WESLEY CHAPEL — Turn on ESPN during any given football weekend and you'll likely notice a sea of collegiate flags waving in the background. While you might recognize the names — Gators, Seminoles, Hurricanes — odds are you won't recognize the origin of the poles holding up the flags.
Most of them are a product called Flagpole To Go, made in a 10,000-square-foot factory in Wesley Chapel's Compark. They're made by J.T.D. Enterprises, which began 30 years ago in a basement in a Detroit suburb. The company made its name by producing telescopic devices for golf ball retrievers but recently began making the poles.
"We saw people using our golf ball retrievers as flagpoles," said vice president Tom Nihra, "so we decided to make them."
His father, Joe, a tool and die maker, started the company as a way to pay for his only child's education at Michigan State University.
"I used to joke that I was almost like a doctor," said Nihra, who as a teen helped his dad out with the business. "I was always on call."
Late last year, Tom Nihra and his wife, Deni, the company's president, decided to move the whole operation to Florida. A military contract to make a telescopic device for Navy operations in Orlando, along with a growing distaste for Northern winters, made them want to move south.
Volusia County officials were sent to court them. The Nihras began scouting around for sites and liked the Tampa Bay area to be near Tom Nihra's father, who lives in Oldsmar.
"We looked at Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco," said Deni.
The folks at the Pasco Economic Development Council won them over.
"They didn't just say, 'here are some phone numbers, good luck,' " Tom said. "They actually helped us make the connections."
When the move was finalized, the Nihras broke the news to their eight employees. They offered to preserve their jobs if they agreed to come to Florida.
Nearly all accepted.
J.T.D. took only about four days to shut down its Michigan plant and send out its first shipment from its new digs at ComPark 75 in May.
"At first it was stressful," said Al Geier, 42, a floor leader who has worked for J.T.D. since 2007. He and his wife had to sell their home and put their daughter, 15, and son, 12, in new schools. His wife got a job at Regions Bank.
"Now I'm getting into hunting and fishing," said Geier, who admits he will miss ice fishing back home. "And we like Disney."
This year J.T.D. received the economic development council's new business award at the organization's annual banquet Wednesday.
"We got the paperwork that said we were nominated and we were like "Wow, we've only been here a couple of months," Tom Nihra said. "We were very surprised to win."
United Way executive director Duggan Cooley, who served on the awards committee, called J.T.D. "a wonderful example of family business ingenuity.
"Our team was excited to learn more about J.D.T. after their nomination for an award from the PEDC. We are so fortunate to have a business climate in Pasco that is so welcoming to businesses looking to expand."