SAN ANTONIO — To explain Pasco's need to lure high-wage jobs, William Fruth turned to baseball.
Take a team with a batting average of .607, he said. If you add two weak players, the average goes down to .369. Adding more weak players drags it down further. Then if the two heaviest hitters leave, and you have no replacements, "you have a team that's become a lot weaker."
"The great myth is that any type of new job will grow the economy," he told the audience of about 250 gathered Friday for the Pasco Economic Development Council's annual Business Development Week luncheon at Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club.
Fruth, president of POLICOM Corp., a South Florida independent economics research firm, has evaluated the data for more than 700 local economies in the United States, including Pasco. He also served as mayor of Tiffen, Ohio, from 1980 to 1984.
He told Pasco business leaders that the county's 10 percent unemployment rate fell during the boom but climbed in the Great Recession, because construction took a dive and because figures are based on where people live. And 46 percent of Pasco residents work outside the county. So if neighboring counties are losing jobs, it affects Pasco's rate.
The good news is that things appear to have bottomed out.
"It looks like it isn't going to get any worse. That's good news," he said. "The question is when is it going to get any better?"
His analysis showed that employment levels should reach 2005 levels by 2017.
"That's based on doing nothing," he said. "It's a very slow rate of growth."
Pasco's average wage, estimated at $36,423 at the end of 2011, is 68 percent of the average U.S. wage, after peaking at 74 percent during the housing boom.
"That's one of the lowest in the country, he said.
A chart of Pasco's wages, which are ranked at 320 of 361 metro areas, shows the gap widening if nothing is done.
"By the year 2025, you'll be at 61 percent of the national average," he said.
To rev up the economy, Fruth said the county needs to bring in "primary industries" that bring new money into the local economy and that pay high wages.
Pasco has added just 1,729 of those between 2001 and 2010. Hillsborough County added 8,808 during the same time. Pinellas, which is built out, lost 20,278.
"Pinellas has a real problem," he said.
Pasco, with its available land, is in a good position to attract area employers who might leave Tampa Bay if they have nowhere to expand.
It's important, Fruth said, to have sites ready and expedite the permitting process for targeted industries. Some counties, he said, can issue a permit in as few as seven days. The national norm is about 90 days.
"Pasco needs to become the catcher's mitt to retain and cause the expansion of existing high-wage primary employers in the region," he said.