Wednesday, August 15, 2018
News Roundup

Bowen: Losing their big issue just before the election

What do you do when the center plank of the platform cracks beneath you?

Presumably, you scramble to the side or else fall through.

It is a dilemma that confronted multiple Republican candidates last week at the finish line of the primary election campaign. They suddenly lost the centerpiece issue of their platforms — job creation.

Hudson businessman Chris Cooley in County Commission District 5 and Rachel O'Connor of Wesley Chapel in District 1 both said bringing jobs to Pasco County was the heart of their campaigns. One of O'Connor's opponents, Ron Oakley, portrayed himself as a job creator who had signed the front of payroll checks for employees of Oakley Groves and the family's other businesses. Debbie Wells, another District 1 candidate, said she wanted to "help local businesses grow.''

It was an interesting tactic, considering, by almost all measurements, the economy is humming. Pasco's most recent jobless rate stood at 5.2 percent, compared with 7.1 percent in advance of the 2014 election and 10.6 percent just before the 2012 primary.

Then Mettler Toledo torpedoed the whole strategy. A week before Election Day, the company and the Pasco Economic Development Council announced — inside the commission chambers, no less — Mettler Toledo's plans to bring 500 jobs to a $30 million, 250,000-square-foot plant at Northpointe Village in Lutz. The average wage will be $51,500, according to the PEDC. It is a significant bump over Pasco's average annual wage of $36,428, according to 2015 data from the Florida Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

Certainly, a majority of the jobs means a different commute for workers from the company's current facility in Hillsborough County, where they make metal detection and X-ray equipment for commercial food-processing operations. Mettler Toledo also is moving 185 jobs to Florida from Ithaca, N.Y.

Less than 90 minutes after the Mettler Toledo announcement, the County Commission approved a $300,000 incentive package for Nicopure Labs LLC, which announced in 2014 that it was putting its global headquarters in Trinity. It will employ 60 people at an annual payroll of $4 million. By my math, that's more than $66,000 in average annual wages per job at the plant manufacturing e-liquids.

Immediately afterward, GIC Engineering received a $44,000 county incentive for creating 11 new full-time jobs in Odessa with an annual payroll of $1.3 million. That's an average of $118,000 per employee.

If you've lost track, all these job announcements mean more than $30 million worth of payroll coming to the county from the trio of companies.

It doesn't end there. The health care sector of the local economy is booming. Last month, HCA-owned Medical Center of Trinity revealed a $38 million expansion — a capital investment exceeding Mettler Toledo's — and 108 jobs being added to its payroll. Likewise, North Tampa Behavioral Health in Wesley Chapel is adding 50 jobs as part of a $10 million expansion. And Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel is building a $78 million addition that will add 350 jobs to its payroll.

Still to be announced are the details of Project Remus, which will bring 100 new jobs and a nearly $30 million capital investment to an unidentified company in Lutz.

Yeah, maybe that jobs campaign theme was overplayed. It resonated better four years ago amid the double-digit jobless rate. Of course, the old standby is to campaign against higher taxes.

Oh, wait. The Truth in Millage notices arrived in mailboxes, showing an overall property tax decrease for most Pasco homesteads, even with slightly higher property values, because of a reduction in the state-mandated school tax.

Commissioners, meanwhile, are considering a 2017 budget that increases services and gives employees raises, but is accompanied by a status-quo property tax rate. There is so little controversy, the county canceled its planned stakeholder meetings to gather public input in advance of the required public budget hearings.

An angry electorate? Not likely. Maybe, people voted simply for the name they knew or the candidates' personal experience. Which just might explain why the names of Oakley, Starkey and Mariano emerged victorious.

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