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Robert Trigaux

Warren Buffett wants what Florida lawmakers gave utilities: Billions in no-risk money for nuke plants

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Wake up and good morning. Well, well. Florida lawmakers' misguided 2006 gift to the nuclear power industry -- to allow power companies like Progress Energy to simply charge customers long in advance to build nuclear power plants that private lenders would never touch with a 10-foot pole -- is now a recognized gravy train trend that others in the country want to get their hands on.

One sharp investor keen on recognizing a no-risk financial ticket to build a nuclear power plant on the back of rate payers is billionaire Warren Buffett (above, AP photo). His control of a power company called MidAmerican coincides with lobbying efforts to convince Iowa lawmakers to approve a law that -- just like Florida's -- takes away market discipline and allows power companies to add much of the costs of building nuke plants to customers starting many years before any nuke plant would even begin operating. …

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Despite drop in housing prices, affordability in Florida declines for 'working' households

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Florida ranks second nationwide, after California, with the highest portion of "working households" spending at least half their income on housing costs, according to a new survey.

Wake up and good morning. It feels wrong at first. How can Florida -- where housing prices have dropped like a stone for years -- rank No. 2 behind pricey California as the state with the highest number of "working households" paying at least half of their income on housing costs? According to this new Center for Housing Policy survey, a third of Florida working households pay more than half their income on housing.

The trick, of course, is not that housing costs have not dropped in Florida. It is that household income has dropped faster, thus forcing more working households to pay more of a smaller paycheck to cover housing.

What does "working households" mean? The Center study, using Census Bureau data, defines them as households that worked at least 20 hours per week, on average and had household income of no more than 120 percent of the median income in their area. …

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After painful plunge during recession, Florida charitable giving makes slow comeback

davidbiemesderferfloridaphilanthropicnetwork.jpgWake up and good morning. Is charitable giving in Florida finally crawling out of its crater? After giving by individuals, foundations and corporations fell 8.6 percent between 2008 and 2009 -- after plummeting by double digits the year before -- a new report finds charitable giving stabilized in 2010 and now seems to be slowly improving. So concludes a 2012 Florida Philanthropic Network report called Giving in Florida: The State of Charitable Giving in the Sunshine State. Read the entire report here.

"The recessions appears to have had an even greater negative impact on charitable giving in Florida than in the country as a whole," states David Biemesderfer (photo, left), Florida Philanthropic Network CEO in Tampa. Individuals, foundations and corporations gave $14.2 billion in charitable contributions in 2009. That's down "significantly" from pre-recession giving, the report says.

A few highlights that struck me: …

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Moffitt reorganization, new Dalton role up ante on business of fighting cancer war

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Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center subsidiary M2Gen, shown above, has helped create the world's largest, cancer-focused biorepository (fancy talk for a gigantic freezer of cancer tumors) that should get more attention in a new leadership reorganization. (Photo courtesy of M2Gen)

billdaltonmoffittcancercenterformerceonowceom2gen.jpgUpdated to clarify new roles for Bill Dalton and Thomas Sellers.

Wake up and good morning. New jobs and new leadership priorities announced by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Centersuggest there's a refocusing under way at the center to throw more resources at the increasingly competitive business of "personalized" medicine that leverages the genetic make-up of individual patients in their treatment. …

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Culverhouse Jr., son of former Bucs owner, fights on multiple court fronts to preserve investments

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Hugh Culverhouse owned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but the team suffered, says son Hugh Culverhouse Jr., because his father was "tightfisted." Now Culverhouse Jr. is in court on multiple fronts to defend his own investments. (Photos: Tampa Bay Times files)

Wake up and good morning. Miami attorney/developer Hugh Culverhouse Jr., whose namesake father once owned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is spending more time in the courts lately trying to get back money he's lost in investments and, separately, claiming he's being discriminated against as a developer.

Earlier this week, the multi-millionaire Culverhouse sued the firm run by billionaire John Paulson claiming his hedge funds showed "reckless indifference" by not doing proper due diligence before investing in the Chinese forestry company Sino-Forest Corp., costing investors more than $460 million. Culverhouse held a limited partner interest in Paulson Advantage Plus when Paulson's firm sold off its Sino-Forest holdings last year. Paulson & Co. says the Culverhouse lawsuit lacks merit. …

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Budget farce: This Tally senator's scolding protesting USF students from an ethical sinkhole

Wake up and good morning. Kudos to the Tampa Bay business community's rallying -- thus far -- around the University of South Florida in the face of the Neanderthal extortion tactics by lame duck Senate budget chairman JD 'My Way or the Highway' Alexander to gut USF's budget because he isn't getting his independent Polytech University fast enough for his Polk County legacy.

