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Third High Tech Firm Coming

Friday, April 10, 2009  
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Mayor Rick Baker is courting a third high-tech research firm to Pinellas County.

RTI International, a not-for-profit firm based in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, is in discussions to relocate personnel at least temporarily to St. Petersburg, city officials say.

The company would join California firm SRI International and Massachusetts company Draper Laboratory, which opened area offices in the past three years.

Many details still need to be worked out. But at the center of any agreement, Baker said, would be a first-of-its-kind partnership between the three research firms. The focus: harnessing and storing alternative energy.

The deal would require federal stimulus funding, Baker said, not city money.

It also would be negotiated in the open, said the mayor, who has been criticized in the past for forging secret deals with private companies.

"We can't continue to build our economy solely on construction jobs and tourism," Baker said. "If we hadn't figured that out before, we should have figured it out by now. We need to find another way. Bringing another high-tech research firm to St. Petersburg adds another piece to the puzzle."

The three companies would work with Progress Energy to apply for between $10 million and $20 million in stimulus money, said Draper Lab principal director Leonard Polizzotto. The money, part of $126 million available for energy projects in Florida, is controlled by the state.

It's unclear how many groups may be competing for the money.

Baker and executives from SRI, Draper and Progress Energy met with state officials last week to discuss the proposed partnership. The state's Energy & Climate Commission could award the grants as early as this summer.

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