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Business Outlook 2006

Better-paying jobs cut worker flight

With more higher-paying manufacturing jobs coming, residents can stay closer to home rather than commute.

Published February 19, 2006

Hernando County's job market promises a continued upward trend, not only adding more jobs but also better jobs.

That's the prediction of Mike McHugh, who leads the county's Office of Business Development.

New and expanding businesses announced plans during 2005 to create more than 300 jobs, more than 240 of those in the higher-paid manufacturing sector, McHugh said. Combined with the continued construction boom, the new businesses will provide better-paying opportunities for the local workforce, increase tax revenue, and help the county attract and hold on to skilled workers.

"One of the top challenges and commitments we've made is to attract the industries that do pay average or above-average wages," McHugh said.

Manufacturing jobs pay better, in general, than those in service and retail, he said.

Businesses that announced plans to expand or move to the county in 2005 include:

Alumi-Guard Inc., a manufacturer of ornamental aluminum products, completed plans in April to build a 210,000-square-foot facility at the Corporate AirPark that will employ 140 people. The plant is slated to open in the third quarter of this year.

Gold Key Credit, a medical credit and collections firm, relocated from Key West and opened a call center with 40 jobs.

Compulink, a manufacturer of data cables, leased a 5,400-square-foot plant at the Airport Industrial Park and opened in December with plans to hire 25 employees.

Chapman Tool and Mold, which makes plastic injection molded products, expanded its plant at the industrial park and added 20 jobs.

Stake Mill, a manufacturer of stakes and rebar, plans to hire 15 people for a new 20,000-square-foot facility at U.S. 98 and Cobb Road. The facility should open late this year.

Wall and Sign Concepts leased a 10,000-square-foot facility in the Corporate RailPark near the airport and plans to hire 15 employees.

In addition, Topline Hylift Johnson Inc. built a 210,000-square-foot facility at the RailPark. The auto parts manufacturer, which announced its move to the county in 2003, expects to open its new plant later this year and put 150 people to work.

The promise of better pay could help reverse two trends: local workers unable to afford increasingly expensive homes in the county and the daily "brain drain" of residents who commute to better-paying jobs closer to Tampa, McHugh said.

While skyrocketing real estate prices have been good news for homeowners and investors, local wages have failed to keep pace with the housing boom. As a result, workers struggle to afford homes in the county, McHugh said, so longtime locals look for jobs elsewhere.

On the flip side, home prices here remain cheaper than closer to Tampa, causing city workers to move steadily north into Hernando, adding to the pool of commuters.

"There's a lot of talent that leaves the county every day," McHugh said.

His goal: workforce interception, putting residents to work closer to home.

Most new manufacturing businesses have entry-level positions available and are willing to train workers, McHugh said. But retaining a skilled workforce within the county's borders is just as important as having infrastructure ready for commercial development and will bolster McHugh's ability to recruit new businesses this year.

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

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