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The crush of the Tampa Bay housing market and threat of recession are the business hot buttons of 2008 while the once-consuming fears of terrorism and even concerns over property insurance are now back burner issues. So say the results of the 2008 Times Annual Business Outlook based on 157 telephone interviews conducted in January by the market research staff of the St. Petersburg Times. Here aresome key highlights, including a separate look below at the top area business leaders, as chosen by their peers. More details are available online at

TOP CONCERNS? 1. Our housing market. 2. Our slowing economy. 3. Energy prices. 4. Property insurance (it's still a mess). 5. (Here's a brand new concern) Threat of a credit crunch and tighter lending.

RECENT BIG WORRIES THAT ARE NOW MUCH SMALLER WORRIES? The war. Terrorism. Increasing health insurance costs. World economy. Interest rates.

LESS EMPLOYEE HIRING. Just 39 percent surveyed say they will increase their number of employees, down from 56 percent a year ago.

LOCAL HIRING WITH RIGHT SKILLS?With less pressure to hire, just 17 percent say it's "a lot of trouble" to find the right people and skills locally to hire. Last year, 31 percent complained of the difficulty.

MOST LIKELY WAY TO CUT COSTS? Cut staff travel, say 37 percent. Last year, the top cost-cutting (34 percent) came from trimming health coverage (now just 18 percent).

RISING COMPANY HEALTH CARE COSTS? Increases are gradually slowing. Costs will rise 1 to 9 percent, say 27 percent. Last year, 27 percent said costs would rise 10 to 19 percent.

WAGE GAINS MODEST AT BEST. A third surveyed say they will raise employee wages at the rate of inflation and a third will give raises below inflation - that's 4 percent as of this poll. Last year, 85 percent expected to give raises above the inflation rate, though inflation was lower then.

BUSINESS PROPERTY INSURANCE STILL RISING. The median of those surveyed say it rose 13 percent. Last year, it increased 17 percent.

NO QUICK HOUSING FIX. Don't look for a housing turnaround until 2009, say 58 percent.

SPLIT DECISION BY BUSINESS ON RAYS DEAL. Though 43 percent support the Rays' plan to build a waterfront stadium and redevelop the Tropicana Field property, 37 percent do not.

GOV. CRIST GETS DECENT, NOT GREAT, GRADES.He gets a B from 55 percent, a C from 31 percent, an A from 6 percent and a D from 6 percent. (The poll was taken before voters approved Crist's property tax amendment last week.)

OF THOSE GIVING AN A OR B: They most credit his leadership and willingness to address important issues.

OF THOSE GIVING A C OR D: They complain there's too much talk and too little action, and criticize his job of dealing with property taxes and insurance.