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Hernando administrator looks ahead to economic development, other challenges in 2014

As Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon talks about his plans for the new year, it is clear he is enthusiastic about his new role as the county’s economic development director and already has a plan for how to lure new businesses and jobs to Hernando.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2012)

As Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon talks about his plans for the new year, it is clear he is enthusiastic about his new role as the county’s economic development director and already has a plan for how to lure new businesses and jobs to Hernando.

BROOKSVILLE — Even before his bosses on the County Commission gave him a second job to do, Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon had a lengthy "to do" list for 2014.

As Sossamon talked recently about his plans for the new year, it was clear he is enthusiastic about his new role as the county's economic development director and already has a plan for how to lure new businesses and jobs to Hernando.

And then there are all of the other day-to-day tasks that come with being the county administrator.

Sossamon said one of his first priorities is to follow through with the promised rebranding of not just the county's airport and industrial park, but the entire county.

He wants something that provides "immediate recognition'' of Hernando County — something that will work for tourism, marketing and business development.

Eager to get into the nitty-gritty of business recruitment, Sossamon plans to make good use of a recently acquired membership in the World Economic Development Alliance, which provides leads to communities trying to attract businesses.

County staffers already have been looking into a variety of trade shows the organization advertises. Because many are specific to a particular type of industry, Sossamon said the county will be able to focus on industries Hernando chooses to target, such as high-tech and manufacturing companies.

That might also include retail and hospitality businesses, which would help boost tourism.

When it comes to tourism, Sossamon has another idea. He wants the county to develop a special venue that would attract tourists. Although he can't say where or what at this point, he said it needs to be something people would want to come and see.

That worked for him in his old job in Concord, N.C., he said, where he helped draw in a large mall known as Concord Mills, considered the top shopping and entertainment destination in the Carolinas. Nearby, he led the city in developing a golf course. Also nearby is the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Hernando County needs to sell its attributes to the outside world, including its natural areas for kayaking, hiking, biking and bird-watching, Sossamon said. He also noted that, with the renovation of the old manor house at Chinsegut Hill north of Brooksville, he hopes more funding can be obtained to fix the cabins there and draw overnight visitors.

Another goal for the new year is to open more lines of communication with the county's business community. Sossamon already has opened the door to some members of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, inviting their input when the county was considering the hiring of a new economic development director.

He wants to form a committee of nine or 10 business leaders and meet quarterly to report on economic development activities and brainstorm about new approaches.

"That will help me, and it will help them,'' he said.

In addition, Sossamon has widened the discussion with another group. He recently met with officials from Citrus and Pasco counties to talk about regional projects that could be financed with money the coastal counties hope to receive through the Restore Act.

The Restore Act governs the spending of billions of dollars paid by BP over the 2010 gulf oil spill to offset the impact of the spill on coastal communities. While Hernando officials and those from other jurisdictions have been working on their own formal lists of projects, Sossamon said some of the money might be targeted for regional projects.

Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties might look at some type of coastal restoration project, development of a snorkeling trail or possibly reef enhancements, he said.

Putting the final touches on the local list of Restore Act projects is one of Sossamon's top priorities for the new year. Those projects include environmental enhancements, parks, recreation and other efforts to promote tourism.

County officials have been working on a ranking system, and Sossamon said he anticipates sharing the list with the County Commission this month .

Also this month, Sossamon hopes the county is ready to put out a request for proposals on a new initiative. Seeking to reduce the cost of running the county's landfill, the county wants to find out what means of waste disposal are available to convert garbage to some form of power.

Citrus County, which also operates a landfill, is working with Hernando to seek an alternative. Ultimately, that would generate some revenue and slow the stream of garbage into the expensive landfill cell Hernando opened several years ago.

Another push for 2014 will be to help the county's two fixed-base operators at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport get started with their plans to open flight schools. Sossamon said he eventually would like to see that effort expand and include a curriculum to train pilots and airplane mechanics, two lucrative aviation-related fields.

Though his plate is full, Sossamon said he is optimistic about the new year. He has seen some spurts of economic recovery, he said, and pointed to the county's recent approvals of drawings and the plat for the planned Cortez Commons shopping center, near the southwest corner of Mariner and Cortez boulevards. Progress on the center has stirred a lot of talk about what retail and restaurant chains might land there.

Also, while there have been some delays, Sossamon said he expects work on the new headquarters for Accuform Signs, near the airport, to get under way this year.

And he is hopeful that other building and development projects will crank up soon.

"I feel pretty good about 2014 being better than 2013,'' he said. "It's going to be great.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando administrator looks ahead to economic development, other challenges in 2014 12/31/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 4:46pm]
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