St. Petersburg was a different city when Brooke Boyd launched her brand building agency, Hype Group, in 2009. Back then, she says it was a big deal when a new restaurant opened in town. "Now, it seems like we have five restaurants opening a day," she adds. "The growth in this city has been phenomenal."
Life in "St. Pete" is a study in vibrancy these days. The city that captured the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive sunny days (768), is quickly becoming a destination spot for entrepreneurs. What's drawing them in? St. Pete has everything necessary to run a successful company: a growing talent pool, an educated workforce, reasonable costs, and a city committed to seeing them succeed from day one. In fact, more than 3,000 new jobs have been created over the last year alone. And contrary to the belief that Florida is the place where folks go to retire, the median age of St. Pete residents has actually decreased, from around 48 in 1970 to 42 today.
When the work day is done, St. Pete also offers a quality of life that's just as robust. Aside from its enviable climate, the city's arts and museum scene is thriving, new restaurants and retail shops are opening all the time, and beautiful beaches are just minutes away. There are miles of waterfront parks, and the city offers the largest network of cycling and pedestrian trails in the southeast. Though costs have risen, the city is still more affordable than many other urban locales, and housing prices haven't skyrocketed here like they have in New York City or Silicon Valley.
"Often a career move brings young people here," says Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin. "But they'll quickly tell you it's the inclusive civic and cultural engagement that nurtures their investment in the community and encourages them to plant roots."
A Magnet for Startups
Boyd moved to St. Pete from her native Fort Myers, Florida in 2008. She had been director of marketing for Yacht Clubs of America, but decided to start her own branding agency a year after arriving in St. Pete. Those early days were mostly spent putting together marketing plans for small businesses owned by family and friends. But once she hired her first employee, Boyd says she knew her business was going to take off. Today, Hype Group has 13 full-time employees and works with some of the the city's thriving, local businesses, including Green Bench Brewing Co., Min's Matcha, and the Italian restaurant, Il Ritorno.
To balance out her intense days at the office, Boyd, her husband, and their 3-year-old daughter, like to get outdoors as much as possible. That means taking advantage of the beautiful weather to eat outside often and to plan activities on their boat. "We live on the water, so it's easy on the weekends to just go for a ride," she says. The family also likes trying out new restaurants and attending local music festivals and art shows. "What I love about this city is that there's always something different going on every weekend," she adds.
Over the years, St. Pete's art scene has become a destination point all its own. Tom James, chairman emeritus of financial planning and investment firm Raymond James Financial, has something to do with that. Until last year, he was chairman of the board of the world-renowned Salvador Dalí Museum. In late April, the eponymous James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art will open in downtown St. Pete. It will house about 300 pieces from James and his wife's personal collection. Much of the rest of his artwork is displayed in Raymond James offices throughout the city.
James, who grew up in St. Pete, has witnessed the city's blossoming cultural scene and says he is proud that it's happening in his hometown. "We have three performing arts centers and the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement is under development," he says. "There's so much excitement in this city about all the art and the events taking place here," he says. "It's almost mind-blowing to think about what St. Pete is becoming."
Even in the midst of this kind of spectacular growth, locals and transplants alike say St. Pete has managed to retain its close-knit community feel. Nathan Stonecipher is the co-founder of craft brewery Green Bench Brewing Co. He says he and his partner, Steven Duffy, designed the business to be a place where locals could gather, try some craft beer, and connect with friends, neighbors, and co-workers. "I was born and raised here, so I knew this would be the kind of place the community would get behind and enjoy," Stonecipher says.
When he's not running the brewery (it's open every day except Monday), the St. Pete native loves to cycle a few times a week along the Pinellas Trail, the longest linear trail in the Eastern U.S. "As you get further north, you'll find breweries, coffee shops, and restaurants in different towns along the trail," he says. "It's a lot of fun." Stonecipher also likes to spend time with his wife at the city's pristine waterfront parks relaxing and reading or checking out some of the other small businesses in town.
And for pet lovers, it's hard to beat St. Pete. It ranked No. 1 among pet-friendly cities in the U.S., according to the real estate rental site, Zumper. The abundance of veterinarians, pet stores, and pet-friendly restaurants helped catapult the city to the top of the list. Stonecipher says Green Bench is living proof of the accolade. Says he: "On the weekends, our beer garden is filled with dogs. It's a really cool thing to see."