Pasco County could do nothing for the next 15 years and its economy would continue to grow, slowly and steadily.
"But we're not do-nothing people," economist William Fruth told those attending the Pasco Economic Development annual business development luncheon Friday.
And to illustrate his point, auto magnate Larry Morgan chose the event to announce plans to break ground this June on a 130,000-square-foot expansion at the Compark 75 industrial park.
"We're going to bring a lot of jobs to Pasco County, and we're going to be investing $15 million," Morgan said.
Fruth, president of POLICOM Corp., helped develop the county's new economic development strategic plan. He said Pasco has plenty of land available for industrial development — and that's the single most important commodity for attracting high-wage jobs.
"When we talk about the quality of the economy, we're talking about what people earn," he said.
Job retention is important, too, as companies in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties look to expand. Moving to Pasco is a way they can grow while also retaining their existing workforce. That's why companies like T.Rowe Price and Raymond James Financial picked Pasco for future corporate campuses.
"Pasco County must become a 'catcher's mitt' to retain and cause the expansion of high-wage primary employers in the region," Fruth said.
One way to do that is to develop industrial sites that can be permitted and pad-ready within 90 days. Some counties, such as Pinellas and Osceola, even offer seven-day permitting for target industries.
The goal is to bring Pasco's average wage closer to the national average, which is currently more than $55,000. The average wage in Pasco County in 2011 was $36,423, about 35 percent lower than the national average, Fruth said. Even with an aggressive economic development plan — one that adds 100,000 jobs by 2025 — Pasco workers would still earn just 75 percent of the national average.
Pasco's unemployment rate, which peaked at 13 percent three years ago, dropped to 10 percent in 2012 — still above the state and national average. One reason Pasco lags behind other Florida counties in employment is that so many residents work outside the county.
"People who lose jobs in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are still counted in Pasco's unemployement because this is where they live," Fruth said.