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Stories about Florida's precarious economy topped 2010

Heading into 2010, Florida's precarious economy was the dominant story. • In many ways, 12 months later, it still is — though there's undeniably been an evolution. We ended the year worrying less about corporate bankruptcies and more about personal bankruptcies. Fretting about the potential of another bad hurricane season quickly turned to the reality of oil fouling the state's beaches. • In 2011, the dual threats of a deeply troubled housing market and chronic, high unemployment threaten to derail a modest recovery. • Yet, hope springs. The economy has been growing again. Consumer confidence, corporate profits, personal savings and the major stock market indexes are all up. Private investors have breathed new life into dozens of moribund companies (including more than a few banks). • Here's a look back at 10 stories that shaped Florida business this year:

1 DEEPWATER HORIZON DISASTER. A BP oil rig explodes April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and dumping more than 200 million gallons of oil into the gulf. The environmental and economic disaster carries long-term ramifications for Florida's tourism and seafood industry. Many out-of-state tourists mistakenly think most of Florida's beaches are covered in oil. Though no tainted Florida seafood is reported, consumers shunned gulf seafood for months after the oil stopped gushing. BP kicks in $50 million to market gulf vacations in four states and $20 million for inspection and marketing of Florida seafood.

2 JOBS CRISIS WORSENS. Florida's unemployment hits a modern-era record 12.3 percent in March, retreats to 11.4 percent and then begins climbing again as short-term U.S. census jobs and some federal stimulus jobs expire. Nationally, the unemployment rate ends the year just under 10 percent. Nearly half of the jobless have been searching for work for at least six months, a record level of long-term unemployed.

3 GOP SURGE CHANGES BUSINESS CLIMATE. Health care executive and entrepreneur Rick Scott is elected Florida's governor in his first run for public office, and Republicans increase their presence at both the state and national levels. With their stronger base, Republicans in Washington zero in on economic issues like extending the Bush tax cuts for wealthier individuals. In Florida, Scott begins his plan to streamline state government and create 700,000 additional jobs in seven years.

4 THE FORECLOSURE FIASCO. Florida's shaky housing market tumbles further as thousands of foreclosed homes flood the market, driving prices down. After a temporary home buyer tax credit expires, home prices fall anew in the summer. Bank of America and other top lenders temporarily halt foreclosure proceedings after evidence mounts that some court documents contained errors and outright fraudulent statements.

5 CORPORATE BUYOUTS RETURN. Cheaper borrowing costs trigger a wave of equity deals, with some of the area's biggest corporations caught up in the action. Carlyle Group buys Tampa's Syniverse Technologies for $2.6 billion; British engineering consultancy WS Atkins Plc. buys Tampa's PBSJ Corp. for $292 million; and Brazil's Gerdau SA buys the remaining shares it doesn't own of Tampa steel producer Gerdau Ameristeel for $1.6 billion.

6 SHAKEUP AT TIA. A year of turmoil at Tampa International Airport. Longtime director Louis Miller exits after feuding with board members in February, later surfacing with the top job at the bigger Atlanta airport. The board doesn't hire Miller's replacement, Joe Lopano, until October. Another top airport executive, Lou Russo, resigns in November amid an investigation into potential conflicts of interest. Oh, and thousands of passengers at TIA and other airports around the country object to enhanced security patdowns.

7 SPORTS TEAMS TAKE DOWNTURN ON THE CHIN. The Tampa Bay Bucs black out TV coverage of their home games because they can't get enough fans in Raymond James Stadium. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays, struggling to fill their own ballpark at Tropicana Field, back off their push for a new stadium (for now).

8 VOTERS REJECT MASS TRANSIT TAX. By a ratio of 3-2, Hillsborough County voters convincingly shoot down a proposed 1-cent sales tax increase to pay for the region's first light rail system, as well as expand roads and double the bus fleet. Supporters vow to come back when the economy improves. Meanwhile, the federal government continues its push for high-speed rail in Florida, offering $342 million more for a Tampa-Orlando connection on top of the $2 billion already awarded.

9 THE BOSS DIES. New York Yankees owner and Tampa philanthropist George Steinbrenner dies in July at 80 years old. From the Florida State Fair to the Tampa Port to the local sports scene to countless civic and charitable causes, Steinbrenner had an oversized impact on the bay area over the decades.

10 POTTER WORKS THEME PARK MAGIC. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens, not only elevating the standard for theme park experiences but also salvaging what was going to be a miserable summer for the state's tourism industry. Parks start building a variety of new attractions, including a new thrill coaster at Busch Gardens, a major expansion of Fantasyland at Walt Disney World and a new Legoland to try to resuscitate Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven.

Other big stories: Southwest buys AirTran; WellCare pays $137.5 million fine in civil settlement prompted by a whistle-blower suit; Tampa brokerage GunnAllen Financial goes bankrupt; Publix begins online shopping experiment; HSN2 debuts; Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse chain shuts down; Toyota recalls 2.3 million vehicles over a problem with sticky accelerator pedals; Florida leads the country in bank failures; Barry Diller steps down as IAC/Interactive CEO; Walter Energy leaves town.

Times staff writer Mark Albright contributed to this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com.

Stories about Florida's precarious economy topped 2010 12/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 24, 2010 8:37pm]
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