Venture

Robert Trigaux

Florida tomato growers, pressed by Mexican competition, win U.S. support to seek import duties

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Is a Florida vs. Mexico trade war about to start over tomato prices? 

Wake up and good morning. If you listen to Florida's tomato growers, the state industry is in peril because a 16-year agreement with Mexico is out of date and resulted in tomato imports undercutting the prices of the crop grown in the Sunshine State. The U.S. government apparently agrees. The U.S. Commerce Department just issued a temporary decision to end that 16-year pact with a final decision coming next year.

Without a deal, Florida growers can now seek duties on Mexican tomatoes. Read more from this Bloomberg story. Roughly half of the tomatoes eaten in the United States are from Mexico.

There are interesting players on both sides of this squabble. Mexican officials note the Commerce action -- pleasing to Florida agriculture interests -- comes just ahead of a presidential election in a key swing state. Mexico's warned a trade war is possible, pointing to a U.S.-Mexico trucking dispute recently resulting in $2.4 billion in tariffs imposed on U.S. goods.

Then there's the world's largest retailer. Wal-Mart relies heavily on the Mexican tomato in its grocery stores and wants to keep things just as they are. …

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Entrepreneurial ecosystem keeps building but trick is to get it to a tipping point

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If you build it, will they come?

Wake up and good morning. News of Tampa Bay start-up activity and the efforts to support entrepreneurs is gathering steam even as eyes remain focused on the potential of the planned First WaVE Venture Center as a one-stop shop for business start-ups coming soon to the Beer Can building (Rivergate Tower) in downtown Tampa. Here's a sampling:

*  The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce just launched a Startup Scholars Program aimed at choosing three entrepreneurs and assisting them with mentors and assistance in finding seed capital and providing guidance in sales growth. The chamber will help assess any gaps in a start-up plan, offer a chamber membership to enourage access to events and networking opportunities, provide a mentor selected by the chamber's business innovation subcommittee, plus "recognition" of being chosen as a startup scholar. Hey, anything that keeps some momentum going in building the area's so-called "entrepreneurial ecosystem" is good news. Let's hope this new program talks to the other projects already in the works, including the coming First WaVE Venture Center. Read more about the chamber program. …

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In job paycheck vs. cost of degree, University of Florida grads are big winners, says Smart Money

gatoruflogo.jpgWake up and good morning. Gators may fixate on their sports teams but the University of Florida has a much better achievement to crow about. UF graduates overall earn more money than most universities and colleges -- given the price tag of attending the school. In fact, the University of Florida ranked No. 2, second only to engineering-focused Georgia Tech, in producing grads who got the biggest salary bang for the university buck.

So says a new Smart Money magazine analysis. The magazine looked at the pay numbers of graduates after three years and then after 15 years at 50 public and private universities. The magazine developed a Payback Score to create a return on investment based on what graduates of each university earned versus what they paid (assuming full fare) at their individual universities.

At UF, for example, starting tuition and fees for the Class of 2009 for four years was $73,476. A UF grad after three years had a median salary of $46,200 and after 15 years a median salary of $80,800. Smart Money then averaged these pay figures then expressed them as a percentage of the sticker price of tuition and fees. That's the Payback Score. …

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If you knew Wufoo, like they knew Wufoo: How breakout start-ups matter for Tampa Bay

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Can The First WaVE Venture Center, soon to be housed in the Sykes Enterprises/Beer Can building at 400 N Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa, become the regional mecca for start-ups and entrepreneurs? There's a lot of human horsepower behind this effort, if they can stay focused on the prize. (Tampa Bay Times photo.)

Wake up and good morning. If you heard of a start-up company that took in only $118,000 in outside investment and then sold for $35 million, would you call that a success? You betcha.

Tampa Bay had just one of those successes because that's the story of Wufoo, a Tampa creation of brother Chris and Ryan Campbell and friend Kevin Hale (read more about them here) that lets you build forms (surveys, questionnaires -- whatever) online. It was bought in 2011 by SurveyMonkey and the firm was relocated to California from Tampa. …

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Keeping perspective: Florida's treading water on jobs but doing better than more and more states

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Job fairs have become commonplace across Tampa Bay in recent years, just like this past one at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg. Photo: Melissa Lyttle, Tampa Bay Times.

Wake up and good morning. The latest monthly jobless rate in Florida -- still stuck in August at 8.8 percent with thousands of residents leaving the workforce -- is disheartening and reinforces the notion that the Sunshine State's economy is treading water more than recovering. Read the latest Tampa Bay Times story for more detail.

