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T. Rowe Price's Pasco expansion much less certain after layoffs announcement

Investment firm T. Rowe Price wants to move 435 jobs from its Tampa office to Land O'Lakes and add another 1,200 positions over a decade.

But this week, the company had to talk about another set of numbers: how many jobs it is cutting.

Hit by market losses that had already forced layoffs throughout the financial services sector, the Baltimore firm is shedding 288 jobs nationwide. That includes 28 at its Tampa operations center.

Most of the workers who were laid off worked in telephone processing and technology departments.

Company spokesman Brian Lewbart said officials are confident that they will refill those positions — and add more — once the market recovers.

But he acknowledged that the economy has made T. Rowe's timeline for expansion plans — in Pasco County or anywhere else — much less certain.

"It makes it harder for us to commit to a timetable," he said.

County and state officials have promised T. Rowe nearly $30 million in incentives if it relocates to Pasco and meets the job projections.

T. Rowe officials told state officials last October that they hoped to begin construction on the first two of three buildings in Land O'Lakes by October 2009.

The company has had no room to grow at its Tampa operations center at the Corporate Center at International Plaza. That lease expires in 2012.

"The need to be able to close on a piece of property so we can immediately start construction … is obviously not as big of an issue as it was when we started the process," Lewbart said.

T. Rowe is also delaying plans to add 1,400 jobs at two buildings under construction at its Owings Mills campus in Maryland, according to a report from the Baltimore Sun.

The firm has informed Baltimore County officials to expect a multiyear delay in recruiting and hiring the projected employees, the Sun reported. Nearly two-thirds of the employees who are laid off work in the Maryland offices.

Permits challenged

In Pasco, T. Rowe Price has not yet closed the deal to buy the property slated for its office complex, 94 acres on the western end of the Long Lake Ranch property on State Road 54.

The project has run into hurdles, including an environmental group's challenge of permits related to the site.

Citizens for Sanity first challenged an environmental resource permit granted by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Then it challenged the wetlands delineation of the entire Long Lake Ranch property.

County and state officials were worried that the challenges had caused uncertain delays that would make T. Rowe look elsewhere.

Lewbart, the T. Rowe spokesman, said that since the company is under less pressure to move fast, waiting on the challenges to play out is less of an issue.

Even so, he said, "It'd be nice to have a conclusion."

Citizens for Sanity member Clay Colson, in a brief interview Thursday, said his challenges had never been about T. Rowe, just about the company's plan to impact a small wetland.

"Every wetland counts," he said, declining to speak about the job reports.

In an earlier e-mail to county commissioners and reporters Thursday, however, Colson had sounded a different note about the layoffs:

"Just as I told you … JOB CUTS! Just out of curiosity how will a company that is cutting jobs to keep its head above water going to bring 1100, 1600, whatever fuzzy number you want to use, jobs to Pasco??? Not that they ever were, just transfers!"

After Citizens filed its first challenge, an outraged state Sen. Mike Fasano had said the appeals "probably derailed" the T. Rowe project.

No concerns

On Wednesday, Fasano said that based on what he had been hearing, his fear was true at the time. But he said he thinks the company saw how state and county officials have responded.

"I think T. Rowe Price saw something: 'Pasco really wants us,' " he said.

As for this week's layoffs, Fasano said he believes T. Rowe will bounce back.

"I don't have any concerns whatsoever," he said.

As the market tanked and investors dropped out, competitors in the mutual fund industry have been laying off employees. T. Rowe Price had hoped to avoid layoffs, cutting expenses through such steps as attrition.

The company announced the layoffs this week as it reported net income for the three months that ended March 31 of $48.2 million, or 19 cents per share. That's down from $151.5 million, or 55 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.

County Commissioner Michael Cox said that T. Rowe is one of the more stable firms in the financial industry.

"Is the deal a little bit different now than it was six months or a year ago? The answer is yes," he said. "But, again, it's a short-term event vs. a longtime commitment.

"There's no doubt in my mind they'll rehire all those people plus add more."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

435 Number of jobs that T. Rowe plans to move from Tampa to Land O'Lakes

1,200 Number of positions that T. Rowe plans to add in Land O'Lakes over a decade.

288 Number of employees that T. Rowe is laying off nationwide.

28 Number of employees that T. Rowe is laying off in Tampa.

T. Rowe Price's Pasco expansion much less certain after layoffs announcement 04/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 23, 2009 9:04pm]
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