New forensics research center expected to boost local economy

Officials are expected to gather together this week to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the K9 Tactical Center/Forensic Institute for Research, Security and Tactics in Land O’ Lakes.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco is predicting that beyond its other benefits, the new forensics center also will be an economic driver — having wide-ranging impacts on the county as whole, and Land O’ Lakes, in particular.

“This is one of those things that is going to put us on the map. This is one of those things that will define us,” Nocco said, during a recent Pasco County Commission meeting.

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco

“That cadaver field is actually the thing that’s drawing everybody in,” Nocco said, but as it attracts widespread interest — it also is creating many new opportunities for public safety, economic development and academics.

The project has been a true collaboration between the county, the Sheriff’s Office, the Pasco Economic Development Council, academic groups, local chambers of commerce and others, Nocco said.

The sheriff said Bill Cronin, president/CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Corporation, has played an instrumental role.

“He has been unbelievable, getting us connected with businesses and people who are interested in coming to Pasco,” Nocco said.

Businesses with an interest in the cadaver field, include medical, companies, data companies, forensics companies, private military companies and others, he said.

“People are recognizing that they want to be a part of this,” he said.

Connerton’s proximity to the project is a plus because it has both housing and commercial components, Nocco noted.

“Everything right there is going to get bigger,” he said.

“There are students coming from other universities, graduates and post-grad students that are coming and want to live here as they do their work,” Nocco said.

The forensics research center is expected to offer a wide range of training sessions for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“The FBI evidence response team is already talking about coming down to train with us. The border patrol, the coast guard, NCIS,” Nocco said. “They recognize that this is something unique.”

The training opportunities will boost Pasco’s economy, with travelers staying at local hotels, the sheriff said.

His department has been reaching out to partners in academia, to explore possibilities.

“The unique part about this is that we’re the only subtropical environment and tropical environment that this training goes on in,” he said. He believes that people from Central America, South America and the Caribbean would be among those interested in training at this facility.

There’s also potential for training in the use of robotics, drones and data processing in the arena of public safety and workforce training.

“Information is the gold of the future. These are the things we want to train our students for now, so in the future they’ll be trained for better jobs and bringing in jobs to our community,” Nocco said.

Pasco Sheriff’s Capt. Justin Ross said the center’s training will be taking a forward-focused view.

Its mission statement is “Creating safer communities by transforming public safety through research, education and innovation.”

“It’s one thing to come up with a nice, new, nifty shiny idea,” Ross said.

“Everybody understands that in public safety, we’re dealing with matters of life and death. If we’re going to come up and innovate and lead the way, we need to make sure that those things are going to be effective, that they will work,” he added.

The center will be a collaboration between academia and practitioners, he said.

County Commissioners expressed enthusiasm for the venture.

Commissioners Mike Moore, Ron Oakley and Jack Mariano said they believe the project will create new economic opportunities in Pasco.

Commission Chairman Mike Wells put it like this: “This is a perfect example of everybody coming together for the betterment of our region and the county.

“It’s going to save lives. It’s going to create jobs,” Wells said.

The economic development council’s Cronin put it this way: “It (the research center) further activates that corridor on 41, where we’ve got shallow lots and a road that continues to widen. “These businesses just need to be next to them.

“It helps us in that area where traditionally it was difficult for us to get businesses up in that area.”

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey expects this project to be a catalyst for change in Land O’ Lakes.

“I think (U.S.) 41, in 10 years, is going to look so different,” Starkey said.

Published September 19, 2018

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