In a county struggling to restart its economic engine, diversification is the name of the game.
But that's harder than it sounds, says Mike McHugh, business development manager for Hernando County. It means laying the groundwork to attract new businesses — preferably companies that can attract more growth — and then working to maximize that potential.
In the last year, McHugh has launched a plan for countywide wireless services and attracted high-growth potential businesses like LED International Lighting Inc. Then he played matchmaker, introducing the company's president to suppliers already doing business here.
"He told me my new business needed to be in Hernando County and the county was going to help in any way to make that happen," said LED president David Anglewicz. "He stood behind his words."
It's a good time to be a manufacturer in the United States. As companies have become leaner, it has become less practical to place orders months in advance and wait for them to arrive from China.
This trend has helped push the Hernando County Airport and Business Complex to 96 percent of its capacity, as companies like LED find suppliers across the street, rather than halfway around the world.
"Nationally, manufacturing is at an all-time high," said McHugh. "And Hernando tends to follow national trends when it comes to manufacturing."
While growth for manufacturers has been positive, the county still needs to replace thousands of jobs lost in the recession. McHugh hopes to encourage other technologies to consider Hernando for startups.
"When I get a call from manufacturers looking to move or start up, they ask about technology and facilities," he said.
Earlier this year, McHugh got the green light from the Hernando County Commission to pursue a public-private partnership to build a countywide WiMax operation.
High-speed Internet is not accessible in many parts of the county, and such a system would make the entire county a wireless hot spot, enabling a provider to seek subscribers and increasing Internet options — and potential small-business opportunities — for county residents.
"Our goal is to blanket the county with a broadband signal," McHugh said.
The University of South Florida's Small Business Development Center has also been helping new companies with planning and developing business plans.
Anglewicz of LED International Lighting credited the center, which helped his company to pursue and receive a startup loan from Florida Traditions Bank.
The center could also help established companies like Sparton Electronics, McHugh said.
"We're working to engage them with USF for recruitment, to help build intellectual property and also to gain access to research."
McHugh is working on forming a technology working group that would allow manufacturers to share ideas, make connections and forge relationships. Often one company is struggling with an issue and someone else has a solution.
Imagine, he said, if Hernando County became known for its innovative technology businesses. "If we could be known for something," McHugh said. "I'd love to be known for something like that."
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.