If Pasco County were a stock, would you buy it? That is the pitch from Mary Jane Stanley, president and chief executive officer of the Pasco Economic Development Council. She is looking for investors — people and companies willing to buy into Pasco County's future. Lots of business executives are hearing Stanley's message of being prepared for when the economy rebounds from the recession.
The aim is a more aggressive economic development and industrial recruiting effort to lure high-value jobs to within Pasco County's borders. It's a long-standing goal of the EDC to curb the live-here, work-there job force in which 80,000 workers leave Pasco each day for employment in other counties.
But the private-sector participation takes on added significance amid the budget constraints facing Pasco County government, which has always been the biggest contributor to the EDC. The key to the program, dubbed "New Pasco: Locally united, globally competitive'' is to maintain county funding at $430,500 annually while increasing private-sector buy-in from $218,000 currently to $536,500 by the fall of 2010.
The fundraising is only part of what is envisioned as a six-year plan. No longer will the EDC be run by an elected board of directors, but rather by a panel of its largest investors — those contributing $10,000 a year. It also calls for a council of chief executive officers who can steer public policy discussions on taxes, transportation and other economic issues beyond the limited political arena of the Pasco County Commission chambers.
That is an imperative point. The EDC because of its large county subsidy does not take a leading public role on Pasco's tax and spending debates. Likewise, the five chambers of commerce around the county mostly focus on business networking rather than policy advocacy. It explains why the true heavy lifting on the Penny for Pasco sales tax debate this decade came from the school district and a group of private citizens. Greater private-sector leadership will be a welcome asset.
The revamped EDC also plans separate task forces on economic growth and competitiveness to tackle, among other things, marketing Pasco, expanding existing industries, work force development, and implementing the 2008 recommendations from the Urban Land Institute on government and economic development efficiencies.
Pasco's business climate improved dramatically over the past half-dozen years, though much of it is attributed to government efforts. The opening of the Suncoast Parkway and State Road 56 improved accessibility, the county rewrite of its land use plan reserved space for future employment centers, and Pasco increased its annual contributions to the EDC and set aside a pot of incentive money to lure new industry.
Given those commitments, it is an appropriate time to ask the private sector to ratchet up its investment in Pasco County's future.