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Pasco County's road to growth needs more than gas stations

The closing of the Tampa Bay Executive Airport more than three years ago signaled a change in the west Pasco landscape. The once-rural runway no longer sat amid pasture land. Housing and industrial parks surrounded the Trinity site at the apex of an improved road network — State Road 54 and Trinity Boulevard.

Some lamented the airport's demise, saying its existence was an asset for industrial recruiters to tout. Still, the melancholy was muted when the county rezoned the 73 acres as the future site of a planned corporate park.

Imagine the surprise — at least here — when the announcement of the first occupant came this week for what is now known as the Trinity Corporate Park. Coming soon: a convenience store/gas station and 8,300 square feet of retail space.

Pardon the sense of indifference. Let's just say there were expectations beyond an extension of the lower-paying service and retail jobs that dominates the county economy. Certainly, more will be coming and supposedly these will be bigger things. Let's hope.

But the Trinity Corporate Park announcement also lends credence to a request going before Pasco commissioners Tuesday. The Economic Development Council is seeking to have the county pay half the costs for an expedited study of how Pasco recruits and retains commerce.

The plan calls for the Urban Land Institute to send a team of its own support staff to accompany volunteer corporate executives from around the country to Pasco County. There will be a week of interviews and an examination of county regulations, impact fees and permitting procedures. If the commission approves, the tentative dates are April 20-25, when the panel will conduct perhaps as many as 150 interviews with executives, elected officials, educators, industrial recruiters, business owners and environmentalists.

The cost is $115,000 with the county asked to pay $57,500 from its contract services account within the growth management department. The Pasco EDC will pay the other half from its own reserve account.

It is difficult to get excited about an outside consultant doing yet another study of economic development opportunities/strategies in Pasco County. Economists Hank Fishkind and William Fruth have told the county previously that it is well positioned to recruit industries. The county's attributes include available land, proximity to Tampa International Airport and a major university, a community college for employment training, north-south highways and a workforce accustomed to median incomes below state and national averages. In other words, new industry would be able to recruit employees to better-paying jobs, but still not have to pay salary levels commensurate with more urban areas.

What we suspect, however, is the Urban Land Institute's volunteer executives won't tell Pasco officials what they want to hear, but rather, what they need to hear. Expect answers to perennial questions: Are impact fees exorbitant? Is the review process slow-moving? Does there need to be a greater inventory of spec buildings? Is it simply easier to go further north to Hernando or south to Hillsborough?

Fruth, in 2005, told the county of the success of Indian River County, which partnered with the private sector to develop its own industrial park turn-key ready for tenants. Within two years, it landed a 400,000-square-foot CVS distribution center. The budget changes looming from Amendment 1 (losing $16-million from Pasco's general revenue fund in the coming year) makes that idea obsolete.

Still, the county must be proactive developing its economy because of the long-term strain on local government revenues from predominantly residential growth. Changing the status of Pasco's live-here, work-there employment force is the ultimate goal. Just check the east-west traffic heading to the southbound lanes on Interstate 75 and the Suncoast Parkway any workday morning for verification that 46 percent of the county's workforce leaves Pasco each day for employment.

Providing yet another 7-Eleven store and gas station for those morning commuters to use before leaving the county should be near the bottom of the economic development list.

Pasco County's road to growth needs more than gas stations 03/08/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 10, 2008 12:59pm]
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