For years, Mike McHugh has been Hernando County's rainmaker. Through good times and bad, it has been his job to attract jobs.
Now this rainmaker faces a drought. It's game time.
"I'm very much an optimist," he said. "There are still projects out there and people looking. Things are still happening, but it's taking much longer now. For companies looking to move (here), it might be a two-year process instead of six months."
The industrial parks at the Hernando County Airport continue to be a bright spot.
"It's getting it's own momentum," McHugh said. "We're over 2,000 employees — over 3,000 if you include government."
McHugh considers the airport to be one of the prime economic engines in the county.
For targeted industries, new incentives aimed at job creation, approved by the County Commission, are now on the books.
Many are aimed at jobs that pay an average wage of $13.35 an hour or more.
Other incentives are designed to defer and forgive building permit and impact fees.
"You have to be careful with incentives," McHugh said. "What we do is performance-based. We don't give money up front. You have to earn the incentive."
When county commissioners approved the program in October, some businesses expressed immediate interest, said Valerie Pianta, program coordinator for the county Office of Business Development.
"The incentives make us competitive against other counties and states," said McHugh.
During 2008, the county also got its first international project, with R&M Ship Tec from Germany deciding to open its first U.S. facility in Hernando.
R&M Ship Tec designs the interiors of high-end yachts, cruise ships and other cargo vessels. The company also hopes to add a training facility this year.
"We were in a multistate and multicounty competition," said McHugh. "We worked very hard for that."
Securing one international project helps pave the way for others, McHugh said.
Two other firms opted to relocate to the Hernando airport parks this past year. Chasco Machine and Manufacturing and Intrepid Machine, both high-tech businesses, were looking to expand. They found what they were looking for in Hernando: lower costs and room for growth.
As far as riding out the recession goes, McHugh thinks the county needs to persevere with the things it knows attract businesses to the region.
"You have to stay the course," he said. "We can't have short-term thinking."