Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Pasco economy copes with lack of action at T. Rowe Price, Raymond James projects

When Maryland investment firm T. Rowe Price first hatched a plan — codenamed Project Comet — to relocate from Tampa to a 72-acre campus in southern Pasco County, this metro area treated the news as a sign that Pasco was coming of age. That it could put on its big boy pants and start playing once in a while with Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

"It's the big deal that county officials have coveted for decades," this newspaper reported in October of 2008.

Now comes news that T. Rowe Price is ending, for now, any pursuit of a Pasco corporate campus with 1,600 jobs. "We don't need that space now," T. Rowe Price CEO James A.C. Kennedy said at the firm's annual meeting.

The Pasco plot of land on State Road 54 was bought for $13.5 million five years ago and will remain untouched. As T. Rowe Price states in its 10K annual report to the SEC: the Pasco land is for "potential future development as business demands require."

More than a few Pasco business leaders feel deflated at this news given the otherwise upbeat pace of business development in southern Pasco. It does not help that, just to the east on Wiregrass Ranch land, a similarly sized land parcel also sits untouched. St. Petersburg's Raymond James Financial purchased it in 2011 with plans for a satellite campus.

On Monday, Raymond James said it "continues to evaluate occupancy needs as a part of the firm's long-term growth strategy. We believe the Wiregrass Ranch property is a good future development opportunity and we remain committed to Pasco County." But the company said it cannot commit to a closing date or construction schedule.

There's no way for Pasco to sugarcoat the lack of action at either T. Rowe Price or even Raymond James. It hurts.

The small silver lining here is that the county's economy is growing. That means Pasco continues to become less dependent on the fate of these two developments.

• • •

Last week's announcement by mail order pharmacy giant Express Scripts that it will lay off more than 400 area workers at its Hillsborough Avenue facility in Tampa is a tough blow to the regional employment scene.

Nor is it the only hit this metro area has taken this year.

Based on public WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act reports of larger-scale layoff plans, the Express Scripts cuts are part of a series of layoffs topping 1,200 so far this year in the Tampa Bay area.

Among the diverse mix of cuts recently announced:

• Virginia-based Leidos said it would lay off 93 Tampa workers if its support services contract at MacDill Air Force Base fails to win renewal.

• Tampa's Ronald R. Wolfe & Associates, previously known as the "mortgage foreclosure mill" Florida Default Law Group, is laying off 116.

• In Riverview, Encore Capital Group is cutting 69 in its debt collection business. And a General Dynamics unit that helped people to enroll for Obamacare health coverage is ramping down, cutting 305 seasonal workers.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]

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