This was only inning one. It is critical for the Tampa Bay business community to sustain its support and pressure on Tallahassee to be fair in how it legislates. Given all of Florida's challenges, it's truly pathetic that all this time and resource must be spent dealing with what is, at its heart, the selfish whims of playground bullies who feel their inflated roles as state lawmakers is to polish their own resumes or pad their own pockets.

evelynlynnstatesenr.ormondbeach.jpgAlexander's a special case. But let's not forget his partner in this crime, Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, (left), who not only introduced the bill with Alexander's blessing to eviscerate USF's budget but did so on the sly. …

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Tampa Bay Rays execs: Pushing organization's roots deeper into the Tampa Bay community

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Tampa Bay Rays executives Matt Silverman (right), 35, president, and Mark Fernandez, 46, senior vp of marketing, visited Tuesday to discuss how what the Rays organization does off the ballfield can have a huge effect on the ballfield and in the broader community. Silverman's bullish on the team and improved attendance at the Trop this season. He's still pushing for more corporate support to fill stadium seats. Read my Tampa Bay Times column here. Photo: James Borchuck, Tampa Bay Times.

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'CitiSINS' Property insurance protest song proves catchy tune on most timely topic

kevinrothfolksingerkevinrothmusic.comWake up and good morning. The state-run Citizens Property Insurance business has never been a favorite with Floridians, though it came in handy in the early days -- post Hurricane Andrew -- when private insurance essentially fled the state. It's not much better now, though Florida Gov. Rick Scott's solution seems to be the same old plan of old... If Citizens raises the price of its coverage sky high, then other private insurers will be more inclined to enter the Florida property insurance market. (Photo: kevinrothmusic.com)

The trick, of course, is that Florida may end up shooting itself in the foot when people learn (including all those Baby Boomers supposedly coming our way in the coming years) that homeowner insurance payments could rival mortgage payments. Draconian spikes in property insurance are a sure-fire way to destroy the struggling comeback of the Florida housing market. …

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For Tampa Bay business community, a call to arms to aid a USF under severe, petty attack

jdalexanderstatesenr.lakewales.jpgWake up and good morning. This is a call to arms to the Tampa Bay business community. One of Tampa Bay's most treasured institutions and, frankly, its greatest economic engine is under direct attack right now.

The University of South Florida has been targeted by remarkably petty and vindictive Senate budget writers who want to punish USF for resisting the bullying efforts of lame duck Sen. J.D. Alexander (left) to spin off USF's Lakeland branch campus as Florida Polytechnic and make it an independent university. By not kissing Alexander's ring quickly and often enough in this quest, the Senate now seeks to gut USF's budget from state funding by nearly 60 percent. By contrast, the same budget cuts in state funding mean trims of just 26 percent at the University of Florida and 22 percent at Florida State University. A new Polytechnic would suffer no cuts at all. …

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Seminole Tribe's Hard Rock gambling empire beats back competition, going global quickly

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Some of the 800 Vegas-style slot machines installed at the Hard Rock casino near Tampa last year. Photo by Willie J. Allen Jr., Tampa Bay Times.

Wake up and good morning. Don't look now but the Seminole Indian Tribe and its Hard Rock Casino empire (2009 revenues of $2 billion and growing) is expanding rapidly -- far beyond the I-4 Hard Rock gambling site just east of Tampa (where it plans to add 300 to 500 more rooms to the 250-room Hard Rock Tampa) and way, way beyond the Tribe's home turf in South Florida.

