When Bill Cronin took the helm of the Pasco Economic Development Council, he didn’t view himself as being on a rescue operation.
“I’m here because we’ve got a good product and a winning team,” said Cronin, who joined the Pasco EDC in January.
“This is a community that actually ‘gets’ economic development, so much so that they voted with their wallets to actually fund that, to get some jobs here,” Cronin said, at a recent Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting. The meeting was hosted by the Royal Oak Nursing Center in Dade City.
“Voters in Pasco approved Penny for Pasco not once, but twice,” Cronin noted. Part of the tax proceeds supports efforts to stimulate job growth.
Without that support, Cronin said he’d be forced to devote more of his energy to raising money for local economic development efforts. Instead, he can focus on recruiting companies and helping existing companies to succeed and expand.
Competition is fierce in the quest to attract companies, Cronin said, noting there are roughly 16,000 organizations like his around the country.
To have a shot in the economic development game, Pasco first needs to be known by potential companies, Cronin said.
That means it must identify itself as being part of the Tampa Bay region, because the region is more widely known, the economic development chief said.
After Pasco becomes part of the discussion, Cronin said he works to “differentiate why we’re better than the rest of the Tampa Bay region.”
Pasco has its strengths, the economic development expert said.
“Pasco County is in the middle of Florida. We are very strategically located for distribution in a great consumer state.
“We’ve got a confluence of several highways, interstates, as well as being pretty close to a port, and a great labor force,” he said.
“We’re also right in the middle of the northern and southern portion of the Western Hemisphere, between North and South America. That puts us in another strategic position, as it relates to trade and shipping,” added Cronin, who spent 10 years of his career working in international shipping.
To be competitive, it’s important to go after businesses that can thrive in your community’s environment, Cronin said.
It’s also important to diversify, he said.
“A lot of people think that economic development is recruiting big business, doing the ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings. It’s all about jobs, capital investment and winning the deal. It’s a competitive sport.
“But that, by itself, isn’t going to give us the results that we need,” Cronin said.
Roughly 40 percent of Pasco County’s workers commute to work daily, so the county clearly needs to attract some large companies, he said.
But, the fact that Pasco has such a sizable work force available is a strength, Cronin said.
“So, when I talk to people I tell them: ‘Our work force is so good, everybody else wants to hire them,’” he said.
Pasco’s economic development efforts must focus on “making sure that we have opportunities at every tier, for every individual here, not just recruiting the big company with the high-wage jobs,” he said.
“I came from Charlotte most recently. Charlotte is a great town. I think that everyone loves the fact that it’s clean. It’s very well organized. It’s got a great transit system,” Cronin said.
But he continued, “It might surprise you to know that Charlotte is 50 out of 50, with regards to social mobility and economic mobility.
“What that means is that if you’re born in Charlotte, you’ve got less of a chance to get a better job and move up that ladder,” he said.
Charlotte has done a great job of recruiting companies with $100,000 a year jobs, Cronin said. But, he added, “people are going to pick up and move to get those jobs.”
He thinks a different strategy is needed.
“The state of Florida, as a whole, is still in that mode of ‘Let’s just go after those high-wage jobs, and expect the rest to trickle down and create service jobs for the tiers,’” Cronin said.
He doesn’t agree with that philosophy.
“Top-line growth is not meeting bottom-line prosperity for everyone,” Cronin said.
“If we end up getting everybody higher wages and costs go up, guess what’s going to happen to the people who don’t have jobs? It’s going to put a bigger distance between the haves and have-nots. That’s something that we have to watch, as well,” Cronin said.
Pasco must do what it can, through actions and investments, to give companies a reason to choose the community over the thousands of other choices they have, he said.
Infrastructure improvements, low-cost loans and financial incentives are some of the tools that communities have, he said.
If a community wants to attract new growth, it must be ready for it, the economic development expert added.
“We’ve got a lot of land here. A lot of people think that land is a site.
“Well, if you don’t know when the electric is going to be there, you don’t know when the road is going to be there, if you don’t know where your utilities are, you don’t know how far your rail is, if you don’t know any of those details — it’s not a site,” Cronin said. “It’s a field.”
Published July 6, 2016