Is Tampa Bays northern neighbor
shifting from bedroom community
to boardroom community?
County has a great reputation as an affordable place to live,
but not necessarily
a lucrative place to work. With housing thats more affordable
than that of Pinellas or
Hillsborough counties (and that actually includes some acreage,
if so desired), a geographic location thats convenient
to beaches, cultural amenities and transportation hubs, rural
Pasco Countys reputation as a bedroom community
for neighboring counties has stuck.
Howison, vice president Pall Aeropower in Pasco, one of
the largest employers in the county, says Pasco means
county wants to shake that image and slow the flow of 64,000
Pasco residents who commute out of the area every day to work
in Pinellas, Hillsborough and beyond. Rich with talented,
hard-working residents, Mary Jane Stanley, executive director
for the Pasco Economic Development Council (PEDC) calls the
county a major supplier of the workforce for neighboring
counties and the employees of non-Pasco businesses.
which has an employment base of 147,000 and 350,000 residents,
according to the Center for Economic Development Research
at the University of South Florida, has no problem attracting
medical facilities, sports venues and residential and mixed-use
really needs, however, is an influx of high-paying jobs that
will keep its talent pool closer to home. Pascos largest manufacturer,
Pall Aeropower, is doing its part to reach that goal. According
to Chip Howison, vice president of the manufacturer of filter
products for the aerospace industry, the company often invites
local students and teachers to its facility for a firsthand
glimpse of its filtration/separation business. The ultimate
goal, says Howison, is to attract students who may have a
future with the company after college as an engineer.We
view this as a win-win situation for both the student and
our firm, says Howison, who also serves as PEDC vice
president. The student would end up staying in Pasco
and not become one of the 64,000
individuals who leave the county each day for their job. And
wed benefit by not having to use resources and relocation
expenses to bring in engineers from
developers like Pasco County and are adding thousands
of homes. A sampling includes Longleafat 1,050 units,
Seven Oaks at 4,000 units, Wilderness Lake Preserve at
800 units and Connerton at 8,677 units.
employees, Pall Aeropower has been in Pasco since 1981. Since
joining the company and moving into the county seven years ago, Howison
says hes watched county commissioners get more involved
in Pascos quest to attract manufacturers to the area,
and he credits the PEDC for helping to make that happen.
see a good working relationship between the PEDC and the board
of county commissioners, both of which strive for a single
vision: bring more high-paying jobs into the county and keep
taxes down, says Howison.
adds that the PEDCs task of recruiting new companies
will be monumental. You cant recruit enough companies
to take up 64,000 people, she says. We were developed
as a bedroom community, but now were concentrating on
trying to bring not just any jobs but primary industries
and value-added jobs to the area. We want jobs that pay more
than the service jobs jobs such as in computers, manufacturing
and medical - and that will take time.
EPasco is coming into its own in the sporting
arena, as evidenced in a recent approval of a
$5.7 million tennis stadium to be run by Saddlebrook
Resort. The stadium will seat up to 5,000 people
and be surrounded by 14 other tennis courts and
grass parking lots that could double as soccer
fields. The complex will host not only local tennis
leagues and after-school programs, but also larger-scale
tennis events. The national exposure that
comes from this new stadium will be phenomenal
for Pasco, says Mary Jane Stanley, PEDC
executive director. It will really open
a lot of doors for us.
For companies, Pasco should be an attractive choice.
The county has available land much of which is zoned
residential, though county administrators are working to change
that a growing population of 350,000 (up from 281,000
in 1990), a business-friendly county government and a slew
of new roads and highways that put the rest of the Tampa
Bay area within just a few minutes in any direction. Our
new interchanges have opened
up entire new market areas, says Stanley, who points
to areas like State Roads 54 and 56, Interstate 75 and Bruce
B. Downs as hot areas for development. Two years
ago, the opening of the Suncoast Parkway shortened the commute
to downtown Tampa to just 30 minutes. Were closer
than you think, says Stanley. All of our new roads
and transportation infrastructure have opened Pasco up and
made it more accessible than it ever was before.
Pascos county administrator, says his past recruiting
efforts were often curtailed by the countys limited
roadways namely, the very congested U.S. 19. Id
tell big companies to come on up so I could show
them how to save tons of money by
being here, recalls Gallagher. But those efforts
were thwarted by the fact
that we didnt have a very good transportation network
between Pasco and Pinellas or Hillsborough. With the opening
of the Suncoast it is a lot easier to create business in the
Daunted by tough permitting rules and a county commission
that hasnt always been in favor of commercial and industrial
development, new and expanding companies dont always
put Pasco at the top of their site selection lists.
changing quickly, according to Stanley, who says the countys
land zoning rules must be changed to accommodate more commercial
and industrial development. She says county government, the
PEDC and individual businesses are working together during
this process, which will ultimately result in changes to the
countys comprehensive plan.
county is going through their plans to determine if theyve
set aside enough land for commercial employment centers and
industrial developments, says Stanley. The PEDC
has also set up a group to look at key places where those
developments can happen.
says that at one point, the countys land use map did
include a healthy dose of commercial, industrial and office
space, but that was later curtailed by the Department of Community
Affairs, which demanded that the county shrink those
areas down considerably. That made things tough for
Gallagher, who says engineering and manufacturing firms come
to him from the Pinellas and Hillsborough markets, looking
for room to expand and find few options.
