The city of Brooksville has created a new position charged with attracting new businesses and ensuring the city stays friendly to the industry that has already set up shop here.
And it won’t cost the city a penny.
Dennis Wilfong, a prominent Brooksville businessman, will serve on a volunteer basis as the city’s first Ambassador of Commerce and Employment.
Wilfong will reach out to businesses searching for a new home and help existing businesses thrive and expand, Mayor Joe Bernardini said at a press conference at City Hall called to announce the new position Wednesday afternoon. That will help the city get through the current recession and be well-positioned when conditions improve, Bernardini said.
“(For) far too long Brooksville has taken a passive approach to economic development partly because of our own budget constraints and partly because we have lacked the cohesive partnership between the city, county and our community leaders,” Bernardini said.
The tight budget is still there. But Wilfong, 61, has stepped up to work for free, and by most accounts the city’s relationship with the county is the best it’s been in years, if ever.
That’s especially important in tough economic times because it pays for both governments to work together, City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said.
“Sharing of staff and limited resources enhances what both the city and the county can accomplish more than any single individual or focus,” Norman Vacha said.
Wilfong will work closely with Mike McHugh, the county’s business development director, who was on hand Wednesday along with County Administrator David Hamilton.
McHugh has been “a steady advocate” for the city, but now it’s time for the city to “assume a greater responsibility in that partnership,” Bernardini said.
McHugh has worked in the past with Wilfong, who serves as chairman of the county’s Business Development Committee. McHugh said Wilfong’s business acumen will be an asset as an ambassador to convince new operations to settle here.
Wilfong can not only “talk the talk with business people,” but point to himself as a success story, McHugh said.
“He’s been here, he’s prospered here,” McHugh said. “They know they’re getting the straight talk.”
Wilfong’s name came up when Norman-Vacha asked city council members to come up with an innovative way to stoke the city’s economic development, Bernardini said.
“I am honored to be asked and able to serve in such a unique way for the community that I know as home,” Wilfong said.
Wilfong and his wife Pam have lived in Brooksville for about 30 years. He is the founder of Innovative Technology, Inc., a multi-million dollar business that provides surge suppression technology on a worldwide basis, according to his bio.
Wilfong conducted seminars on the technology for organizations ranging from NASA to Frito Lay. He’s been featured in Success and Florida Trend magazines, and won the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year award in 1996.
He sold Innovative Technology in 1997 and founded Mountaineer Development Corp., which purchases and develops property in Florida and West Virginia.
Wilfong said his first goal will be to create an inventory of available property in the city that could be used by new businesses seeking to set up shop here or existing firms looking to move.
He also plans to “showcase” the Enterprise Zone that extends from the southern portion of the city into the county. The zone offers tax incentives for businesses who settle there.
Wilfong also emphasized the need to meet the needs of Brooksville’s current business community. He used the analogy of a young couple in the courtship phase that sometimes transitions to a failed marriage because one of the partners stops working to make the other happy.
“We don’t want to get a divorce from the businesses that are already here,” he said.
He said he could dedicate as much as 20 hours a week to the position, trying to live by the saying that “God only charges us one rent for the space we occupy, and that is our service to our fellow man.”
Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286 or [email protected]