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CollegeBom Offers Online Marketplace For Students

College students will soon have access to an online marketplace where they can buy, sell and trade items with other students at their university without having to pay transaction fees or shipping.

CollegeBom allows students to sell items of interest to other students -- whether it be a microwave, laptop, textbook or even furniture.

The site is unique in that it automatically pairs buyers and sellers. Users create a profile and then enter a description of what they want to buy or sell. The site automatically sends a notification when items are available, and then the users take it from there.  

For security purposes, users must have an official university email address, which is confirmed. Paypal integration is also being added so users don’t have to exchange cash.

The site is the brainchild of Steve Solomon, a freshman at the University of South Florida who plans to graduate in 2017 with a double major in International Business and Finance.  

"I wanted to create a centralized marketplace for college students. …a great resource that will genuinely help them." says Solomon, CollegeBom’s founder.

The site also provides adverstising opportunities to small businesses situated in neighborhoods near the university, allowing them to grow student traffic.

Launch is scheduled within the next two months for USF students. Eventually it will expand to other college campuses.

CollegeBom is a charter member of the USF Student Innovation Incubator, and is taking advantage of the office space and mentorship opportunities. "They try to do as much as possible to help you, says Solomon. "I can almost guarantee I wouldn’t be this far without the incubator."

Solomon also attended Startup Weekend Tampa Bay recently, where he gained knowledge and connections to help with the launch.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Steve Solomon, CollegeBom

Two Maids & A Mop Expands To Tampa, 15 New Jobs

Residential cleaning company Two Maids & A Mop is expanding to Tampa Bay, launching its first franchise development and creating up to 15 new jobs in management, sales and personnel over the next year.

Featured in Inc. 500 as one of the nation’s fastest-growing residential cleaning companies in the consumer products and service industry, the company grew from a small staff of 4 to 140 employees by 2013.

"We are a Southeastern-based company. We identified a couple different markets that we absolutely wanted to be in, and Tampa was one of them," says Ron Holt, CEO and founder of Two Maids & A Mop.

With 12 company-owned locations in five states, Two Maids & A Mop took a large part of 2013 to explore and research the potential for strong franchise development after receiving several inquiries for franchising opportunities from across the country and as far away as the United Kingdom.

The company’s expansion into Tampa Bay was a unique collaboration of a targeted strategy, key business relationships and the right timing.

Holt had developed a friendship with Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman, owners of College Hunks Hauling Junk and College Hunks Moving. Friedman and Soliman’s business growth plan included expansion into the cleaning service industry.

And so it was.

A joint-venture business relationship developed, merging Friedman’s and Soliman’s new cleaning concept under the Two Maids & A Mop mantra, and emerging as the company’s first franchise location.

Moving forward, Tampa will serve as regional headquarters for franchise development as the company further develops new franchise locations throughout the United States, creating up to 40 more jobs in Tampa in the process.

"The first step is to create a huge success in Tampa, to build a large business, to employ a lot of people, and to create more job growth in the Tampa area. The second step is to begin marketing the franchise concept all over the country," says Holt.

For more information on career opportunities, visit the Tampa company website. To inquire about franchise development opportunities, visit the company’s franchise website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Ron Holt, Two Maids & A Mop

FindMyClass App Navigates Campus For College Students

The beginning of the semester can be stressful for college students -- learning new faces, making new decisions and finding new classrooms. A mobile app launched at the University of South Florida takes away the guesswork involved in finding classrooms on campus.

FindMyClass was developed by Tampa natives and brothers Michael and Ryan Schmidt. Michael is a graduate and Ryan is a current student in the University of South Florida College of Engineering. The idea came about while the two participated on campus in a Windows Phone Competition sponsored by Microsoft. They attended a series of workshops in which they learned how to code apps and then won a development contest with FindMyClass.

"I always had trouble navigating around campus," says Michael Schmidt. He and his brother felt the need all long but never really thought about building an app to meet that need until the competition.

After downloading the app, users select a campus and then a college. From there they can search for a building. The app puts a line between their current location and the building, and rotates with them as they walk or drive to find it. Users can also view a list of food locations and parking garages.

The app is available on 10 college campuses in Florida, including all campuses of Hillsborough Community College, University of South Florida in Tampa and St. Petersburg and The University of Tampa. Eventually the team plans to expand to as many campuses as possible.  

The app is free to download, and the first three building searches are free.

