NEW PORT RICHEY — When Pasco officials asked business leaders in Hillsborough and Pinellas how they perceived their northern neighbor, they were surprised by some of the answers.
"They thought (the Shops at) Wiregrass was in New Tampa," said Melanie Kendrick, the county's senior planner for economic development.
The revelation, which did not amuse county commissioners, was used Monday at a workshop to present Pasco's strategic plan for economic development. Planners stressed the need for "placemaking" — which is a way to develop a brand for the county to attract desirable development and high wage jobs.
"For a place to be remembered it has to be unique," said Kendrick, who told the story of how Lizard Lick, a small town in eastern North Carolina, came to be home to corporate giants Glaxo Smith Kline and Siemens.
The town is about 20 miles east of Raleigh, in the research triangle, which is an area brimming with jobs.
"They're attracted to that place," she said.
North Carolina took a community that had been associated with tobacco and textiles and turned it into a high tech corridor.
Pasco can do the same thing to develop a sense of place, Gehring said. That includes becoming more savvy salespeople.
The strategic plan was developed over the past year and a half in cooperation with business leaders, the Pasco Economic Development Council and regional developers.
It took the changes in the land development rules and transportation fees and built on that to create long-term goals for each of the county's five market areas. They also renamed the areas based on their characteristics in order to improve their marketability.
The Harbors is the area along U.S. 19, described as a "boater's paradise." That area is slated for infill and redevelopment. Gateway Crossings is the new name for the south market area, which includes the State Road 54/56 corridor and allows for more dense urbanized development.
"That will be Pasco County's Westshore," Gehring said.
The area between State 54 and 52 is called the Midlands and includes preserves, lakes and residential subdivisions, while the Highlands, which includes the Brooksville Ridge, encompasses the cities of Dade City and Zephyrhills.
Areas outside of these have been renamed the Countryside.
The report listed countywide goals as well as goals for each market area that fit in with the overall plan. They included telling Pasco's story and encouraging positive growth through using more expert panels such as the Urban Land Institute, which issued a highly critical report several years ago and prompted the land use rule changes. Also on the list was maintaining a business-friendly climate by offering sites with infrastructure already in place and making Pasco a national destination for active outdoor activities.
The report also cited the need to work more closely with the school district and its career academies, which would be expanded to every high school and middle school, to develop a qualified work force that would want to stay after graduation.
Commissioners asked questions but didn't take a hard position on the report. They will discuss it further at the overall strategic planning session set for 9 a.m. Monday at Saint Leo University. If approved, it will be part of the business plan, with initiatives considered for funding in the 2013-14 budget.
Gehring said the county, which has lots of available land, is in an enviable position as the economy returns to life and other counties are built out.
"If we did this four years ago, we'd have been whistling in the wind," he said. "It's a great time to be putting it in place."