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JABIL SEES FUTURE IN RUSSIA

In a never-ending hunt for cheap labor, it's searching the world over.

Cheap labor, low manufacturing costs and an eye on profits are filling St. Petersburg-based electronics manufacturer Jabil Circuit with wanderlust.

With an expanding presence already in China, India, Mexico, Vietnam and Ukraine, Jabil president and CEO Tim Main on Thursday unveiled the next bargain destination at the company's annual shareholders meeting: Russia.

"We are looking at more and more low-cost locations around the world," Main said in response to a question by a shareholder about the company's cost-cutting strategies.

In an increasingly global and competitive world, Jabil joins a growing number of companies looking to expand in cheaper pockets of Asia and Eastern Europe. The company has considered several locations in Africa, too, Main said, but decided that now is not the appropriate time to invest there.

Jabil, one of the Tampa Bay area's largest headquartered corporations, remains committed to its home in St. Petersburg. It continues to review previously announced development plans for a corporate campus.

Thursday's shareholder meeting at the Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club on St. Petersburg's Snell Isle was seven months behind schedule, a delay caused by allegations of the company's involvement in a backdating stock options scandal. The scandal rocked the corporate world and cost several executives at other companies their jobs in the past year.

It's been a difficult year for the company, Main acknowledged.

Jabil's internal investigation of how it handled its stock option compensation gave the company a clean bill of health. But the company must still deal with shareholder lawsuits tied to the backdating allegations.

Main reiterated Thursday that the company was not involved in any fraudulent activity. Any errors that were made were administrative and Jabil is taking remedial actions, he said.

"We are putting this entire process behind and getting refocused on our business," Main said. "That's probably the most positive thing I can say about the inquiry."

While attending shareholders didn't seem perturbed by the allegations, they were concerned about their investments and Jabil's drooping stock price.

"It's not been a great year for shareholders," Main said. "Stocks are down from previous levels and I am not happy with that."

But while the industry is going through difficult times, Main said, Jabil is making more money than before.

"We are in a very sound condition, gaining market share," Main said. "We are very optimistic and looking forward to a good time ahead."

The company's shares, which traded as high as $31 last fall, closed Thursday at $22.68 Thursday, up 3 cents.

Madhusmita Bora can be reached at (813)225-3112 or mbora@sptimes.com

FAST FACTS

Jabil's expansion

- May: Announced addition of a 55,000-square-foot facility in Vietnam.

- January: Said it would buy Taiwan-based mobile products manufacturer Green Point Enterprises Co.

- January 2006: Bought electronics manufacturer Celetronix International in India.

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