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Economic and political upheaval pepper Tampa Bay's top business stories of 2011

Confrontation was the name of the game in 2011. Consumers taking on big banks and their fees. Occupiers vs. Wall Streeters and big business. The ninety-nine percenters against the 1 percenters. Conservatives facing off against liberals. Chronic, long-term unemployed seemingly against the world. On a global perspective, confrontations were even more heated with clashes in Libya and Egypt sparking regime changes and European countries battling each other over how to corral massive debt. Through all the turmoil, the U.S. economy chugged along. Sort of. We ended the year with unemployment down a bit, consumer confidence still sagging, and stock markets close to where they started after a rather wild ride. Here's a look at some of the biggest business stories of the year that affected our community.

Jeff Harrington, Times staff writer

1. Economic funk persists

Florida's unemployment rate falls to 10 percent after peaking at 12 percent in December 2010. But consumer confidence slumps further, and home prices keep dropping, delaying recovery. Political stalemates in the United States and events abroad — from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to the European debt crisis — roil stock markets and resuscitate fears of a double-dip recession.

2. Tallahassee shakeup

Florida's new governor, Rick Scott, imposes a business-friendly platform with support from the Florida Legislature — from rejecting high-speed rail funds from the Obama administration to slashing regulations and government jobs to endorsing higher insurance rates to cutting jobless benefits.

3. Space: the barren frontier . . . for jobs

Florida's Space Coast loses at least 7,000 space-related jobs amid the phaseout of the space shuttle program. The economic ripple hits everything from restaurants to retailers, schools to scuba diving companies, as the coastal region becomes the new state leader for job losses.

4. Corporate backlash

Consumer protests bubble up against big banks like Bank of America and the wealthiest Americans as wage inequality widens dramatically. Occupy Wall Street and its spinoff protests around the country, including in Tampa Bay, coincide with bank customers fuming over new debit card fees.

5. The Times is a-changing

The St. Petersburg Times, Tampa Bay's dominant newspaper, announces it is changing its name to the Tampa Bay Times effective Jan. 1.

6. Call Center USA

Call center operations continue to be one of the chief job creators in the region, with OneTouch Direct pledging to keep its corporate headquarters in Tampa and add 700 jobs here over the next two years; USAA adding 160 jobs; and Humana adding 500 jobs at two area locations just since July.

7. One gigantic electric bill

On the heels of announcing its now-jeopardized merger with Duke Energy, Progress Energy pushes for its ratepayers to cover $670 million of a $2.5 billion-plus repair job at its Crystal River nuclear plant. The plant became damaged after Progress ignored warnings in making a first-of-its-kind upgrade attempt at the facility.

8. "Hurricane Joe" lands at TIA

Joe Lopano takes over as head of Tampa International Airport in January and quickly lives up to his nickname. He introduces new nonstop service to Zurich (the first new European route in 15 years), shakes up airport advertising and presides over the relaunch of direct flights between Tampa and Cuba.

9. New bank names on (nearly) every corner

PNC buys BankAtlantic's branches in Tampa Bay. TD Bank takes over Mercantile Bank and Wells Fargo finally converts Wachovia's omnipresent branch network in Florida.

10. Tourism building blocks

The Legoland amusement park opens in Lakeland on the grounds of the former Cypress Gardens. Merlin Entertainments Group bought the site for $25 million and poured more than $100 million into an overhaul that it unveiled in October.

OTHER BIG STORIES: St. Petersburg votes to tear down the Pier, the iconic inverted pyramid landmark downtown … Tampa Bay Buccaneer great Lee Roy Selmon dies … Seminole Tribe of Florida starts a $75 million expansion of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Tampa that will make it one of the largest casinos in the country … Time Warner brings 500 jobs to the bay area … Brazilian owner of Gerdau Ameristeel drops "Ameristeel" from its name … Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik bankrolls a $40 million makeover of his team's home ice, the St. Pete Times Forum … Regulators approve large rate hikes for Citizens Property Insurance that are less than the huge sinkhole-driven rates it sought … Biotech firm IRX Therapeutics relocates its headquarters back to the bay area … Walter Energy quietly closes its Tampa headquarters as it finalizes a move to Birmingham, Ala. … Mortgage executive/music producer Bill Edwards buys the long-troubled BayWalk shopping and entertainment complex in St. Petersburg … Bob Buckhorn becomes Tampa's mayor … After losing a proxy battle, Mercedes Walton is out as CEO of Oldsmar stem cell storage firm Cryo-Cell International … Federal judge sentences former Taylor, Bean & Whitaker chairman Lee Farkas to 30 years in prison after the collapse of the Ocala mortgage company and Colonial Bank.

Some words

and phrases that caught our eye during 2011

Grab your dictionary.

It's time for an annual update to reflect how our vocabulary has expanded.

Our nominee for the word of the year is a five-syllable gem brought to us courtesy of our local utility, Progress Energy, which taught us that delamination is a nicer, softer way to say "a scary crack in a nuclear plant containment wall that could take years and billions and billions of dollars in ratepayer money to fix."

Here are a few other words and phrases that came into vogue — or took on a new meaning this year:

• To occupy something isn't quite the same anymore.

• Don't call them offshoring U.S. conglomerates anymore. They're "job creators."

• A discussion about STEM is more likely to be about the need for more students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics … and less about stem cell research.

• Being underwater in your home is old news. New norm: being underemployed.

• We progressed from talking about business incubators to business accelerators .

• We're up to "4G" networks now if you're counting.

• Chevy gave a Volt to the country with its new electric car, which promptly started catching fire.

• Washington beltway vernacular broadened to include a "Robin Hood tax" (for financial transactions that pay for aid to the poor).

• We (at least most of us) found out we're in a new classification: The ninety-nine percenters.

• "Don't tase me, bro" was replaced with "Watch out for the pepper spray."

Jeff Harrington

and Mike Moscardini,

Times staff writers

Economic and political upheaval pepper Tampa Bay's top business stories of 2011 12/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 24, 2011 3:30am]
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