Pasco County can do nothing and still watch 158,000 new jobs join the local economy over the next 25 years because of population growth. Or, Pasco can invest in economic development to try to lure an additional 185,000 better-paying jobs that could come to the region over the same time period.
Doing nothing is an unacceptable alternative. It dooms the county to extending the live-here, work-there employment force that sees up to 90,000 residents — roughly half the county's workers — depart daily to jobs elsewhere because Pasco's own economy is too reliant on the lower-paying service sectors.
Charting the strategy to lure the next generation of higher-wage employment is the topic of a half-dozen workshops over the next two weeks as commissioners, government staff and a business consultant seek input from chambers of commerce, landholders, business owners and anyone desiring a better local economy. For times and locations, see the county's website at pascocountyfl.net.
Participants will have plenty of data upon which to chew. As outlined by consultants Strategic Planning Group earlier this week, more than three-quarters of the county's work force is employed in one of five areas: Retail, education/government, health sciences, tourism, and construction/real estate. Unfortunately, all are areas that serve existing residents or visitors, but do little to import income from outside the region. Or, consider the county's population makes it the 12th largest in Florida, yet it ranks eighth of 67 counties in retail trade jobs, but 45th in manufacturing employment. In other words, Pasco sells stuff, but does not make stuff.
Much of this is not new. Commissioners have heard from past consultants who have told them Pasco is well positioned to recruit industries with a list of attributes including available land, proximity to Tampa International Airport and the University of South Florida, and an existing community college for employment training. A big drawback is the paltry number of residents with college degrees.
There have been some successes. Over the past half-dozen years the county has moved to reserve land for future employment centers while successfully negotiating for a pair of promised, but not-yet-materialized industries: the T. Rowe Price campus in central Pasco and a Sysco food distribution center near Zephyrhills.
Still, the county must remain proactive in developing its economy. Long-term reliance on residential growth won't pay the bills and simply paves the way for more commuters, more congestion and a diminishing quality of life for everyone.