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Venture

Robert Trigaux

After listening to PSC doubletalk, I fear for Florida's future

ronbrisechairman2012flapsc.jpgWake up and good morning. The chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission, Ron Brise, strolled into the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday afternoon to face a barrage of questions from editors focused on this theme: Progress Energy, the dominant provider of electricity for Tampa Bay and most of west central Florida, has demonstrated a pitiful track record for managing its nuclear power plant assets by:


(1) breaking Crystal River 3, its only nuke plant in Florida in 2009 and still waffling over how to fix it and;

(2) proposing a new nuclear power plant in Levy County then delaying the project year after year as estimates to build it soar to a seemingly prohibitive $24 billion and counting,

(3) and all the while enjoying a perverted 2006 law passed by our not-so-bright state legislators that lets the utility raise customer rates now and even more in the coming years to cover some of the massive costs of a Levy plant that many experts suggest will, in the end, never actually be built. Oh yeah, Progress Energy does not even have to reimburse customers for all those years of higher rates. …

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TECO Coal girds for Friday's mine 'disaster' contest even as its product loses favor in U.S.

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The Blue Team of TECO Coal from one of the recent annual mine safety and rescue contests held in southwest Virginia. TECO Coal is owned by Tampa's TECO Energy. (Photo courtesy of kemi.com.)

Wake up and good morning. As a source of fuel to fire up power plants to generate electricity, coal used to be the preferred source: domestic and cheap. But now it's increasingly on the outs -- too polluting to the air, too ruinous to the Appalachian terrain and too pricey lately ever since natural gas prices have dropped through the floor.

Nevertheless, companies like Tampa's TECO Energy still operate coal subsidiaries even as its Tampa Electric (once coal's biggest fan) continues to move away from coal as a source for its power plants. The coal industry continues to market itself as a key component of producing electricity in America and advertises that message heavily. But the reality is coal really is a big polluter and the extra costs required to try and control air pollution from burning coal makes the fuel less competitive, especially in today's rock-bottom prices for natural gas. …

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Musical chairs: What Florida adds in economic development talent, Mississippi takes away

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Soon after becoming Florida's chief business recruiter, Gray Swoope (middle) came to Tampa. He's flanked at a Tampa Bay Partnership conference by (left) Rasesh Thakkar of the Tavistock Group and (right) Rick Weddle of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Comission. Photo: Lara Cerri, Tampa Bay Times.

brent_christensen.jpgWake up and good morning. What one state gains in economic development talent, another takes away. I suppose it's fitting that in the wake of Florida recruiting Gray Swoope (pronounced SWOPE) from the top ranks of Mississippi's economic development ranks, the very same Magnolia State is taking one of Florida's most promising young stars: Brent Christensen (photo, right).

Swoope, the former executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, was Florida Gov. Rick Scott's pick in early 2011 to be the Sunshine State's chief business recruiter and the president of Enterprise Florida. …

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Early betting on economy: Lavish lobbying parties may be hard to find at Tampa's RNC this August

Wake up and good morning (and happy Memorial Day): Early betting on "K Street" or the mighty lobbying industry of Washington suggests Tampa's Republic National Convention in August may be more subdued than expected -- or hoped for by local businesses seeking enriched cash flow. That's the assessment of Politico, the political reporting web site. Read more here.

Why the turnoff? It's apparently a combination, says Politico, of Tampa's infamously muggy summer weather and, more to the point, Mitt Romney's blandness and incompatibility with the more typical party scene of national conventions. Says Politico:

"Many of the K street outfits that are going plan to cut back from years past -- hosting lunches instead of blowout parties, for instance."

Convention spokesman James Davis is also quoted, commenting on the economy. "The economy is in a bad place. While people want to have a presence, maybe they are being more strategic in some of the initiatives and events they are planning." …

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Will Facebook IPO fiasco hurt Outback Steakhouse parent plan to go public?

bloominbrandslogo.jpgWake up and good morning. Facebook's flawed initial public offering has left egg on the face of the Nasdaq market which the social media giant chose for its IPO. Some banks offering Facebook shares warned favored investors that the company was not delivering financial results to justify its high initial price. Small investors were blindsided and now there's talk of investigations and possibly some reimbursements to investors that may have paid too much at the start. It's all about market fairness, as this New York Times story notes.

Why do we care? Because Nasdaq has dozens of other companies in the pipeline waiting to go public. And one of the biggest is the Tampa parent company of such restaurant chains as Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill and Bonefish Grill. We know it as OSI Restaurant Partners but for the purpose of the IPO, the company will be known as Bloomin' Brands Inc. As in Bloomin' Onion -- get it? Its ticker symbol will be BLMN. …

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5 things to know about Florida's slowly improving job market

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Largo's Ditek Corp., a bright spot in manufacturing in the Tampa Bay bay area, plans to add employees. Above, workers assemble and test surge protectors. (Photo: Cheri Diez, Tampa Bay Times.)

Wake up and good morning. We learned last week that Florida's unemployment rate continues to dip and now stands at 8.7 percent. That's a horrendously, punishingly high number that actually looks terrific to us here in the Sunshine State after years of double-digit jobless numbers.

Now let's put a bit more meat on the bones of Florida's job market so we have a better sense of where we stand. Here are 5 things to know about Florida (un)employment right now.

1. Pink slips are still happening to large groups of people. Just less often. Florida had 70 "mass layoff" actions in April, down from from 98 in April of 2011. Translated? That means 4,900 Floridians lost their jobs in these cutbacks compared to 7,600 a year earlier. Read more in this South Florida Sun Sentinel story. …

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Survey: Finest architectural gems in Tampa Bay? Come have a look

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The Cuban Club, built in 1917 in Tampa's Ybor City, ranked 18th statewide and No. 1 in the Tampa Bay area in a recent online poll of Florida's best buildings. (Photo: Chris Zuppa, Tampa Bay Times)

Wake up and good morning. Mirror, mirror on the wall, which Tampa Bay buildings are the fairest of them all? A recent list of Florida's best architecture in buildings yielded a cornucopia of diverse and notable selections across the Tampa Bay area. The list was compiled from popular votes and architect selections. Look at the complete list here at the Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Among other cool area buildings in the list are the Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa, St. Petersburg's Dali Museum, the Tampa Bay History Center, the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs, the Tampa Theatre, the Florida Aquarium, Tampa International Airport, Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry, St. Petersburg's Historic Post Office, St. Petersburg's Renaissance Vinoy Hotel and (at No. 88) even Tampa's "Beer Can" building better known as Rivergate Tower.

Tops statewide? The Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. …

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Despite fervent followers, 'AdSurf' Ponzi schemer Andy Bowdoin pleads guilty to wire fraud

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Wake up and good morning. The struggling tiny town of Quincy in Florida's Panhandle probably still isn't sure what's up or down since Andy Bowdoin (above, in a sales video) and his AdSurf Daily multilevel marketing scheme hit the town five years ago and developed a quick cult following of get-rich-quick converts.

It didn't last. Bowdoin pleaded guilty to wire fraud last week after authorities say he duped thousands of investors and misled them about his background in running an Internet Ponzi scheme that raised more than $110 million. Bowdoin (pronounced Bowden), 77, faces a possible maximum sentence of six and a half years and fines up to $175,000.

This was a curious case. When the Tampa Bay Times began covering this financial scheme, Bowdoin had a strong following and unusually fervent support that what he was doing was both legitimate and enriching. The Times sent reporter Richard Danielson to Quincy in 2008 to look at the AdSurf Daily (known as ASD) phenomenon and Danielson talked extensively face to face with many people involved. …

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New online used-auto competitor coming to Tampa Bay with low price promise

mojomotorslogo.gifWake up and good morning. A new web site that will sell area used cars at a discount from dealerships is coming to the Tampa Bay area. It's called Mojo Motors, which works with area dealers to list used autos "at the lowest price online." The company says its online site will provide the complete pricing history of every vehicle for sale, the time on the dealer lot and the total price drop.

Here's how it works. The free web site aggregates used-car inventories from several area dealerships. As reported in this May 17 auto column in the New York Times, the site "requires participating dealers to charge Mojo shoppers less than the lowest advertised price on any particular car." Online browsers remain anonymous and do not have to register with their e-mails, a plus to avoid subsequent bombardments of online ads.

"The consumer proposition is pretty simple," Mojo Motors marketing chief Dan Harman told the New York Times. "They are going to save money." …

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Do you think stock market likes Tampa Trib owner Media General's sale of its newspapers?

Here's a snapshot of what Media General's stock (MEG) is doing this morning since it was announced Warren Buffett was buying all of the company's newspapers for $142 million -- except for the Tampa Tribune. Details here and here. What will be its fate? Will Halifax Media make an offer for it since it recently bought the papers in Sarasota, Lakeland, Ocala and other nearby towns? Or might some local Tampa folks with too much money and an insatiable urge to become local newspaper owners come in -- like they have done in Philadelphia -- and buy the Trib and try to make a go of it?

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Here's my question. What happens to TBO.com -- the combined digital version of the Tampa Tribune and the WFLA-Channel 8 TV -- when someone expresses interest in the Trib? WFLA needs TBO.com. The Tribune is only half a modern newspaper without TBO.com. So how do you split that baby?

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

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Discrimination state? Florida ranks No. 2 in country in worker complaints to EEOC in 2011

eeoclogo.pngWake up and good morning. Florida may be the fourth largest state in population but it ranks No. 2 in workplace discrimination complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). So says new data for 2011 just released by the commission that shows Florida workers filed 8,088 complaints last year -- nearly 32 complaints filed on average every working day of 2011.

Of those 8,088, 2,598 were complaints of racial discrimination; 2,406 were complaints of sex discrimination; 1,446 were complaints of discrimination over national origin; 313 were complaints of religious discrimination; 266 were complaints based on color discrimination; 3,231 were complaints related to retaliation; and 1,782 were age discrimination complaints. (Some complaints involved multiple types of discrimination so these individual numbers do not add up to the 8,088 total figure.) …

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Move over, St. Joe, and make room for planned development the size of Rhode Island

Wake up and good morning. When the St. Joe Co., dominating real estate developer and land owner in the Florida Panhandle, decided to pull back and hibernate in the tough economy, nobody thought any mega-projects were forming in that part of the state.

howardleach.jpgWrong. State and local officials have approved a 562,000-acre master plan -- timberland roughly the size of Rhode Island -- encompassing gulf coast frontage touching five counties. It's not St. Joe's but rather a parcel owned by some high-profile business types and former diplomats. Their goal: 25,000 new homes and more than 10 million square feet of commercial and industrial office space.

The owners, identified in this small item in the Wall Street Journal, include Howard Leach (left), former U.S. ambassador to France, and Los Angeles investor Robert Day (right), who reportedly together bought the land in 1994 from Procter & Gamble. Now the ownership group's grown with the additions of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone. …

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A lively show - inside and out - at JPMorgan Chase annual meeting in Tampa

The annual shareholders meeting of JPMorgan Chase took place Tuesday morning at the bank's Treasury operations complex in Tampa, just off I-75 and Martin Luther King. Bank CEO Jamie Dimon managed to avoid the wrath of investors over the recent disclosure of a $2.3 billion trading loss, readily admitting "I can't justify it." Read my column about my attending the annual meeting. Dimon's candor inside the event did not dissuade protesters outside the event from throwing eggs at his image (below). See more photos from the event.

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Below, Hillsborough Sheriff deputies augment some of the major security forces surrounding the JPMorgan Chase annual shareholders meeting. I was lucky on short notice to gain access to the shareholders meeting. Since no cameras were permitted inside, a lot of the TV media set up outside and handled interviews before and after the event, within viewing range of the protesters.

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Taking action: Can Tampa's USF flex its horsepower surrounded by crumbling neighborhoods?

Wake up and good morning. Time to get this issue more on the Tampa Bay business community's radar: Do the crime, poverty and generally rundown neighborhoods touching Fletcher and Fowler avenues in Tampa prevent the University of South Florida from becoming more of a hotbed of technology or biotech activity as the university has desired for so long?

danjurmanuniversityareadevelopmentcorptampaexecdirector.jpgThe simple answer is, yes. Of course. Maybe this quote is a tip-off. "We're a Third World neighborhood in a first class city," Dan Jurman (left), executive director of the University Area Community Development Corp. told TBO.com here.

Which is why we're starting to see more (non-business) media coverage of efforts to rehab that area surrounding Tampa's massive USF campus. As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Bill Varian wrote earlier this month, the goal is to transform that area of Tampa near USF into an "innovation destination." A group called the Innovation Alliance includes folks from USF, Florida Hospital, Busch Gardens and Moffitt Cancer Center -- heavyweights that have been in talks for the past year about what to do.

Here's more recent coverage from The Oracle, USF's newspaper. …

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In lawsuits, former PBS&J executives allege range of financial grievances

Wake up and good morning. PBSJ Corp. was a big, high-profile engineering and construction firm in Tampa Bay that ran into trouble and found itself sold for $280 million about a year ago. It now operates under the name of its new owner, U.K.-based WS Atkins. Read more of that deal here.

As is too often the case, the sale of a company does not necessarily keep its name and former executives out of the spotlight.

johnzumwaltpbsj-150x150.jpgFormer PBSJ CEO John Zumwalt (left) and Martha Zumwalt recently filed suit in Hillsborough County claiming they are the victim of a Ponzi schemer named Miland Bharvirkar who convinced them to invest in his business to build high-tech gaming kiosks in retail locations. The Zumwalts say they were introduced to Bharvirkar as... wait for it... a fellow congregant at their church.

(WE INTERRUPT this blog posting to repeat, again, that there are far, far too many tales of people who say they got flimflammed by someone they met at church, when their investing guard is down. STOP doing business via church connections! WE now return you to the current tale of woe...) …

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