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These local little guys make it big with Forbes

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Four Tampa Bay public companies have made Forbes' annual ranking of the 200 best small companies in the United States. The business magazine's ratings are based on measures of earnings and sales growth among companies with $5-million to $350-million in annual revenues.

ABR Information Services Inc., a Palm Harbor-based company that makes computer software to help businesses meet health care regulations, was ranked 141st. Medical Technology Systems, a Clearwater-based maker of medication dispersal systems, came in 133rd, moving up eight spots from Forbes' 1993 list.

St. Petersburg-based Catalina Marketing Corp., producer of coupons dispensed at grocery store cash registers, bolted to 48th place, up from 99th in 1993.

Outback Steakhouse Inc. slipped from 19th to 59th as its rapid growth reached a size that stole some of the steam from its still-impressive profit growth. The Tampa-based company's five-year average rate of return on equity slipped to 24 percent, down from 36 percent in last year's ratings.

Wichita, Kan.-based Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon, Outback's biggest rival among the upstart steakhouse chains, was ranked tops on the list of 200 companies for the second consecutive year.


Like to count your capital gains in rubles?

If you can invest in Vietnam, why not Russia? The folks at Templeton mutual funds apparently think there's money to be made in spite of political turmoil and currency chaos. The Templeton Russia Fund is in registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Franklin/Templeton fund group has a business office in St. Petersburg.


Lab construction more complex than it looked

When dignitaries opened the new $18-million marine science center at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg on Friday, the center looked as if all the planning had gone perfectly.

But not too long ago, nobody was sure what the place would look like _ not even the architects who designed it.

Reefe, Yamada & Associates (now Heery International) was awarded the assignment to design the center in 1991.

But it wasn't until just before the start of construction in June 1992 that USF and the state Department of Environmental Protection were assured of funding for the center.

That's why Reefe, Yamada designed it as two buildings. In case one of the public bodies got funding and the other didn't, one building could be built and still look logical, explained architect Edward Reefe.

After money for the whole thing was secured, the architects made some design changes to make it look as if the buildings are separate but connected.


Don't fear TV retailers, catalog companies told

No matter what happens with the next generation of television retailing, the venerable printed catalog will survive.

At least that's the conclusion of Catalog Age, a trade publication.

Steve Cobden, former marketing vice president at Barnes & Noble Direct, says catalog companies "will get more power from integrating the different media."

In fact, executives interviewed by the magazine believe marketing through electronic media will probably be dependent in several ways on print to help steer consumers to the right places.

And catalogers will come to view the new media as complementary to direct mail and as an opportunity to broaden their reach, the magazine says.


New bank to set up shop in Manatee County

Starting a bank from scratch in the 1990s has become about as popular in Florida as a major hurricane.

New banks were a dime a dozen in the late 1980s. But startups stalled when the economy slipped. Even now, analysts say the state remains overbanked, with too many banks, too many branches and too many dollars chasing too few loans.

None of that is stopping Bill Sedgeman. The Bradenton banker plans to raise $4-million and open a new institution called Community Bank in Manatee County. The locally owned bank, which aims to open by the fall of 1995, would serve the market around U.S. 301 and Interstate 75.

"I asked people in eastern Manatee if they needed a bank, and they said yes," Sedgeman explained.

The Tampa Bay area hasn't seen a startup in years. Sarasota Bank was the last in the area to open, in the fall of 1992. In April, Cape Coral National Bank opened in Lee County. And Great Eastern Bank of Florida opened in January in Miami.

In 1993, not one full-service bank opened for business in Florida.


Hey, whatever makes him happy

When Meredith Williams goes to McDonald's, he orders at least one Happy Meal. Not for his children or grandchildren _ for himself.

Williams is the proud owner of 30,000 to 40,000 Happy Meal toys from McDonald's. That's a lot of cheeseburgers. Williams began collecting the plastic trinkets in 1980.

"You get to eat McDonald's food and enjoy a new toy," he said. "What could be better?"

Perhaps sharing with friends. Williams helped form the McDonald's Collectors Club in Fremont, Ohio. It has more than 1,100 members and holds a convention every April. "Collectors from all over the world come with boxloads and carloads of McDonald's collectibles," he said. "I must say, the most amazing part . . . is to see the transformation of hotel rooms. From floor to ceiling, collectors' rooms become mini-McDonald's museums."

Williams wrote the book on the history of the Happy Meal. According to his tome, in 1977 Dick Brams, a former McDonald's regional ad manager in St. Louis, challenged agencies to create a children's meal concept. Bernstein-Rein, now a creative powerhouse in Kansas City, first called it a Happy Meal.

Now, 15 years and 3.6-billion Happy Meals later, McDonald's is celebrating the anniversary.


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