by Kent E. Smith
Help wanted: Someone to run a major enterprise where the sky is the limit.
That might be the way county officials write the ad to be run this month when they start looking for the right person to manage the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center. Why the long name? Because local residents are hoping the 2,400-acre complex can handle a lot of jobs aimed at one simple goal: Bringing progress to Hernando County.
That's why county Economic Development Director Valerie Pianta has her office there at Hernando's Office of Business Development instead of downtown Brooksville. She said the new manager will have a long list of duties so the airport can handle growing air traffic demands, big infrastructure projects while working with commercial tenants on the property and government agencies to make sure everything runs smoothly.
“We want to find the right person with the right chemistry to mesh with our team and the proper experience running an airport of this size,” she said. “This airport is the economic engine for Hernando County, and it needs a good leader who can work with large agencies such as the Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration as well as private entities.” The FAA and FDOT typically fund projects with grants according to the airport's 20-year Capital Improvement Plan.
Located six miles southwest of Brooksville at 15800 Flight Path Drive, the airport was built by the U.S. War Department in 1942 as Brooksville Army Airfield to train heavy and medium bomber pilots and ground crews needed for World War II. After the war, the federal government conveyed the property including some 150 buildings to the City of Brooksville, which eventually passed it on to the Hernando County Commission.
Today the facility's mission has expanded to “provide the highest value to BKV customers and communities with cost-effective and high-quality aviation and general business facilities and services...by being approachable and eager to help...”
For instance, a pavement reinforcement improvement in 2016 enables the airport to handle heavier planes: “We can get even large planes from time to time, including 737s,” Pianta said. Although the airport doesn't have full service for commercial airlines, it does feature both charter and executive flights.
In recent years the facility has become “a major economic force on Florida's Adventure Coast,” with more than 120 businesses and 2,000 employees generating more than $350 million for the region, including manufacturing. It boasts many infrastructure-ready sites for new companies of all sizes to build their next location, many with direct runway access.
Officials noted expanding the name of the facility to include “Tampa Bay” and “Technology Center” was part of the push to recognize not what the airport has been, but what it was becoming. Although the airport is 45 miles north of Tampa, “We are part of the Tampa Bay Metropolitan Statistical Area,” Pianta said, referring to how the Census Bureau refers to urban areas with close economic ties.
Pianta said some of the “big projects” the new manager will tackle is the completion of improvements being made to aviation facilities. One involves lengthening a runway 1,000 feet to roughly 8,000 feet; another includes “a very important project” to rehabilitate one of the main runways. She said the new manager will also take part in work being done to accommodate some of the business tenants located there to ensure safety for its customers.
The new boss will have big shoes to fill. Kevin Daugherty left this year after a successful tenure to become manager of three airports and a spaceport—that's right, spaceport—for Brevard County, which includes the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at the Kennedy Space Center.
During his eight-year Hernando administration Daugherty is credited with helping attract more than $22 million in grants for airport improvements and new infrastructure by coordinating efforts with the fixed-base operator, American Aviation. They include new, larger hangars, a radio navigation system and an airplane self-fueling station, 17 big projects in the past six years alone.
“He's one reason we've been very successful with our tenant relationships and getting grant money to improve our facilities,” Pianta stated.
Daugherty said Hernando officials accomplished a lot of development and infrastructure work while he was here. He said he's especially proud of attracting quite a few high-technology firms to the facility, but to move forward the county still faces a lot of expensive capital improvements.
“I think they're in good shape, I really do,” Daugherty said. “We got a lot of support from the Board of County Commissioners, Valerie, and the county administration. They wanted the airport and Kevin Daugherty to be successful, and I have an exciting opportunity in front of me now.”