Building a foundation for economic growth

Bill Cronin, the president/CEO of Pasco Economic Development Council Inc., has no shortage of ideas when it comes to pursuing ways to strengthen Pasco County’s economy.

He shared a few of those thoughts during a recent interview with The Laker/Lutz News.

Cronin is entering his third year at the helm of the Pasco EDC, and recently was named the Florida Director of the Southern Economic Development Council.

Bill Cronin, the president/CEO of Pasco Economic Development Council Inc., is in charge of the agency that seeks to expand Pasco County’s economic growth. He recently was named the Florida Director of the Southern Economic Development Council. (B.C. Manion)

The SEDC is the largest and oldest regional economic council in North America, with members in 17 southern states. Each state selects a member to serve with the elected officers on the board of directors, and Cronin was selected from Florida.

For decades, Pasco County has lived with the image of being a bedroom community for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. That picture is changing, though, as more businesses and industries set up shop, or expand — generating more jobs in Pasco.

The Pasco EDC, in cooperation with Pasco County, continues to lay the groundwork for future economic growth, Cronin said. Funds provided through Penny for Pasco help with those efforts.

If a company is looking to grow, Pasco is an excellent option, Cronin said, spelling out some of the area’s strengths.

“We are right smack in the middle of the fastest-growing market in the United States — and that’s the southeast United States,” he said. “We have such a huge consumer market.”

Besides having one of the largest economies in the world in its own right, Florida also is positioned geographically so that it can penetrate the Latin American market, Cronin said.

But, to be competitive, Pasco must be aggressive in its recruitment efforts, and must work to secure sites and buildings that are ready for development, he said.

“When somebody is looking to locate a business here – there’s 16,000 agencies that do what I do,” Cronin said. “So, when they’re looking at a site, they’re probably looking at about 200 sites, initially. And, they’re trying to narrow it down, narrow it down, narrow it down. They’re not trying to add you.

“We can’t wait for the business to come to us. They’re not going to,” Cronin said.

It’s also important for Pasco to tell its story.

When someone looks at the county’s statistics, for instance, it’s easy to get the wrong impression, Cronin said. “If they’re not careful, they’ll look only at the industry that’s in Hillsborough or Pinellas and assume that we don’t have the work force,” he said.

“I have to remind them (companies) that those are our workforce — and they’re so good that other people want to hire them,” Cronin said, referring to the thousands of Pasco residents who commute to jobs in nearby counties.

The county has room to grow, but it needs more sites ready for companies and industries interested in moving here, he said.

Providing that requires an investment by the landowners, which is a shift in mindset from the days of the past, he said.

“Those landowners are used to people coming up to them saying, ‘I’m going to pay you top dollar, to be able to build my houses there,” Cronin said.

Industrial and commercial sites, however, must be prepared, he said.

“A site is not just a field with cows on it,” Cronin said. “A site has to have some known information, like ‘Where’s your utilities and how long will it take to get them there? Where are your highways? Where is the railroad? How far are you from your workforce? What type of wetlands mitigation is required? Do you have a wetlands delineation certificate?’

“Those types of things cost money.

“In this business, because we’re so competitive, they (landowners) have to go get the business, instead of waiting for it to come to them.

“So, when we have these conversations with the landowner, they say, ‘Well, nobody has ever come to me saying they want to put a factory in, but I’ve got residential knocking on my door every day.’

“So, we have to convince them that ‘Yes, there is a market out there, but you have to go get it,’ ” Cronin said.

Economic development helps everyone, Cronin said.

“For every dollar we get in property taxes, it costs us about $1.25 to serve residential. For every dollar we get from commercial, it costs us about 80 cents to service them. If it’s manufacturing, it’s about 20 cents,” Cronin said.

“So, it behooves us to get some more industrial-type activity, not just from a job creation standpoint, but also from a tax revenue standpoint,” he said.

Brian Fernandes contributed to this report.

Published January 9, 2019

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