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Pasco's deal to lure T. Rowe Price looks pricey but promising

Pasco County is putting bigger bait on its hook. And in doing so, commissioners aren't being secretive about their fishing hole, but correctly are operating in the sunshine as they seek to land a long-elusive, big economic development prize.

This week, commissioners approved the county's share of an incentive package offered to T. Rowe Price, which is studying the Geraci family's ranch land on the south side of State Road 54 in Lutz/Land O'Lakes as a potential site for a new corporate campus. Pasco is one of four spots nationally under consideration.

And, unlike during last summer's secretive talks by elected officials in Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg over incentives to Jabil Circuit Inc., Pasco invited scrutiny. The transparency is welcome.

The deal is pricey — $14.5-million in state and local dollars for impact fees, permit costs, transportation expenses and cash grants. The payoff would be 435 employees now working in Tampa and more than 1,200 additional jobs paying, on average, $47,500, or 150 percent of the going annual wage in Pasco. The campus is envisioned to be three multistory office buildings of 150,000 square feet each, with adjoining property holding a 100-room hotel, offices, restaurants and retail space.

In dollars and cents, the package is in the red. The cost to the county's general fund would be $7.1-million, with property taxes on the office campus through 2022 bringing in $4.1-million. It is a net cost per job of just less than $2,470. But that doesn't account for the indirect benefits of 1,200 jobs elsewhere in construction and the service industry, plus new sales tax and property tax revenues generated by $800-million in salaries over a 10-year period.

The long-term benefits could be substantial in a county where as many as 80,000 commuters leave Pasco each workday for jobs in other locales. The live-here, work-there lifestyle brings clogged roads, high energy costs and diminished quality of life from time spent behind the wheel. Landing a regional headquarters for a large-scale private employer in the financial industry could help to change that in a county economy dominated by government, health-care and service-industry jobs.

Much of the work by T. Rowe Price involves administering 401(K) retirement packages. These won't be call-center-type jobs that could get sent overseas at some point but rather will involve financial advisers managing wealth from around the globe, said Commissioner Michael Cox, himself a financial planner and the board's representative to the Economic Development Council.

The T. Rowe Price campus also could turn the undeveloped areas along SR 54 into a corporate gateway to the county, as the recent Urban Land Institute study advocated. Its location across the street from Sun Lake High School also could provide a serendipitous benefit to the development of that school's academy focusing on financial careers.

The irritant of corporate welfare notwithstanding, Pasco and the state set aside a combined $7.5-million in their current budgets specifically to try to recruit a high-end employer for this county. By all accounts, T. Rowe Price matches the description.

Pasco's deal to lure T. Rowe Price looks pricey but promising 11/08/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 11, 2008 7:07pm]
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