FindMyClass is a charter member of the USF Student Innovation Incubator and is using resources such as pro bono legal advice for their trademark application. "USF is definitely helping us out a lot," says Schmidt.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Michael Schmidt, FindMyClass

Covidien Invests $18 Million in Hillsborough, 165 Jobs

Leading global healthcare product provider Covidien is making its mark in Tampa Bay, planting a new medical device manufacturing facility and making an $18 million capital investment in Hillsborough County, which will create up to 165 new jobs by 2017.

The company is hiring engineers, scientists and manufacturing operators at an average salary of $41,375.

Covidien is among an extensive list of biotech, life sciences, health and medical development firms that have recently selected the Tampa Bay region to expand their research, innovation and manufacturing operations.

As Tampa Bay’s talent pool, innovation, technology and medical market grows, the region is sure to gain additional developmental and growth opportunities that, in-turn, stimulate our regional growth.

"We specifically selected Hillsborough County for several reasons, including its talented workforce and the Tampa Bay region’s business climate, economy and quality of life. Our new facility will not only provide jobs for the local community; it will support Florida’s growing life science industry as well," says Phil Devlin, Covidien’s VP and General Manager.

In January 2013, a $165,000 local incentive package was approved by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, additionally supporting a commitment of $660,000 from the State of Florida through the State’s Qualified Target Industry (QTI) program.

The total QTI allocation of $825,000 will provide Covidien with $5,000 for the creation of each new job, incentives which will be payable over an eight-year period.

Currently occupying temporary office space in Sabal Park, the company will expand operations to its new 62,000-square-foot Riverview facility by mid-2014.

"Covidien’s choice to expand its presence in the state validates Florida’s position as a leader in life sciences and manufacturing. The company’s investment and jobs created adds to these extensive sectors. The opportunities created by Covidien will add value to Florida’s workforce, and I look forward to seeing their success continue in our state," says Gray Swoope, President & CEO of Enterprise Florida.

For information on career opportunities, visit Covidien online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Phil Devlin, Covidien; Gray Swoope, Enterprise Florida

St. Pete Celebrates Women Of Vision, Inspiration

Do you know a woman in Pinellas County who provides vision, leadership and inspiration to others? Perhaps someone who shows a passion for the region and puts her heart and soul into her business and the community?

The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce is looking to recognize these women at the Iconic Women of St. Petersburg luncheon on May 14 at Hilton St. Petersburg, Carillon Park.

"There are so many amazing people in Pinellas County," says Jo-An Thomas, Chair of the luncheon and multimedia consultant for Business Observer. "We often don’t know who these people are who are doing wonderful things in our communities every day."

Now in its 15th year, the event celebrates women who live or work in Pinellas County and are nominated by their peers in one of seven different categories: large business, small business, entrepreneur, nonprofit, community service, Woman to Watch (under the age of 40) and INSPIRE! Women of the Year.

Past honorees include Ashley Rhodes-Courter, 2012 International Woman of the Year. Rhodes-Courter spent a majority of her childhood in 14 different foster homes and is now an international speaker and advocate for education, community, youth and families. Lorraine Yaslowitz, 2013 INSPIRE! Woman of the Year, founded The Partners for Life Foundation in honor of her late husband Jeff, a fallen police officer. The Foundation offers support for families who have lost loved ones due to acts of violence. Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Jelks-Tomalin, 2012 Woman to Watch, is a fifth generation St. Petersburg resident and healthcare industry leader on the local and national levels. Her rich history of community involvement also includes Pinellas County Urban League and the Green Light Pinellas transportation initiative.

The event’s presenting sponsor is Ceridian. Nominations are sought through January 31.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Jo-An Thomas

BlueGrace Logistics Adds 55 New Jobs in Tampa

Transportation management firm BlueGrace Logistics is expanding its east Tampa operations and is slated to create up to 55 new jobs by the end of 2014.

Featured on Inc. 500 as the 20th fastest growing company in the United States and as the number one fastest growing logistics and transportation company, BlueGrace helps to simplify and streamline supply chain management for their customers by combining industry expertise with innovative technology solutions.

BlueGrace was founded in Tampa in 2007 and quickly grew from a small office of 8 to 35 employees by 2010. Within the last three years, the company has grown to more than 140 employees while additionally hosting satellite offices in Chicago, Baltimore and Salt Lake City.

The company is now preparing for additional growth by expanding its 12,000-square-foot office in Riverview.

