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Pasco urged to embrace growth, jobs

Pasco County should follow the example of economically dynamic Texas rather than struggling California if it wants to lasso good jobs and a high standard of living.

Firing that warning shot was economic consultant Bill Fruth, invited by the Pasco County Economic Development Council to speak to a luncheon crowd at Saddlebrook Resort on Thursday.

California-style growth management rules, including those geared to protect the environment at any cost, have caused a decadeslong decline in the Golden State's economy.

Florida has managed to avoid such an economic plunge, but Fruth predicted the Sunshine State is about 10 years from becoming another California.

"You have not declined in quality yet, but you will," Fruth said of Pasco's economy. "Unless you bring in high-wage employees."

Texas combines lower-than-average regulation with a hospitable attitude toward business to generate rapid, consistent growth in the size and quality of its economy.

Austin and Dallas ranked in the top 10 of 318 metro areas studied by Fruth's South Florida economic research firm, POLICOM Corp.

"They have multiple spigots feeding their bucket of wealth," Fruth told the crowd at the $20-a-plate grilled chicken and key lime pie lunch.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area, of which Pasco is a part, was ranked 50th of 318 on the list. Despite that "A" rating, Pasco can't afford to punish businesses with punitive growth management rules, fees and taxes, Fruth said.

He cited Martin County on Florida's east coast as a community that has deliberately made it hard for business. One official bragged to Fruth that it takes 18 months to get a building permit. The result: Most of its manufacturers have fled.

"They will move when it is unprofitable to be in an area," Fruth said.

The speech addressed the usual reasons communities give for restraining and taxing growth. Fruth challenged each one.

Some insist growth changes the character of a community. If people clung to that view 10,000 years ago, Fruth said, we'd still be living in caves.

And the urge to protect the environment can descend into extremism, Fruth said. He mentioned one community forced to divert a highway at the cost of $1-million because an old-timer said a bald eagle used to nest in a dead tree in the highway's path.

If Pasco doesn't punish economic growth, it stands to benefit from the tens of thousands of residents who drive to jobs in Hillsborough County.

As employees' commutes become more grueling, companies may decide to relocate plants directly in Pasco. Fruth called it "intercepting labor."

To help Pasco thrive, Fruth encouraged the county to adopt a healthy attitude toward economic growth. "Embrace it," he said.