It's doubly meaningful that the Seminoles are on the march because they apparently played a big role -- spending hundreds of thousands of lobbying dollars and teaming with a most unusual partner: Walt Disney Co. -- in defeating the recent effort by Malaysia's Genting Group and  others to win Las Vegas-style destination gambling in South Florida.

tonysanchezpresidentseminoletribeflorida.jpgThese insights and whole lot more news about Hard Rock expansion plans globally appear in this lengthy Las Vegas Review-Journal story by writer Howard Stutz based on his interview with Tony Sanchez Jr. (photo, left), chairman of the Seminole Tribe's board of directors. Some business highlights from that story: …

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In a week of big nuclear and solar power news, economics of energy is changing fast

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At Darden Restaurants' headquarters near Orlando, this week dedicated its rooftop solar panel array, designed to provide 20 percent of the building's energy needs. (Photo courtesy Darden.)

Wake up and good morning. The energy world is changing fast, Floridians, and paying attention to what's happening may save your wallet from being looted. This week, two important events happened. U.S. regulators approved plans to build the country's first nuclear power plant in 30 years in Georgia. And Darden Restaurants, the Orlando company that owns such chains as Red Lobster, The Capital Grille and Olive Garden, dedicated this enormous rooftop solar array, capable of generating 1 megawatt (that's 1 million watts) at its headquarters.

vogtleunit3southernco.containmentvesselsection.jpgThe Georgia nuclear license to Southern Co. will give it the go-ahead to build two new nuclear reactors at its existing Vogtle nuclear plant site using the new Westinghouse AP1000 design. (Photo right shows Vogtle Unit 3 containment vessel under construction. Courtesy of Southern Co.) …

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Recovery? Trying to draw meaning from the chaos of new housing news in Florida

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Mothballed Tampa Bay area subdivision, 2012: A thaw in new home building may be under way. Photo: Bruce Moyer, Tampa Bay Times.

Wake up and good morning. So is the Tampa Bay and Florida housing market at a bottom and really ready to start improving? The crystal ball remains murky but there's no lack of housing activity on both sides of the equation to ponder. For openers:

*  Homebuilder Newland Communities is taking the bet that demand for new housing is ready to rock by taking the mothballs of an Apollo Beach housing community called Waterset that could eventually offer up a whopping 6,700 new homes. As Newland senior vice president Rick Harcrow told Tampa Bay Times real estate reporter Mark Puente this week: "I don't know any build who isn't bullish about the spring buying season in 2013." The project will be one of the biggest in the country since the housing market crashed. Read more here. …

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Gazelle Lab start-up crew puts Tampa Bay program on hold, embraces Orlando this spring

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"Demo Day" of Gazelle Lab's first "graduating" class of six business start-ups was held at St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater last November when founders of six young companies pitched their business vision to potential investors and a supportive and curious Tampa Bay audience. Photo by James Borchuck of the Tampa Bay Times.

Wake up and good morning. Gazelle Lab, one of Tampa Bay's most promising elements of what many hope will be a rising regional "entrepreneurial ecosystem" to mentor and focus new business start-ups here, is putting its business accelerator on hold locally and taking its show to Orlando.

Gazelle Lab debuted last summer and created a big buzz by accepting six area business start-ups in its coveted (if new and still organizing) business accelerator. The 90-day boot camp helped start-ups get better focused and hone their pitches before culminating in a Demo Day in which they made live presentations to potential investors.

Gazelle had planned a second 90-day program here in Tampa Bay this spring, and had intended a twice-a-year schedule for assisting start-ups as part of its affiliation with the College of Business at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. …

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Raleigh editorial skewers Progress Energy's fumbles with multiple nuclear plants

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Progess Energy's Brunswick nuclear plant, which is located near Southport, N.C., had to shut down on Nov. 16. Why? Read on... 

Wake up and good morning. The Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer newspaper in the (for the moment) hometown of Progress Energy seems to have had a key if belated epiphany over the weak oversight by the power company (which includes Progress Energy Florida) of its multiple nuclear power plants in Florida (one) and the Carolinas (several).

The News & Observer published an editorial this past weekend critical of Progress Energy's recent history of fumbles with various nuclear plants it oversees. A quick rundown follows below from that editorial headlined Tighten Up. But here is the latest clincher. Progress Energy's Brunswick nuclear plant, which is located near Southport, N.C., had to shut down on Nov. 16 because of a coolant leak from a pressurized vessel that produces steam. Mildly radioactive water flowed out of the chamber rather than boiling inside, the editorial explains. …

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When insurers use death notices to stop retirement checks but ignore them to pay death benefits

We know that the failure to search for beneficiaries even though the company has access to death information is a pervasive industry practice.  …

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