BROOKSVILLE — There was a time when Sparton Electronics had boasting rights as Hernando County's largest manufacturer.
Back in the 1980s, the plant had 700 to 800 workers at its facility tucked away southeast of Brooksville near the Pasco County line. But the facility is far less crowded these days with just over 200 workers, company officials said.
Sparton Electronics is a business unit of Sparton Corp., which provides electronics to technology-driven companies and the government.
As those customers have struggled, so has Sparton.
But the Brooksville facility, built in 1982, is benefiting in some small way as the company tries to make itself more profitable. Brooksville will be getting some of the business — but not the jobs — displaced from other sites as the company has retrenched.
In February, Sparton announced a larger net loss for the final months of 2008 over the same period in 2007. At the same time, the company announced a 6 percent reduction of salaried staff, or about 1,000 employees, some of whom had been working in Brooksville.
Several weeks later, the company also announced that it was freezing its participation in and accruals toward its employee pension plan and suspending its match of employees' contributions to their 401(k) accounts.
Since then, Sparton announced plans to close both its Jackson, Mich., facility and its facility in London, Ontario.
According to a corporate news release, "The closing is in response to the difficult economic and competitive situation in the industries served and is part of Sparton's plan to return the company to profitability.''
The Jackson closing is set for June and affects 39 salaried and 167 hourly workers. The London, Ontario, site will close April 30, with 24 salaried workers and 63 hourly employees losing their jobs.
Part of the manufacturing activities and specifically electronic circuit board production from those facilities will be transferred to Brooksville.
The work transferring in is like the work the plant has been doing and, at this time, no new jobs have been added because of it, company officials said through a spokeswoman.
Sparton also has facilities in DeLeon Springs, Strongsville, Ohio, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
As some of that electronic equipment production has transferred to Florida, Sparton has been in discussion with state agencies and government officials who have offered economic incentives to the firm but nothing definite has been determined on those offers yet, said Jennifer Lee, a company spokeswoman through the Millerschin Group.
Locally, Mike McHugh, the Hernando County business development director, could not say if the county has been talking incentives with Sparton.
"We have and we do continue to work very closely with Sparton,'' he said, noting that if incentives are ever given, they are finalized publicly through action of the County Commission.
McHugh said Sparton is still probably the second-largest manufacturer in Hernando after Accuform, which manufactures signs and safety products and employs about 245 people.
As for fluctuating employee numbers at Sparton, McHugh said that was the nature of the business.
"What they do with military defense contracts, a lot of that is up and down. It's just the nature of aerospace,'' he said.
Sparton doesn't talk about its military contracts much, although a recent news release from the firm indicates that in February it received a $34.1 million contract to manufacture sonobuoys for the Navy.
"The primary purpose of a sonobuoy is to detect acoustic emissions or reflections from potentially hostile submarines and transmit these signals to U.S. Navy airborne antisubmarine warfare forces,'' the release states.
It does not say where the equipment is manufactured but says that final assembly is done in DeLeon Springs. The Brooksville facility has produced the sonobuoys in the past.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.