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Under the radar, Tampa Bay's bigger private companies look bullish on economy

The area's four largest private companies aren't headquartered in Tampa, St. Petersburg or Clearwater.

Instead, think Seffner (Rooms To Go), Holiday (Southeast Personnel Leasing), Brandon (Automated Petroleum) and Bradenton (Beall's). Combined, this quartet employs more than 11,000 and generates close to $6 billion in revenues.

In a statewide ranking of the 200 largest private companies, the Tampa Bay area boasts 42 headquartered firms that together employ nearly 38,000 workers. This regional ranking is culled from annual statewide revenue data that appear in the July issue of Florida Trend magazine, a sister publication of the Tampa Bay Times.

To be clear, the companies ranked here are privately owned, in contrast to "public" companies like Tech Data or Jabil Circuit or TECO Energy. Public company shares trade on stock exchanges and must disclose, far more than private businesses, lots of financial, legal and management information.

So think of this column as a fresh peek into the murky world of private companies that feature few household names. But private businesses are economic players here. Their performance over the past year suggests the Tampa Bay business market is growing stronger than a casual glance might suggest.

The biggest revenue surges are coming from an eclectic mix of private businesses. In particular, products marketed to make folks look better appear to be red hot.

In Bradenton, a 58-employee direct sales company founded in 2001 called It Works! Global saw its revenues rise 335 percent to $200 million in the past year thanks to growing sales of its health and weight-loss products. Its core product, according to CEO Mark Pentecost, is the $99 It Works Body Wrap described as a "contouring product that can tighten, tone, and firm any area of your body."

In Oldsmar, 30-employee Vogue International saw revenues from salon hair care and body products under the FX and Organix brands climb 150 percent to $250 million.

Other fast-growing firms in the past year include Oldsmar technology business Vology, up 57 percent; hefty Southeast Personnel Leasing in Pasco County, up 53.5 percent; and Tampa's Morgan Auto Group (whose 10 Florida dealerships range from Toyota of Tampa Bay to Lamborghini Sarasota), up 35 percent.

Other strong double-digit revenue growth helped spur Tampa's Laser Spine Institute, home developer Neal Communities in Lakewood Ranch, and St. Petersburg electrical contractor Power Design.

Don't get too excited. Some of these rebounds reflect comebacks by firms battered in the recent recession and whose revenues remain lower than they were six or so years ago. Still, the sheer diversity of brisk economic expansion is encouraging.

So is the puny number — just three — of the 42 area private firms that suffered declines in revenues in the past year. They are St. Petersburg's America II Electronics (down 16 percent), Tampa's Sun State International Trucks (down 5 percent), and Tampa's KHS&S Contractors (down 4 percent).

Tampa Bay did "lose" a few of its bigger private firms since last year. Tampa's OSI Restaurant Partners, the successful parent of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill and several other restaurant chains, was the area's largest private company until it went public last year. Its stock now trades under the name Bloomin' Brands.

In downtown St. Petersburg, Universal Health Care ranked No. 6 last year. But the FBI raided the Medicare insurer earlier this year. It's now in bankruptcy and remains under investigation for possible fraud and other matters.

And the private Lifestyle Family Fitness chain of fitness clubs in St. Petersburg was acquired last summer by the larger LA Fitness chain.

Four of the 42 private firms also happen to be businesses that have appeared four years straight on the Tampa Bay Times annual Top Workplaces list: They are Laser Spine Institute, Electric Supply, Southeast Personnel Leasing and American Strategic Insurance.

Just east of the Tampa Bay region lies Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets, Florida's best known private company whose $27.7 billion in revenues and 71,000-plus employees dwarf Tampa Bay's private firms. But even Publix must bow to Florida's largest private business.

At the top of the list, Boca Raton's Sun Capital is a private investment firm with revenues of $45 billion and just 165 employees. Its diverse holdings of more than 72 businesses include American Standard, Boston Market, Hickory Farms and PEMCO World Air Services.

Bottom line? Based on Florida Trend's list, Tampa Bay's bigger private businesses are thin in industries like sophisticated technology, health care, advanced manufacturing and defense. But they are well represented — and growing — in retailing, financial services, construction services and delivering goods, from fuels to beer.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@tampabay.com.

Under the radar, Tampa Bay's bigger private companies look bullish on economy 06/22/13 [Last modified: Monday, June 24, 2013 11:47am]

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