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Service industry growth doesn't surprise officials

The goal of Pasco's economic development efforts remains the same:attract clean, light industry.

But the reality of national declines in the number of manufacturing jobs and growing service employment has hit home in Pasco County.

During the past year, Pasco lost several hard-fought recruiting battles for manufacturing companies, while new service companies were preparing to make significant contributions to the local economy.

On the manufacturing side, Magic Tilt Trailers Inc., a Largo boat trailer company, canceled plans to bring a new plant and 125 jobs to West Pasco Industrial Park, and Houston businessman Gerald Beard gave up his plans to reopen the GHA Lock Joint Inc. pipe-making plant in Lacoochee.

Meanwhile in service industries, Word of Life Fellowship was hard at work on a Christian resort in Shady Hills that opened in January and eventually is expected to attract 30,000 visitors a year; and Charter Medical Corp. was building a 72-bed psychiatric hospital in Land O'Lakes.

Pasco's continued growth in the service area comes as no surprise to Paul Griffin, who recruited Magic Tilt and Gerald Beard in his role as executive director of the Pasco Committee of 100.

"We are already heavy in service and I don't think that's going to diminish," Griffin said. "Even if service remains the preponderant employer and a dominant component of the tax base, we can make very substantial gains in manufacturing."

Pasco and many other counties are eager to attract manufacturers because they are generally associated with high wages and adding to the local tax base, but Griffin points out that the right service industries can provide the same things.

He sees particular potential in this direction as Pasco's growth readies the county for more independent or branch professional offices.

Griffin's theories are supported by planning consultant Robert Gray, who recently completed a $70,000 study of Pasco's economic development efforts that included recommended types of manufacturers for Pasco to target. Gray, chief executive of Strategic Planning Group Inc. which is based in Jacksonville, points primarily toward electronics firms that could spill over from Pinellas and Hillsborough, giving a healthy boost to the local tax base.

But Gray acknowledges that his recommendations should not blind Pasco to potential opportunities for building the service economy.

In service, Gray expects hotels and restaurants to move in along Interstate 75, while information processors such as corporate billing centers move into the same area and tourism grows throughout the county.

"The trends are that it's going toward service and trade right now, anyway, not only in Pasco, but in the state of Florida and the United States in general," Gray said. "The thing that you don't have that you would like to have, needless to say, is a beach."

Beach or no beach, Harry Rice expects a mix of service and manufacturing facilities to fill the Saddlebrook Corporate Center he is developing on Interstate 75, adjacent to Pittway's Saddlebrook Golf and Tennis Resort, which is one of Pasco's largest service employers.

Rice, vice president with Pittway Real Estate Inc., figures that even if manufacturing jobs are declining, there are plenty of manufacturers who have reason to move to Florida.

"I don't see it going in any one particular direction," Rice said. "I think it will be a blend, I don't think one or the other will take over. I think service is part and parcel of manufacturing."

The type of service industries Rice hopes to attract to his park might be just as good for Pasco's economy as many types of manufacturing, according to Steve Mayberry, director of economic development for the state Department of Commerce. Companies that provide a service to people outside the county will serve many of the same functions that economic developers traditionally look for in manufacturers.

"When you bring a manufacturer in that sells product worldwide, that brings money back into the area," Mayberry said. "When you bring a service industry that sells its service outside of the area, that brings money back into the area."

His point is that the right service industry can generate just as many new dollars for Pasco County as a manufacturer, and such revenue production, regardless of the source, is one of the main objectives of economic development.

Both Word of Life and the Charter Hospital are perfect examples of this function, with the resort catering to tourists from all over the South and the Land O'Lakes hospital positioned to attract plenty of patients out of Hillsborough County.

Employment distribution Jobs Payroll Services 12,768 $184-million Retail trade 14,421 $143-million Health services 5,717 $108-million Manufacturing 4,019 $70-million Finance, insurance and real estate 2,916 $46-million Information for 1986 Source: U.S. Department of Commerce