"We are increasing the size of our building and are breaking down a few walls to house all of our employees," says Senior Marketing Manager Natalie Lane.

The newly created jobs which will focus on sales, operations, customer loyalty programs, marketing, technology and administrative functions will help to enhance the company’s internal support for its franchise developments.

By the end of 2013, BlueGrace added 42 new franchises to its network and will add more than 40 new franchises in 2014. BlueGrace is also launching their new franchise website this week.

BlueGrace has grown nearly 50 percent in the last year and attributes its growth to its market presence, technological innovation, capital gains, employee additions, and its powerful franchise development channels.

"The logistics industry is seeing a boom and an upswing that is consistent with franchise development," says Lane.

Innovation and technology is at the heart of the company and does not just extend to the logistics solutions that BlueGrace provides to customers.

The company’s corporate culture largely features on-going employee training in an effort to help employees be more valuable to the marketplace -- whether with BlueGrace or in pursuit of a new career opportunity.

"We support that type of growth and are big on culture, which attracts a lot of people to our organization. We love our city," says Lane.

The company is also creating 20 new jobs in the Chicago market, is a member of IFA's VetFran Initiative which helps connect veterans with franchise opportunities, and also is a major supporter of philanthropic causes throughout Tampa Bay.

For more information on career opportunities or franchise development, visit the company online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Natalie Lane, BlueGrace Logistics

Gulfport's 2Cool Art Show Features Florida Artists

Artists from the Tampa Bay region and across the state have a chance to show and sell their work at the 2Cool Art Show, February 8 and 9 at the historic Gulfport Casino in Gulfport.

The juried event is hosted by the Professional Association of Visual Artists (PAVA), a statewide organization located in Pinellas County. PAVA began 28 years ago to provide a means for artists to exhibit and work together. Programs include educational materials, guest speakers, networking opportunities and other resources to help new and veteran artists further their careers.

The group’s signature event is the Cool Art Show, which takes place each summer in St. Petersburg. Now celebrating 25 years, the event’s success led the City of Gulfport to invite PAVA to Gulfport Casino for the third annual 2Cool Art Show, co-hosted by the City of Gulfport and the Downtown Merchant Association.

Some 37 artists are expected to attend with a variety of mediums – from paintings to ceramics, jewelry and sculpture. James Parziale, a furniture maker from New Port Richey, will be attending for the first time as well as Joyce Curvin, a paper mache artist from Palm Harbor.

"Most of the people there are local artists, so you get to know who in the community is making what kind of art," says Susan Gehring, the event’s co-chair.

While attending the show, patrons can visit the surrounding community and get a taste for what Gulfport has to offer – including unique boutique shops and restaurants. "Make a day of it, come to visit us and the rest of Gulfport," says Gehring.

Admission and parking are free.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Susan Gehring, PAVA

Moffitt Cancer Center's SPARK Offers Internships

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Summer Program for the Advancement of Research Knowledge (SPARK) is helping to stimulate and strengthen medical innovation by preparing student interns for career growth in cancer research and biomedical science.

"The mission of Moffitt Cancer Center is to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer, so one important way to do that is education and training of researchers," says Dr. Doug Cress, SPARK program director.

Through a 10-week intensive research training program, SPARK allows experienced undergraduate students having a career interest in biomedical science or fields related to cancer research an opportunity to significantly dive into specialized research areas via a variety of programs, including cancer biology and evolution, cancer epidemiology, chemical biology and molecular medicine, health outcomes and behavior, and immunology.

With such an in-depth and expansive field as cancer research, students are able to explore their interests in policy, scientific writing, psychology, laboratory experimentation, and more.

"Every student has a different experience at Moffitt. It depends on what they are interested in," says Cress.

To help guide the creative process, students are assigned a mentor within a particular research group and define goals with which to make an impact over the 10 weeks.

The idea is to increase the students’ knowledge base while providing training and instruction on methodologies, processes, and intricacies critical to the development of cancer research.

The internship program is among key opportunities in medical research and development available in the Tampa Bay region’s growing healthcare provider industry.

"Moffitt as a business is a huge contributor to the economy in the area. You can’t necessarily bring all the talent from the outside. The more talent you train from the inside, the better your perspective is. We hope to be able to bring the interns that we train back into Moffitt as they become independent researchers and independent physicians that contribute to our mission," says Cress.

Moffit is accepting applications through February 15 for participation in SPARK. The program is free to participants, and a taxable stipend is provided.

