By B.C. Manion
While the economy continues to struggle, Pasco County leaders are working to lay the groundwork to position the county to market itself more effectively to attract good jobs.
There’s no doubt that change is coming, said Bob Gray of Strategic Planning Group Inc., which has been hired to help the county develop its strategic economic development plan.
“The bottom line is in the next 20-25 years, everything you see in Pasco County is going to double,” Gray said. “If we thought we saw an impact before, hold your hats.
“The Pasco of the future will begin to mirror Pinellas and Hillsborough. 2035 will not be your father’s Pasco County,” Gray said.
Pasco County is the state’s 12th largest county. Its population grew from 36,000 in 1960 to about 471,000 now, Gray told a group of stakeholders assembled to help fashion the county’s economic development plan. The group, representing a variety of interests — including government, businesses, retail, banking, real estate, utilities, citizens and others — met last week at Alice Hall Community Center in Zephyrhills.
The group is meeting again this week to identify the county’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, as part of the process to create the economic development plan.
The issue is not whether Pasco County will grow and get more jobs; it’s whether it will grow the way it wants and get the kind of jobs that it wants, Gray said.
The county has tracts that are large enough for development, said Richard Gehring, planning and growth management administrator for Pasco County. He envisions Dade City and Zephyrhills as being potential anchors in the economic development plan. He also noted the county has been divided into five market areas.
Those are the east, west, north, south and central market areas, according to background documentation provided at the meeting.
Gray said the county doesn’t have a workforce problem because it draws its workforce from the region. He also said its proximity to the University of South Florida is a huge benefit.
However, John Hagen, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said being able to draw from the region isn’t enough.
“My concern is that we create high-skilled jobs, but our residents don’t get the jobs,” Hagen said. Efforts must be made to help Pasco’s workforce develop the kinds of skills needed to secure those high-quality jobs, he said.
Hagen is optimistic about Pasco’s future, but said it will take hard work to achieve what the county wants.
“We’re well-positioned to take future growth here,” Hagen said. However, he added, the county can’t merely sit back and wait. “I think we’re going to have to make that happen. If we’re anti-growth, the growth will go elsewhere.
“Things are going to get shaken up and we want to be the shakers, not the shaken,” Hagen said.
Gray said the county’s economic development plan has to start with a vision: “What do we want?”
It’s also important to get community buy-in regarding the importance of economic development, Gray said.
“We have to get a buy-in because there is going to be a cost for implementing the plan,” Gray said.
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