Seven years ago, Pasco County commissioners heard a consultant suggest ways to help remedy the daily export of 46 percent of the county's workforce. However, the major component of that advice — county investment in an industrial-commerce park to attract eager-to-move employers — was largely ignored.
Today, the percentage of workers leaving Pasco every day is up to 48 percent. That is more than 88,000 people who have a live-here, work-there lifestyle bringing traffic congestion, lost productivity, and a property tax base and local economy too reliant on residential construction and ancillary services.
Later this year, commissioners will get another crack at considering industrial recruiting strategies, and Tuesday, they wisely indicated a willingness to be more open-minded.
It doesn't mean Pasco County will soon own a 200-acre commerce park. But, it does mean the current board will debate multiple ideas that could range from using Penny for Pasco sales tax revenue for acquiring dedicated industrial sites and/or devising generic site plans so private land owners can more quickly turn empty lots into ready-to-go industries.
The county is searching for change because its current employment scenario is problematic. Economic growth is too dependent upon a growing population instead of industrial expansion. Money that should stay local is spent in neighboring counties as commuters buy gasoline, shop and use professional services near their jobs. Personal income levels within Pasco trail state and national averages.
The county has not been idle. It amended its comprehensive land use plan to reserve property as future industrial sites, set aside millions of dollars for economic incentives and landed high-profile financial companies T. Rowe Price and Raymond James, both of which announced plans to move some operations to Pasco County.
Still, the county failed to consider the suggestion from economist William Fruth to develop its own industrial park, as Indian River County did, and the resulting dearth of so-called pad-ready sites outfitted with roads and utilities has been detrimental. Pasco's Economic Development Council reported losing three prospects recently to Hernando County, which has a government-owed industrial park at its county airport south of Brooksville.
With Pinellas County built out and northern Hillsborough rapidly doing likewise, Pasco is well-positioned to capture expanding businesses seeking to remain in the region. To meet projected needs, however, the county will need to double its available office space and at least double and potentially triple its industrial space over the next dozen years.
The target is not more commercial retailing or service industries. The county and private sector must create space to lure primary industries — businesses that pay above-average wages while providing goods and services to customers outside the area, effectively bringing external money into the local economy.
Commissioners will continue these discussions through much of 2012, but the end result should be more decisive than the conclusion of that workshop seven years ago. Then, the prevailing sentiment was simply to focus on more cold-calling of businesses.
It is irrelevant to try to recruit new industries to Pasco County if there are no suitable locations for them to go.