Selection into the program is based upon relevant experience, a written essay and academic performance as well as recommendations from teachers or faculty.

Selected students must commit to a 40-hours-per-week schedule, which may be completed during any 10 weeks between May 1 and August 31.

For more information on SPARK, visit the program online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Dr. Doug Cress, Moffitt Cancer Center & SPARK

New City Of Tampa Mobile App Makes Services More Accessible

Have you ever driven through a pot hole or seen a street light out and wanted to report it to the city, only to forget about it later? 
 
A new mobile app from the City of Tampa makes it easier to report issues that require the City’s attention in real time, as well as to connect with City government. 

"The goal is to give residents and visitors another way to interact with the city," says Ali Glisson, public affairs director for the City of Tampa.

The most popular feature is the “service requests” area, which allows you to report malfunctioning street lights, water department issues, code enforcement inquiries, parking issues and other needs. Citizens can now be the city’s eyes and ears and give them a better view of what’s going on in neighborhoods through the immediate accessibility. There is also a way to send a picture of the incident, which provides GPS coordinates and allows for a quicker response.

Additional features include a full list of city events, including public meetings and special events, instant access to news and press releases, job openings and ways to connect with Mayor Buckhorn via social media. 

The app was developed in-house by city staff and is available free of charge for Android and iOS-based smart phones and tablets. 

"Mayor Buckhorn has been very focused on upgrading the city’s technology infrastructure, so we’ve been trying to make progress in improving technology across the city," says Glisson. 

Future plans for the city’s technology initiatives include integrating a billing system into the app that allows residents to pay water and utility bills through their smart phone. There are also plans to place Wi-Fi in riverfront parks. 

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Ali Glisson, City of Tampa

Forum Addresses Energy Skills Gap In Florida, Tampa Bay

Florida’s manufacturing industry is thriving and has a positive outlook for the future. However, many companies express challenges in finding qualified workers, which is only expected to increase. 
 
According to a manufacturing gap analysis conducted in August 2013 by Tampa Bay area workforce centers, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are home to 2,074 manufacturing companies representing 50,803 employees. However, an estimated 4,000 manufacturing jobs go unfilled each month. 

The Florida Colleges Energy Education Forum, January 31 at Palm Beach State College, will bring together representatives of community colleges from across the state with industry experts to network and generate ideas to help meet workforce needs. Attendees will learn about topics such as: Energy, Electricity and Transportation, Sustainable Energy Resources, and a panel discussion focused on turbines and advanced fuels.

"The event's goal is to bring together community college educators and industry experts from across the state to share current workforce needs," says Nina Stokes, project manager for Florida Advanced Technical Education Center (FLATE), who is coordinating the forum.

FLATE is a partnership between St. Petersburg CollegeHillsborough Community College (HCC) and the University of South Florida College of Engineering, and is based out of HCC. It’s one of 36 centers throughout the United States funded by a grant by the National Science Foundation. 

The center’s focus is to prepare the state’s future workforce for manufacturing careers with programs like grant writing, project development, training and curriculum development. FLATE also conceived and coordinates the Engineering Technology (ET) degree and certificate programs now offered as 14 community colleges and enrolling 1,000 students throughout the state. 

Building this pipeline of qualified workers will help Tampa Bay businesses succeed as well as attract new business to the region. Partnerships like these also increase local educational attainment, a goal of the Graduate Tampa Bay initiative launched in March 2012.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Nina Stokes, FLATE

Forward Thinking Initiatives Launches First Youth Entrepreneurship Academy In St. Petersburg

Forward Thinking Initiatives, a nonprofit organization that helps Tampa Bay teens learn the value and principles of entrepreneurship and innovation, is partnering with the St. Petersburg Greenhouse to launch its first youth entrepreneurship academy.

The first class of the academy, ART-repreneurship for Teens, launches in February 2014 and is designed to teach students the importance of incorporating passion of the arts with business savvy in order to promote their expertise while bringing themselves to market.

"It’s a lot more than teaching a business plan. These skills are critical whether you’re an intrapreneur or an entrepreneur," says the organization’s founder and President Debra Campbell.

In 2004 with the support from the Tampa Bay Partnership, Florida High Tech Corridor and Verizon, Campbell created Forward Thinking Initiatives as an economic development initiative aimed at providing teens and educators with entrepreneurship education focused on innovation, leadership and critical thinking necessary to our evolving workforce.

The initiative grew out of an effort to create a vital link between education and economic development.

