Here is short-lived romance that never came to fruition. Four years after Pasco County and the city of Zephyrhills wooed Sysco Food Service Corp. with a multimillion-dollar incentive package, the Houston-based company has withdrawn plans to build a distribution center and bring 257 jobs to southeastern Pasco.
Essentially, the company decided it could continue to serve the market with its current warehouses elsewhere in Florida. The news is disappointing, removing expected high-wage jobs, a $60 million investment and an expanded tax base from the local economy.
Though not of the magnitude of the T. Rowe Price deal that came a year later, the Sysco recruitment was significant in terms of raising the profile of the Zephyrhills as a potential home to industry. The company picked Zephyrhills over north Tampa and Sumter County.
The 2007 agreement called for Zephyrhills to refund more than $2 million in city taxes and $700,000 in impact and utility fees over a decade. Likewise, Pasco would have paid up to $400,000 to improve the road infrastructure and refund to Sysco $1.5 million over 10 years. The Sysco operation had been expected to generate more than $3 million in county tax payments over the same decade.
It was supposed to allow 62 acres used to feed livestock to become home to a distribution center to feed the masses. Plans called for the agricultural grazing land north of the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport to be turned into a 393,000-square-foot plant so Sysco could provide staples to hotels, restaurants, schools, cruise ships and other food consumers.
Instead, the land is again available, though now with due diligence completed. Sysco purchased the land for $4.3 million in 2008 and did its geo-technical and environmental work, allowing the site to now be marketed as pad ready for new industry. And, as county officials noted in 2007, surrounding land increases the opportunity for future economic activity. The site off Sixth Avenue east of CSX railroad tracks is identified on county economic development maps as one of the 20 industrial/business parks in Pasco. It sits north of three other parks between County Road 54 and State Road 39 that have more than 160 acres available for industrial development.
The Sysco deal and later planned expansions announced for T. Rowe Price in Land O'Lakes and Raymond James Financial in Wesley Chapel were supposed to help Pasco shed its image as a perennial bridesmaid in economic development. Instead, the failed relationship with Sysco — triggered by the down economy — shows the job of trying to marry vacant land with suitable businesses remains a substantial challenge.