Thursday, April 26, 2018
Business

Officials hope last year's momentum will continue at Hernando's newly named airport

BROOKSVILLE — For the folks at the newly renamed Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, it's all about momentum.

Last year was big for the airport on two important fronts — the aviation side and the business development side.

Officials are hoping for more of the same in 2013.

The airport got some special attention when Gov. Rick Scott visited it twice last year: to help announce that Accuform Signs will build a new 300,000-square-foot headquarters and manufacturing facility and to congratulate AirDyne Aerospace Inc. on its success.

Those visits weren't the only events that helped raise the airport's profile.

After adopting a new name for the old Hernando County Airport for branding and marketing purposes, the County Commission and Aviation Authority were sued by the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority for trademark infringement.

Hillsborough officials argued that calling the facility the Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport violated Hillsborough's right to the "Tampa airport" name.

Adding the word "Bay" and agreeing to several other stipulations brought an end to the lawsuit several weeks ago.

Now the rebranding can begin in earnest, said Michael McHugh, who directs the county's business development efforts at the airport and throughout the county.

Rebranding is just one of a multitude of tasks on the to-do lists kept by McHugh and airport manager Don Silvernell.

The airport continues to explore the idea of adding a customs checkpoint for international passengers. There has been a meeting with federal officials, who have shared details of what is needed to be approved, and research about the costs and potential benefits is continuing.

Officials are also working on two projects on the aviation side of the airport, which they hope will bring in new business.

The airport has put in a $1.25 million bid to purchase the Brooksville Air Center, a now-empty office and hangar. If the sale is completed, the plan is to market the property aggressively since it can provide space for a variety of aviation services, from charters to airplane repairs.

"We plan to cast a wide net,'' McHugh said, noting that his office uses lists of those licensed to repair aircraft as a starting point for finding interested businesses.

Another strategy is marketing the center through trade shows.

"We try to be very strategic,'' he said.

The county is preparing to send out a request for proposals seeking a contractor to build a 32,000-square-foot speculative aviation building at the airport. The facility would be large enough to service and house narrow-body and regional jets.

The larger aircraft can use the airport's long runways and would benefit from the air traffic control tower that was built and opened last year. Officials point to the $2.25 million, 82-foot-tall tower as a sign of the 2,400-acre airport's growing public profile and sophistication.

"We're trying to develop assets at the airport that will lead to opportunities that will directly result in jobs,'' McHugh said.

While the aviation building is speculative, he said the hope is that the airport will land a tenant quickly.

"There's never a guarantee,'' he said. "But you have to believe in yourself.''

Some of that confidence comes from the continuing trend of expansions of local industries.

Accuform Signs is the most notable of those, and McHugh acknowledges that the work needed to pull off that project will occupy a lot of his time in the coming months.

But he listed several other local manufacturers that are expanding as well. Last year, Interconnect Cable Technologies Corp., which produces custom data and power cabling products, bought a vacant 24,000-square-foot building across from its existing 30,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at the airport.

For McHugh, that expansion signals another important shift going on at the airport. The facility that ICTC bought had housed a building materials business that failed as the construction industry fell on hard times in recent years.

The trend now is the growth of higher technology businesses. And that plays into the airport's rebranding efforts. In addition to changing the name of the airport, the industrial areas at the airport are now known as a "technology park.''

Even the safety sign manufacturing business at Accuform has changed. Gone are the manual machines to operate.

"Now it's all digital, sophisticated equipment,'' McHugh said.

To keep up with the needs of those industries, he said, "We may have to redefine how these parks look and how they operate. We want to be best in class and make them the best that they can be.''

That could mean having fiber-optic cable everywhere, landscaping, curbs and gutters along the roads, security cameras and waiting lots for trucks — features found at some industrial sites, he said.

"We want to think about what helps them,'' McHugh said.

Other opportunities

While the airport is the focus for business development in the county, there are also positive signs elsewhere around Hernando that businesses are growing and that new opportunities are arising.

Radio Frequency Micro Devices Inc. has filed plans for a small expansion of its manufacturing facility near Interstate 75. The plan includes adding another 45 jobs to the approximately 100 there now.

"They're planning on moving some of their manufacturing from China,'' McHugh said.

It is a reflection of a trend known as "re-shoring" as businesses analyze and find out there are benefits — cutting time lines and improving product quality, for example — to bringing some jobs back to the United States, he said.

Radio Frequency Micro Devices, with headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., is an international company that designs and manufactures high-performance semiconductor components.

McHugh said another positive development is the purchase of a 143-acre parcel adjacent to and north of the Wal-Mart Distribution Center near Ridge Manor. URADCO, the development arm of the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, paid $1.8 million for the site, which the utility is actively marketing.

The site previously had been targeted for development as One Hernando Center, an industrial park. However, DBSI Inc., the developer, landed in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and a bank eventually acquired the site.

McHugh said the site is ideal for manufacturing, warehousing and logistical facilities, and he believes working with the utility will be a plus in finding a company that will be a good match for the site.

"We've got a great partner,'' he said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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