By B.C. Manion
For decades Pasco County has been viewed as having two primary parts: East Pasco and West Pasco.
Those days are over, said Trey Starkey, chairman of the Pasco Economic Development Council, during a May 24 meeting with the Economic Development Committee of the Greater Wesley Chamber of Commerce.
“The Wesley Chapel area and Land O’ Lakes are kind of the new zone,” Starkey said, noting those areas used to be considered hinterlands, between county business hubs.
“Wesley Chapel and Land O’ Lakes have become an economic force in Pasco County. We’re now kind of three areas, we’re not two, like we were,” Starkey said.
“I think it is important for groups in the Wesley Chapel and Land O’ Lakes area to understand they have become a rising force – they’re kind spring boarding off the New Tampa growth and up (US) 41.”
As such, the area is gaining in political strength as well, said Starkey, whose wife, Kathryn, is running for a seat on the Pasco County Commission.
“You all are now on the radar screen. You become a voting bloc, too.”
Starkey dropped by the chamber committee’s monthly session to provide an overview of the PEDC’s recent and current initiatives, and a look at where the organization is heading.
“Everybody talks about jobs, jobs, jobs, but to do jobs, jobs, jobs, you’ve got to have education, education, education,” Starkey said.
Along those lines, one of the PEDC’s key initiatives is to create a more engaged relationship between the business community and the career academies in Pasco County Schools.
“We’ve really amped up the education initiatives with the PEDC,” Starkey said.
The economic development council also is establishing stronger ties with the University of South Florida, Saint Leo University and Pasco-Hernando Community College, Starkey said.
“Saint Leo has been magnificent under Art Kirk’s leadership, engaging with us,” Starkey said.
The PEDC is seeking a closer relationship with USF, particularly in the arenas of business incubators and business accelerators, he said.
It also has launched a new microloan program, to help businesses get small loans not available through conventional lenders.
Those efforts follow progress by the PEDC in pushing for a more streamlined county government, Starkey said.
“The first big initiative was a complete rewrite of the development code. It really needed to be rewritten.”
Considerable progress has been made, he said, with the rewrite about 90 percent complete.
The next areas that need reform are the permitting and inspection processes, he said.
“The county is recognizing the problem and getting permit approval times down. My understanding is that we’re down to 12 days now. As a point of reference, it was months.”
Another issue the PEDC believes is vital is Penny for Pasco, a voluntary sales tax hike from 6 cents on the dollar to 7 cents, with proceeds going to public projects. The tax was approved by voters in 2004 and is set to expire in 2014, without a voter referendum to extend it.
“We feel that is incredibly important for that to be approved. We’re eight years into a 10-year run. It has built schools. It has built roads. It has bought environmentally sensitive lands and police cars. It’s done a lot of things that have got to get done,” Starkey said.
“This time they’re adding an economic development incentive slice of the penny,” Starkey said, which could be used to fund such things as additional career academies, business incubators and offsetting impact fees.