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Hernando County considers new incentives to draw businesses

BROOKSVILLE — In car shopping, sometimes it comes down to which auto maker offers the best rebate. It is much the same when a business is seeking a home.

The owners research location, transportation options, work force. Then, they ask what else a community has to offer.

Hernando County already has a menu of state and local incentives to entice businesses to move here, said Mike McHugh, the county's business development director. But with every other community in America looking to add businesses and jobs, what if those lures are not enough?

County commissioners, looking for ways to diversify the tax base, want to know what else Hernando can do to be even more attractive to business prospects.

On Tuesday, McHugh will provide a list of ideas including tax abatements, help with moving expenses and creating a discretionary fund the county could use when just one more thing is needed to close a deal.

"What we're hoping to do is offer the thing that makes the difference,'' he said.

McHugh researched other Florida counties' offerings and found they varied. Hernando already offers about a dozen different lures including impact fee, building permit fee and land lease incentives. Both Progress Energy and Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative offer special deals to targeted industries.

Private grants are available, Career Central provides job recruiting, testing and training facilities, and the Brooksville Enterprise Zone offers other attractive carrots to businesses.

One new idea that Hernando can consider is to offer property tax abatement to businesses meeting certain criteria. But a voter referendum is needed to get that option in place. McHugh said a more common method of accomplishing the same thing is to offer property tax refunds.

Those are usually tied to performance standards such as the number of jobs to be created, the amount of investment a businesses would make in the community, or how long it would commit to staying.

Other counties also offer deals on water and sewer connection fees, relocation expenses and even give up the administration fee they can charge when they float an industrial revenue bond for a business.

McHugh is also suggesting the county could offer seed money to beginning a training program for a targeted business, could conduct a study to see what Hernando's most competitive features are or could further try to expedite the building permitting process.

Permitting is a big issue in Hernando because so much of the business development involves building new buildings, McHugh said.

The county could also establish a discretionary fund for other incentives at the discretion of the County Commission. McHugh said it could be a local version of the governor's so-called "closing fund.''

Another idea would be to find some way to reward private developers who build speculative buildings and then fill them with targeted industries. Currently, there are no specific incentives in that situation.

McHugh also suggests that the county mesh its business development plans with its capital improvement plan. Roads, water and sewer are all critical to business development.

"I've never lost a project to too much infrastructure,'' he said. "Being prepared really puts forward the site and puts forward the county.''

While the various ideas cut the cost of locating a business in Hernando County, McHugh said that a healthy list of incentive options also does something else.

"It sends a message out,'' he said. "It's a statement from our county about how we feel about our industries.''

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

Hernando County considers new incentives to draw businesses 08/01/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 2, 2008 11:08pm]
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