BROOKSVILLE — The best way to promote economic development in Hernando County: bolster adult technical education.
That was the position many candidates took Monday evening during a political forum hosted by the Pasco-Hernando Community College North Campus Student Government Association.
The forum, which lasted about 1 1/2 hours, featured 16 candidates for county offices and about twice as many people in attendance. Few students showed up for the event.
In his meetings with county economic development officials, said District 3 County Commission candidate Greg Sheldon, he repeatedly has been told that one of the biggest problems in the county is that we have the people, but many of them lack the correct training.
"We have companies here locally that want to grow, but they feel that they can't grow because people are not trained in those fields," said Sheldon, a no-party candidate. "If we retrained them into a new field, we could entice businesses to come here, and we could help grow businesses that we already have."
In the District 1 commission race, Democrat Arlene Glantz and Republican Nick Nicholson both tried to stake their claims to the adult technical education issue.
Nicholson said it's time that the county start using Nature Coast Technical High School to train employees, as it was intended.
"We're on the right track," he said. "We just need to keep going."
"After speaking with our business people, they are telling me that they would love to hire locally, but the people here who are unemployed do not have the skills," she said. "We must get adult education. We're pretty close to it now. We just need another little push."
District 5 Commissioner Jim Adkins, running for re-election on the Republican ticket, said educating the workforce is key in bringing businesses into the county.
"You have to have all the elements before you start talking about a business coming in. … And education is a key element of that," he said.
In addition to talking about strengthening adult technical education, many candidates spoke about streamlining the permitting process, making it more business friendly, and allowing businesses to open faster.
"We have to make the process to open a business in Hernando County take six weeks or less," said District 1 independent candidate Joe Swilley.
Democrat Ramon Gutierrez, a candidate in the District 5 commission race, said it is obviously important to have capable employees, but the county also needs to have infrastructure in place. It's important to support mass transit in the county, he said, as well as parks and libraries.
The two District 4 School Board candidates focused primarily on other issues.
But candidate Gus Guadagnino, a semiretired business owner, touched on the importance of a strong school system in bringing new companies to Hernando.
"When business comes to Hernando County, one of the top three questions they ask: Tell me about your education system," Guadagnino said. "If you want to make a difference, put your backbone into the education system."
Karen and Ronald Derocher of Spring Hill enjoyed the event and the opportunity to hear the candidates speak.
A local business owner, Ronald Derocher said education is vitally important to the county's growth.
"Again, it's the education," he said. "You have to educate our students. I don't think our school system is doing an adequate job. They should have a technical school."
Danny Valentine can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1432.