But more jobs are needed to diversify Pasco’s economy
Heading south on Interstate 275 into Tampa, and points beyond, cars stack up and slow to a crawl as commuters in the morning rush hour out of Pasco County’s bedroom communities hit the brakes.
Motorists going north, mostly zip along at a steady clip.
In the afternoon the traffic flow reverses.
It’s all about where the jobs are and where they aren’t.
The volume of people who commute daily to jobs outside Pasco is about 46 percent, according to county data.
But flipping that trend is the goal of the county’s Planning and Development Department, and its marketing partner, the Pasco County Economic Development Council.
There are good signs in the job market especially in retail, but county officials say Pasco needs higher paying jobs and a diverse employer-base to shed its bedroom community status.
And that could take years of steady, patient marketing.
For now, dirt is flying especially along the prime corridors of State Road 56 and State Road 54, around the Interstate 75 interchange.
“The retail is following the rooftops,” said Melanie Kendrick, senior planner for economic development in Pasco.
Tampa Premium Outlets, the centerpiece for Cypress Creek Town Center, is sprouting. It is expected to have more than 110 stores and will provide an estimated 800 jobs.
The Shops at Wiregrass is expanding. And, other retail development, including Mercedes Benz, Buffalo Wild Wings and Dairy Queen, is popping up.
Abutting the outlet mall, the town center also will have more retail including Kohl’s, Costco, Culver’s, Cheddar’s Casual Café, and BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. Job numbers for this project aren’t available.
More hotels, shops, restaurants and offices are on a waiting list, marked ‘coming soon’ for a site on the north side of State Road 56, also part of Cypress Creek Town Center.
On Oct. 29, Tampa Premium Outlets will be the first to hit the start button.
“This is like a bonus,” said John Hagen, president of the PEDC. “It will definitely raise the amount of money coming into the community. It makes the economic pie bigger.”
People are put to work, the Penny for Pasco program gets fattened with more pennies and Pasco’s image shines brighter in the marketplace.
“It is a destination… It will help people understand that there is a Pasco County,” Hagen said. “This is a place. It has place-making attributes that are important to us. It’s hard for people to think about (Pasco) in terms of a place.”
Retail already has shown it can spark other development.
Pasco-Hernando State College located its Porter Campus at the mall. It currently has a staff of about 60 employees and 100 adjunct faculty members.
Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, near Wiregrass, added 600 jobs to the economy when it opened nearly three years ago. The hospital is investing $78 million in an expansion at the hospital. And Florida Medical Clinic, just north of Wiregrass, also is expanding in Wesley Chapel and Land O’ Lakes.
On State Road 54, a new Lowe’s warehouse store opened in April, bringing with it as many as 160 jobs.
Businessman Gordie Zimmerman is building Florida Hospital Center Ice, a sports complex with four ice rinks and a removable pad that can allow for more sports such as volleyball, soccer, basketball and lacrosse. The 150,000 square foot facility, off State Road 56, can also accommodate non-sports events such as dog shows and graduations.
It is expected to attract national and international sports competitions.
All of these generate more sales tax revenues from people shopping and dining in Pasco.
And, a portion of those Pasco pennies will be dedicated this year to the Jobs and Economic Trust Fund to provide business incentives to locate in Pasco.
County officials have estimated that $45 million to $50 million will flow from the Penny for Pasco program to stimulate economic development.
Hagen recently delivered the PEDC’s third quarter report to the Pasco County Commission. The data showed that to date, 415 jobs had been created through the agency’s efforts in 2015.
On July 24, the PEDC upped that number by 124 jobs with its announcement that Leggett & Platt, a global manufacturing company, plans to open an 80,000-square- foot facility near Spring Hill. The plant will assemble adjustable bed bases. Company officials have pledged to hire locally and contract with suppliers within the Tampa Bay region.
Hagen sees Leggett & Platt taking a position as one of the county’s top employers with room for expansion in future.
On another front, the SMARTstart business incubator program has created 45 jobs. Currently, 13 startup companies are sharing space on-site in Dade City. Another three entrepreneurs are located off-site. “They are all trying to get their businesses off the ground,” Hagen said.
While some of these new businesses may only generate a small number of jobs, there always is potential that one or more could take off with an idea that is “scalable” into a regional or national company, Hagen said.
The county set clear goals in the long-range Economic Development Plan, adopted in 2013.
One target is to add between 160,000 and 185,000 new jobs to the economy over the next decade, said Richard Gehring, the county’s planning and development administrator.
That has to be reached by fostering a business-friendly environment where private companies want to invest in Pasco, Hagen said.
“I kind of like to differentiate between creating a business climate and making business deals,” he said. “I think we’re creating a business climate where things can happen.”
One example of private investment that paid off is Compark 75. The business park, off Wesley Chapel Boulevard, will expand in 2016 with the addition of a 65,000 square foot building. The existing park, with four buildings, is leased nearly to capacity.
Two new tenants, Streetside Classic Cars and an as yet-unidentified orthodontics company will open there in October.
Hagen would like to see 10 more projects similar to Compark 75.
Over the years, Pasco has evolved from a rural community into a service-based economy that catered to senior retirees and then into the bedroom community for counties such as Hillsborough and Pinellas.
The current building boom is picking up where developers left off before the Great Recession. Predictably, the new development began with housing because that offers reasonably quick turnaround on investment, Hagen said.
But many of these projects have also set aside space for retail, offices and in some cases industrial, Hagen said.
“It’s kind of setting the stage for other development,” he said.
But, it is crucial to Pasco’s economic growth to encourage more business parks. That was one issue identified in a study completed recently by Duke Energy of the large acreage in and around the Zephyrhills airport.
“I don’t mean to sound alarmist,” Hagen said. “I think we’re trying to put some thought into that. We probably need to be more active in acquiring and controlling parcels that would make good industrial parks before they get gobbled into retail.”
Still Hagen isn’t what he describes as a “retail snob.”
Jobs of every kind are needed, he said. “If it puts them to work, then it’s a good thing.”
Tampa Premium Outlets hosts center-wide job fair
What: The grand opening of Tampa Premium Outlets is scheduled for October.
Retailers are seeking job applicants for more than 800 open seasonal, part-time, full-time and management positions. The Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce is the job fair sponsor.
When: Aug. 27 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Embassy Suites Tampa USF/Busch Gardens, 3705 Spectrum Blvd., Tampa
Cost: Free and open to the community. Dress professionally and bring lots of resumes.
Information: Call (813) 909-8716, or visit PremiumOutlets.com/tampa.
Published August 5, 2015