On several acres of land at Hernando County's airport industrial park, a building is going up. White dust blows across the site, and men in orange hard hats do what they've done for years: They build.
The frame is done — good news to Tim Neubert, 46, president of Neubert Aero Corp., which is moving from Clearwater to the Hernando County Airport, south of Brooksville. It's a good location for the 12-year-old company, which manufactures aviation equipment.
And it's good news to Michael McHugh, Hernando County's director of business development. The sound of construction in the industrial park means two things: jobs now and more jobs later.
Despite the worst economy in decades, not all activity has ground to a halt. Companies such as Neubert Aero Corp. and Chasco Machine and Manufacturing Inc. are taking a chance on Hernando and its future.
According to the Hernando County Office of Business Development, when it comes to growing the county's industrial base — one of McHugh's economic development goals — 2009 was better than 2008. Fifteen companies opened, relocated to or expanded within Hernando County over the last year.
These are all small, owner-led companies, said McHugh. "We resonate with them. They see the value of the community."
If you ask those owners why they chose Hernando, they'll tell you about the months or years of courtship that preceded their decision. They'll say it made good business sense or that they appreciated the county's small-town values. The county wanted them. It was cost-effective.
And of course: opportunity.
This is the time to make decisions that will impact your company when things turn around, said Jeff Roth, president of Chasco Machine and Manufacturing, which relocated from Pasco County to Hernando last summer.
Companies that are able to position themselves for growth will reap benefits later, he said.
Neubert agrees. Moving to Brooksville is part of his company's growth plan, too.
Like many, Neubert started off small. After years managing airports, he saw the need for a more economical, efficient and accurate way for airports to monitor runway friction.
He invented two products: the dynamic friction tester and the dynamic friction decelerometer. Both send real-time runway data directly to a control tower. Rubber buildup, temperature and weather can all affect the condition of an airport's runway.
The devices are manufactured to improve safety standards, Neubert said.
His company is converting a section of the Hernando airport's empty taxiways for product research and field testing.
"We've been fortunate to have around a 10 percent growth on product," Neubert said. "Interest has been steadily improving."
While some of the company's customers, such as Baltimore-Washington International Airport, are based in the United States, the majority of sales have been international, to countries such as Honduras and China.
And the product might have a crossover life in road friction testing as well. A company in Mexico recently began using it to test toll roads.
It can help reduce car accidents, just like it can help reduce aircraft accidents, Neubert said.
A short distance from Neubert Aero's construction site on Aviation Loop, Roth's office at Chasco Machine looks out a large window onto the airport. On a recent morning, military helicopters delivered paratroopers to the sky, and they floated back to Earth.
Roth, 49, is used to the activity both in and outside his shop.
Chasco Machine has a variety of multiaccess turning, milling precision machines. They are more complex than traditional two-axis lathes. And they can do much, much more, Roth said.
Walking through the workshop, he picked up a finished silver piece. Similar parts lined the table.
"You know that 'woo-woo-woo' sound you hear as a plane prepares for landing?" Roth asked.
Chasco Machine manufactures some of the parts that make that sound for Boeing 737s.
Another machine in the workshop has made a more recognizable part: a .380-caliber barrel for a Taurus handgun.
"It's an order for a Brazilian company," Roth said. "The orders for these have been up."
The high-end precision tool machines are capital-heavy, sometimes running up to a half-million dollars each. But they allow for greater efficiency and are ultimately more cost-effective over time, he said.
Back in his office, Roth doesn't sit for long. He's got several million dollars worth of business backlogged.
"We're not living month to month," he said. "In this business you've got to have work lined up or it's dangerous."
And in many ways, having work lined up is what economic development is all about. New companies bring jobs and investment.
"As each new company arrives, they bring new capabilities along with opportunities for existing businesses," McHugh said. "These companies look to local companies for subcontract opportunities."
Long term, these companies also help open the door for their key suppliers or partners to think about moving here, he said.
"I have yet to see a company come here that isn't in growth mode," McHugh said.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.