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Venture

Robert Trigaux

Will Megastorm Sandy's impact up north spell trouble for Florida winter tourism season?

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Will northerners still want to come to Florida for a winter vacation if they have to deal with scenes like this in New York City? (Photo: Richard Drew, AP)

Wake up and good morning. Let's not hit the panic button but there's an important question Tampa Bay and Florida should be asking:

If the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy is truly widespread, from the Carolinas north to New England and as far west as Ohio, will that mean many folks from that part of the country who normally come to Florida for a winter vacation may choose not to do so this year?

Yes, I know it's only October and things will look different come January, the peak season for tourism. But Florida's riding a record year of tourism and this blast from Mother Nature can hardly help. The aftermath of Sandy will be amplified in the media because it's hitting the Northeast where the country's media conglomerates are clustered. Hyper-coverage inevitably will exaggerate concerns over the expense of rebuilding and recovery. …

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Consulting nonsense: Throw more upfront tax dollars to recruit companies, pay Floridians less

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If "jobs, jobs, jobs" is Florida's only economic strategy, we'll get what we pay for. (Photo: Chris Zuppa, Tampa Bay Times)

Wake up and good morning. When I grow up I want to be an economic development consultant. That way, I can tell Florida to boost its economy by handing out more tax dollars upfront to relocating companies while also lowering the already too-low wage standards for new jobs those companies might bring to the state.

I could call the report Desperate Florida: Throwing Away Tax Dollars, Impoverishing Its Residents and Giving Up On Its Ambitions.

Except a new consultant is pretty much already telling Florida that's the way to go.

marksweeneymccallumsweeneyconsulting.jpgA South Carolina consulting firm presented its study recommendations last week to Enterprise Florida that essentially says if the Sunshine State gives companies more money upfront and lets them pay less to Floridians, then more businesses will relocate to this state. "People just don't think of Florida as a 'top of mind'  place to do productive activity," Mark Sweeney (photo, right) of McCallum Sweeney Consulting in Greenville, S.C., told Enterprise Florida last Thursday, the Orlando Sentinel reports. …

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Tampa's Lykes Brothers, partner in Highlands County biofuel plant just killed by BP, takes a hit

bpbiofuelhighlandsctyharvestingenergygrass.jpgWake up and good morning. BP's decision after four long years to end a planned biofuels plant in Highlands County (read Tampa Bay Times coverage here) will send plenty of ripples across this rural part of central Florida. (Photo, left: Harvesting energy grass in Highlands County). For starters:

1. BP's not only killing the local plant but is ending its entire cellulosic/ethanol plans in the United States. It does have other ethanol operations in England and Brazil. What's happening to the alternative energy business in the United States that's scaring B P away?

2. Highlands County, already struggling with a 9.2 percent unemployment rate, just saw one of its more promising projects get vaporized by BP. The $250-$300 million plant was supposed to employ up to 600 million while under construction and 200 during operations. What message does BP's exit from this project send about other biofuel plans that might have used sugar cane or similar crops as a fuel to produce ethanol? …

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Innovaro's dilemma: How do you help companies grow when you're so busy shrinking?

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Tampa's Innovaro (formerly known as Utek) has suffered a steady slide in its stock price, which now hovers near 60 cents. What will be the company's fate? Above, a chart tracks the the five most recent years of Innovaro's share price.

Wake up and good morning. What happens when you are a company's whose mission is to help other businesses "grow and innovate" but your own track record says otherwise?

That's Innovaro's great conflict. The Tampa company based in Ybor City was once known as Utek. It has refashioned itself multiple times in recent years in an attempt to find a viable business niche. It does not help that Innovaro was struggling already when the recession hit. Now it's fighting to stay on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and avoid de-listing -- for several major reasons.

1. According to Innovaro, the NYSE believed that the company "had sustained losses which are so substantial in relation to its to its overall operations or its existing financial resources, or its financial condition had become so impaired, that it appeared questionable... as to whether the company would be able to continue operations and/or meet its obligations as they matured." …

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Now it's AIG's turn to do right thing and pay up on death benefits for ignored policyholders

aigbuildingap.jpgWake up and good morning. Let the dominoes tumble. Recently it was Nationwide's turn to settle a multistate probe of the way it handles death benefits (read my recent column). Now it's AIG's turn. (AP photo, left.)

American International Group, which had to be rescued by the federal government during the recent recession, just agreed to pay $11 million to settle an investigation by insurance regulators from Florida and other states pushing insurers to clear their books of overdue life-insurance payments. AIG's is the 5th agreement that Florida has settled with big national insurers to more fairly use a big national database that records people's deaths -- known as the U.S. Social Security Death Master File.

