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Question the candidates

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001

As the March 27 general election approaches, the Times will ask questions designed to help voters learn where the mayoral candidates stand on important issues facing the city. Candidates are asked to keep their responses to fewer than 300 words. Answers are edited only if they exceed that length.

Today's question:

Are you satisfied with the city's performance in economic development in the "Challenge" area south of Central Avenue? If not, what would you do differently as mayor?

Rick Baker

Economic development with an emphasis in the Challenge area has been one of the four main priorities identified in the Baker Plan, which I have been discussing since the beginning of this campaign. After many years of discussions with people within the Challenge area, and having been involved in economic development during my 15 years of participation in the Chamber of Commerce, I have identified and discussed three areas of focus.

1. Business Owner Development. Programs such as the Chamber's entrepreneurial academy and business mentoring are examples of efforts to provide training and advice to business owners throughout the city, and there has been strong participation in these programs by minorities and women. Access to financing is still a significant problem which needs to be addressed.

2. Workforce Development. Over the past few years we have had a strong supply of jobs available in southern Pinellas County, but employment rates in the Challenge area remain significantly higher than in the rest of our community. Impediments which keep the unemployed from obtaining and holding jobs include such things as lack of transportation, affordable child care and the need for training, among others. Through the Workforce/Wages program now coming into Pinellas County, there is over $15 million available to address these issues. It is important for the city to play an active role in insuring that these funds are allocated in a way which helps people obtain and hold jobs in St. Petersburg.

3. Dome Industrial Park. A master plan for this industrial area west of Tropicana Field needs to be developed to address issues such as crime reduction and infrastructural improvement in order to encourage business relocation and expansion.

Kathleen Ford

No. Mayor Fischer put together a program that was not based on any data. The Florida Dept. of Labor does not track the unemployment rate in different parts of the city.

We need to know who is unemployed and why before we develop any programs targeted for any group. Do folk lack education, experience, training, skills? Do folk have a drug, alcohol or substance abuse or mental health problem? Are there problems with transportation, criminal record or child care? Once we know the problems we can refer to programs that address those issues.

We know education is the cornerstone of economic development. Children need to learn how to critically think so that they can negotiate for fair compensation for their labor or products. As Mayor I will have staff dedicated to monitoring "School Choice" to make sure that all children are learning the skills necessary to compete and succeed.

New entrepreneurs need assistance starting their businesses. We should co-locate the business development center with a business incubator center in a business district. We should partner with others to offer microlending, a community development bank, credit assistance, and a program offering nontraditional careers for women (generally higher wage paying positions). The city can contract with more disadvantaged businesses.

There has not been that much business redevelopment in those commercial districts south of Central Avenue because public safety issues and infrastructure have not been addressed. New businesses will not locate on 16th Street, 22nd Street, 34th Street, Central Avenue or the Dome Industrial District if it is not safe. Importantly, customers will not come, either. I will provide enough police officers to make those neighborhoods and business districts safe.

Amending the city's redevelopment code and adding a restoration code would make it easier for redevelopment of our older commercial buildings. Most new employment opportunities come from our existing businesses so our focus should remain here while staying apprised of developments in the region.

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