Pasco economy looks to grow and diversify

From workforce assistance to recruiting new companies to building new office space, the Pasco Economic Development Council Inc., has many projects “in the pipeline.”

Bill Cronin, president/CEO of the economic development agency, discussed those plans and more as the featured guest speaker at The Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce’s November breakfast meeting at Seven Springs Golf and Country Club in New Port Richey.

The Pasco EDC’s mission is “to stimulate balanced and diversified economic growth.”

It uses private investments and tax dollars to foster economic development in Pasco County, helping businesses start and grow.

This rendering shows the future campus for TouchPoint Medical Inc., which is under construction near Suncoast Parkway, on State Road 54. (File)

To do that, Cronin said the agency is working to attract a wide range of industries to the county, such as life sciences and medical technology; business and professional services; high technology; logistics; aerospace, aviation and defense; and, advance manufacturing, among others.

A Michigan native, Cronin stressed the county doesn’t want to wind up like his home state that depends too much on the automobile industry, or another state such as South Carolina, which is too reliant on the tobacco, cotton and textiles industries.

“We don’t want to be that community that has to diversify down the road. We want to do it now and prepare so we’ve got jobs for everybody,” Cronin said.

Part of that diversification, Cronin said, is simply just bringing in more businesses and manufacturing companies, in general, to balance the county’s rapid residential growth over the past three decades or so.

The speaker noted that Pasco County is “pretty upside down in residential, as it relates to job creation.”

He also pointed out that it costs the county “a lot more money” to provide residential services — roads, schools, public safety and so forth — compared to meeting public service needs generated by businesses.

Said Cronin: “It behooves us to go after some of this business to lessen that imbalance on property tax and the burden on our taxpayers.”

Cronin also explained how the Pasco EDC is differentiating itself from other economic development groups across the United States, or what he describes as “16,000 competitors out there trying to get those businesses.”

This rendering from Welbilt shows how the expanded facility will look on completion in late 2019.

One strategic move is going after international companies wanting to expand their footprint in the United States, through its SMARTLandings incubator program.

Many of these international ventures may start with only one or two employees, Cronin said, but capturing that loyalty early on could end up paying dividends in the long run — when a company is ready to expand, perhaps, bring in a distribution or manufacturing center.

He noted, it’s an initiative other economic development groups aren’t doing, because “they’re only interested in these big projects that have 100 jobs, 50 jobs and things like that.”

Cronin also mentioned incorporating “North Tampa Bay, Florida” to the agency’s branding and tagline has gone some way in marketing the area to international businesses and corporations.

The economic development leader acknowledged getting some pushback on the branding.

“Yeah, we’re Pasco, but when we travel overseas, and we’re competing and we’re going out into the world, we first have to be included in the conversation, and then we can differentiate. You’ve gotta be in it first, and then you can differentiate after you’re in it, but if you’re not in it, you can’t differentiate,” he said.

Recruiting a company requires much more than offering incentives, Cronin said. It also involves offering workforce assistance programs and job training grants, he said.

He drew attention to an AmSkills (American Manufacturing Skills Initiative) apprenticeship program at New Port Richey’s Marchman Technical College that he said really resonates with German-based companies, which use a similar apprenticeship model for workforce training.

It helps create a comfort level for companies, Cronin said.

In this case, he said, it shows German companies “they’re really thinking like we’re thinking.”

“Sometimes that’s their biggest fear — what’s the employee look like? Is Joe going to look like Hans? What can they expect? When they see this (apprenticeship program), they know we’re trying to do our best to make sure it looks similar to their operation.”

The Pasco EDC also has partnered with CareerSource on a new website, ‘Workforce Connect,’ a one-stop resource that helps match employers and career seekers.

The website maps available training programs and services countywide, and helps align Pasco’s talent supply with industry demand.

Pasco County’s recent addition of several new companies has given the county more credibility in the eyes of other companies looking to make capital investments in an area, Cronin said.

“Now that (companies) see some activity happening, they’re more receptive to it. The market’s starting to respond,” Cronin said.

Moreover, the county’s proximity to Tampa International Airport and luxury housing developments, including Starkey Ranch and Wiregrass Ranch, have become “a really big selling point” to CEOs looking to add or relocate a company’s headquarters, Cronin said.

For decades, Pasco County has had a reputation of being a bedroom community, where people lived, but commuted daily to work in other counties.

Now, Cronin said, “we have CEO-level housing that CEOs can actually live up here, and their staff lives up here, so why get in that rat race and drive every day to Tampa?

“Instead,” Cronin said, “why don’t you move your operation to Pasco.”

Pasco Economic Development Council Inc.’s recent wins:

  • Mettler-Toledo relocates to Lutz and builds $30 million, 267,000-square-foot facility, creating nearly 700 jobs
  • TouchPoint Medical Inc., is building $24 million, 142,000-square-foot global headquarters in Odessa, creating 228 jobs
  • Phillips & Jordan Inc., is building $15 million, 47,432-square-foot regional headquarters near San Antonio, creating 40 jobs
  • Welbilt Inc., is adding 110 jobs and 42,000-square-foot building expansion to its New Port Richey headquarters
  • Bay Tech Industries is investing $1.5 million in new equipment and 12,170-square-foot building expansion in Odessa
  • Brew Bus Brewing Inc., is expanding microbrewery operation to Pasco, purchasing 34,000-square-foot facility in Wesley Chapel, creating 46 jobs

Published November 27, 2019

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