$26.5 million to move 20 miles

Everybody is eager for the financial company T. Rowe Price to move its operations to a site in Pasco County.

Pasco County certainly is eager. So is the state.

Together, they have agreed to give the company $26.5 million worth of stuff, not to mention a break on state income taxes that could be worth millions more.

All of this to get T. Rowe Price to move to Pasco …

From Tampa.

It's a little more than 20 miles by car from the company's existing operations on Boy Scout Boulevard in Tampa to the proposed location off State Road 54, east of the Suncoast Parkway.

By the way, when the company came to Tampa in 1994, it also got local incentives in the form of improved roads. That's one reason why it chose Tampa over other, competing locations, company officials said then.

The company is planning a big expansion in Pasco, adding 1,215 jobs to the 435 it has. It also plans to construct three buildings on its campus, reportedly a total investment of $190 million.

The company gets half of the local share once it creates 345 of the new jobs and constructs two of its buildings, and then the rest when the whole deal is done.

The company was said to be considering out-of-state locations, which put pressure on the Florida folks to step up.

Just using the $26.5 million figure, I calculated that these incentives are worth about $21,800 per job created. I asked state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, whether that was worth it.

No question, he replied instantly. In fact, the state is getting a pretty good deal compared to the "stimulus" bill in Congress — which he said spends $100,000 or more on every job that's supposedly going to be created nationally.

The new jobs will help Hernando and Pasco's unemployment rate, Fasano argued, both directly and by their benefit to other sectors of the local economy such as construction and real estate.

I asked the senator: What about the angle of taking existing jobs from Tampa?

He said that there's still a big net gain of jobs for the Tampa Bay area, with benefits that will spill over into the neighboring counties. Also, Pasco officials are hopeful that T. Rowe Price's presence will draw more companies.

"I think it's a great investment," he said.

I hope so.

But I also hope somebody keeps a close watch on whether the deal plays out the way it's supposed to. Florida's track record on this is spotty, as my colleagues Sydney Freedberg and Connie Humburg have previously and repeatedly reported.

It's impossible for the public to know all that state and local governments are really spending, especially when you add in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks filed in confidential returns.

Once the money is gone, the government barely keeps track of whether it works. Yet thousands of jobs "created" by some companies that took the dough later disappeared in cutbacks — or even were shipped overseas.

I'm certainly not saying any of this will happen with T. Rowe Price. Here's wishing 'em all the best in Pasco County. Let a thousand (or 1,215) new jobs bloom, and hang around for a long time.

But I do wish all these deals ended with the words: "Or else our army of really angry, top-notch auditors will flay you alive." That would be a little extra "incentive."

$26.5 million to move 20 miles 02/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 6:00pm]

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