There's not much to crow about. But it is important to keep perspective on monthly numbers. What if I told you Florida in August generated more jobs than any other state except Texas? It's true and from that point of view Florida looks more resilient than most of the nation, right? Florida created 23,200 jobs in August, second only to Texas at 38,000. So, if the country as a whole is struggling to create jobs, Florida's not doing as badly as we might think. (Missouri followed at No. 3 with 17,900 created jobs.) …

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At 65, will Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers have time to restore trust after Progress Energy merger coup?

jimrogersceodukeapphoto.jpgWake up and good morning. The man who now heads Duke Energy that bought Progress Energy... who participated in a palace coup and deposed would-be CEO Bill Johnson... and who is now scrambling to fix the sloppy mess of a merger he in part helped make... is the subject of a very long and interesting story from Bloomberg News.

That man, of course, is Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (left, AP photo), who now also happens to be the boss controlling Progress Energy Florida and the chief electricity provider for west central Florida. Here are 5 snippets of the Bloomberg piece, which you can read in full right here. My take? The story offers new insights into the strategy behind Bill Johnson's dumping as CEO and a good look at the impressive spin under way by Duke and Rogers to evolve a very unsatisfactory merger into a tale of, ultimately, doing the right thing. Read on.

5. "Rogers, 65, finds himself at the pinnacle of an extraordinary 24-year career as a utility CEO and at the same time under the cloud of mistrust that, it not dispersed, may taint his legacy and inhibit the post-merger success of the combined Duke." …

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Florida household income fell 2.9 percent in 2011, signaling recovery remains longer-term struggle

 

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On Wednesday, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis unveiled a $15 million grant for a group of state colleges led by St. Petersburg College to invest in advanced manufacturing training to help boost job opportunities and -- in theory -- household income. Above, from left, SPC president Bill Law, SPC associate engineering/tech dean Brad Jenkins and Secretary Solis tour SPC's emerging technology training center on the college's Clearwater campus. Photo: Will Vragovic, Tampa Bay Times.

Wake up and good morning. The income of the typical Florida family dropped 2.9 percent last year, one of the sharpest reminders that the deflated state economy remains marked by high unemployment, lower-wage jobs and financially challenged to spend its way out of its problems.

That decline in Florida's media household income appears in Census Bureau data scheduled for release today and reported here by the Wall Street Journal. Florida is one of 18 states to see its median household income -- the amount at which half the state households make more and half make less -- decline in 2011 from the previous year. …

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Progress Energy Florida formally changes name to Duke Energy in April 2013

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Progress Energy Florida will assume the Duke Energy name in April at the same time Floridians start to see Duke's new logo, above.

Brand experts no doubt will tout its nuanced and updated look as the country's largest power company since Duke acquired Progress Energy in a messy merger this summer that has sparked state investigations.

dukeenergyoldlogo.jpgI don't know about that. The logo looks pretty similar to the 15-year-old old logo (right), except the red color is gone in favor of blues and green.

Duke's press release, quoting CEO Jim Rogers, says the logo represents "a new beginning for a unified and stronger Duke Energy." And the colors of the new logo reflect Duke Energy’s "commitment to sustainability, technology and energy efficiency."

 

Ginny Mackin, Duke Energy’s chief communications officer, states new logo "depicts forward motion, representing energy for the future." It draws, she says, on elements from the legacy companies’ logos: Progress Energy’s star and the swoosh in Duke Energy’s 'D.' Read more from Duke's press release. …

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In Lakeland, a new billionaire emerges -- who happens to be married to a Publix executive

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Shares of Westlake Chemical have risen nearly 90 percent this year, and sevenfold since March 2009, making a new billionaire in Lakeland, Fla.

dorothyc.jenkins.jpgWake up and good morning. A new billionaire -- a woman -- has apparently been created this year in central Florida. According to Bloomberg News, Dorothy Chao Jenkins (photo, right) is worth at least $1.4 billion thanks to her substantial stake in a Houston chemicals company called Westlake Chemical Corp.

She also happens to be the wife of Publix Super Markets chairman Charles H. Jenkins in Lakeland.

Dorothy Chao Jenkins, 67, is a daughter of Ting Tsung "T.T." Chao. She and brothers James Chao, 65, and Albert Chao, 63, own 70 percent of Westlake, a producer of basic chemicals and North America's largest maker of LDPE polyethylene, a polymer used to make plastic. James chairs Westlake while Albert is president and CEO. Dorothy sits on the Westlake board. She also is on the boards of Wellesley College in Massachusetts, the Polk Museum of Art and the John and Mable Ringling Museum Foundation in Sarasota.

"None of the Chaos have appeared on an international wealth ranking," Bloomberg reports. Read the full Bloomberg story here.

