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New pillars evolving for the 1990s // Wide range of catalysts spur economy

For years development and agriculture have fueled the Pasco economy, with plenty of help from the monthly income of retirees. But development has been shaky lately, with residential construction in a two-year slump, reaching a decade low in 1989.

Meanwhile, citrus growers have been rocked by three devastating freezes during the '80s that killed so many trees that eggs have replaced oranges as Pasco's biggest crop.

As eggs have emerged in agriculture, young families may be emerging as the salvation of Pasco's developers. Several local projects indicate that builders are ready to pursue a younger market as the flow of house-hungry retirees diminishes.

The changes in these longtime pillars of the economy demonstrate reassuring resilience. Pasco can take further comfort in the ongoing evolution of new economic pillars.

Pasco's enormous population growth over 25 years has been the catalyst for most of the emerging industries. New people are demanding a wide variety of products and services, and every year Pasco's business community grows further to meet those needs.

Small businesses may be the best evidence of this process, with huge numbers and a wide range of new businesses opening every year to meet the needs of local residents.

At the same time, the population has reached a level that is prompting dramatic changes in Pasco's ever-growing retail arena. The county is finally big enough to support a whole new shopping genre, and as national retailers march in, many smaller businesses could be at risk.

Like retail, medical services are a fast-growing segment of the economy, and while the medical community is not on the verge of war, new players are entering, including a large psychiatric hospital and a specialized heart center.

Other segments of the service economy are growing just as fast, in areas that might have seemed unlikely in the past. Nudists and golfers have found a home in Pasco resorts for years, and now have been joined by the religious with the opening of the Word of Life resort in Shady Hills. Resorts are just one segment of a service industry that is becoming a dominant force in Pasco's economy.

Despite strong recruiting efforts in the past three years, manufacturing remains relatively underdeveloped, but the county appears to be reaching a point where it could provide a healthy environment for a wide range of small manufacturers.

Finally, there has to be someone to finance all this growth, and that demand is apparent from the rapid-fire opening of new banks in Pasco over the last few years. Since 1984, six small community banks have opened, giving a new shape and competitiveness to the financial segment of the local economy.

The diversification represented by these changes is the subject of this special section, in which the Times examines both the perennial and emerging economic pillars, with an eye toward the changes that can be expected as Pasco continues to grow.