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Technical training center in Hernando County tops economic development wish list

BROOKSVILLE — When Jeff Roth was growing up in northern Indiana decades ago, he charted his fate by landing in a trade school machine shop.

Now 51 years old, Roth is proud to have turned that educational experience into a $4 million-a-year business that he relocated to Hernando County a couple of years ago.

His problem is that he is having trouble finding qualified workers to staff Chasco Machine.

Roth's testimonial regarding the need for technical training for adults was a common theme Thursday as the Hernando County Commission conducted a workshop on economic development.

Dozens of residents, business people and agency representatives gathered to hear a series of presentations about what is being done to attract new business into the county and what needs still are not being met.

The commissioners also heard details of the streamlined permitting process the county has developed to help businesses move more quickly through the process. And they heard in detail about the many counseling and support services, for both start-up and existing businesses, that are available through the Small Business Development Center at the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce.

After four hours of discussion, the commission created a short list of tasks to help their economic development cause.

At the top of the list was the idea of working with the Hernando school district and Pasco-Hernando Community College to develop a Hernando-based adult technical training facility.

The commissioners also want to further discuss how to create more business and industrial space that is ready in case a company wants to move in immediately. One of the items in the county's existing economic development plan is to begin running infrastructure to industrially zoned areas in east Hernando, where many hope new industry can be drawn.

Other ideas commissioners want to talk about further include exploring how to give businesses a tax break on their equipment, and marketing the county as "the threshold of Tampa Bay.''

Commissioner Dave Russell said that the marketing idea is especially important because communities everywhere are competing aggressively to attract businesses and jobs.

"What it comes to is developing and marketing ourselves as a community,'' Russell said. "We have a lot to offer, but other than providing some journalistic fodder, we come off as kind of boring.''

Instead, the county needs to tie itself to the "very dynamic region that is Tampa Bay,'' he said.

Schools superintendent Bryan Blavatt said that with everyone agreeing that an adult training facility is needed, various educational and government groups must find a way to get to the next step.

"Right now, our priority, as it is with all governmental entities, is survival," Blavatt said. "But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't look toward implementing a program for those in this community who need training.''

Commissioner John Druzbick said the trick will be to find a way to move the idea forward because it has been talked about previously.

"The problem is going to be the funding,'' Blavatt said.

In addition to discussions about an adult technical training program, Stanley Giannet, provost of the North Campus of PHCC, explained that his institution has begun a needs analysis that will explore a variety of potential new programs, ranging from becoming a four-year baccalaureate program to new associate's programs in areas of science, such as engineering technology and logistics technology.

During Thursday's workshop, Michael McHugh, the county's business development manager, also brought commissioners up to date on the county's economic development plan, a plan that lists many pricey goals, including more dollars for economic incentives and development of new speculative buildings — among them a mid-size industrial building and a 25,000-square-foot aviation maintenance facility at the Hernando County Airport.

"Today is really about a call for action,'' McHugh said. "This is going to require investment.''

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

Technical training center in Hernando County tops economic development wish list 11/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 17, 2011 7:17pm]
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