tell them that I have 100 acres here and 200 over there, and
they laugh at me, says Gallagher. They need a
lot more than that to come in and build an office or industrial
park. Along with reviewing its land-use plan and reintroducing
more commercial and industrial space, Gallagher says Pasco
also wants to set up urban service areas (unincorporated towns)
in an attempt to keep the professional and the working folks
in the county. Right now, he says, those
folks dont have much of a choice but to commute.
another attempt to stoke business growth, the PEDC met with
county administrators, developers, builders, architects and
other individuals three times in 2002 to discuss the countys
permitting process, and how it can be improved. Companies
dont come here because it can take six months to get
a permit, says Stanley. We want to cut some of
that red tape and alleviate some of the snags.
County officials say they are rethinking whether theyve
set aside enough land for commercial employment centers and
industrial development. They also are reviewing permitting processes
to streamline them.
of 70-employee AlumiGuard Inc., a manufacturer of powder coated
aluminum fence and fence products, Bill Woodard is enthusiastic
about the thought of a simpler permitting process. Alumi-Guard,
which sells mostly to fence contractors in the eastern U.S.,
moved into its existing, 44,000-square-foot facility in April
2003, then bought and installed a state-of-the-art powder
coat system and increased its manufacturing capabilities.
Expanding or building anything in the county is tough
because permitting takes a while, says Woodard, whose
firm has been in Hudson since 1984
concern, says Woodard, is the new Pasco County Landscaping
and Irrigation Ordinance. I know theyre working
to improve the process, but commissioners need to be aware
that when they make policies, they affect development,
says Woodard, whose firm has doubled sales for the last four
years and plans to add 30 new employees by the end of 2003.
I had my financing lined up and permits in place to
meet their standards, then they changed the landscaping ordinance.
the setbacks, Woodard says hes seen positive changes
in Pasco County since moving to the county in 1979. Back
then, it was all senior citizens here, so you worked hard
in the winter and watched business die in the summer,
says Woodard, who expects 80 percent growth in 2003, thanks
to a booming demand for aluminum fence.
That made it hard to make money and keep employees.
Now, with the younger population here, were year-round
with everything we do.
a younger population, year-round business activity and a pro-business
government, Beat Kahli, developer of New River Township, sees
Pasco facing huge challenges in the next few years.
For four decades its been a rural county, and now its
suddenly become a major focus in the Tampa Bay area,
says Kahli, who develops residential and commercial projects
throughout Florida. To work through these obstacles,
the county will need to strive for a healthy balance for all
Kahli to develop his 4,800 residential units, 700,000 square
feet of commercial and possibly even 30 acres of industry
land in Pasco is a county administration and commission that
appear to work well together, despite the growing pains
that both have faced in the last few years. It looks
like now theyre willing to form partnerships with major
developers, says Kahli. Because of that, the future
looks very positive.
Schools and Hospitals
With a growing population comes the need for bigger, better
medical facilities and educational institutions. In Pasco,
both sectors are rising up to meet the need. Saint Leo
University, for example, is in the midst of an $18 million
residential expansion to accommodate a growing student body.
Kirk, Saint Leos president, says the physical expansion
goes hand-in-hand with the countys overall growth.
In Pasco for over 100 years, the colleges backyard was
once largely rural, but today is much less remote
than it once was. Were not surrounded by orange groves
anymore, says Kirk. There are some very impressive
and attractive developments going on around
medical side, Community Hospital plans to move and build a
new $150 million
376-bed facility on a site at Little Road and SR 54. East
Pasco Medical Center has spent $14 million on improvements
since January 2003, and is contemplating a new facility at
SR 56 and I-75 and recently received approval to become Pascos
second hospital to offer cardiac surgery and angioplasty,
to be completed in 2005.
Plant Meases North Bay Hospital is also on a growth
curve, according to William M. Jennings, administrator and
chief operating officer, and recently opened the Morton Plant
Immediate Care Center for patients experiencing minor injuries
million, 3,500 square-foot center has three board-certified
physicians on staff. On-site radiology and selected laboratory
services facilitate diagnosis. The Morton Plant Immediate
Care Center also offers care for work-related injuries and
provides physicals and drug screenings.
the need for a new facility, says Jennings, was the Hudson
area residents need for weekend and after-hours care.
not necessarily something for the emergency department, but
also not someplace where an ambulance takes you, says
Jennings. Its for an illness, injury or sickness
that hits when you cant get in to see your doctor.
Plant Mease, which has had a presence in Pasco since the early
90s, serves about 23,000 patients annually. The hospital
is just getting the ball rolling on plans to relocate its
North Bay Hospital to Trinity, where its had a campus
for 10 years.
continue to make improvements to existing services
and just expanded our emergency department but this
site is maxed out, says Jennings.
attributes the hospitals growth to Pascos growing
population, and the realization that one doesnt need
to travel to a neighboring county to get high-quality healthcare.
was a perception at one time that to get the highest quality
health care you had to leave the area, says Jennings.
Area residents wont accept that anymore and are
demanding the highest quality health care possible, and were
here to fill that need.