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Hernando County Airport facelift is boost for business

BROOKSVILLE — The window treatments had not yet arrived at the new office of the Hernando County Airport last week, even as county officials were moving into the 5,600-square-foot building.

The clear view those uncovered windows provided summed up what airport director Don Silvernell cited as the reasons the new facility is so important.

From the vantage point of the front window is the entrance to the Airport Industrial Park off Spring Hill Drive. Side and front window views offer a good look at a handful of the businesses and manufacturers that call the industrial park their home.

From the back window, a specially built pad, where pilots can pull up their small planes to the back door to conduct business with the airport, can be seen as the panorama of the airport runways stretches into the distance.

This location, these surroundings and something else inside the building are just the mix Silvernell says will make the new office a critical hub for the airport, its tenants and the more than 2,000 people who work at businesses on site.

The other new feature inside Silvernell's building, on the northwest corner of the airport property, is the office of Mike McHugh, the county's business development director.

Since 2002, when McHugh was hired to woo businesses to locate in Hernando, he and his staff have been in leased space near the Hernando County Government Center in downtown Brooksville.

Last week, McHugh was unpacking boxes in his spacious new quarters at the airport office, occupying the eastern wing of the structure and sharing common areas such as a break room and a conference room with Silvernell and his staff.

Both see the arrangement as a good fit.

McHugh explained that he and Silvernell talk every day anyway, since much of McHugh's business development job focuses on finding new businesses that might locate at the airport's industrial, rail and air parks.

Now, instead of leaving a flurry of e-mail and voice mail to get simple questions answered or to find time to brainstorm ideas, each can walk down the hallway and get an immediate opportunity to communicate.

"It's going to be so much more efficient," McHugh said.

"We can put our heads together without having to drive 10 miles," Silvernell said.

Discussion of a new office has been going on for several years, and Silvernell said he was pleased at how the facility turned out. The building was constructed by a local firm, Proud Pelican Construction Inc.

The cost of the office, the adjacent 1,500-square-foot airport maintenance building and the airplane pad out back was $1.5-million. More than a third of that cost was paid for with a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation; the rest came from airport reserves.

The airport is a freestanding county operation and pays its own costs through the revenue it raises from everything from fuel sales to industrial property leases.

Silvernell did run into a snag when he sought County Commission approval recently to purchase furnishings. In light of the current budget crunch, commissioners sent him on a "scavenger hunt" to furnish much of the building with existing pieces, rather than buying new furniture.

Silvernell has found some items that way, but did order furnishings for the now-empty lobby, which will provide the first impression for potential airport customers.

Having the new office be inviting and convenient should send a good message, Silvernell said.

"To me it's real important. It helps to show that the airport is taking the steps needed to bring in some clientele on both the aviation side and the industrial side," he said.

The building has a generator, as evidenced by sporadic power outages during testing last week. The structure has a wind load rating of 150 mph and other special features that are important because the building will be a secondary emergency operations center for the county.

Locating that at the airport makes sense, Silvernell said, since relief often comes by air in case of a disaster.

To McHugh, "the meat and potatoes" of the new office is the conference room. While he had one in his old office, it wasn't much to speak of. The new room shared with the airport and the businesses in the airport industrial parks will allow for training opportunities and meetings, including meetings of the committee representing industries in the parks.

Allowing the industries and manufacturers to get together and talk about common issues is a networking opportunity where McHugh sees real value. He said it also will help for them to learn more about one another in case there might be a product or service offered by one business that other businesses could use.

His job is to market the entire county, but with so much emphasis on the business-ready space available at the airport, it makes sense for his office to be there, McHugh said.

"It's done, and we're just glad to be here. I think it's going to work out real, real well," he said. "The closer I can be to the business folks, the better."

Whatever will enhance business development is a good thing, he said, especially at a time when the county has placed a greater emphasis on that function. Through recent County Commission action, new job-creation incentives were added to the tools McHugh can use to lure new businesses and facilitate the expansion of existing businesses.

The County Commission is also poised to create a new standing committee on economic development.

McHugh said he hopes the new office sends just the right message to the people who need to hear it.

"This concept is to be a statement about our desire to attract business here," he said. "One of the ways you attract business is by showing them that you're thinking of them."

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

Hernando County Airport facelift is boost for business 01/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 10:57pm]
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