BROOKSVILLE — How do you grow Hernando County's economy?
Simple, according to Michael McHugh, the county's business development director: Create jobs; everything else will fall into place.
That is the basis of the economic development plan McHugh unveiled to the county's Budget and Economic Development Committee this week.
While making job creation a goal seems simple enough, McHugh's plan made it clear that economic development is a complex operation with many moving parts.
McHugh detailed the community's strengths and weaknesses, and he spoke about the features that can attract the kinds of high-paying jobs and targeted industries that Hernando County wants.
He talked about the need for marketing, the importance of a variety of incentive plans and the critical role of following up on leads.
He displayed not just the proposed plan for bringing in a variety of industries to diversify the county's tax base but the strategies for landing the "big one'' — that one large, high-impact industry that could help the community turn the corner.
Such industries require a higher level of incentive, he said. In fact, he said, economic development is expensive, and Hernando will need to find a funding source.
The plan suggests that Hernando buy some large tracts of land to use as an inducement and begin saving money, possibly as much as $10-million, to make land purchases and offer pricey incentives to high-impact industries.
Other strategies in the action plan include continuing to expedite permitting and continuing to focus county capital spending projects on needed industry infrastructure. The county also should consider exempting some industries from the requirements to pay for the roads, water, sewer and other infrastructure development that their projects would require, the plan says.
Committee members questioned the focus of the draft plan on larger industries with no specific mention of helping out smaller businesses that may want to expand or move to the county.
"It ignores our local businesses,'' said committee member Nick Nicholson. "If we're going to ignore them, this county is going to die.''
He argued that while attracting industry should be a focus, small businesses are the backbone of the economy. He also said there needs to be more mention in the plan of the development potential in the county's enterprise zone and at the planned industrial corridor at Cortez Boulevard and Interstate 75.
Committee member Blaise Ingoglia warned that by placing such emphasis on trying to attract one big business, the county might be at some risk.
"There is some danger in going after the big one,'' he said, referencing the recent closure of the Ocala headquarters of mortgage firm Taylor, Bean & Whitaker and the impact the closure had on employment in that area.
Ingoglia also echoed Nicholson's interest in pushing for the development of the corridor along the interstate, but committee Chairman John Druzbick said that hasn't worked well in the past. That's because private parties own the land, and they haven't offered it up at a price that interested industries are willing to pay, he said.
McHugh told the committee that central to developing a growing economy is the need for Hernando County to control as much of its own destiny as possible.
He also explained that much of his work is actually helping smaller businesses. Still, he said, "to have an effective plan, you have to have a focus',' and he noted that Hernando's focus comes from expert advice.
"We've got to get more money into our economy, and the way to get more money into the county is we get the primary businesses,'' McHugh said. "This is what the economists say we should be doing to get our economy bigger.''
The committee voted to have McHugh continue to beef up the economic development plan and bring the updated version to an upcoming committee meeting before sending it on to the County Commission for final consideration.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.