Zephyrhills economic summit highlights industrial hub

It may now be famous for its crystal clear water and skydiving but, someday, the City of Zephyrhills also wants to be known for its industrial offerings and high-wage jobs.

The third annual Zephyrhills Economic Summit, held earlier this month, focused on the need to maximize both the use of the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport and the development potential of adjacent industrial property.

The event, at Zephyrhills City Hall, was presented by the Zephyrhills Economic Development Coalition (ZEDC) in partnership with the City of Zephyrhills and Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.

The third annual Zephyrhills Economic Summit focused on the importance of developing an industrial corridor and cultivating high-wage jobs. Shown here speaking is Zephyrhills planning director Todd Vande Berg. (Kevin Weiss)

City officials are developing a 20-year master plan known as the Zephyrhills Industrial Corridor Plan.

The proposed industrial development hub encompasses approximately 9.76 square miles (6,248 acres) of land in the southeast portion of the city, around the Chancey Road corridor and municipal airport.

Roughly a third of the property is within city limits and the remainder in unincorporated Pasco County — representing the largest aggregation of industrial lands in the county.

Within that area is 442 divisible acres of what’s known as the Zephyrhills Airport Industrial Park, a build-ready site equipped with water, sewer and electric utilities, and accessible to natural gas.

While the corridor is still in preliminary stages, it ultimately will set the city up for long-term growth and economic sustainability, said Zephyrhills planning director Todd Vande Berg.

Possible targeted industries could include aerospace, aviation and defense; advanced manufacturing; light manufacturing; electronics and technology; logistics and distribution; life sciences and medical technology; telecom/data hosting centers; research and development; showroom; refrigeration/cold storage and other uses.

Vande Berg explained a built-out industrial corridor will yield more revenues for the city and create a better jobs-to-housing balance. He also noted industrial manufacturing uses less services — police, fire, water, sewer— compared to, say, residential or commercial land use.

All that, he said, will ultimately “raise the bar in quality of life” for Zephyrhills residents, allowing funds to be steered toward downtown redevelopment, recreational amenities and other community uses.

“We want to be economically diverse. We don’t just want to have family residential, we want to have a mix of uses,” Vande Berg said.

“If we bring in industrial, we’re going to be more fiscally solvent, and that ties in with being resilient. If we have the industrial there, we feel like we’re in a better position with the city.”

The city planner expressed confidence the corridor’s utility offerings and centralized proximity to Orlando, Lakeland and Tampa makes it an attractive spot for companies looking to relocate or set up shop.

“We’ve got a great location we feel like,” he said. “We have such an asset out there in the southeast quadrant of the city.”

The entire planning area is generally bound by Melrose Avenue to the north, the CSX Transportation railroad and U.S. 301 to the west, Pattie Road to the south, and Barry Road and the Upper Hillsborough Wildlife Management Area to the east.

Two CSX mainline railroads traverse the area and it is accessible to Port Tampa Bay and the CSX Central Florida Intermodal Logistics Center.

The local airport also is undergoing a $5.9 million runway extension and roadway improvements to accommodate larger commercial aircraft, and encourage aviation and industrial development.

Moving forward, Vande Berg said ongoing collaboration is vital between the city, county and state officials to have a coordinated plan on zoning and land use, and “to continue to improve transportation accessibility to this industrial corridor.”

He mentioned a more near-term priority is working with the Florida Department of Transportation to extend State Road 56 east of U.S. 301 to connect to Chancey Road. “Transportation’s huge, like anywhere,” he said.

Aside from transportation and infrastructure boosts to draw companies in, other speakers said the city needs more workforce development programs to develop skilled labor employees and then keep them in the area.

It’s already something holding back existing industrial businesses in the city, said Dr. Randy Stovall, president of the Zephyrhills chamber.

“They can’t find those people they want to hire,” Stovall said. “They want to hire them, but there’s not enough of them, so that is a challenge. We’ve had that (issue) for some time.”

Tom Ryan, economic development manager for Pasco Economic Development Council Inc.,  said having training programs and a baseline of skilled labor in place is “a huge component” for luring large companies to a particular area.

“We’ve got to have (workforce) inventory,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to have a plan to tell those companies, ‘Look, we want your jobs here, and we have a plan to help you bring those jobs here.’”

Pasco County Commission Chairman Ron Oakley pointed out that Zephyrhills and the East Pasco area are working to position the area to do just that.

Pasco County Schools plans to build a technical high school by 2022 near the intersection of Curley Road and Kiefer Road in Wesley Chapel that will hold nearly 900 students.

Meanwhile, Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative (WREC) plans to construct a 4,000-square-foot facility for AmSkills to teach manufacturing jobs.

Also, local business owner Kevin Bahr of Bahr’s Propane Gas & A/C is starting a teaching school to train propane service and HVAC technicians.

“The county is working very hard for jobs,” Oakley said. “Our county’s growing. We need jobs, and we need to teach them (the necessary skills).”

Elsewhere during the summit, State Rep. Randy Maggard commended Zephyrhills “for thinking ahead of schedule” in regards to its future and planned industrial hub.

Maggard, a Republican representing District 38, specifically applauded city leaders for this year putting a $2 million septic to sewer project at the top of their state appropriations request list.

The project includes decommissioning existing septic tanks to a residential subdivision and homes along Sixth Avenue and Armstrong Street, with potential for sewer expansion to additional properties in the future.

The project aims to prevent springs from dying because of nitrates from septic tanks.

“At the end of the day, if we don’t have water, none of this matters,” Maggard said. “We can talk about infrastructure, we can talk about a lot of things, but if we can’t provide water, it doesn’t matter at all.”

The elected official also gave this piece of advice for the city going forward: “You need to tell us where you want to go, and we need to help you get there in the long-term planning, funding, whatever it takes for us to be able to do that.”

Other summit speakers included Mohsen Mohammadi, chief operations officer for American Infrastructure Development; David Gwynn, District 7 secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT); and Danielle Ruiz, economic development manager for Duke Energy.

Published October 23, 2019

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