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Company's growth draws political attention

President Bush will use NuAir Manufacturing in Tampa as a showcase for the business tax incentives he championed.

STEVE HUETTEL
Published February 14, 2004

TAMPA - Semitrailer trucks regularly rumble past NuAir Manufacturing and airliners fly low overhead on their way to nearby Tampa International Airport.

This strip of warehouses, body shops and rental storage businesses on industrial Anderson Road might not seem like the kind of polished scene President Bush would want as a backdrop for his Washington's Birthday visit to Tampa on Monday.

But NuAir, a 57-year-old aluminum window and door manufacturer, has an irresistible business story and no small amount of political appeal.

The company has hired 100 new employees since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is building a new $500,000 warehouse and soon may add a second shift of manufacturing workers to handle burgeoning orders from home builders.

Founder Jack Horner, 84, and NuAir president Connie Horner, his 48-year-old daughter, give credit to business tax incentives championed by Bush for the company's expansion.

And the two have personal stories that hit political hot buttons among voters in this key election state.

Jack is a World War II prisoner of war and senior citizen who works five days a week, a two-hour lunch and nap his only concession to age. Connie dropped her career as a Manhattan fashion designer to become one of the few Hispanic females running a manufacturing business.

"I've got the minority thing covered," she joked with a crowd of reporters and photographers Friday. "I don't know too many women in aluminum doors and windows."

Riding the boom in Florida home building, NuAir has annual sales of $25-million and a work force of 350 in Tampa and 60 at a small plant in Georgia. The company makes more than 250,000 door and window products.

Two-thirds of sales are through distributors. The rest comes from builders that pay NuAir to install products in homes under construction. Customers include giants such as Lennar and Jim Walter Homes, Connie Horner said.

She declined to talk about specific help NuAir received from Bush's business tax cuts. But smaller business such as NuAir got two primary benefits, said Dorothy Coleman of the National Association of Manufacturers.

The top tax rate for owners was cut from 38.5 percent to 35 percent. The companies also were able to accelerate depreciation on newly purchased capital equipment, providing substantial tax breaks.

The manufacturers association suggested NuAir when the White House called looking for a successful, growing small business in the Tampa Bay area.

Since agreeing to the visit, NuAir has been busy providing information to the Secret Service and statistics for Bush's presentation. Only employees who passed background checks were cleared to enter NuAir on Friday; even the normally open showroom was closed to the public.

Connie Horner played down any political aspects of the visit from Bush, who will come to Tampa on Sunday after attending the Daytona 500 stock car race.

"We love the president," she said. "He's our commander in chief, and we're honored to... get to spend Presidents Day with the president."

Jack Horner was a B-17 bomber navigator in World War II. As a 21-year-old second lieutenant, he parachuted out of a burning plane in 1942 after a mission in Burma. Horner was captured and spent 35 months as a Japanese POW.

He was discharged from the Army Air Corps and found work in Miami as manager and part owner of a company that made jalousies, a type of louvered window. Horner cashed out his $7,000 stake in the business after a year and opened an Air-Lite Metal Awning franchise in Tampa in 1946.

He started with a handful workers in an old beer warehouse in West Tampa. As business grew, the renamed NuAir Manufacturing relocated to a former Air Corps mess hall in Drew Park. It moved to its current location on Anderson Road just south of Waters Avenue in 1977.

Connie Horner never planned a career in aluminum windows and doors. She designed high-end women's fashions in New York City for 10 years. Her work was featured in the pages of Cosmopolitan and Women's Wear Daily.

Her brother, Ramon, ran NuAir. But when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer 18 years ago, she came back to Tampa to help out. She tried not to learn too much about NuAir, she said. It was her way to block out the thought her brother might not be around some day.

In 1993, he was hospitalized and died six weeks later. Connie Horner at first was overwhelmed by everything she didn't know about the business. But she grew into the job and takes pride in the family atmosphere at NuAir - and the man who started it.

"He was a child of the Depression, a World War II veteran and the finest man I've ever known," she said.

Jack Horner shrugged it off with a smile. "That's my daughter talking."

- Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or 813226-3384.

NUAIR MANUFACTURING

NuAir Manufacturing, founded in 1946, manufactures and installs aluminum doors and windows for homes at its facility in Tampa's Town 'N Country area. The company has annual revenues of $25-million and employs about 350 workers in Tampa and 60 at a plant in Georgia.

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