"We found that entrepreneurship skills were so critical to what is now called common core. It crosses all kinds of educational, real-world curriculum," says Campbell, who has a background in economic development.

FTI recently partnered with the St. Petersburg Greenhouse, an extension of the City of St. Petersburg which evolved from the city’s Business Assistance Center into an epicenter connecting businesses and entrepreneurs with a wealth of resources designed to support and promote successful and continued business growth.

Campbell’s central goal is to encourage and cultivate entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviors that transform youth into empowered thinkers, essentially promoting personal growth while motivating the region’s economic growth.

"They are learning entrepreneurship through specific subject matter like arts entrepreneurship or technology entrepreneurship. This is a unique experience that provides valuable employees and workforce associates to our companies," says Greenhouse Manager and Economic Development Coordinator Sean Kennedy.

FTI’s February class will cover:
- How to market yourself, your portfolio and your product for school or career
- Identifying real business opportunities
- Career opportunities in the arts
- Launching your own business in the arts
- Meeting and learning from professional artists and entrepreneurs

FTI is currently registering students for the program which runs from February 17 to March 27. The fee is $260 for the full program.

For more information on Forward Thinking Initiatives' mission and ART-repreneurship program registration, visit them online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Debra Campbell, Forward Thinking Initiatives; Sean Kennedy, St. Petersburg Greenhouse

Streamsong Resort Opens, 300 New Jobs In Polk County

Streamsong Resort, a nature-based destination golf resort, will open its main lodge and amenities for business this Saturday, creating more than 300 administrative, sales, marketing, maintenance, technical and culinary jobs in the process.

Streamsong, a creation of Mosaic and touted as "a feast for the senses, a haven for the soul," sits on 16,000 acres of land and features 228 guest rounds, four restaurants, a spa, a lakeside pool, 18,000 square feet of conference space, guided bass fishing, and a host of personal enrichment opportunities.

The golf course and clubhouse opened in January 2013.

The resort was built on reclaimed phosphate mines, previously used in the 1960s. The design re-creates a golfing experience reminiscent of golf venues such as the Links courses in Scotland and the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

Mosaic additionally wants to show what can be done on previously mined land -- something that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.

"It was intended to be an alternative to the typical Florida resort experience. It’s an immersion into natural Florida. No pollution, no traffic, no lines," says Dave Townsend, spokesman. for Mosaic.

Mosaic, the seventh-largest land owner in Florida with 250,000 acres, conceptualized development of the property as much more than a new local resort and conference destination.

"We saw a need for something like this in the area, but we also saw a unique opportunity associated with the setting," says Townsend.

The new development allowed Mosaic to work closely and collaboratively with nearby communities to create new jobs in Polk County and create new business opportunities for local businesses that provide goods and services to the resort.

The project also is expected to increase tourism and generate additional tax dollars by bringing more business and luxury travelers into the Tampa Bay region and central Florida.

"This is cohesively supplementary to what Tampa offers," says Richard Mogensen, Streamson's general manager.

For more information on Streamsong Resort and job opportunities, visit them online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Dave Townsend, Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC; Richard Mogensen, Streamsong

Community Crowdfunding Grows Tampa Hackerspace

Crowd-sourced funding can be a modern, effective way to get innovative ideas off the ground. In Tampa, a hackerspace that opened in fall 2013 has proven this point, exceeding their Kickstarter pledge goal of $10,000 by around 50 percent.
 
Money raised through the Kickstarter project, which will be funded at 9 p.m. Tuesday, January 14, will allow Tampa Hackerspace to grow and evolve as a community innovation hub.

Pledge goals include equipment upgrades and community outreach through workshops, local partnerships, and hosting educational events (specifically: helping people who "don't know they are makers yet,'' and teaching kids).

"Our top priorities are to purchase a CNC Mill, Laser Cutter and electronic kits made specifically to get kids inspired and confident about making,'' says Tampa Hackerspace Cofounder Ryan Holmes notes.

Workshops like the quarterly Restart Tampa event will "inspire/help the local community to repair their own appliances by providing them with tools and the confidence to do so,'' says Holmes. "Besides Restart, we are focusing on making programs specifically focused on kids on Sunday afternoons.''

The first "Kid's Open Make'' was held on January 5, 2014; click here for a calendar of upcoming Hackerspace events.

When the group reached 20 percent of their initial $10,000 Kickstarter goal in just a few hours, Holmes was "flabbergasted.'' So far, over 130 backers have pledged donations ranging from $3 to $2,500.

