When Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore moved to the county in 2007, it was a different place.
When he arrived, the State Road 54/56 corridor — with it shopping malls, restaurants, car dealerships, hotels, residential subdivisions, medical offices, state college and industrial development — looked nothing like it does today.
The Shops at Wiregrass wasn’t even there yet, recalled Moore, who had made the move from nearby New Tampa for a larger home in Seven Oaks.
“They just built the JCPenney, without the mall. When I first moved here, we were still going to Hillsborough County and to New Tampa for a lot of things,” he said.
That was then.
“You think about how hot Pasco County is right now. We’re the hottest county around,” said Moore, now serving in his second term, and recently named county commission chairman.
“Wesley Chapel has the highest income in the Tampa Bay region.
“New restaurants and businesses are coming every single day.
“I do so many ribbon cuttings my fingers are tired,” Moore said.
New businesses are bringing jobs to the county, and there’s even some Class A office space popping up.
“That’s what’s amazing, you look at the growth and opportunity that we have in this area now, compared to what we had when I first moved here in ’07.”
Now, he said, “I don’t need to leave Pasco County, unless I need to go to the airport.”
Statistics paint a favorable picture of the county.
The number of homeless is down; job growth is up. Tourism hit the million-visitor mark for the first time this year, and numerous companies have set up shop in Pasco, or have announced plans to do so.
Moore said a strong economic development team, a streamlined approval process and a pro-growth board have combined to create more interest in Pasco.
County staff and the private Pasco Economic Development Council, Inc., work together to recruit new businesses, he said.
“There are certain things that (Pasco) EDC can do — being a private entity,” Moore explained.
“A lot of companies don’t want to make it public beforehand. People have employees who might have to relocate. There are investors involved, if they are public companies.”
“The EDC can work behind the scenes.”
The county also has focused on reducing bureaucracy, Moore said.
“One of the things that we have encouraged — as a commission, as a whole — is to make it as easily navigable as possible, to come here and start from the ground up,” Moore said.
“Our economic development group needs to make sure that when they (prospects) come here and they’re ready to do business, that it’s a smooth process,” he added.
The economic development team’s job is to make the area enticing, but it goes beyond that Moore said. They also need to help the companies through the county’s process.
Public support for economic development has played an important role, Moore said, noting that a portion of the Penny for Pasco tax proceeds is earmarked for that purpose.
The county has a number of tools it uses to entice businesses: It waives mobility impact fees and permit fees. It rewards job creation. It supports work force training. It forgives loans. It uses tax and job creation incentives.
The commission’s Dec. 10 meeting — where two companies announced intentions to locate in Pasco — offered a glimpse of how such strategies are paying off.
Encompass Health Corporation, based in Birmingham, Alabama, announced plans to bring 179 jobs to Central Pasco. Rooker Properties, LLC, a company based in Atlanta, Georgia, unveiled plans for an industrial park on a site off Old Pasco Road, expected to generate hundreds of jobs.
Meanwhile, financial services company Raymond James — also receiving a number of incentives — is expected to break ground in 2020 for a campus expected to have hundreds of employees, in the Wiregrass Ranch area of Wesley Chapel.
“That will be significant for our area. We’ve all been waiting for it,” Moore said.
Aside from the economy, the county is making strides in efforts to improve its quality of life, Moore said.
Numerous road construction projects are in various stages of progress.
Most recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit to extend Ridge Road, initially from Moon Lake Road in New Port Richey to the Suncoast Parkway, but ultimately it will extend to U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes.
The county has pushed for the east-west corridor for 20 years, and securing the permit marks a major milestone. As of last week, it remained unclear if opponents — who object to the project’s path through the Serenova Tract of the Starkey Wilderness Preserve — will wage a legal challenge.
Meanwhile, over in Wesley Chapel, construction continues on the diverging diamond, a project aimed at easing congestion at the Interstate 75/State Road 56 interchange.
And, in another significant development, the extension of State Road 56 between Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills was wrapped up in July, creating a new east-west corridor between the two communities.
The county also has been making strides on civic projects, Moore noted.
Four voter-approved bond issues are supporting the construction of additional fire stations, the renovation of libraries, improvements at county parks and a jail expansion.
The county also recently announced a record-breaking $22 million acquisition of environmental lands, to preserve ecological corridors.
And, within recent months, the county opened its first barrier-free playground.
Moore championed the idea, after noticing there wasn’t a place where children with disabilities could play at Wesley Chapel District Park.
Keith Wiley, who oversees the county’s parks departments, got involved — and the Wesley Chapel Rotary Club, Lennar Foundation and AdventHealth Wesley Chapel stepped up to help pay for the project.
The barrier-free playground was a first for Pasco, but Moore expects that it won’t be the last.
Six things to watch in 2020
The Laker/Lutz News asked Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore to identify the top things to watch in 2020. He provided these six, along with some observations:
- Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex: The 98,000-square-foot Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex will open, creating a new destination for amateur and youth travel teams. It also will have programs during the week for local youths. The facility is expected to boost county tourism, as teams travel to Pasco from around the country and even internationally. The facility also will add to the local economy, as visitors stay at hotels, shop at stores, eat at restaurants, buy gas and so on.
- Interstate 75-Overpass Road interchange: Work will begin on a design-build project to create a new interchange at Interstate 75 and Overpass Road, 3.5 miles south of State Road 52. The new diamond interchange will include a flyover ramp for westbound Overpass Road access to south I-75. To accommodate the new interchange, Overpass Road will be widened from two lanes to four lanes between I-75 and Old Pasco Road and to six lanes between I-75 and Boyette Road. Blair Drive will be realigned to connect with Old Pasco Road; and, McKendree Road will be realigned to connect with Boyette Road.
- U.S. 41 Redevelopment: Redevelopment and revitalization along U.S. 41/Land O Lakes Boulevard is expected to occur, as U.S. 41 is widened, south of State Road 52 to alleviate backups at State Road 52/U.S. 41. There also will be increased efforts to improve the corridor’s appearance, through landscaping projects and redevelopment.
- Job growth in Pasco County: The county is attracting more companies because of its policies that support growth and that is expected to continue. Quality of life improves when citizens can work closer to home, and new developments, such as Raymond James, which is expected to occur in early 2020, offers one example of increasing job opportunities in Pasco.
- Improved quality of life through public projects: New looks for Centennial Park Library and New River Library will be unveiled in 2020, with modernized interiors and makerspaces. The county is also engaged in more than 30 projects in its parks, ranging from new roofs and gutters on buildings to updating playground equipment.
- Ridge Road Extension: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit to Pasco County on Dec. 20, to begin on Ridge Road Extension, initially to connect Ridge Road to the Suncoast Parkway. Plans also call for eventually extending the road to U.S. 41. The project will provide a new east-west corridor, giving motorists another travel option and providing another evacuation route during emergencies.
Editor’s note: These observations were edited for brevity.
Published January 01, 2020