Who knew? …

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From rethinking light rail to saluting a Tampa Bay philanthropist: 5 things to know

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He's one of Tampa Bay's biggest education philanthropists. Who is he? Read on. (Photo: Chris Zuppa, Tampa Bay Times)

Wake up and good morning. Five things you need to know to start this Monday and a new week:

5. Two senior Tampa Bay tourism official talked about some of the early signs of economic impact from the recent hosting of the Republican National Convention. Read my recent column here. What did not get much discussion was the reminder that Tampa Bay lacks a mass transit system that -- in coming years -- increasingly distinguish this metro area as a questionable place to host major events that require lots of people to get around easily. Charlotte's light rail system won much praise during the Democratic National Convention held there. And it's not as if rail systems are lacking in Florida (just Tampa Bay). Consider the new rail connection at Miami's international airport (read more here) or or the Palm Beach Post's story about how rising use of the Tri-Rail system is being helped with a fleet of new and free shuttles. …

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29 Florida banks earn most troubled ratings in quarterly review, with concentration in Panhandle

Wake up and good morning. The latest quarterly ratings of the health of Florida banks are out. The good news? There's not much change in the second quarter that ended June 30 from the earlier first quarter performance. The not so great news is that the lack of progress in the health of Florida banks essentially mirrors the larger state economy. We're mostly treading water at the moment.

Below are 29 Florida-based banks that were rated "zero star" -- the most troubled ranking on a scale of 5 stars -- by Bauer Financial, a third party bank rating company. 

Five quick observations:

1. The number of zero star banks has changed little from the 30 reported in the first quarter that ended March 31, 2012. Here is that list.

2. Only one of the 29 banks listed below is based in the Tampa Bay market: Heritage Bank in Lutz.

3. The Florida Panhandle has a concentration of zero star banks (in Graceville, Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Marianna, Crestview, Pensacola), suggesting that part of the state is struggling more than might meet the casual eye. …

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Florida university system's still way behind but USF's graduation rate in sore need of improvement

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How about a bit less bull and a bit higher graduation rate for USF students?

Wake up and good morning. If Florida really wants to bump up to the next level of the economy, it needs to raise the bar on its state university system. That's nothing university leaders don't already know. But execution? We've got a long way to go.

The latest reminder comes in the new annual U.S. News & World Report ranking of universities and colleges. The short version of the ranking shows the University of Florida, as usual, topping the national rankings at No. 54. Hopefully, UF can climb that ladder and break into the top 50, and some day the top 25.

The connection between quality state universities and quality businesses is well documented (consider Stanford University and Silicon Valley). Improve the state university system and send a message that Florida takes advanced learning and global competition seriously. Ultimately, Florida should be known more for top notch academics and research and perhaps a little less for its football frenzy. …

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Is Levy nuclear plant a Go or No? 5 Florida business matters you need to know today

Wake up and good morning. Five curious matters in Florida this morning are worth a closer look. Onward: …

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'Must Be The Sunshine' replaces 'Your Florida Side Is Calling' as official state tourism slogan

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After three years, Florida's ad campaign -- an example is shown above -- leveraging the phrase "Your Florida Side Is Calling" will be retired. A new slogan was unveiled at the annual governor's conference on tourism in Orlando.

Wake up and good morning. So long, "Your Florida Side Is Calling." Welcome aboard, "Must Be The Sunshine."

Do state-created tourism slogans matter? They do if they can catch the public's attention and create some buzz out there. Think of the blockbuster slogans "I love New York" that's been around since the 1970s or "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" which last year joined the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame. (Read more here.)

Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing arm, retired its "Your Florida Side Is Calling" catchphrase on Thursday and unveiled "Must Be The Sunshine" in its place. I'm not sure New York or Vegas have much to worry about. But it's a safe, mainstream saying for Florida. …

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Wrong direction: U.S. competitiveness slipping in global ranking thanks to political rancor

wefcompetitivenesscover2012.jpgWake up and good morning. The United States still likes to think of itself as the home of free markets and capitalism. Too bad others in the world don't see it quite that way. The U.S. slipped -- again -- in the World Economic Forum's competitiveness rankings this year, dropping to 7th place from 5th. Download the full report here.

Why do we care? Well, the trend line is down, meaning the U.S. looks like it may be lower next year. After all, the same report in 2008-2009 named the United States No. 1. Dropping to 7th in such a short period of time is distressing.

In a case of impeccable timing, the principal cause of the diminishing competitiveness here happens to be what the country's fixated on last week in Tampa and right now in Charlotte. Authors at the World Economic Forum, a think tank, say the continued lack of trust in our political leaders by the business community. The authors note that lack of trust is "perhaps not surprising in light of recent political disputes that threaten to push the country back into recession through automatic spending cuts." Read more from the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal …

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