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Pasco's new economic development CEO hired to deliver jobs

John Hagen, 59, is the new chief of the Pasco agency charged with luring new business to the county and helping existing companies expand.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

John Hagen, 59, is the new chief of the Pasco agency charged with luring new business to the county and helping existing companies expand.

ODESSA — Don't ask John Hagen about the most successful projects he's worked on during his 30-year career unless you have time.

"It's complicated," he'll say, and then like your great uncle telling family stories, recall in amazing detail who all the players were, whose political back had to be scratched, and the history of the property that ended up being the site of the new business incubator or tractor warehouse or academic building.

Yet it's the 59-year-old's attention to the small things and political and business nuances that will be useful to him as the new chief of the Pasco agency charged with luring new business to the county and helping existing companies expand.

Hagen, who most recently was economic development director for the city of Surprise, Ariz. (population 110,000), arrived in Pasco County last week and began meeting with local movers and shakers.

He flew back to his Phoenix suburb to spend Christmas with family but will return to officially start next month as CEO of the Pasco County Economic Development Council.

"He seems like a good fit," said County Commissioner Michael Cox, who met with Hagen three times, once to discuss a possible project that could add 16 jobs to the employment rolls. "You have to realize no deals are the same and you have to adapt and you have to have the flexibility to go and deliver on the things that are motivating the companies. All have hot buttons that need to be handled."

A native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, "Yooper" Hagen came to Pasco after spending about five years in Arizona. He said he started looking for other jobs after Surprise, which was "exploding" during the housing boom, screeched to a standstill.

"The city is going in a good direction, but it'll be three to five years before things really start to happen there," he said. Hagen said he also grew weary of working for a city as opposed to a private organization.

"You're part of a giant bureaucracy," he said.

Hagen said Pasco has "a lot of potential" being a significant part of the Tampa Bay area. It has an established economic base, with some high-tech companies poised for growth.

"I was really impressed with the entrepreneurs," he said.

Hagen said he also liked the fact that Pasco County is in such a state of transformation, with land development codes being rewritten, the county developing a new strategic plan and the EDC changing its structure from one that relies a lot on county funding to a new plan that takes in mostly private money and is working to grow existing businesses, a process referred to "economic gardening."

To be successful, a critical part of Hagen's job will be fundraising.

He says he's up to the task, pointing out how he once headed a group in Indiana that was privately funded.

The last couple of years he was there, the agency entered into a deal with government.

"It would have been better if we hadn't taken the money," he said.

Another key goal, which will help in raising money, is to engage people.

"We as individuals can't do it," he said. "We want to work with developers, builders, bankers, local government, chambers of commerce, utilities. Unless people work together, nobody's going to invest here. Who wants to invest in a community where everybody's fighting?"

That sounds good to Cox, whose mantra has been creating local jobs to end Pasco's reign as the bay area's bedroom.

"The proof is in the pudding," he said. "He's going to have to produce. Failure is not an option."

NAME: John Hagen

AGE: 59

OCCUPATION: Recently hired as CEO of the Pasco County Economic Development Council, a public-private partnership that receives nearly half its budget from county coffers.

EDUCATION: B.A., University of Michigan, literature major; M.A., University of Chicago, English; master of public administration, Western Michigan University.

PERSONAL: Wife, Joy, a social worker, two grown sons.

HOBBIES: Woodworking, cabinetmaking, music. Plays bass in a rock band called Fossil Fuel, which plays everything from Beatles classics to Coldplay's Viva la Vida. In high school, played in a band called the Runaways.

ON HIS BOOKSHELF: We should probably say bookshelves, as he has thousands of books in his collection. His favorites are historical nonfiction. He also likes William Faulkner and travel writer Paul Thoroux.

Pasco's new economic development CEO hired to deliver jobs 12/26/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 26, 2009 1:12pm]
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