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Account balance is a joke, too

Tired of seeing dull blue or boring beige when you whip out your checkbook? Too sophisticated to pay your bills with checks covered with cuddly kittens or hearts and flowers?

Deluxe Corp. has a deal for you. The Minnesota check maker offers a wide selection from the cartoon world: the Flintstones, the Jetsons, the Simpsons, Garfield, B. C., Ziggy and Bugs Bunny.

Not to be outdone, Deluxe subsidiary Current Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colo., is introducing checks featuring Elvis (the young version) and doughnut-loving Cathy from the comic strip of the same name.

The Deluxe checks are sold by banks and go for $14.95 for 200, plus an optional $3.95 for a matching cover.

At Current, 200 Elvis or Cathy checks are $7.50 for new orders and $9.50 for reorders. They come with a clear vinyl cover. Current sells its checks by mail; for information call (800) 533-3973.

_HELEN HUNTLEY

These June-November romances seldom last

Looks like the Good Hands people just slipped velvet gloves over their iron fists.

After insisting this spring it needs to drop 300,000 Florida customers and raise rates on 800,000 more, Allstate Insurance last week sent a warm and cuddly letter to its policyholders.

"We regret that Allstate hasn't seemed like the caring partner we were in the weeks following Hurricane Andrew," said the letter from Dwight Hammack, Allstate's regional vice president. "Despite the headlines, we have always tried to put customers first."

Translation? It cost Allstate plenty to be responsible to its policyholders after Andrew, so now it wants to dump hundreds of thousands of customers.

"I know you must be concerned about your property coverage," Allstate added, "so I want to reassure you that you need not worry about your policy being discontinued because of hurricane risk this season."

Translation? The state-imposed moratorium prohibits Allstate from dropping any customer until mid-November.

After that, all bets are off.

_ ROBERT TRIGAUX

Operators are standing by to let you help them grow

"Think of tomorrow: when there is no impediment to our growth other than the limits of our imagination," wrote Barry Diller, the chairman and chief executive of QVC Network Inc., in the company's annual report released last week.

And in an imaginative gesture, the annual report for the West Chester, Pa.-based television retailer is part financial charts and tables, part sales catalog.

The annual report is filled with pictures of products the company is selling, including a camera, a tool set, a backpack, sunglasses, fish lures, bath soap and a decorative pillow.

The cover has the company's toll-free telephone number.

_ ALAN GOLDSTEIN

There's still money to be made on the Street

Former junk bond king Michael Milken is no longer at the top of the Wall Street heap when it comes to raking in money in the world of investments. The new champion is financier George Soros, who took home at least $650-million last year, according to Financial World magazine.

Soros' company, Soros Fund Management, manages $7.5-billion in investments and did very well last year speculating in currency futures as well as buying and selling more traditional stocks and bonds.

It did so well, in fact, that six other people affiliated with Soros Fund Management made Financial World's list of the top 50 earners on Wall Street. Although nobody else came close to Soros, everybody on the top 50 list made at least $6-million last year.

_ HELEN HUNTLEY

He's not a people person, he's a number cruncher

Tallahassee trade groups have been adding all sorts of new businesses to their lobbying agendas over the past few years.

Many now run workers' compensation plans, some are investigating offering health insurance programs, and now the Florida Chamber of Commerce is getting in the human resources business.

Members can call a toll-free number for free advice from Don Inbody, a 30-year veteran of the Xerox Corp. personnel department. He ran a similar service for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce that answered about 12,000 questions a year.

"We're not offering legal advice, but we are offering legal information on such matters as the wage and hour law, how to discharge employees, the new family leave law, child labor law and other workplace issues," Inbody said.

Chamber memberships start at $260 a year for a businesses with fewer than 10 employees. As an introductory offer, the chamber is offering a free first call to prospective members who call (800) 940-4879.

The strangest advice request fielded so far?

"One fellow asked if I knew what was going to be the winning Lotto number," said Inbody. "I told him if I knew that I wouldn't be here."

_ MARK ALBRIGHT

Gets floors so clean you can almost skate on them

Introducing "RoboScrub," a robotic floor-cleaning system.

From Windsor Industries Inc. in Denver, the self-propelled machine resembles a small Zamboni, the machine that smoothes the surface in ice-skating rinks.

The machine integrates robotic guidance technology with Windsor's hard-floor scrubbing system. It can negotiate large, open spaces in an industrial or commercial facility without an operator.

A single unit can clean an 80,000-square-foot area in five hours, making it useful in warehouses, schools, manufacturing plants, hospitals and other high-traffic areas. A system is in use at the Kennedy Space Center.

A RoboScrub system costs about $60,000.

_ ALAN GOLDSTEIN

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