BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's office of business development may have hit on the ultimate enticement to boost a sagging economy.
Airport officials learned last week they have a green light from the Federal Aviation Administration to offer a qualified industry a lease on 50 to 100 acres of industrial land at reduced or no cost as a job development incentive.
To qualify, companies would need to provide a minimum of 500 jobs and a $25 million capital investment.
"We're trying to be innovative, to push the envelope," said Mike McHugh, county director of business development.
County and airport officials spent the past nine months developing the proposal, also known as the rainmaker site, for the Hernando County Airport. This proposal will go to the County Commission for consideration on May 12.
Officials said they were surprised by the federal government's relatively prompt approval.
FAA regulations require that initial leases be tied to fair market value and projects must demonstrate value back to the airport.
The county's initial meeting with the FAA earlier this year sent them scurrying back to the drawing board.
"They were blunt," said local Realtor Gary Schraut, who also serves as the Aviation Authority chairman. "They weren't all that interested in our jobs creation plan. They care about airplanes."
"They wanted verifiable numbers on what benefits would come to the airport," he said.
The airport team says they updated the plan and made a compelling case quantifying economic advantages to both the airport and the community.
Currently, only 26 percent of developable land at the airport is in use. The Aviation Authority believes the additional land could be used as part of an economic and job creation stimulus.
There's another plus side.
"This proposal doesn't cost the general fund or the taxpayer anything," said airport director Don Silvernell.
The airport is required by the FAA to be self-sufficient. Any revenue that would be discounted is revenue the airport would have received, said Silvernell.
Once a large industry is secured, support industries will follow, he added. The projected net financial benefit to the airport is more than $14 million over 30 years.
If approved by the county commissioners, Silvernell would be directed to put out requests for proposals.
"We're going to troll in some deeper waters and see what we get a bite on," said McHugh.