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BANK OF AMERICA TO CLOSE OFFICES, LAYING OFF 224

Bank of America is closing two call centers in Tampa, laying off a total of 224 workers - but not because of the subprime mortgage meltdown. A spokeswoman for the Charlotte, N.C., giant said Wednesday that the pending closures were prompted by expiring leases, "changing customer demands" and an effort to "co-locate related lines of business." A 70-employee sales-fulfilment unit in Tampa will close by April 1, and a 154-employee deposit contact center by June 1. Some of the work handled by the centers will be absorbed by call centers in Jacksonville and Arizona. Efforts to help the 224 staff find other positions within Bank of America began in November.

Venture capital boom celebrated

Those fireworks over St. Petersburg's waterfront Tuesday evening weren't Realtors there to celebrate the passage of Amendment 1. The bright lights came courtesy of Silicon Valley Bank, a sponsor of the Florida Venture Capital Conference held at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort. Venture investors and entrepreneurs have reason to celebrate. Last year investments in the state nearly doubled, to $607-million, propelling Florida into the top 10 states nationwide (We're No. 8!) for the first time ever. About one-third of Florida's investments were in biotech and medical devices, similar to the national average. The Tampa Bay area accounted for 25 percent of all deals, second only to West Palm Beach.

Starbucks decides to skip breakfast

It's all about the coffee. So Starbucks Corp. will ditch all those heated breakfast sandwiches by the end of the year as part of an attempt to revive sagging traffic. "Our customers prefer the aroma of coffee in the morning to heated sandwiches," explained Howard Schultz, founder and chief executive of the struggling Seattle coffee giant. The company is also closing 100 of its 10,600 U.S. stores, six times the normal annual weeding out. There's more to come in a plan to revive the brand, including "healthier" breakfast fare as Starbucks tries to counter McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts' inroads with the breakfast-on-the-go set and an economy that Starbucks blames for latte and cappuccino drinkers trading down. Known for it big cup sizes and premium prices, Starbucks is also testing in Seattle a $1, 8-ounce cup of Joe called a "short." Really.

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