City of Clearwater (FL) – Economic Development Strategic Plan
The Challenge. This project began as the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession was just taking hold. Like the region, state, and nation, unemployment in Clearwater sat at or near a 20-year high. Clearwater also faces two formative demographic trends: (1) it is home to an aging population, and (2) has a larger share of low-income households than the region, state, and nation. Compounding these trends is the City’s over-reliance on residential real estate taxes, with housing accounting for approximately two-thirds of the city’s property tax base. In addition, Clearwater lacks available greenfield development sites to accommodate new commercial and industrial development. Existing Class A office space does not meet the needs of local businesses and many property owners have failed to make improvements to existing structures that high tech firms require. Consequently, to prevent existing businesses from leaving the city in search of preferable space and in order to create the conditions to attract new firms, Clearwater needed a plan to promote higher intensity employment opportunities on new and existing sites.
The Approach. The information for the planning effort was gathered through data analysis and stakeholder meetings. Interviews and discussions were conducted with individuals representing business, municipal government, public service, and economic development in the Clearwater area. The consulting team also led eight focus group discussions involving local representatives of manufacturing, professional services, information technology, healthcare, finance and insurance, real estate, tourism, and regional economic development partners.
The plan was organized around the core goals of pursuing tax base diversification, higher paying jobs, and business vitality. The need for greater tax base diversification and higher wage jobs is fully supported by the economic assessment. Business vitality refers to the city and its economic development partners taking a more active role in helping existing businesses to expand and new enterprises to form.
The Outcome. Completed in August 2011, TIP developed a new economic strategy for Clearwater designed to refocus the city’s economic development efforts as well as build upon the new regional initiatives. It provided a template for Clearwater to adopt a more assertive approach to attract new investment, tax base, and high-wage employment in growth industries. Finally, rather than being primarily reactive to new opportunities, the plan detailed how Clearwater should actively pursue and direct future investments to create a strong foundation for economic vitality.
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