By Jared Austin, Principal Planner
Land Use and Pinellas County’s Economy
If you were asked what drives the Pinellas County economy, what would you say? You may reference our wonderful beaches or perhaps our many hotels and restaurants. However, while tourism is a significant driver of the economy here in Pinellas, you might be surprised to find out that our largest economic drivers are actually within business services, financial services, and our robust manufacturing sector. In fact, Pinellas County has more manufacturing industries than Hillsborough and Polk Counties combined! To ensure our economy remains strong and vibrant, we have to be strategic in preserving the land used by these target industries.
Competing Interests for Limited Land
Recent legislation by the Florida Legislature, including House Bill 1339 in 2020 and Senate Bill 962 in 2021, has made it easier for industrial and employment lands to convert to residential uses if a certain minimum threshold is met for affordable housing. To address this issue, we began the Target Employment and Industrial Land Study (TEILS) Update in January 2022, with the goal of identifying ways to maintain a healthy economy while balancing competing residential interests for limited employment land.
To begin, we first had to identify what target industry clusters were most viable in Pinellas County, and better understand how their various space needs relate to land availability. The Target Industry clusters and their associated space needs, i.e., the types of building space they occupy, are identified below.
These industries were selected because of their existing presence in the county, their higher than average wages, and, most importantly, their export-oriented nature, which means they bring money into Pinellas County from outside sources. To further emphasize the economic importance of these industries and the need to preserve the land they reside on, the graphic below shows the property taxes, direct and indirect jobs created, and net economic impact to the county when an eight-acre parcel of employment land is developed for various different uses.
While this graphic demonstrates the significance of Target Employment lands to the Pinellas County economy, especially when compared to residential uses, it is not to say that we do not also want a greater workforce housing supply or even a mix of residential and target employment uses. In fact, Pinellas County historically has done a good job at being housing and jobs balanced, meaning our county provides, on average, nearly one housing unit per employed resident. This balance is crucial, as it results in shorter commute times and less strain on transportation networks due to less traffic in and out of the county during peak travel periods.
Land Use Policy Recommendations
As a result of this study, we have decided to take a more nuanced approach to how we look at land designated for Target Employment. This will include us moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach towards Target Employment land, which currently only allows for very specific land uses. Moving forward we aim to allow for a greater mix of uses, and nuanced designations for Target Employment lands around the county. This will include the development of four new Target Employment subcategories which are as follows:
- Target Employment Center Local – Suited for areas that house smaller-scale manufacturers and artisan users with industrial and warehouse space needs. Local governments will be allowed to flex and mix uses, in conjunction with local sub-area planning efforts. Allows for greater local control over smaller-scale employment areas.
- Target Employment Center Suburban Industrial – Suited for large-scale Target Employment uses that primarily require industrial space, and tend to have large building footprints with more suburban character. Additional investment from local and county partners will be encouraged to foster the modernization of buildings and infrastructure in support of retention and growth of target employment uses.
- Target Employment Center Suburban Office – Best suited for large-scale Target Employment users that wish to be in a Class A Office environment and have a more horizontal, campus-style character. Local governments will be allowed to incorporate a mix of uses including residential and commercial, as long as the Target Employment uses are preserved.
- Target Employment Center Urban – Best suited for major Target Employers that aim to locate in a Class A Office environment surrounded by similar target employment types, and existing quality of life elements such as commercial and residential amenities that are all within a reasonably walkable travel-shed.
Moving Forward & Next Steps
Stakeholder engagement, target employer survey results, and market analysis findings were critical to developing the recommendations in the TEILS Update. Greater flexibility within the Target Employment categories will help retain and expand Pinellas County’s Target Industry footprint, as identified by our efforts. Incorporating uses that support one another rather than continuing a policy that isolates and fragments more synergistic land uses, will enhance our county’s overall utilization of land.
The full TEILS Update Report recommends many other solutions beyond the land use policy changes listed above. Working together with our partners and aligned agencies to collectively implement these new strategies will strengthen Pinellas County’s ability to meet the needs of target employers for many years to come.
In the coming months, we will be working to implement the recommendations and findings from the TEILS update by updating the Countywide Rules to reflect the report’s findings and recommendations. We will also be working closely with our local government partners to begin implementing the recommendations in local comprehensive planning efforts. Finally, the TEILS findings will be reflected in the ongoing update of our 2050 Advantage Pinellas Long Range Transportation Plan in order to properly plan for future growth and redevelopment in Pinellas County.