LUTZ — It was a year ago exactly at a Pasco Economic Development Council luncheon when auto magnate Larry Morgan announced he would bring a lot of jobs to Pasco County with his $15 million expansion at Compark 75.
The construction project alone employed 585 workers, he told a crowd that huddled together Thursday morning for the somewhat belated ground-breaking ceremony at the office park just off Wesley Chapel Boulevard. “And that does not include the people who will actually be working once the facilities are occupied,” he said.
That promise of more jobs lured Gov. Rick Scott from Tallahassee for the ceremony. Scott praised Morgan for being the first investor to build speculative office space in Pasco County since 2008. The two new buildings are the size of three football fields and will total 135,000 square feet.
“Class A buildings like this are what’s going to continue to grow our economy, because when companies want to expand, they don’t say I want to do it in two or three years. They want to do it right now,” Scott said.
Morgan knows something about creating jobs. In 35 years, he grew his tire company from 35 stores into Tires Plus, a national chain with 600 stores, 8,500 employees and $1 billion a year in sales. He sold the company to Firestone in 2000 and four years later started Morgan Auto Group, which now operates a dozen auto dealerships.
Morgan bought Compark 75 in 2005 for $6.2 million. The 220-acre complex stretches from Wesley Chapel Boulevard to Interstate 75 at the midpoint between state roads 54 and 56. He needed to expand because his offices and warehouse space are at capacity.
“The entrepreneurial spirit exists here at Compark,” he said. “We’re really glad the tides turned economically, and we’re here to celebrate what’s taking place.”
Morgan also praised the county’s permitting office for fast-tracking his project. “I will say this: I’ve been a critic of regulation pretty much my whole business life, but things are getting better in Pasco.”
County Administrator Michele Baker never tires of hearing those compliments since Pasco, for years, had a reputation as a terrible place to do business. The county always has had plenty of land but lacked the kind of speculative office and industrial space Morgan is building at Compark.
“When a business is ready to expand, they don’t want to wait,” she said. “That’s always constrained our growth. Having this kind of speculative space with good highway access is critical. It’s a game-changer.”
County Commissioner Henry Wilson said Pasco’s next real challenge will be to bring this kind of development to the U.S. 19 corridor.
State Rep. Amanda Murphy echoed those sentiments. “I’m a little jealous because the other side of the county doesn’t get something as wonderful and beautiful as this,” she said. “But you know what? It benefits all of Pasco County, and that’s what this is about.”