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Hernando, Michigan woo electronics manufacturer Sparton for jobs

BROOKSVILLE — Sparton Corporation's recent announcement that it is sending more business to Florida has sparked a tug of war involving Hernando County and the governor of Michigan.

Hernando business development director Michael McHugh next week will ask the County Commission to approve incentives that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for Sparton to keep its business — and jobs — here and to expand its workforce.

The move aims to counter a similar package of incentives Michigan offered after Sparton announced in March that it would close a facility in Jackson, Mich., idling 39 salaried and 167 hourly workers.

Sparton, which opened in Hernando in 1982 near the Pasco County line, once was the county's largest manufacturer. It is housed in a 137,000-square-foot building and has 179 full-time workers. Sparton makes electronic circuit boards for aerospace, medical, homeland defense and military applications.

Sparton has laid off about 60 workers company-wide this year, frozen benefits and announced it was closing plants in Michigan and London, Ontario, which will impact 24 more salaried workers and 63 hourly employees.

After each closure, the company said work done at those facilities would move to its plants in Brooksville and DeLeon Springs.

Michigan officials counter-attacked with incentives, not only to keep the Jackson facility open but also to lure the Florida operations to Michigan, McHugh said.

"We felt we had to have a reaction to a competitive situation,'' he said.

The incentive package McHugh will propose will include:

• $3,000 for each job retained and any new job created through the Florida Defense and Space Contractors incentive program. The state would pay 80 percent and the county 20 percent.

• A one-time local payment of $500 per retained job over a two-year period.

• Local impact and building permit fee incentives, as needed, for facility improvements.

• Up to $3,000 for each new job as provided in the incentive ordinance the county approved last year.

McHugh said the county would check to be sure that the existing jobs are retained and that jobs are created before paying Sparton any incentives.

Michigan was very insistent with its bid, McHugh said. He recalled that on a day he spent with Sparton chief executive Cary Wood, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm called Wood three times to talk.

Still, McHugh said he was optimistic.

"(Wood) wants to return Sparton to prominence and he believes that Florida is a big part of this,'' he said. "They're looking at adding 100 new jobs and that's something we need in our primary industries.''

McHugh said Hernando, with a 12.9 percent unemployment rate, desperately needs new jobs and can't afford to lose any.

"I think a healthy Sparton is a good thing,'' he said. "And there is some opportunity for growth here. I certainly hope those plans become a reality.''

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

Hernando, Michigan woo electronics manufacturer Sparton for jobs 04/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 23, 2009 6:33pm]
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