Part of the concern is that insurers may ignore recorded deaths of policyholders deserving of payouts because no claims were ever filed on their behalf. That's supposedly an industry tradition. It seems lazy and self serving by the industry and obviously sparked this multistate inquiry. …

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Latest numbers show puny venture capital investing remains Florida's Achilles heel

 

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Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan visited the University of South Florida in Tampa Friday to talk about USF's Center for Entrepreneurship. Everybody loves to embrace the idea of encouraging business start-ups. But Florida still suffers from a serious lack of venture capital support. Is this a chicken and egg problem? If we had more and better start-ups, would Florida get mopre VC backing? Or are the best start-ups in Florida leaving the state in search of more investment money, especially in California where venture capital tends to invest heavily? (Photo: Melissa Lyttle, Tampa Bay Times)

Wake up and good morning. Did venture capital decide to take a siesta in Florida? New data MoneyTree data show that in the entire country venture capitalists invested $6.5 billion in 890 deals in the third quarter that ended Sept. 30. That's a decline of 11 percent in dollars and 5 percent in the number of deals compared to the second quarter of 2012, according to data gatherers PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association. Read more here. And here's the AP story. …

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After 12-year run for Tim Main as Jabil Circuit CEO, it's Mark Mondello's turn

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Tim Main's stepping down as CEO at Jabil after one of the more impressive runs managing an area company with intense global competition. Photo: John Pendygraft, Tampa Bay Times.

Wake up and good morning. There's a disturbance in the force at St. Petersburg-based Jabil Circuit. Come March, CEO powerhouse Tim Main will step down as the alpha dog at the global electronics manufacturer to become chairman. Current COO Mark Mondello becomes CEO. And current chairman Bill Morean -- son of company co-founder "Bill" Morean that forms the latter half of the company name Ja"bil" -- will retire. More on Morean here.

Jabil's one of the corporate gems of execution in the Tampa Bay area, a $17-billion revenue business with more than 100,000 employees worldwide and plants from China and eastern Europe to Mexico. It's very good at what it does. It operates in an intensely competitive global market which very few Tampa Bay-based corporations (a few exceptions: Tech Data, Syniverse, Bloomin' Brands) have yet (and may never) encounter. …

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Billionaire CEOs with 'company town' attitudes pressure employees to vote their way

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David and Jackie Siegel appear in The Queen of Versailles documentary about how the economy squeezed their ambitions to finish building their 90,000-square-foot home, named Versailles, near Orlando, one of the largest residences ever built in America. AP photo.

Wake up and good morning. We've seen a few Tampa Bay area CEOs willing to fess up and declare their political allegiance in the coming presidential election. Raymond James Financial CEO Paul Reilly stepped up this month at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club and declared he supported Barack Obama in his 2008 quest for the presidency but is switching his backing to Mitt Romney this time. Ditto Rick Silva, CEO of the Tampa-based burger chain Checkers, who recently voiced his support for Romney at a Tampa Chamber breakfast.

All well and good. Kudos to executives willing to speak honestly.

What's so disturbing, though, are the growing numbers of super-wealthy CEOs who are pressuring their own employees to vote for Romney or face the increased possibility of losing their jobs. That's pathetic bullying at its worst. An insult to democracy -- even if these are all private companies. …

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We have lift-off: Now a broad Tampa Bay team will try to build better technology workforce

Wake up and good morning. It used to take a village but when it comes to getting its technology workforce up to snuff and prepared to grow, it will take the entire Tampa Bay region. That's one of the key messages generated by a Thursday morning gathering by economic development, business and education leaders assembled to explain -- and sell -- the key recommendations in a newly completed, sharply focused analysis of how to fix this region's mismatch between a supply of tech workers that is too thin and out of step with the demand of big and small companies seeking specific IT skills.

Here's my initial Tampa Bay Times column about that report written before this Thursday morning gathering. And here's the link to the entire report. Let's just add some flesh to the bones of what's happening based on a nearly 2-hour discussion, held Thursday at the Franklin Templeton complex in Carillon, that drew roughly a hundred people. A few observations. …

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Florida's tops in eastern U.S. in business tax climate, so why isn't state marketing it aggressively?

 

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Florida's business tax climate ranks highest in the entire eastern United States. Is this a missed marketing opportunity for the Sunshine State?

Wake up and good morning. Okay, we know some of this tax drill already, right? Florida ranks among the best ten states when it comes to taxes and those evil states like California, New York and New Jersey rank among those most overtaxed.

All true, according to this new report out by the Tax Foundation. The virtue of the report (click on the link's PDF for full report), though, is its next layer of detail that shows how each state ranks according to five types of taxes. Let's look at Florida.

Individual Income Tax: Since Florida has none, it ranks No. 1, tied with Alaska, Nevada,  South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

Corporate Tax: Florida ranks No. 13, with Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming tied at No. 1. The worst: Delaware, then New Hampshire.

Sales Tax: Florida ranks No. 18. The lowest sales tax state is New Hampshire, followed by Delaware. The highest: Arizona, followed by Louisiana.

Property Tax: Florida ranks in the middle at No. 25. The lowest is New Mexico, then Idaho. The highest: Connecticut, then New Jersey. …

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What will $9.5 million get you these days? Some deals are a lot better than others

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For only $9.5 million, the buyers got the Tampa Tribune, along with smaller papers Hernando Today, Highlands Today, Suncoast News, Sunbelt Newspapers and the Spanish publication Centro. Photo: Eve Edelheit, Tampa Bay Times.

