I never thought freshly bulldozed lots and rows of pre-engineered steel buildings could look so wonderful.
I'm talking about a tour I took last week of the Hernando County Airport Corporate Park.
No, it wasn't scenic, just a great change from foreclosure signs and largely vacant subdivisions that feel like newly minted ghost towns.
At the airport, on the other hand, I saw bustle and prosperity in the nearly 100 occupied lots, and — in the 750 acres of vacant land accessible by new roads — I saw hope for the future.
A lot of people see the park this way, and ideas about economic development that county leaders have long agreed with in theory but ignored in practice are finally taking hold:
They see the desperate need for new industry. They are finally fed up with the reliance on Florida's housing economy, which was described perfectly in last week's Time magazine:
"A human pyramid scheme ... that relied on a thousand newcomers a day, too many of them construction workers, mortgage bankers, real estate agents and others whose livelihoods depended on importing a thousand more newcomers the next day.''
Every county commissioner at last week's meeting said the time had come to move beyond this; so did members of the Hernando Builders Association. When I asked business development director Mike McHugh if he sensed an urgency about attracting industry, he said, "emphatically yes.''
To do this, he plans to present a program of tax incentives to the commission Aug. 5. Though he didn't release details, he said the largest breaks will be reserved for companies that bring the best jobs.
Sounds reasonable, and better, certainly, than tax cuts that encourage unneeded home construction, which is how County Administrator David Hamilton views another proposal the commission will hear that day — reducing impact fees by 25 percent.
McHugh said incentives for industry are necessary because interest in the park, though still strong, has slipped as the economy has weakened in the past 18 months. My only worry is that commissioners will give away too much because they underestimate the county's appeal.
For industries, as for home buyers a few years ago, Hernando offers a good transportation network — including the Suncoast Parkway, rail and air — as well as plentiful and relatively cheap land. The airport leases lots for about $7,500 per acre annually, said airport director Don Silvernell, while, for example, in most of southern Pasco industrial land is available only for sale, and at a cost of about $250,000 per acre.
When businesses move here, it means related industries see the park and its advantages, said Silvernell, who drove his car south past factories and warehouses tucked just out of the view of drivers on Spring Hill Drive.
Of the 95 enterprises at the park, 17 have signed contracts for lots in the past two years. That includes one of the most recent arrivals, Intrepid Machine Inc., which makes parts for the aerospace industry.
Construction has begun on its 21,000-square-foot building, Silvernell said, pointing to its recently poured concrete slab.