Today's mantra is, "Jobs, jobs, jobs!" - or lack thereof. Hillsborough County's unemployment rate remains in double digits. The Planning Commission's Quality of Life Survey, which measures the public's perception of eighteen factors, rates economic opportunities the worst factor over the past several years. It's not surprising that fostering economic growth is a primary concern of Hillsborough County's citizens and business community. Comprehensive Planning, using the appropriate economic development incentives, is at the forefront of attracting jobs and supporting economic activities vital to sustaining our economic recovery.
Historically, the focus has been managing rapid growth, but that focus has shifted to attracting economic activity. A major criteria used by relocating companies is the ease of conducting business. In other words, the County and Cities must offer suitable areas, a simplified approval process, and the flexibility to react to market changes. The Comprehensive Plan is the tool to initiate these efforts. According to the recent Countywide Planning audit, "The Comprehensive Plan is designed to manage growth, not deter it." For example, the recent Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) overlay comprehensive plan amendment adopted by the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County streamlines the development process around transit centers and allows higher densities and mixed uses without requiring amendments to the Comprehensive Plan. This will create expedited opportunities for economic development and redevelopment.
However, to be successful attracting jobs a unified vision in addition to an effective plan is vital. The Countywide Planning audit said, "Because the Planning Commission is the LPA (local planning agency) for the County, a coordinated and unified effort to attract desirable economic development must include the active participation of the Planning Commission." Furthermore, the audit recommends that, "the County establish a vision committee consisting of representatives from the County, Planning Commission, and the Cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace..." to articulate a clear vision for the future of Hillsborough County and to mobilize local stakeholders to provide support for economic development. These include citizens, community leaders and other interested parties who would formulate strategies for targeting industrial groups that match our community's profile.
The Planning Commission completely agrees with this audit recommendation and has been working extensively with the Hillsborough County Economic Stimulus Task Force and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, providing technical support, data and GIS services. From that foundation, the Planning Commission suggests an accelerated implementation of this finding in pursuit of economic growth. The Planning Commission will actively participate in economic development iitiatives and engage local governments in the next several months to ensure that their Comprehensive Plans present a clear vision for the future and that important economic development targets and strategies are part of that vision.
The Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) process provides an immediate opportunity to begin the visioning process. The Planning Commission's "Partnering for the Future" workshop on May 6th will bring together the community's leaders to identify the major issues facing the County over the next twenty years. That meeting can be the catalyst to further discussions on the economic and long term vision for the County. Also, the EAR process serves to provide ways the comprehensive plans can become more flexible in reacting to market trends and streamline overreaching regulations while focusing on community priorities. Furthermore, it can foster strategic partnerships for growth and identify economic development initiatives and appropriate economic strategies to include in the Comprehensive Plans.