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Leaders begin to map plan for development

The list of participants reads something like a Who's Who of local power brokers.

There were the presidents of the county's biggest banks and savings and loans. There were the top administrators from the county's hospitals. There were utility company managers, county commissioners and chamber of commerce officials.

Together, the 30 or so business and government leaders sat at a County Line Road eatery for nearly three hours Friday.

By the time they were done, they had begun drawing the first lines of a new map for economic development in Hernando County.

"I think it went very well," said Hernando County Commission Chairman John Richardson, who informally presided over the closed-door meeting. "Of course, what we have are just a lot of questions right now. It's kind of like one question leads to a bunch of other questions right now."

Primarily, the business and government leaders met to preview a draft of a just-completed study of local economic development efforts that the county began working on last year.

The three-part study discusses the county's pluses and minuses for business, lists "target" industries it is best suited to pursue and provides different scenarios for a reorganized economic development structure.

County officials, led by Richardson, started working on the study last year in an effort to increase Hernando's economic diversity and keep up with other development-conscious counties.

While the county financed and did the study in-house, local business leaders always have been considered an integral part of it.

"In order to get anything done toward economic development, you need to have the support of the rank and file of your business executives," said Hal Robinson, executive director of the Greater West Hernando Chamber of Commerce and one of the primary participants in the study. "That's how you have to build any economic development program."

The business and government leaders made no conclusive decisions at the meeting about exactly how to best improve local economic development efforts, but here is where they left things Friday:

Some sort of private partnership, perhaps resembling economic development councils in other counties, may be necessary to improve economic development efforts. County economic development officials were directed to further explore various scenarios for the structure of such a partnership.

County economic development officials also were directed to develop a "short list" of industries the county is best-suited to attract from a longer list that is part of the study. They also were asked to further refine other parts of the study and to document possible sources for increased economic development funding.

Leaders of the county's Committee of 100 were asked to re-evaluate their goals for economic development and decide how they perceive their own role in the economic development picture.

Leaders of the county's two chambers of commerce were asked to continue exploring a proposed consolidation that could greatly change the structure of local business recruitment efforts.

The possible chamber consolidation apparently is one of the biggest factors in any reorganized economic development plan.

Directors of the Greater West Hernando Chamber and the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce earlier this month formally agreed to study the pros and cons of consolidation.

"I think the consensus (Friday) was to let the chambers have their discussions and let's see where that leads," Robinson said.

Commissioner Richardson said the economic development study, after further refinement, will be presented to the full Hernando County Commission for its review, probably sometime later this year.

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