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Tube isn't toothpaste's main squeeze anymore

First the tube. Then the pump. Now the squeeze. For those who don't have enough choices to make when buying toothpaste _ what with the different colors (including stripes), different flavors and different textures (gel or paste) _ Procter & Gamble has just created another option.

The new Crest "Neat Squeeze" dispenser stands upright like a pump but is squeezed like a tube. It doesn't get skinnier as it runs out of toothpaste, however, so there are no arguments over where to squeeze the tube or whether it should be rolled up as it gets used.

The Neat Squeeze dispenser retains its shape because it has a "unique inner bag that empties itself as you squeeze, in the middle," according to the promotional literature. When it gets lighter and harder to squeeze, it's time to buy more.

The patented bag-in-a-bottle design uses a valve-and-vacuum system to keep the toothpaste close to the neck of the container, Procter & Gamble says.

There now are six varieties of Crest in three different dispensers to choose from. Just think _ 18 different possibilities. And that's only one brand.

_ KIM NORRIS

Sensitive businesses

sought for annual award

Companies that don't recycle, test employees for drugs or help workers with child care and other domestic dilemmas need not apply.

So say the organizers of the Governor's Business Leadership Award, an annual honor bestowed on Florida employers that contribute to their communities with jobs and volunteerism. Nomination forms were mailed last week.

Although the award is supposed to highlight companies' economic impact, job growth and community activism, the nomination form asks companies to describe their recycling efforts, drug-free workplace programs and employee lifestyle assistance efforts. Such activity demonstrates a company's "leadership in current business issues," according to the form.

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties each will have two winners, to be selected during Industry Appreciation Week, Sept. 16 through 20. Nominations must be submitted by June 10.

_ DENISE L. AMOS

SouthTrust bows out

of buying posture for now

Tampa Bay bankers' ears perked up in early May when Alabama-based SouthTrust Corp., which owns $1-billion in assets through nine banks in Florida, said it was looking to buy other institutions and planned to sell 2-million shares of stock.

After all, SouthTrust's earnings have been rolling along while nearby banks have struggled with bad real estate loans. And some of the area's largest thrifts _ now wards of the Resolution Trust Corp. _ are up for sale.

But last Wednesday, SouthTrust had a change of heart and canceled its stock sale. It seems its stock price of slightly more than $21 was too low.

"Our numbers are good, and our stock is a bit underpriced right now," said L. Eugene Oliver, president and chief executive officer of SouthTrust Bank of Pinellas County. No doubt, the bank will be back.

_ ROBERT TRIGAUX

At Duke, you're never

alone with a computer

It is almost commonplace nowadays in techie circles to find computers that talk or respond to verbal commands.

But for the first time outside science fiction, Duke University researchers believe they have designed software that allows a computer to carry on an actual conversation with a human.

As in the film 2001, the computer remembers what a person says and responds with that information. One graduate student wrote a program to argue about gun control.

There are some problems to overcome. First, the computer voice sounds as halting as those from the telephone company's directory assistance lines.

And the computer makes mistakes, once interpreting the command "repeat" as a meaningless "red eight."

The researchers hope to further develop the software for commercial and military applications.

_ ALAN GOLDSTEIN

Chiles impresses trade

gathering by being there

The recent Governor's Conference on World Trade in Tampa didn't exactly come off without a hitch.

U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, one of the keynote speakers, couldn't make it, and when Florida Secretary of Commerce Greg Farmer began his after-lunch speech on the terrace at the Wyndham Harbour Island Hotel, a downpour drowned him out.

But at least the governor was there. When Gov. Lawton Chiles stepped to the microphone, conference participants gave him a standing ovation.

"It's been a long time since I've had that much applause for just showing up," Chiles joked.

Bob Martinez, his predecessor, was criticized for failing to attend meetings aimed at fostering international trade. In addition to skipping the state's annual trade conference, Martinez was the only one of seven southern governors to miss the Southeast U.S.-Japan Association's annual meeting in Atlanta last October.

This year the meeting will be in Tokyo, and trade supporters hope Chiles will attend. Chiles has expressed interest, but hasn't committed himself.

"I'll have to see what's happening with the state's economy," he said.

_ HELEN HUNTLEY

Paragon's newest channel

promotes classic shindig

Paragon Cable customers, who pay the highest rates for basic cable service in the bay area, may want to take advantage of the opportunity to watch a movie, eat breakfast and see a celebrity _ free.

On June 11, Paragon will kick off its newest channel _ American Movie Classics _ with a screening of the 1949 movie On The Town, starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Ann Miller, at the Bayfront Center's Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

Actress Shirley Jones will introduce the movie and will be available for questions before the screening.

The spokeswoman for American Movie Classics, Jones played leading parts in memorable movie musicals such as Oklahoma!, Carousel and The Music Man before assuming the forgettable role as the singing mother of a family rock band in the 1970s television sitcom The Partridge Family.

The event, which is targeted at St. Petersburg's senior population, begins at 10:30 a.m. with a continental breakfast. There will be music of the Big Band era and drawings for prizes. For free tickets and information, call 579-8400.

While Paragon's apparent generosity may impress current and potential customers, it should be noted that American Movie Classics is footing the bill for the event.

_ KIM NORRIS

Peel-N-Stick car mats

moving fast _ in stores

You know how car mats can slide around or buckle under your feet?

A Winter Springs company took one of life's minor inconveniences and designed Peel-N-Stick auto mats, which in their first year have raked in more than $40-million in sales.

The mats, from Continental Auto Accessories, retail for between $10 and $30 a set and are available at Kmart, Target, Western Auto and other major retailers nationwide.

The mats have a coating that keeps them from shifting. The carpet is made with a stain-resistant fiber. The company says the sticky coating does not leave a residue when the mats are removed.

_ ALAN GOLDSTEIN

CenTrust chairman hasn't

been spared the spotlight

If he reads USA Today, former CenTrust Savings Bank chairman David Paul must have been pretty surprised to discover Friday that he "has managed to avoid publicity despite scrutiny from federal regulators."

Paul's lavish spending habits have made him something of a legend, at least in Florida. While CenTrust was going down the drain, Paul spared no expense decorating his office, home and yacht. One of his better-known acquisitions was a $13-million painting he bought with CenTrust money to hang in his home.

In the past 17 months, Paul's name has appeared in more than 100 stories in the St. Petersburg Times alone. It even came up when the St. Petersburg Area Stock and Bond Club met at Raymond James Financial Inc. headquarters last week.

Chairman Thomas A. James invited visiting brokers on a tour of the building and its art, quickly adding "my name is not David Paul. This art is owned by me personally." He says the pieces, mostly by Florida artists, are worth between $250,000 and $500,000 _ definitely not in Paul's league.

USA Today said the cost of CenTrust's bailout could reach $7.6-billion, including the interest the Resolution Trust Corp. will have to pay on the bonds sold to finance the bailout.

The newspaper said Paul is a candidate to replace Charles Keating as "Savings & Loan Poster Boy."

_ HELEN HUNTLEY

And who said Southeast

is behind in its collecting?

And speaking of banks and art, a collection of contemporary art owned by Miami-based Southeast Banking Corp. is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. The art is valued at about $1-million, according to Southeast spokesman George Owen.

Beleaguered stockholders who have seen the bank repeatedly lose money as loans went sour might get a wry kick out of the show's slogan: "Southeast Bank Collects."

_ JOHN CRADDOCK

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