By Sean Bowes

Regardless of how the economy will be doing in other parts of the county in the next few years, there will likely be hundreds of new jobs in Wesley Chapel after 2014. On October 4, the Pasco County Commission approved an incentive package for Raymond James Financial, a well-known investment and financial planning company that will be creating its latest campus in Wiregrass Ranch.

The multi-million dollar incentive package will include $10 million from the Pasco County budget as well as an additional $5 million from the state. The money will be used on road improvements such as the completion of Wiregrass Ranch Blvd., an extension of Mansfield Blvd. (where Wiregrass Ranch High is located) and will eventually connect S.R. 54 to S.R. 56. The incentive package also includes tax breaks for Raymond James Financial, which has set a tentative construction date of 2012, with occupancy of the first building expected as early as 2013.

Raymond James Public Relations Manager Steve Hollister says that the details about the company’s construction plans have not yet been finalized; however, it has been published that the Raymond James campus will be comprised of two 100,000-sq.-ft. buildings. The company has said it plans to bring 750 jobs to the county by 2024, with at least 100 of those jobs beginning in 2014, although employees for Raymond James’ operations department will be hired in as little as two years.

“The Board of County Commissioners (BCC) has put money aside each year to be able to attract the ‘big players’ (like Raymond James),” explained District 2 commissioner Pat Mulieri, whose district includes all of Wesley Chapel, including the planned Raymond James campus. “The money is allocated over a number of years. The incentive money also has been set aside to assist present established businesses to grow.”

The BCC recently approved the latest budget of $1.1 billion on September 13, and although Mulieri says that for the incentive package for Raymond James Financial will come from the recently passed budget, it will be doled out over the next 10 to 15 years. Also, in order for Raymond James to collect from the package, the company must meet certain agreed-to benchmarks, such as breaking ground in 2012 and beginning to hire employees for the jobs at the campus by 2013.

“The BCC has worked the past four years developing a strategic plan, a business plan, and eliminating transportation impact fees and replacing them with mobility fees in market area,” said Mulieri.

According to Mulieri, transportation fees in Districts 1 and 2 could cost businesses that were looking to move into that area up to $10,000. The new mobility fees will eliminate any fees for incoming business like offices, hotels and industrial development. It also gives the county more flexibility as to how transportation funds are spent, such as where new Pasco County Public Transportation (PCPT) bus routes will be located.

In the latest Tampa Bay Partnership rankings, Raymond James Financial was the eighth-largest public company in the Tampa Bay area with $2.6 billion in annual revenue, which is one reason why a lot of people are excited about the company coming to the Wiregrass Ranch area. The deal with Raymond James was fashioned over a 10-month period of negotiations with J.D. Porter, whose family trust owns Wiregrass Ranch, the 5,000-acre-plus former cattle ranch where the mall, an under-construction hospital and a community college campus will be located.

“This is first big step to redesigning Pasco County,” Porter says. “Raymond James is going to bring in a lot of business, and they bought 65-acres, so they have a lot of room to grow. With the support of my family and a great Board of County Commissioners, we are really getting things done.”

In spite of tough economic times, the Wesley Chapel area continues to grow from its former rural background into a strong, modern day workhorse for businesses. The Shops of Wiregrass, the quick construction of Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel (which will be ready for patients less than one year from now), a new Pasco-Hernando Community College campus, along with the many businesses that have sprouted up in the area, make it apparent that Wesley Chapel is no longer just a “bedroom community” for Hillsborough County. And, Porter says there are still thousands of acres in Wiregrass that could potentially be developed for residents and/or businesses.

“The Wesley Chapel area has become the economic engine for Pasco County,” Mulieri says, adding that the explosion of major businesses in the region are creating a, “synergy that will help stimulate the economy in Pasco County,” and surrounding areas such as New Tampa.

According to Raymond James’ Hollister, the Wiregrass property is a great option for the company’s new campus. He says that the factors that weighed in favor of Wiregrass Ranch instead of different options in Hillsborough County were its minimized natural disaster risk, access to major roadways, demographics, redundant power and fiber optics infrastructure, as well as the available incentives made possible by the county.

“I believe that attracting a renowned company like Raymond James to Pasco will undoubtedly spur others to locate to our developing financial epicenter,” says District 61 State Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) whose district includes all of Wesley Chapel. “This is what economic development is all about — this is the beginning of good things to come for Pasco County!”

The Wiregrass deal concluded just after the St. Petersburg-based company was required to pay fines and restitution for, allegedly, overcharging some of its customers. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently fined Raymond James $425,000 and ordered it to pay $1.69 million in restitution to more than 15,000 customers for charging “unfair and unreasonable” commissions for their services.

Brad Bennett, FINRA’s executive vice president, has said that the overcharges happened when the company “failed to adequately monitor its supervisory systems.”

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