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Firm hopes to lure 4,000 high-tech jobs to Hernando

BROOKSVILLE — When officials with Precision Alliance Co. told local business leaders recently of their lofty game plan for Hernando County, they raised more than a few eyebrows.

In the next five years, the company hopes to attract 2-million square feet of industrial business by luring 135 high-tech machine tool companies here and creating more than 4,000 high-paying jobs.

That was the notice sent to the Chamber of Commerce last month. Chamber president Pat Crowley forwarded the information to Mike McHugh, the county's business development director.

According to McHugh, Precision Alliance's concept is a good one worth pursuing, but the idea is in its earliest stages.

Still, that's not stopping company owner Joe Selway from moving ahead with his idea of bringing a cluster of machine tool companies into Hernando County to create a business environment modeled after Europe's "Technic Valley,'' considered the world's largest geographic concentration of CNC or computer numerical control machines.

Selway and his partner, Jeffrey Walz, already have an international machine tooling company formed in 1976 on Cortez Boulevard in Brooksville called Eurotech.

The parts manufactured in these businesses go primarily to the medical, aerospace, energy and defense industries. The manufacturing facilities themselves are not at all like manufacturing of the past. Gone are the assembly lines and dirty environments.

The machines that make these parts, Selway said, are computerized and unmanned. They can create a part in one swift operation while the same part made overseas would require multiple machine runs to complete.

Selway and Walz hope to partner with McHugh and Hernando County as well as local school district officials and Pasco-Hernando Community College. They want to create an educational system to begin to train Hernando youngsters to become the well-paid workers in the industry.

Salaries for workers in these businesses could average $40,000 or more and will require high technical skills. That is why Selway wants to work so closely with McHugh and the school district to develop curriculum that could home-grow the future work force.

Selway has also reached out to the business leaders of Hernando Progress and plans further outreach to draw the community into the process and build up the momentum needed to get the idea off the ground. Already, he said, he has persuaded one business, which he did not identify, to move to Hernando County, and others are exploring the possibility.

While some might question the wisdom of placing competing businesses in the same geographic location, Selway said this is the way to go for the future.

By clustering like businesses together, they will network together and learn from one another's strengths. He said that will allow the group to compete better with machine tooling companies overseas.

"The days of worrying about the guy next door are over,'' Selway said. "What we've really got now is an international competition.''

While Selway isn't quite sure yet how his fledgling company will make money, he is confident the idea will fly because the critical pieces are in his favor.

Location is a plus

He already has a customer base and knowledge about the machine tooling industry since he has been in the business all his life. He also said he has a great product to sell, the Gulf Coast of Florida. Selway said the support of the government and private sector partners in the area also will be an asset.

Hernando County has much to offer these potential new businesses. "Hernando County is unique because of the airport situation here,'' both the local airport and the proximity to Tampa International Airport. The county is also close enough to Tampa, Orlando and Ocala, and "it's still affordable.''

In addition, the county already has set aside large tracts for industrial use. "Logistically, we're set up ideally,'' Selway said.

McHugh was excited about that prospect although he stressed the talks are still very early in the process. Just this week he met with officials from Nature Coast Technical High School to discuss the idea.

''This could become a significant training platform for a much wider industry base,'' McHugh said.

The industry requires people trained in a variety of technical skills, such as computer-assisted drafting and programming. Ideally a program could start in the high school and also include an adult education component through the community college.

All of those details are still to be worked out.

"I think it's an ambitious plan and all the stakeholders mentioned see the potential and the merit,'' McHugh said. "We've had some preliminary discussions where there is a lot more groundwork yet to do.''

Still, McHugh said he saw that if the plan worked, Hernando County could reap some huge benefits down the road. And he was especially encouraged to see the industry promoting the idea and the other partners being receptive to talk about them.

"I think it's a vision at this point that we'd love to see become a reality,'' he said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Firm hopes to lure 4,000 high-tech jobs to Hernando 04/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 2:18pm]

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