By B.C. Manion
The Pasco County Commission approved millions of dollars in financial incentives last week in a quest to entice Raymond James Financial to create a campus in Wiregrass Ranch.
The incentive package includes tax breaks, road improvements and other perks estimated at about $10 million from Pasco County and about $5 million from the state.
Improvements will include the construction of Wiregrass Ranch Boulevard, which would connect state roads 54 and 56.
In exchange, the internationally known financial services company, based in St. Petersburg, would build two 100,000-square-foot buildings. The company would bring 750 jobs to the county by 2024, with 100 of those jobs beginning in 2014.
Raymond James also wants to reserve up to 1 million square feet of office space for future expansion on all, or a portion of the property and adjacent lands.
The company has set a final due diligence period of up to nine months to examine geotechnical, environmental and other aspects of the property to ensure it is compatible with the project, Steve Hollister, a spokesman for Raymond James, said in an email.
A tentative construction date of 2012 has been set, with occupancy of the first building expected in 2013, Hollister added.
The financial services company decided to begin looking for a satellite location after conducting a comprehensive analysis last year of its current home campus in the Carillon office park in St. Petersburg. The analysis concluded that its headquarters would be at or near capacity within several years.
The 1 million-square-foot office complex also is in the level one area evacuation for hurricanes, causing the company to give serious consideration to the need to relocate critical data systems as first-tier protection, according to previously published reports in The Laker/Lutz News.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri applauded the county board’s unanimous vote.
“The incentives that Pasco offered shows Pasco is open for business,” Mulieri said in an email.
She believes that the Shops at Wiregrass served as a catalyst to bring an economic boost to an area where Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel is now under construction and a new Pasco-Hernando Community College campus, Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch, is slated to open for classes in January 2014.
An independent report conducted for the Pasco Economic Development Council found that over the first 17 years, the project would lead directly or indirectly to the creation of approximately 1,200 jobs and provide total salaries to direct or indirect workers in the amount of approximately $600 million.
The deal, according to County Administrator John Gallagher, signals that Pasco County “is coming out of adolescence.”
For decades the county has been known as a bedroom community, with residents commuting to Tampa and back for work.
Hollister said “factors weighing in favor of Wiregrass Ranch include its minimized natural disaster risk, access, demographics, redundant power and fiber optics infrastructure and available incentives.”
If the deal goes through, Gallagher expects Raymond James to help attract other businesses to the county.
State Rep. Will Weatherford, who is in line to become the next Speaker of the House, characterized the deal as a “real game changer for Pasco County.
“This deal brings tangible benefits for the immediate future through an infusion of high wage direct and indirect jobs,” the Republican from Wesley Chapel said in a prepared statement.
“But equally important is what this deal means for the future of Pasco. This is the second major financial institution to locate in our area,” said Weatherford, who was instrumental in getting $4 million in state funding for road improvements for the project.
Jeff Miller, chairman of the economic development committee of the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce, said “I think it’s nice that the county and the state are really making the commitment to draw in employers. The growth of the region depends on jobs.”