A welcome mat shouldn't be construed as a sign of desperation. But that is the danger of an economic development philosophy from Commissioner Jack Mariano, who wants new jobs — doesn't everybody? — landing in Pasco County.
Except Mariano wants any job. In particular, he would encourage more retail and other low-wage service industry jobs along the area the county has dubbed the west market area running along the U.S. 19 and Little Road corridors.
His anxiety is understandable. The county jobless rate is above 13 percent and significant portions of U.S. 19 are in Mariano's commission district, from the strip clubs in Hudson to the vacant spaces that formerly housed Service Merchandise, Target, Circuit City, Outback Steakhouse and other once-bustling businesses.
But simply encouraging more of the same — via discounted transportation fees for retailing — smacks of recklessness and undermines the goal of bettering the long-range economy by luring higher-paying jobs to Pasco County.
Redeveloping U.S. 19 and the western side of the county is a significant challenge. As reported by the Times earlier this year, the number of empty shops along U.S. 19, west Pasco's dominant commercial thoroughfare, jumped nearly 150 percent over a four-year period to nearly 700,000 square feet of vacant retail space. That is 50 percent higher than the rest of the region and significantly above the Pasco County average.
It is encouraging to see county commissioners considering ideas to push development and redevelopment in the areas targeted for density: west Pasco and the State Road 54/56 corridor. One idea is to discount transportation fees — now called impact fees, but likely to be replaced by mobility fees in 2012 — for developers building industrial and office complexes as employment centers. Those would house the kinds of jobs the county is pursuing as it seeks to transform Pasco from a regional bedroom community into place where more people can both live and work.
Once those high-end jobs come, the service industry will follow the rooftops with places to eat, shop and other businesses offering similar ancillary services. There is no need to provide discounts to that type commercial development. And, likewise, businesses seeking to redevelop empty storefronts won't be required to pony up additional dollars, under the mobility fee proposal, unless they expand the size of the previous business.
The county is correct to try to increase its employment centers, but Mariano should retreat from the logic of recruiting minimum-wage employment centers.