Saturday, February 17, 2018
Politics

Whatever the cost, Hernando County needs jobs

Was the arrival of the governor at the unveiling of a planned business expansion in Hernando County really impressive or just a bit of political opportunism?

Did the owners of that business, Accuform Signs, deserve to be hailed as community heroes for building a new factory that is, after all, mainly intended to bring them more profit?

And how about all the secrecy, complete with a name — Project Kodiak — like something out of a Robert Ludlum novel? Was that necessary?

All of those questions might have crossed your mind if you attended the ceremony at the county's airport industrial park Thursday afternoon.

But, in the end, none of them matter much. Only these do:

Was it worth it? And did the county have any choice?

See, there was one thing that none of the politicians who attended — and there were many of them — never mentioned.

Economic development these days can look a lot like legal bribery. And if all the parts of the Accuform package are approved, the state and county incentives will come to $5.8 million.

Some of this is for infrastructure at the park, but more than $4 million will go directly to the company if it creates as many jobs as expected: 271.

It's a shame that it has come to this — that cities, counties and states have to give up so much in the name of job creation. Because, if you look at it with a wider scope, jobs aren't always being created; sometimes they're being lured to or kept in one community rather than another.

For proof that there's an arms race going on, just look to Pasco County, which offered $10 million in state and county funds last year for an expansion of Raymond James Financial, and which would have gladly outbid Hernando for Accuform if given the chance, said Mike McHugh, the county's economic development manager.

Obviously, we really, really need these jobs and this economic diversity.

That the county has the highest unemployment rate in the Tampa Bay area — 10.8 percent — has long been blamed on our dependence on home building.

And a couple of partly symbolic, but still pretty amazing things would happen if Accuform brings in as many jobs as promised over the next four years. Hernando would have almost as many jobs in manufacturing — about 1,800 — as in construction: 1,900. And the percentage of county workers in the manufacturing sector, 4.5 percent, would be slightly higher than the statewide average.

Could Hernando be gaining some momentum as a center of industry? We should hope so, said Dave Hamilton, operations manager for the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board. These jobs pay more than most others in Hernando, and manufacturing brings in money from outside the county, unlike some other sectors, "which just churn it around."

So is it worth it? Figuring that out will take more number crunching, more looking at the wages paid and the incentives granted. It will also take real public discussion and not cheerleading — one of the root causes of the out-of-control costs of economic development.

But at this point, Hernando can't change the rules of the game by refusing to play.

It needs good jobs and a new economic identity too badly. It has no choice.

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