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Hernando officials woo big employer, but cost is a concern

BROOKSVILLE — A discussion on Tuesday among county leaders about ways to improve the dismal state of the local economy veered at one point into fishing.

In particular, how Hernando County could reel in the big one, a major company with 300-plus workers in an up-and-coming industry.

It was not idle speculation: County Commissioner David Russell spoke of a high-impact company that has shown interest in Hernando. He would not disclose the name of the business, just referred to it as "sunburn."

Hernando County, he said, is one of three finalists nationwide to land the company.

So far, Hernando has proposed nearly $30 million in state and local incentives. But that might not be enough.

"We're about $35 million less than someone in the Northeast," said Valerie Pianta, the county's program coordinator for business development.

The discussion at a County Commission workshop was part of the unveiling of Economic Development 2.0 for Hernando County, a plan for how to expand and diversify the county's economy.

Overall, it places greater emphasis on a highly educated work force, it highlights the need for research to answer questions about current workers, and it addresses the challenges of reeling in those big fish — large employers with more than 300 high-wage jobs.

The $30 million figure caught Commissioner Jim Adkins' attention. He asked where the county would find that much money.

"There are a number of resources we can tap," said Russell. "This project fell right into the governor's plans for bringing this kind of industry to the state."

Pianta gave an overview of such high-impact deals, which she said are highly confidential in nature. Frequently, businesses aren't identified even after site visits, she said.

This type of industry is sought-after and often makes many requests, including free land, free infrastructure, and rent-free space.

"One of the things that ties our hands … is the fact that they don't want folks to know what their plans are," Russell said.

Mike McHugh, the county business development director, noted that such big businesses go and grow where they can find talent.

His new plan highlighted the need for greater collaboration between educational partners from K-12 through college, as well as other training facilities, such as the new Hernando Employment and Training Association, which teaches former construction workers the skills necessary for employment as marine joiners.

Stan Giannet, provost of Pasco-Hernando Community College's north campus in Brooksville, spoke about PHCC's efforts to meet the needs of residents. In addition to GED classes, dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students, and new programs in nursing and engineering, the new Spring Hill campus will open its doors this coming August.

"It's going to create a lot of momentum for the business community there," Giannet said. "It will be very technologically focused."

Jerome Salatino, chief executive officer of the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board, spoke about employee development and the role his office will play in providing up-to-date information about workers and jobs.

"To date,'' he said, "our organization hasn't done a lot with the labor market information."

This is about to change, he added. His office is soon to provide reports with up-to-date, real-time information for the community.

McHugh identified the three core ways to expand the local economy: attract new business from outside the area, expand existing businesses, and encourage local startup, entrepreneurial businesses.

Audience participation was encouraged on Tuesday morning, and several community members offered advice and suggestions.

"As far as the big deal goes, I'm one that believes the big fish eat little fish," said Gus Guadagnino, owner of Joni Industries. "I want to talk about small business."

Guadagnino, who moved from New York to Brooksville in 1985, said his mortgage payment and garbage collection bill were nearly the same up North. Once he arrived in Hernando County, his costs were lower, and his business took off. As a result of his company's success, other companies moved here and have been successful.

Guadagnino suggested that the commission consider using resources to promote leads from within. "In my business alone, I deal with 700 suppliers," he said.

After McHugh's request to increase the economic development project reserve from $500,000 to $5 million, the commissioners discussed looking at projects on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not to provide more money.

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

Hernando officials woo big employer, but cost is a concern 02/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 8:37pm]

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