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Officials work to define Hernando's 'brand'

BROOKSVILLE — Tourist development officials brag about mermaids and boating, while economic development types tout the airport and the parkway.

Builders and real estate professionals talk about affordable housing and location, location, location.

But what if everyone trying to bring businesses, visitors and home buyers to Hernando County focused on the same message? What if they pooled their resources? They might all benefit from a united effort.

With that in mind, local government and business leaders have joined forces. The first goal is to create a unique brand for Hernando County.

Think recognizable and catchy tags that still resonate over the years, such as "I (heart) NY" and "Virginia is for Lovers."

In recent months, board members from various organizations around Hernando committed to donate funds to start a campaign. The total so far is $30,000.

The groups include the Hernando County Association of Realtors, the Hernando Builders Association, Hernando Progress, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and county tourism development and business development offices.

The company chosen to handle the branding is the Leesburg-based Husebo Advertising and Public Relations, which handled marketing for Brooksville Regional Hospital when the facility moved from downtown Brooksville further west onto Cortez Boulevard.

The move to combine public and private sector marketing efforts into a cross-marketing initiative was first touted by Sue Rupe, who directs Hernando County's tourism development efforts.

The various partners spoke of how they could help one another. If the branding and marketing of the county brought in the business and industry needed, "then if we create jobs, people will come and then they will need to buy houses'' and the entire economy benefits, said Patricia Crowley, chamber president and chief executive.

Crowley said the partnership is good on many levels.

"When you see a community working in tandem … it really sends a great message,'' she said. "It's what I saw when we were all sitting around the table together. We have the same mission. It's not about me. It's about the county.''

The marketing effort has been discussed as a long-term project and the partners hope to draw others in the community into working on and supporting the effort, said Marilyn Pearson-Adams, president of the Realtors association.

"There's no quick fix. We know that. As business people we understand that,'' she said.

"Sunshine doesn't sell anymore,'' said Dudley Hampton, immediate past president of the builders' association.

"With a couple of exceptions, we're a service economy. Unfortunately, that happens when you have a lot of retirees,'' he said. "It's not about building new houses. It's not about another fast fix. It's about attracting a good economic base.''

Hernando's business development director Michael McHugh said he supports the partnership's efforts since all aspects of the community are coordinating their pitch.

The effort comes as leaders consider a recommendation from economist William Fruth at a recent presentation to redouble their efforts to draw industries into the county.

By diversifying the tax base and creating jobs that don't just relate to Hernando's home building industry, he explained, Hernando could become better able to handle a fluctuating economy.

Fruth told them not to fall into the trap of thinking that Hernando County's pleasant quality of life is enough to draw people here.

"Identify what you have to sell,'' he said. "And it's not your community.''

While quality of life might attract retirees, alone it won't help grow businesses or create the high-paying jobs Hernando needs, Fruth said.

In the past, Commission Chairman Dave Russell said, Florida grew its economy by luring people with a low cost of living and recreational activities, particularly golf. "We're an old dog having to learn new tricks,'' Russell said.

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

Officials work to define Hernando's 'brand' 05/15/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 15, 2009 8:35pm]
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