Monday, December 18, 2017
Business

In wake of presidential election, area businesses seem certain … of uncertainty

For area businesses, the only certainty won by the presidential election is more uncertainty.

A spot check by Tampa Bay Times business reporters of executives and business owners after the election generated responses ranging from optimism in an already improving economy to fear the country is on a path to ruin.

Not helping was the Dow's plunge of 313 points Wednesday, aggravated by problems in Europe's economy.

In other words, it's business as usual — even after voters re-elected President Barack Obama.

Top of mind, most business managers told the Times, is the fast-approaching "fiscal cliff" that automatically triggers more than $600 billion of federal spending cuts and tax increases. Officially known as "sequestration," that cliff takes effect at the start of next year unless Congress acts.

Despite years of federal gridlock, many business managers still expect the country to avoid the cliff — or postpone it. Not everyone is so bullish.

"Hope I'm wrong, but I believe we will not address our growing debt," says Chuck Sykes, CEO of Tampa's Sykes Enterprises. "This is a very, very serious threat to our economy, and it requires a bipartisan effort to resolve. I just don't believe we'll proactively make the difficult decisions that are needed, given how divided the electorate is."

More optimistic is Tampa defense contractor Greg Celestan. While expecting a bipartisan agreement to emerge, he offers this criticism: "I hope that both parties realize that sequestration was a cowardly solution to duck responsibility for making tough choices on the budget."

"This is the most important issue facing the country at this time," adds Tim Main, CEO of St. Petersburg's Jabil Circuit, a global electronics manufacturer with 100,000 employees.

With Europe in recession and Asia and China slowing, the world looks to the U.S. to do what's right. Warns Main: "It's now time to show leadership and get the hard work done."

Others are less diplomatic. At Tampa's SynDaver Labs, which makes synthetic human body parts, Dr. Christopher Sakezles wants to open an overseas location to help insulate his company from the U.S. economy.

"I think we, as Americans, just missed our last chance to pull the country back from the brink of ruin," Sakezles says.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Craig Sher, executive chairman of St. Petersburg's Sembler Co. construction business. He sees little change from re-electing a president who's already been in office four years.

"I think most of the country already 'baked' his winning into our future plans," Sher says. "The economy is gradually getting better and will continue to do so, barring any negative external events. The significant fiscal issues will have to be addressed."

Paradigm Learning, a 17-year-old St. Petersburg provider of workforce training, planned to add four new people to its workforce of 34. Now with Obama's re-election, company president Robb Gomez says it's too soon to know if that hiring will happen.

"Call me in a month," he says, once the company figures out any hikes in payroll taxes, insurance costs and health care.

Land broker Bill "The Dirt Dog" Eshenbaugh says the election was, for his clientele of developers, investors and land buyers, "not what they wanted to hear."

Yet building contractor president Wilbert Malphus of Tampa's Malphus & Son says he feels President Obama has America's "best interest at heart" and wants to give him more time.

"It has always been my opinion that one doesn't jump ship in the middle of the ocean, even if the ship is heading slowly to shore," he says.

That's an idea, based on the outcome of Tuesday's election, apparently shared by a majority of American voters.

Times staff writers Jeff Harrington, Drew Harwell and Susan Thurston contributed to this report. Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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