the biggest reason why the growth rate of financial occupations in the Tampa Bay Area ranks as one of the highest in the U.S. Over the past five years, financial occupations in the Tampa metro area have increased by more than 3,700 jobs — from 39,192 to 42,916. From 2018 to 2019, the growth rate was 2.7%.
Raymond James & Associates, with 4,700 workers, is the largest employer in St. Pete, while Fidelity National Information Services ranks sixth with 1,900 employees. Tash Elwyn, president and CEO of Raymond James & Associates, which has $774 billion in client assets under management, says the company chose to expand recently in St. Pete because “we are stronger together when you look at the St. Pete community and Tampa Bay as a region. This has been our home since our founding in 1962. We are connected to this community. That is what has attracted me to be here since 2005 and why I’ll be here for the rest of my life.”
Elwyn likes to talk about the “sunshine premium,” a quality-of-life attribute that is earned by virtue of the fact that St. Pete residents enjoy 361 days of sunshine each year. “When you look at the relatively low cost of doing business here, the community and cultural benefits of living in St. Pete and the Tampa Bay Area, and access to a tremendous talent pool, that all leads this location to be a very resilient home base for our company.”
Shirl Penney, president and CEO of Dynasty Financial Partners, a wealth management firm that relocated from New York to St. Pete last year, says that “the timing of our move from Manhattan to St. Pete could not have been better. We still have significant office presence in New York, and our experiences here and there are tremendously different. We looked at seven or eight other cities very seriously, and we felt this community bear-hug us.”
Dynasty, which has more than $45 billion in client assets under management, is not going anywhere, says Shirl. “When you look at how vibrant this community is, how passionate everyone here is about St. Pete, and the infrastructure and availability of talent, it’s not even close. The gap between St. Pete and everyplace else is huge.”
Schools Provide a Pipeline of Talent
Dynasty and Raymond James have used that talent to become the two fastest-growing asset management firms in the country. Their talent pool comes largely from a cluster of colleges and universities that consistently produce graduates in a variety of financial services and data analytics fields. These schools include the University of South Florida, University of Tampa, Eckerd College, St. Pete College, Florida Polytechnic University and others.
That talent pool is increasing even faster now that a number of fintech firms have sprung up in the area. Rachel Carpenter, founder and CEO of financial data provider Intrinio, says, “We absolutely love building and growing our business in St. Pete. There is a vibe here that is very welcoming. Shortly after we moved here from Chicago in 2013, we were getting invited to pitch events and meeting the mayor. We were given opportunities to connect with other business leaders and mentors in the community. I was just a budding entrepreneur then and was still learning how to pitch my business. We found that St. Pete was such a supportive environment. There was no way I could have gotten that support in a city like Chicago.”
Other startups have joined them. Neptune Flood and Vault Insurance are two emerging insurtech firms in the area. The Tampa Bay Area startup scene, in fact, now ranks among the top 30 in the world, according to Startup Genome.
Carpenter, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, adds that “from a talent perspective, we are surrounded by universities. We have hired five or six students from local colleges, and we are at 27 employees now. We have been busy hiring engineers and other highly skilled specialists. We are a financial data provider to other fintech companies. Lately, we have sold data to more hedge fund managers and investment banks. We have been building new data products, and to do that we have to hire very talented people.”
Investors Find a Welcoming Environment
In the new work-from-anywhere world that has been expedited by a global pandemic, Carpenter notes that “in 2020, it doesn’t matter anymore where you are. We have clients in Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Europe and all over. We can serve our clients from this beautiful city in Florida. And the way travel has evolved, our investors do not care where we are. Our investors are in New York, Singapore, and California. The Tampa International Airport is incredibly efficient, and a lot of times, people will come to you. There is already a massive influx of Wall Street veterans moving down here to Florida. They come for the financial benefits and the lifestyle. And on the investor side, it is very attractive here as well.”
Investors like the fact that Florida offers the fifth-lowest tax burden in the U.S., but the kicker, Carpenter says, is the support the financial services sector receives from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman. “He is pro-entrepreneurship and pro-financial services,” she says. “We have a strong advocate in the mayor, and we have a strong chamber of commerce.”
Carpenter says the welcome mat is always out for other financial services firms. “When you look at the lifestyle here — the biking, the walkability and the livability — everything you want and need to enjoy your life is here.”
This blog was produced under the auspices of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation.