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Robert Trigaux

Tampa's the only larger Florida city on Census Bureau's list of fast growing cities


Tampa's growing faster than most cities, despite the slower economy. (Photo: Downtown Twiggs Street, Kathleen Flynn, Tampa Bay Times.)

Wake up and good morning. The days of mass in-migration to Florida may be gone for now but Tampa still managed to be one of the top 15 fastest growing large cities in the U.S., says a new Census Bureau list. The ranking, in which Tampa is No. 12, covers the period of April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011.

Tampa is the only larger Florida city to make the top 15. The list otherwise is dominated by eight Texas cities, though No. 1 is New Orleans, which is finally benefiting from the return of residents after Hurricane Katrina.

The census list says Tampa grew by 3.1 percent in that timeframe, raising its population to 346,037. Austin and Denver also stood out in the rankings because they grew faster than Tampa while having much larger populations. Read more details here from the U.S. Census Bureau.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times


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Lincare may be bought by German company for about $3.4 billion: Report


Lincare shares rose nearly 24 percent Wednesday on unconfirmed reports it may be bought for close to $3.4 billion.

Is Clearwater provider of oxygen and respiratory services Lincare Holdings in play? A posting by the Financial Times "Alphaville" blog says a German company called Linde may offer $40 a share or about $3.4 billion for Lincare. Linde is big in healthcare services and, according to the FT blog, would consider Lincare an addition to its pharmaceutical and medical gases division.

The same posting says France's Air Liquide SA and an unnamed private equity bidder may also be in the running for Lincare. The FT blog posting does not identify its sources other than saying they are "usually reliable."

lincarehqjosephgarnettjr.Lincare's stock, already at a healthy price, skyrocketed nearly 24 percent Wednesday on the reports. The company's market value is $2.6 billion. Linde's is over $20 billion.  Based on $1.8 billion in revenues last year, Lincare is the 8th  largest public company based in the Tampa Bay area. It has nearly 11,000 employees at more than 1,000 locations. It trades on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol LNCR.

Here's an updated Reuters story on the possible deal. …

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As new Trader Joe's comes closer to Tampa Bay, what other stores do we want most of all?


The Ikea store near Tampa's Ybor City remains a hot retailing spot for consumers. This 2010 photo of store manager Monica Varela captures her among Ikea's extensive lighting department. If you go, try the Swedish meatballs and, of course, the fresh cinnamon buns. Photo: Edmund D. Fountain, Tampa Bay Times.

Wake up and good morning. Every once in a while, Tampa Bay gets the opportunity to woo one of the "hot" retailers that so many of us consider a "gotta have" for this market. Tampa nailed a whopper when Ikea opened there in 2008. St. Petersburg was a winner with the opening of a Fresh Market upscale grocery store in 2010. And Tampa Bay still wants an Outdoor World/Bass Pro Shops store, despite some recent setbacks in negotiations for retail space.

trader_joesopening_inlaapphoto.jpgWhat's next? Certainly high on the list of stores we want but lack is Trader Joe's, the quirky grocery store. I've shopped at Trader Joe's in Connecticut and Tucson, Ariz., and it's a cool experience. And now a Trader Joe's is getting closer to this metro area. …

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We can't fix Florida economy while mortgage fraud remains out of control in state

mortgage_fraud_4.jpegWake up and good morning. So here's the crux of Florida's housing crisis.

1. Florida's burst housing bubble decimated a vast chunk of the state's wealth. Floridians are more dependent on the equity in their homes to bolster their wealth than folks in many other states. So when that equity disappears with falling home values, Floridians get poor -- quickly.

2. New data show Florida is once again No. 1 in the United States for mortgage fraud. Florida's held the top spot in four of the past five quarters, says the latest survey by The survey folks tell the South Florida Sun Sentinel here that Florida's big population played a role in making Florida No. 1, which does not explain why larger California lags Florida in fraud or why larger Texas is not even among the high fraud states or why larger New York also trails Florida.

3. Florida can't rebuild its housing industry while mortgage fraud remains so out of control. And if the housing industry can't rebound, neither can the wealth-building ability of Floridians.

Follow that logic and here's what you get. Until Florida gets a grip on mortgage fraud, we're in deep economic trouble. …

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As Progress Energy's Vinny Dolan defends the indefensible, Floridians stuck with ever higher bills


Progress Energy Florida already ranks at the very bottom of customer satisfaction when compared to its peers. The J.D Power rankings above are for business customers but Progress Energy Florida fares no better with its residential customers. It's last and well below average. What happens when electricity rates really start to skyrocket to pay for the absurdly priced Levy County nuclear power plant currently pegged at $24 billion? What is the credibility of a utility that surveys show is the worst of the worst in satisfying its customers?

Wake up and good morning. Progress Energy Florida CEO Vinny Dolan must walk a very fine line in the Sunshine State.

1. Dolan's the state head of North Carolina-based Progress Energy, Tampa Bay's dominant provider of electricity that already sells the commodity at an astonishingly high price to Florida households and businesses forced to buy power in the utility's west central Florida service territory monopoly. Head south over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to Florida Power & Light's territory and electricity costs more than 20 percent less. What's wrong with that picture? …

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In slower economy, more cautious Jabil Circuit still expects third record year

jabilplantwuxicourtesyjabil.jpgWake up and good morning. One of Tampa Bay's most competitive and global companies -- Jabil Circuit of St. Petersburg -- just reported strong quarterly earnings. While acknowledging some rougher spots than usual in some of its businesses, Jabil said it still expects to achieve another record year, its third in a row. Here are some highlights of Jabil news from CEO Tim Main's chat with analysts:

* Jabil charged into the solar power industry to become a manufacturer of components. But now solar's expansion is slipping and Jabil said it would take a $10.1 million "distressed customer charge" tied to one struggling solar customer. The firm was not identified. Previous Bloomberg reporting indicates Jabil solar customers include BP plc and JA Solar Holdings. …

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As biotech tries to sink roots into Florida, SRI St. Petersburg's ahead of the pack on jobs

larrylangebrakesribobcroslintampabay.comWake up and good morning. SRI International, the California biotech firm that opened a St. Petersburg facility to focus on marine and underwater sensor technology (among other things), had hired 86 employees as of lastyear. That's less than the forecasted 100 but apparently enough for SRI to received $19. 6 million of the $20 million in incentive funds from state and local government funding sources.

That's one of the findings reported in an Orlando Sentinel report that examines whether the biotech binge of incentive spending begun by former Gov. Jeb Bush to lure the likes of Scripps Research, Sanford Burnham Institute, Max Planck Society as well as SRI and others is getting any closer to weaning the young industry off public subsidies. Before Scripps expanded to Florida, courtesy of lavish subsidies, Bush said Florida was a "nothingburger" (in this 2009 story) in biotech. …

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On Tampa Bay's bench of key business growers, Casto's outgoing but Burgoyne's incoming

rodcastoembryriddleaeronauticaluniversity.jpgIn the Tampa Bay world of helping business grow, we're losing a veteran and gaining a new face. After years at the University of South Florida, the head of USF's research park -- Rod Casto -- is taking the same position on Florida's east coast at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Casto (left), quoted in the Daytona Beach News Journal, says he has high hopes for Embry Riddle's new 90-acre park that could bring aviation companies and hundreds of jobs to that part of Florida in the next decade.

Casto starts his job as Embry-Riddle's associate vice president for research and innovation -- the same title he held at USF -- on July 1. Good luck, Rod. Tampa Bay will miss your expertise.

Meanwhile, a new executive director was just named to run the Tampa-based Florida Venture Forum -- a statewide entrepreneurial networking group that helps connect Florida start-ups and young businesses with sources of venture capital, one of the Sunshine State's scarcest resources. …

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A new power giant emerging: Feds give OK to Duke Energy purchase of Progress Energy

UPDATED: Deal may finalize by July 1 if North and South Carolina regulators sign off. Here is Progress Energy's Monday morning press release on the federal approval.

Wake up and good morning. Well the betting is over. Federal regulators gave their conditional blessing to the acquisition of Progress Energy by Duke Energy to create the largest power company in the United States. It means Duke Energy, not Progress (regardless of the name on your bill), will be calling the final shots in central Florida and the bulk of Tampa Bay's electricity future. It means Duke, not Progress, will be the final judge in the future of the broken Crystal River nuclear power plant in Citrus County and in the proposed but long delayed and pricey $24 billion nuclear power plant just north of Crystal River in Levy County.

And it means a far bigger, more politically influential and, by Duke Energy's history, a more aggressive company will be running the show in Florida now. The deal means about 1,800 job cuts overall and raises at least some questions about the commitment to the Tampa Bay area of an even bigger North Carolina power company. …

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Tampa's SRI/Surgical Express, provider of hospital sterilization services, sold to British buyer

srisurgicallogo.jpgWake up and good morning. After announcing last September that it would explore its sale, Tampa's publicly traded SRI/ Surgical Express is doing just that. British company Synergy Health plc this morning says it will buy SRI/Surgical Express for $25.1 million to expand its U.S. business of providing sterilization services to hospitals. SRI supplies sterile surgical gowns and surgical instruments to about 470 U.S. hospitals and surgery centers. It employed 799 at the end of 2011 and operated 10 processing centers around the country.

SRI/Surgical Express has been losing money for some time. It reported a $500,000 loss in the first quarter and both in 2011 and 2010 reported annual losses of just under $1.6 million. Commenting on the annual loss last year, CEO Gerald Woodard blamed "uncharacteristically high insurance costs and commodity prices" for the company performance.

SRI/Surgical Express's stock (STRC) was an underperformer. An investor who bought $100 worth of the company shares at the end of 2006 would see that stake worth only $77 at the end of 2011. …

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Thirty Florida banks deemed weakest or "zero star" in new rankings by quarterly data, down from 39

The winnowing of Florida's most troubled banks continues with new quarterly rankings out that show a notable decrease in so-called "zero star" banks from Bauer Financial. Based on first quarter data just out from Bauer, only 30 Florida-based banks received a "zero star" or weakest financial ranking by Bauer on its scale of 0 (weakest) to five (strongest). That compares to 39 zero star banks a quarter earlier based on year-end 2011 data.

Of those 30, only one -- Heritage Bank of Florida in Lutz -- is in the immediate Tampa Bay area. Of note, First Home Bank in Seminole, which had been a zero star bank, managed to improve to a 1-star bank rating. Still weak but better.

As of data from March 31, 2012, here are the 30 zero star banks based in Florida. …

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Both CEOs out at drug companies that tried but failed to bring USF research drug to market

astrazeneca-david-brennan-008.jpegWake up and good morning. Looks like two drug companies' big bet on a University of South Florida drug concept called TC-5214 has claimed additional casualties. The drug, which USF hoped could be its first grand slam commercial product based on university research, proved a bust for the two drug companies -- AstraZeneca and Targacept -- a tale which was first reported in April in this Tampa Bay Times column.

Since then, the CEOs of both drug companies have stepped down. In April, David Brennan (left), CEO of AstraZeneca -- a large drug development company -- resigned (or "retired earlier than expected" depending on the coverage) in what the BBC called a "boardroom coup" that was due, in part, to the failure of clinical trials using TC-5124.

dondebethizytargaceptformerceo.And on Monday of this week, it was announced that CEO Don deBethizy of the smaller drug company Targacept had suddenly resigned.  DeBethizy (right) had led the Winston-Salem biotechnology company since it was spun out of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in 2000. The company's stock had been slammed after it said it would halt further trials of TC-5214 citing a lack of success in research thus far. …

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Report: College-bank debit card deals not always in student best interests

spconecard.jpgWake up and good morning. As if too many college students are not already over their heads with college debt and financial stresses they may not really understand.... now comes a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Group (PIRG) Education Fund that finds many major colleges and universities are trying to trim costs by cutting deals with banks issuing debit cards acting as student IDs and taking over the duties of dispensing financial aid.

The problem, says the report The Campus Debit Card Trap, is that incoming students assume these cards (emblazoned with the university name and logo) are endorsed by their schools and discourage the student from shopping for better deals. But at the same time these financial deals can carry hefty fees for students. Says the report: "Students end up bearing some costs directly including per-swipe fees, inactivity fees, overdraft fess and more." Here's a May 30 story on the report and the issues from the New York Times. …

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