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County seeks to trim wait for Swiftmud permits

Business owners hope regular meetings with the water district may get projects through the process faster.

Published February 26, 2004

LAND O'LAKES - When it comes to getting faster permits for Pasco business projects, could a little face time help reduce wait times with the Southwest Florida Water Management District?

Officials here hope so.

Taking a cue from other counties, Pasco economic development leaders want to look into setting up regular monthly meetings with Swiftmud to speed the permitting process for projects.

Obtaining Swiftmud permits for new businesses or expansion projects in Pasco continues to be a lengthy endeavor, say area businesses and economic leaders.

"I can't even tell you what the average wait is," said Mary Jane Stanley, director of the Pasco Economic Development Council.

But business owner Terry Burcaw has a good idea. This month, his company, 41 Truss, broke ground on a new 120,000-square-foot production facility on 7 acres east of U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes.

Planning for the $1-million project - a truss manufacturing plant - started in October 2001.

"The big hang-up was Swiftmud; that took us a year, maybe more than a year," said Burcaw, president of 41 Truss, which plans to add more than 20 jobs with its expansion. It took "four or five submittals to get the permit."

Construction of the open air plant is expected to take about six months now that land is being cleared. The new facility will open across the street from 41 Truss' current location on 4 acres west of U.S. 41; engineering and administrative staff is housed there.

Officials now want to know if regular meetings with Swiftmud, the permitting agency that deals with drainage and wetlands issues, could speed permitting for others.

"There's got to be a way we can do it with Brooksville up the road," Stanley said of the agency's headquarters there.

EDC officials are also looking to develop a quick response/fast-track permitting program with the county. Chip Howison, president of the the EDC's board of directors, is set to meet with County Administrator John Gallagher on Friday to discuss the issue, Stanley added.

The efforts would compliment any meetings the EDC could set up with Swiftmud.

In Sarasota, economic leaders and Swiftmud began meeting regularly last year. So far, a health care center, several corporate offices, a boat manufacturer and others have benefitted.

"It just sort of expedites the process," said Kathy Baylis, vice president of economic development for the Sarasota committee for economic development - part of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

Sarasota fast tracks projects via a rapid-response permitting process that Swiftmud also participates in, Baylis said. Companies that meet the county's average salary criteria, that must relocate on a deadline and that export products out and dollars into the county are eligible for the fast-track list. In 2003, Swiftmud suggested setting up regular meetings with economic development leaders to review applications from companies on the list for expedited permits.

Now, the agency is able to go through project proposals and discuss requirements that must be met for permit approval much earlier. The meetings are not necessarily monthly, Baylis said. Rather, a standard time is set aside each Wednesday, and the groups meet if a project dictates. If not, Swiftmud is notified in advance to make other plans for the time slot.

"It's been very effective," Baylis said.

* * *

In other news, the Pasco Economic Development Council is seeking a new business development manager this week. Former manager Sandi Snow resigned this month to take a sales position with Valcourt Exterior Building Services in Bradenton. Her last day with Pasco County was Friday.

"She did an excellent job for us," Stanley said of Snow, who held the job for just more than two years. As business development manager, Snow worked on seeking state incentives for companies considering moving to Pasco, as well as "bridging the gap" between real estate officials, developers and contractors in the Tampa Bay area.

Job candidates will be interviewed in mid March, and the EDC hopes to have a replacement hired by mid April, Stanley said.

[Last modified February 26, 2004, 01:31:33]

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