Pasco County must act, not just talk, if it wants to lure new businesses

Pasco County says it has a story to tell: We're great business partners. We're here to assist you.

You're probably wondering whether this is a story or a fairy tale.

No, really. This will be the story from Pasco government as it seeks to expand its residentially heavy property tax base and an economy too reliant on home building and low-wage service jobs.

The story will say things like: Pasco is close to Tampa's recreational/cultural amenities and its airport and seaport. It's got multi-laned north-south highways all over the place. There is open, developable land available.

There is a well-regarded community college that already has land and financing in place to construct its third Pasco campus. Saint Leo University may seem like an east Pasco outpost, but it offers graduate-level degrees and is a leader in distance learning. And just down the road, so close we won't even mention that it's actually in Tampa, is the University of South Florida, with all the affiliated services that accompany a major research institution.

And the story will address the common perception that the county's permitting process stinks.

The county believes that to be a misconception.

People who say that haven't been in lately to apply for a permit. Or they are unaware of the attempts to upgrade customer service. Or they're really grumbling about the water management district or some other government permitting agency.

So this is the story the county will tell.

Of course, it won't be much of a tale without some drama to overcome. Like an inferior east-west road network in many locations, the dearth of shovel-ready sites for business development and a potential workforce that could use more higher education.

The story is compiled by Strategic Planning Group, but its authors are the 84 people from 20 economic development interests (real estate, manufacturing, farming, education, utilities, government, etc.) who participated in half a dozen public sessions to help devise a business strategy for the county. Strategic Planning presented its findings to commissioners five days ago.

It might seem like rehashed prose to some. Past consultants have reported similar strengths and weaknesses to prior commissions and Economic Development Committee staffers. This time, however, the county says it will do a better job of touting itself, of capitalizing on its attributes and probably pointing out that T. Rowe Price is coming, so Pasco must be doing something right.

This storytelling, however, includes some imperative points of which the commission must take note. That is, you can hire all the consultants and devise all the strategies you want, but you also have to put those strategies into place.

Explaining that Pasco is poised to benefit from better mass transit is fine, but the commission just declined a leadership role in regional transit. It couldn't even muster enough backbone to ask state legislators to consider granting permission for a future tri-county referendum. Piggy-backing someone else's initiative might be safe politically, but it's hardly a favorable attribute for a county trying to break its bridesmaid image.

Likewise, the commission is reluctant to consider a mobility fee that would ask property owners to kick in a few bucks as a way to underwrite transportation costs for targeted industries that agree to locate in specific areas.

This idea, still in its infancy, got sidetracked amid the tea party retributions at the polls and Commissioner Jack Mariano's misguided push to extend the benefits to any business — including retail — that located to the U.S. 19 corridor.

Too, the commission should consider its own behavior toward out-of-towners. Mariano belittled California-based USA Sportsplex — a company the county invited here as a business partner — because he didn't like the Trinity site selected for a softball complex. Then he and the commission as a whole indicated a willingness to jilt Sportsplex entirely if the Porter family can produce a promised recreation complex in Wesley Chapel.

Yes, the county has a great story to tell, but when it comes to the actual verbiage, commissioners must remember one thing:

Actions speak louder than words.

Pasco County must act, not just talk, if it wants to lure new businesses 02/05/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 5, 2011 9:44am]

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