Earlier this month, Hernando County business development director Michael McHugh unveiled a new, comprehensive plan for economic development.
The plan outlined the myriad ways Hernando County might compete with other communities for high-wage jobs. It emphasized greater collaboration among a wide range of community partners — both private and public — and it highlighted the need for research about the current workforce.
The Times recently asked McHugh and Valerie Pianta, program coordinator for the Hernando County Office of Business Development, three questions with the purpose of shedding light on the specific role their office plays in helping to grow the local economy.
How is the Office of Business Development working to stimulate the economy and create jobs?
The official mission statement of the Office of Business Development is to create meaningful jobs and investment in the county through recruitment, retention and expansion of our targeted industries. I admit that the statement certainly looks great in all of our documents and definitely reads well, but what does it really mean to our citizens? It means that we are targeting specific industries like manufacturers, distribution centers, back office operations, which invest in our community with their facilities, equipment, and add to our tax base. These companies create full-time job opportunities with relatively high wages and benefits.
In addition to recruiting new industries, a great portion of our time is spent with our existing "targeted industries," helping them to expand and experience continued success right here in Hernando County. It's important to remember that these types of businesses can locate anywhere. They can manufacture in any city, state or country for that matter. The decision to locate or expand in Hernando County is a well thought-out choice. By and large these companies are selling their products outside of the county, state and country. They do not depend on the local citizens to buy their products like retail sales and service. They need a combination of location, an affordable site and a talented workforce to succeed.
How does the new economic development plan help small business owners?
This is a great question, but first I would like to provide a little background information for everyone. The Office of Business Development spends quite a bit of time helping our small business owners and entrepreneurs who are not in those "targeted industries." We routinely answer business startup and growth questions, provide information and resources, and facilitate meetings with various experts within the community such as the chamber of commerce and SCORE. Many business owners look to us as the "answer man," and we are pleased to assist. The prosperity of small businesses — retailers, service providers and professionals — in our community is an important element in "selling" Hernando County to new and expanding targeted industries.
To more accurately address your initial question, I would like to point to one particular item in this year's plan. We are considering a partnership with the chamber of commerce and the Pasco Economic Development Council to bring a satellite office of the Small Business Development Center to both counties. The experience and program offerings of the SBDC range from minority business certification to procuring government contracts and would provide a great resource for our growing businesses.
By growing those targeted industries I spoke of earlier, we can improve the overall financial status of our residents. As everyone well knows, in this economy many people have had to significantly cut back their expenses. Providing our residents with high-paying jobs with benefits will offer the opportunity to spend their money at our local small businesses. For example, these citizens will now be able to afford to utilize a lawn service business, go out to dinner, buy a gift, send flowers or even renew their newspaper subscription. Frankly, these high-wage, full-time jobs make cash registers ring, and that is the most important benefit to our local retailers and service providers.
We've heard a lot about large-impact projects and cluster industries. Can you explain how this works?
First, let me identify what we would consider a large-impact project. Generally speaking, the project would be a targeted industry creating 200 or more high-wage jobs (more than $33,000 per year) and significantly investing in our community. The 200 jobs and addition to the tax base are important and the most obvious benefits, but it is the downstream or exponential value of these types of companies that really highlight the financial impact. As an example, when a large-impact company relocates to Hernando County, other existing businesses will profit. The new large-impact company will utilize local businesses to meet their needs. This will increase sales for our local businesses and eventually create new jobs in those industries as well. Additionally, large-impact projects tend to attract relocation of their key suppliers, support industries and sometimes even competitors. This type of clustering is common and something we strive to create. The growth of new jobs, increased personal income and gross county product is truly the most valuable and significant effect of a large-impact project.
Although the exponential value of these types of projects is great, the opportunities are few and far between. The entire Tampa Bay region sees a very limited number of inquiries of this magnitude each year. These are highly competitive and aggressively sought-after projects searching nationally for a location, so we cannot rely upon them to transform our economy. For this reason, our office focuses on growing our existing targeted industries and securing a greater quantity of small to mid-size firms. Growing this sector can be just as powerful as a large-impact project. For instance, 10 25-person firms will provide meaningful financial investment in our community and offer a diversified base of business upon which we can continue to grow and succeed.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at [email protected]