BROOKSVILLE — As he tries to coax business leaders to consider Hernando County as a future home, Michael McHugh shakes a lot of hands.
Then, one of the first questions he often has to answer is: "Where is that?"
Just north of Tampa, he invariably responds.
McHugh, the county's business development manager, says the time has come for the people who could fuel Hernando County's economic future to have a clearer picture of where its airport and industrial parks are located.
It's time for a new brand.
So, even as Tampa International Airport officials continue to express concerns, McHugh will ask the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday to consider changing the name of the Hernando County Airport to the Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport and the adjacent industrial areas to the Brooksville-Tampa Technology Center.
An alternate possibility is the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Airport and the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Technology Center.
When the name change and rebranding effort were first pitched in July, Hernando officials balked at moving forward after legal representatives of Tampa International Airport warned that use of the word "Tampa" might infringe on their client.
There was an agreement to meet and discuss the issue, but that meeting was delayed by Tropical Storm Debby, and other offers to meet were not accepted, McHugh said. That's why the issue is back on the commission's agenda.
Tampa airport officials have not given up the fight.
"We remain concerned that the name change proposed for the Hernando County airport will cause confusion. Our general counsel is scheduled to meet with their legal team later this week," said Janet Zink, director of communications for Tampa International, told the Times on Tuesday.
Said McHugh: "The current name, Hernando County Airport, in itself is a geopolitical term that refers to the county's jurisdiction and ownership of this, but it does not lend itself well to the marketing of this facility. The objective is to enhance the marketability and also a message of sophistication.''
McHugh and Don Silvernell, the airport manager, have gone through a long process of gathering information about other airport names, talking to marketing people around the county and deriving a list of words to boil down into a new name.
The research showed that airports tend to be named after a city or a region. Brooksville was a logical choice since the airport was once the Brooksville Army airfield. In addition, there is a lot of pride in local ownership of the airport, McHugh said.
Plus, the official three-letter identifier for the airport has always been BKV.
As for changing the designation of what are now the county's industrial, corporate and rail parks, McHugh said "industrial'' conjures up images of smokestacks. The county's business park area is becoming more high-tech, he said, pointing to the recent replacement of an old truss plant by an electronics manufacturer.
Rebranding was one of the top projects the county identified in its economic development plan, and McHugh said the timing is good to accomplish that now.
The Hernando County Airport was named General Aviation Airport of the Year last year by the Florida Department of Transportation. A new air traffic control tower just became operational this week. And, two weeks ago, the largest manufacturer at the airport — Accuform Signs — announced a major expansion.
Plans are under way to build a new aviation services facility at the airport. And improvements have been made to the runways.
"It's not just a new shingle, not just a new paint job. There are more things that we want to do,'' McHugh said.
That could include upgrading landscaping, entrances and street signs "to really get a strong corporate look in our parks,'' McHugh said.
Some of the improvements likely will come later, based on available funding.
"We think the brand and the name that we're talking about will really help us with the momentum that we've got going on at the airport and will put forth a more accurate portrayal,'' McHugh said. "The objective of the name is not to influence people here, but influence people who are not here . . . .
"The first thing is educating people about who we are and where we are.''
If commissioners approve the name change, McHugh said, it would take from four to eight weeks to develop an implementation plan, logos, marketing materials and budgets.
He said he wasn't worried about Tampa International Airport's objections. He said the Hernando airport needs to make changes and he can justify the recommendation.
"We're going to press on,'' McHugh said.
"I think the names we're proposing have absolute legitimacy. If they didn't, we wouldn't be here to talk about it. . . . I think that's a pretty good proposition, so that's why we are so excited about it.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.