As we enjoy the Labor Day weekend, it is appropriate to reflect a bit on workers and jobs. The jobs that are available in New Port Richey and West Pasco have an impact on our economy and the health of our city.
Historically, the jobs in our area have been concentrated in home construction, health care, and retail / food service. While construction jobs can pay well, they are very much dependent on the economy. We saw this first hand when the Great Recession hit and the work available for our son-in-law, a finish carpenter, essentially dried up for a spell. Doctors, nurses and administrators tend to do well, but the workers at the lower levels (eg. nursing assistants) generally just get by. Likewise, most folks in the retail and food service industries are often doing good to make ends meet.
There are good jobs available, but they are typically in Tampa or Pinellas county. When you see the major roads clog up during rush hour, it is due to the daily migration from the bedroom communities of West Pasco to the good jobs south of us.
Pasco County has gone to some lengths to recruit the sorts of businesses that would broaden our employment base, but those efforts have often fallen flat when the “big fish” like T. Rowe Price change their plans.
The Pasco County Economic Development Council (PEDC) has recognized that cultivating smaller businesses is a good way to build the local employment base. The two business incubators, including the SMARTstart Incubator in New Port Richey are examples of this. There is pretty good evidence that businesses that start in an incubator stand a much better than average chance of growing and staying in the local community where they start.
New Port Richey has also taken an interest in trying to cultivate new jobs and hold onto the good jobs we already have. More tech firms calling New Port Richey home would not be a bad thing.
It used to be that you had to go to where the work was. That’s not strictly true anymore. I started writing this article while at my company office Saturday because of the convenience of working with twin 22″ monitors. I’m finishing it at home between football games on TV. While at the office, I updated information on a server in Canada, started an initial backup on a server in Spring Hill, did remote sessions with customers in Hudson and New Port Richey, and sent bills out to customers as far away as El Dorado Hills, California. I’m continuing to monitor the backup progress on the server in Spring Hill from home.
Today’s digital age allows those of use with high tech jobs to pick when and where we work. New Port Richey isn’t where I HAVE to be. It is where I WANT to be.
Tech enabled jobs aren’t just in fields you usually think of as being “high tech”. Anyone who does most of their work online has options for home and office locations. A physical office is important for personal interactions with other employees and clients, but it is by no means as essential as it used to be. I know several people who do most of their work from home and only occasionally visit their office. More than one successful local retail company does most of their sales online, with no storefront whatsoever.
It would seem to me that the challenge we have as a city is to attract those who “could” do their work anywhere to join us in picking New Port Richey as their home base.
The synergy created by putting five tech companies in a single building isn’t limited to just that building. The sidewalk between the incubator and our building is a two way street, with the folks in the incubator coming by my business looking for parts and assistance with balky machines and me going over to the incubator looking for tips on making the most of WordPress, learning about the use of apps in business, and getting a different perspective on how to grow my small business. City staff have also been exchanging ideas with those in the incubator on how to fill various buildings and promote the city. It won’t take much more of this for us to reach the critical mass necessary to transform the city, starting right downtown. Imagine a downtown where folks from the businesses congregate regularly over coffee to collaborate and share ideas. The whole downtown becomes an incubator on steroids.
Good paying jobs within walking distance or a few minutes from home by bicycle would set the stage for the sort of revival we want to see here. Walking or biking to work means that you need a home reasonably close to work. We have a large stock of affordable houses close by that are just begging for someone to buy them and give them a bit of owner occupied TLC.
What things attract predominantly young techies? Inviting parks, a fabulous recreation center, family friendly special events, good food, outdoor recreational opportunities, and a variety of live entertainment options come to mind. Put all of that within walking distance of home and work and I think we’ve got something special. We’ve got many of these pieces in place now with more coming soon.
We have some cleanup projects we need to attend to if we want to attract people to live and work here. None of them are rocket science. We simply need to shape up the city, one neighborhood at a time.
If we cultivate our little tech businesses and help them grow, then perhaps we can attract some of the tech firms south of us who employ people who live in West Pasco to consider moving closer to their employees. It shouldn’t be hard. Office space here is less expensive than in Hillsborough and Pinellas and it would eliminate some very painful commuting.
It is all about achieving critical mass. Once we hit critical mass, everything else should start falling into place.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor
City of New Port Richey