Don't be surprised if folks at local nonprofit organizations look a little pale.
With Progress Energy, one of the area's top corporate donors, agreeing this week to be acquired by Duke Energy, it's natural for arts groups, schools and charitable causes to wonder if the checks will keep coming.
"That is always a concern," said David Fischer, the former mayor of St. Petersburg who now runs the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.
New ownership means different people setting priorities for corporate giving, he said, and "many charities may not be the favorites any more."
Progress made nearly $9.9 million in donations throughout its service areas in Florida and the Carolinas in 2009. In Florida alone, the company contributed $4.4 million to organizations and institutions, many near its St. Petersburg headquarters for operations in the state.
The giving spreads far and wide: a six-figure gift to put its name on the new Dalí Museum's ornate spiral staircase to the third-floor galleries; a $25,000 grant to help the Pinellas Science Center teach math, engineering and technology; a $160,000 gift to the University of South Florida's Power Center for Utility Explorations.
Progress Energy Florida expects to keep the same level of donations during the year-long process of combining Duke Energy and Progress Energy, said Progress spokeswoman Suzanne Grant. "But at this time, it's not possible to provide details regarding levels of community support following the merger," she said.
Power companies hold a special role in local philanthropy and economic development. Few, if any, other businesses count so many residents among their customers or have such deep pockets. Utilities operate under state regulation. Their success is largely tied to the economic growth of their region.
"Power companies must have good community relations," Fischer said. "Duke will know that. There will be some angst, but I'll bet their commitment (in Florida) won't diminish."
One clue to the company's intent might be how Duke introduced itself in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana after merging with Cincinnati-based Cinergy in 2005.
An official at a chamber of commerce serving the tri-state area said Duke Energy plays an active role developing the region and increased its giving after merging with Cinergy in 2005.
A Duke official heads the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber group, said spokesman Chris Kemper. "We count on them an awful lot," he said. "They always looks for ways to improve our region."
The Duke Energy Foundation foundation has donated nearly $100 million since 2004 to nonprofits in its service areas of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and North and South Carolina.
In 2009 and 2010, the foundation donated more than $30 million to a variety of programs, including energy efficiency, arts and culture and economic development.
In 2009, the Greater Cincinnati Arts & Education Center received a $1 million donation and United Way of Greater Cincinnati received $751,000 in 2009, tax records show.
One Ohio agency called Duke visionary for wanting to establish its footprint in Ohio's 32-county Appalachian area — the poorest region in the state.
Cara Dingus Brooks, president of the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, said Duke is one of the foundation's largest supporters. Duke donated $250,000 in May, which triggered an additional $700,000 from corporate donors to support education programs in the region.
"Duke has been fabulous," Brooks said. "They have stepped up. It's vital to the region."
Pinellas nonprofits were jittery in 2000, when CP&L Corp., based in Raleigh, N.C., bought Florida Progress, the parent of Florida Power.
Headquarters for the renamed Progress Energy remained in Raleigh. Progress executives pledged to keep charitable funding at Florida Power's level of $2.5 million annually for three years. They did better. Corporate giving in Florida ranged from $4 million to $5 million through 2008.
The Dalí was a big beneficiary, said former executive director Marshall Rousseau, now interim director at Sarasota's Ringling Museum of Art.
"They wanted to make a big impression and did it through the arts," he said. "With Duke, we can hope for the best. But it's a whole new ball game."
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8128.