Wake up and good morning. So what will $9.5 million get you these days? For starters, you could have bought the Tampa Tribune newspaper along with its TBO web site and a bunch of smaller area papers that Trib owner Media General was apparently eager to divest in order to shed its paper business (in the process announcing a huge loss this week) and start calling itself a broadcasting business.

You need only read this Tampa Bay Times story to confirm that the Tribune sale was pretty much a deep discount price. Just ask leading newspaper analyst John Morton (as noted in this story): "It's a fire sale," he said of the Tribune sales price. Not that cheap newspaper sales are anything new. When Halifax Media bought 16 newspapers this year from the New York Times (including Florida papers in Sarasota, Lakeland, Ocala, Gainesville and Winter Haven), the sales price was $143 million. So averaged over 16 newspapers, that deal was about $9 million per paper. …

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Breakthrough? Toyota becomes first car company to pitch vehicles on HSN

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On HSN, Toyota focused on explaining hybrid technology in its vehicles to a mostly female audience. Photo courtesy of Toyota.

Wake up and good morning. Toyota quietly slipped on to HSN this past Sunday in three 1-hour time blocks to become the first car company to ever use the TV/online retailer to try and sell its vehicles. Specifically, Toyota used HSN to pitch its hybrid cars which the company felt could use that extra time to explain to viewers how the vehicles worked and discuss the benefits to those who buy them.

Toyota, according to this USA Today story, could not have been more pleased. Toyota spokesman Steve Curtis said the company got more requests for product information after the first hour than it expected to get all day. To be clear, Toyota could not directly sell vehicles on HSN because of state dealer franchise laws. But it could offer information and urged viewers to call in for free coffee mugs, a chance to qualify for $1,000 worth of gas or an HSN shopping credit if they opted to purchase a car. …

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In Oldsmar, a Florida manufacturing industry leader calls foul on federal waste

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Dick Peck heads the manufacturing business QTM Inc. in Oldsmar and also chairs Florida's Manufacturing Extension Partnership in Celebration. Photo: Douglas R. Clifford, Tampa Bay Times

Wake up and good morning. The Orlando Sentinel sheds some light on the frayed relations between a federal arm of the U.S. Commerce Department and a Florida organization chaired by Oldsmar businessman Dick Peck that promotes manufacturing in the Sunshine State.

It seems another federal government conference that's been held in Orlando for years now faces congressional scrutiny for allegedly extravagant spending. The annual event is called the "Manufacturing Innovation" conference and is put on by the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a U.S. Commerce affiliate. The conference is supposed to provide training to employees of a national network of MEP centers that provide assistance to small and mid-sized manufacturers.

The planned 2013 conference's already been canceled amid a swirl of audits and saber rattling by members of Congress, though the National Institute says it was canned for budget reasons, according to the Sentinel story. …

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Raymond James CEO comments on area public schools, proposed Rays stadium in Carillon, election

paulreilly.jpgWake up and good morning. Raymond James Financial's Paul Reilly, CEO since March 2009 when he succeeded Tom James at the helm, was asked Wednesday what challenges Tampa Bay still has when trying to recruit top talent to the area.  Reilly, St. Petersburg born and bred, suggested many of the bigger hurdles of the past are gone. In fact, Reilly said that if a company can actually get a talented manager to relocate to Tampa Bay, they tend to like it and typically stay.

In New York City, Reilly noted, financial talent can just walk across the street to another competitor if they want a new employer or different job. That is less the case in this metro area, which tends to favor Raymond James and promote talent stability here.

However, Reilly was quick to point out what remains Tampa Bay's Achilles heel: Education. Right or wrong, the reputation of the public school system here does hurt talent recruiting. And Reilly was blunt. Most of the talent Raymond James brings in from elsewhere has the resources to put their children in private schools, he said.  …

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From Tampa Bay, one bank analyst's pitch to relocate Wall Street to friendlier Charlotte

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Can you imagine the Gordon Gekkos of Wall Street saying, hey, let's move to Charlotte? The idea may become less crazy than it sounds in the coming years.

Wake up and good morning. Longtime banking industry analyst Richard X. "Dick" Bove (left) is never one to avoid controversy. He likes thinking outside the box. The Rochedale Securities analyst, who works out of suburban Tampa in Lutz, earlier this summer stirred the banking pot when he moved his business out of a nearby Wells Fargo branch because of lousy service -- but then wrote that customer service as a factor in a bank's performance is overblown. (Photo courtesy Rochedale Securities.)dickbovecourtesyrochedalesecurities.jpg

I'm struck by the fact that the (Wells Fargo) service is so bad, and yet the company is so good," Bove said in a July New York Times article here. "Whatever drives people to do business with a given bank, in my mind, now has to be rethought."

Last fall Bove called the consumer-driven victory against Bank of America to drop its planned $5 debit card fee a "win for Socialists." Read more here. …

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