"I definitely knew that there was support out there, but I didn't know it was that digitally connected enough to push out $2,000 in two hours. Just goes to show how much people really want it,'' says Holmes.

Tampa Hackerspace, a state-level nonprofit, is housed on the ground floor of the CoWork Tampa building in West Tampa at 3104 N. Armenia Ave.

The Hackerspace Kickstarter page notes that CoWork Tampa "will significantly discount their $57 coworking membership to $20 per month for six months to every backer of our Kickstarter, plus every member of Tampa Hackerspace, when we reach our $15,000 stretch goal.''

To pledge a donation, visit the Tampa Hackerspace Kickstarter page before 9 p.m. (EST) on Tuesday, January 14.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Ryan Holmes, Tampa Hackerspace

James Hardie Invests $80 Million, 100 New Jobs in Plant City

James Hardie, global manufacturer of fiber cement siding and interior products, is making an $80 million capital investment in eastern Hillsborough County, expanding its Plant City operations and creating 100 new manufacturing, engineering, project management, and administration jobs by 2015.

"This is an exciting time for James Hardie in both Plant City and around the world. Innovation that happens in Plant City resonates around the world, and the catalyst is the great environment we have here. Employees see themselves as a family, and that says a lot about the people in the city and the surrounding community," says Ryan Sullivan, south division general manager for James Hardie.

James Hardie's expansion plan includes 100,000 square-feet of additional manufacturing space, new machinery, and new equipment, essentially doubling production capacity to meet the increased industry demand for its fiber cement siding products.

The company first established operations in Plant City site in 1994, which currently employs 100 associates.

In 2012, in an effort to increase the community’s competitive advantage in high-impact economic development projects, the City of Plant City approved a moratorium on the collection of transportation mobility fees.

Resultantly, James Hardie received a fee waiver of $37,300, further solidifying market productivity, regional economic growth, and job creation for Tampa Bay.

"This is great news for our community. Manufacturing is an important part of our economic growth strategy," says Mark Sharpe, chairman of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners.

The company is also eligible for Florida’s new Machinery and Equipment Sales Tax Exemption program, which was approved by the state legislature in May 2013.

"James Hardie has been a valuable member of our business community for more than two decades. Its decision to expand in Plant City is a testament to the strong business environment we’ve created, and validates our role as a top manufacturing and distribution center," says Plant City Mayor Mary Thomas Mathis.

For more information on career opportunities, visit James Hardie online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Ryan Sullivan, James Hardie; Mark Sharpe, Hillsborough County BOCC; Mary Thomas Mathis, City of Plant City

St. Petersburg Celebrates All Things Local at LocalTopia

Williams Park in St. Petersburg will turn into a mecca for community, arts and locals on February 1.

Localtopia is a celebration of locally owned and independent businesses in St. Petersburg. The event will include a full entertainment lineup, a craft beer garden with local brews on tap, local food trucks, a children’s area and other offerings from independent businesses.

Local artists will provide live painting, and Creative Clay will make valentines.

Williams Park, the city’s first park, used to be a vibrant area for community gatherings. The group is hoping to use this event to bring that community feeling back to the park.

"We want to be a catalyst for other activities in the park throughout the year," says Olga Bof, founder and president of Keep St. Petersburg Local. "It will be a really visually rich event."

The event is the 2nd anniversary celebration for Keep St. Petersburg Local, an all-volunteer, non-profit organization affiliated with the American Independent Business Alliance. The group supports locally-owned, independent businesses through promotional campaigns, events and advocacy.

With over 400 members, the group’s accomplishments in its first two years of operations have included educational sessions to help local businesses grow, a city proclamation for independent week, and the first Guide to Independent Businesses publication. Members were recently highlighted in Kevin Bacon’s campaign to support buying local over the holidays.

"We want to spread the message even wider so that it becomes a way of life rather than a special occasion where you buy local,'' says Bof. "It's really about having our community think local first because it means that they’re supporting their family, their friends, their neighbors."

Funds from Localtopia benefit Keep St. Petersburg Local, as well as St. Petersburg Free Clinic and Suncoast Center.

The event’s presenting sponsor is Mazzaro’s Italian Market. Other supporters include Brown Distributing, Paper Street Market, The Hideaway Café and the City of St. Petersburg.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Olga Bof, Keep St. Petersburg Local
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