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Business Outlook 2006

At county airport, everything's looking up

Businesses continue to stream into the industrial parks. There are more aircraft. More flights. In fact, more of everything.

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published February 19, 2006


What's going on at the Hernando County Airport?

"In a word?" airport director Don Silvernell said in January.

"Growth."

Shocker, right?

The county is growing, and the airport is, too.

As businesses from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties and from up North look for more affordable, available land, the end result for Hernando is, well, more - more aircraft, more flights, more businesses taking up more square feet. Pretty much more of everything and more than ever before.

And more is on the way.

"I think we're going to see our best year in 2006," Silvernell said in his office at the 2,400-acre airport, which includes runways long enough to land 737s, the Airport Industrial Park, the Corporate AirPark and the RailPark.

"The whole airport continues to be the center of our universe," Hernando County Office of Business Development director Mike McHugh said. "It's really an area where businesses continue to want to be. We're going to have challenges just to keep up with the development down there.

"But I guess that's a good problem to have."

The growth at the airport, of course, is in large part a byproduct of the growth around the county, the Tampa Bay area and the state in general. It also didn't hurt that the Tampa Bay Executive Airport in Odessa closed in October 2004.

In 2005, 12 businesses moved into or signed on to move into 300,000 square feet of commercial and industrial space, creating almost 300 new jobs, according to figures from the county's Office of Business Development.

Some highlights:

In September, Emery Thompson Machine and Supply moved to Brooksville from the Bronx, N.Y. Emery Thompson is the nation's pre-eminent manufacturer of ice cream-making machines.

"Brooksville fit the bill," company president Steve Thompson said. "I think Brooksville from a manufacturing industrial standpoint is going to just boom."

Alumi-Guard had a groundbreaking in November. The Hudson company that makes aluminum fencing is scheduled to move into a new 205,000-square-foot facility set on nearly 13 acres sometime next summer.

"It had everything we needed," owner and president Bill Woodard said. "It was really just the AirPark - the amenities it had to offer, the infrastructure, the sewer, the water."

Alumi-Guard will be Hernando's largest manufacturing facility, and the second-largest industrial facility of any kind in the county - behind only the humongous Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Ridge Manor West.

The list of the airport's other done deals of 2005 includes Gold Key Credit, a collections call center; Florida Irrigation Products, a distributor of irrigation supplies; Green Butterfly, a high-end cabinet manufacturer; LESCO, a distributor of golf course and turf care products based in Cleveland; and CompuLink, a St. Petersburg company that makes and installs fiber-optic cables.

"Once you put it all together, you're like, "Wow, a lot of stuff happened,"' McHugh said.

This year, seven more leases are pending, Silvernell said, and they could add up to another 75,000 square feet.

At the beginning of last year, Silvernell said, the Corporate AirPark had two of 22 lots filled; by the end of 2006, that number should be 17 of 22.

The air activity is also up - from 152 aircraft based at the Hernando airport at the beginning of last year to 167 now. In that time, annual operations - takeoffs and landings - have gone from about 65,000 to about 73,000, Silvernell said.

"I think we've got a lot going on for us here," McHugh said, "and I think a lot of other people are saying the same."

"It's daily activity with new people calling," Silvernell said. "Some of them pan out, and some of them don't, but it's enough to be keeping us very busy."

More phone calls to make.

More leases to write.

More, more, more.

"Which is a good thing," he said.

"People go, "How are things going?"' he said. "And I go, "Well, it's booming.' What else can you say?"

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:08:19]


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