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Column: In tough times, Tampa Bay area companies persevere

Those of us with a sense of Tampa Bay business history — after 17-plus years here I'm starting to see the light — appreciate the yin and yang of our local commerce. Business here constantly changes, the recent pace even accelerating. Yet some things remain rock solid.

You want change? Try Tampa icon Outback Steakhouse and its brethren brands (and Checkers Drive-In Restaurants before that) going from public to private. Say adios to independent big leaguers here like St. Petersburg's Danka Business Systems (just bought by Ricoh Minolta) and Tampa's Global Imaging Systems (acquired by Xerox).

Over the years, this newspaper covered many area companies touting REALLY BIG plans. Dozens flew high but fell to Earth. Think of the once-hot telecoms like Intermedia Communications, Z-Tel, Paradyne and Digital Lightwave or drugstore giant Eckerd and local power company Florida Progress.

The Times 10, compiled annually by Times business reporters, offers a snapshot of a key piece of the Tampa Bay business community. The perennials — Tech Data, Jabil Circuit, Raymond James Financial, TECO and Lincare — continue to be tough competitors in demanding times.

Some Times 10 newcomers — MarineMax, Kforce, Gerdau Ameristeel — show promise even in our stressed economy.

And what of an equally impressive array of area companies that are not public? There's big muscle in private businesses lurking in the broader Tampa Bay region.

Lakeland's Publix Super Markets rivals Clearwater's Tech Data in $20-billion-plus in sales and scores among the top grocery industry players in customer satisfaction. Rooms To Go in Seffner is adept at selling popular furniture even as its industry suffers from a housing recession.

Bradenton's Bealls defies the national retail chains because it knows the Florida market well. And Clearwater's Frank Crum and Holiday's Southeast Personnel Leasing are big parts of an employee leasing industry that's become densely packed in this part of Florida.

Even newspapers in a rapidly digitizing era are finding it a far more challenging world marked by change and opportunity.

While we will continue to publish a separate Sunday Business section, Monday through Saturday the Times Business pages will appear inside the new Tampa Bay section. Tuesday through Saturday, the Business pages will feature a daily markets report that includes stock information on 28 public companies with headquarters here (including the Times 10), nearly 50 prominent public companies based elsewhere and details on the performance of the top 50 mutual funds.

To assist readers seeking more in-depth and timely market information, we are revitalizing our online stock market offerings. First, go online to money.tampabay.com. On the upper right hand of the page find entree to our markets report.

Please explore what's offered. You'll see it's improved. For starters, each of the Times 10 companies profiled here has its own dedicated page with updating stock data.

A lot is changing — for the better, we think. There's much, much more to come.

We will want to know what you think of the section. You can e-mail us at readerfeedback@tampabay.com. Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Column: In tough times, Tampa Bay area companies persevere 05/17/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 10:46am]
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