Monday, August 20, 2018
Business

Tampa Bay companies confront economic changes overseas and under seas

A "gig" economy. Brazil. Shamu. Broadband.

This odd quartet sits atop the list of topics influencing the Tampa Bay economy, according to a broad sampling here of second-quarter corporate performances.

The "gig" economy is an increasingly heard phrase about the trend of companies to hire more temporary staffers with specific expertise to complete growth projects — rather than hire traditional full-time employees. Evidence of that trend appears in the record financial results just reported by Tampa's Kforce, a veteran firm in the tech, health care and government world of temporary staffing.

It's a phenomenon Kforce CEO David Dunkel has noted repeatedly in recent years. He said it again in the latest Kforce quarterly conference call with Wall Street analysts.

"Secular drivers continue to be key factors in flexible staffing growth against the backdrop of a nontraditional economic recovery," he said. Translation: This is not your father's — or mother's — workplace anymore.

"The gig economy is only part of a shift in employment over the past three decades, unleashed by technology and global trade," the Financial Times wrote this week.

Adding to the global impact on Tampa Bay is the recession that's taken the wind out of the once high-flying Brazilian economy. While we still see Brazilian tourists at Busch Gardens and other prominent entertainment spots, they are probably here in shrinking numbers. We see that effect in Tampa Bay in the fallen stock price of Panama-based Copa Airlines, which has served as a new flight conduit connecting Tampa International Airport to Brazil and other Latin American countries via the Copa hub. The brisk travel pace, however, has cooled.

Duke Energy, the nation's largest electricity producer and parent of Duke Energy Florida, also blames the sharp slowdown in Brazil for the underwhelming second-quarter performance of Duke's operations in Latin America.

"Long term," Duke CEO Lynn Good told analysts Thursday, "the issues are about the Brazilian economy. Does it get traction again and start growing at a pace more consistent with the last decade?"

A more upbeat outlook on Brazil comes from CEO Liz Smith of Tampa's Bloomin' Brands, whose Outback Steakhouse chain is expanding there and whose new Abbraccio's chain — Bloomin's Brazilian version of Carrabba's Italian Grill — "are performing in line with our high expectations," Smith said, "despite a difficult economy."

As for Shamu, the SeaWorld-branded orca remains at the controversial core of the battle for popular opinion over keeping killer whales in captivity. SeaWorld is still fighting the effects of the Blackfish documentary, which depicts theme park orcas as living unpleasant lives and its orca trainers working under dangerous conditions.

SeaWorld's financial numbers and theme park attendance are both down amid the ongoing debate.

The latest quarter also sheds light on the future of cable TV and Internet services in the Tampa Bay area. Frontier Communications by next year will succeed Verizon in this market as the provider of FiOS and related cable TV and Internet-related services. Frontier, whose stock price has lost nearly a third of its value since the start of the year, claims it's ready to enter this market.

Bright House Networks, another major provider of TV and Internet service here, has been acquired by Charter Communications. In Charter's quarterly chat with analysts, CEO Tom Rutledge offered a few hints of how Bright House services might change — for the better.

"Charter's slowest broadband tier is 60 megabits. We'll offer that — this fast minimum broadband speed to Bright House customers," he said. Bright House still promotes "high speed" broadband services starting with download speeds of 15 or 35 megabits per second.

Charter will offer its pricing model, the CEO said, "which is less expensive for consumers than Bright House's comparable offerings."

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]

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