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  1. Business

In Tampa Bay, 20 business people to watch for the rest of 2015

Every time I write one of these columns, it gets tougher to choose 20 people to watch because the Tampa Bay business community increasingly is awash in interesting folks, diverse and compelling projects and, yes, dubious achievements. Indicative of the strengthening economy, the bulk of who's listed here focuses on people involved in some pretty significant expansion efforts. So consider this a sampler from the growing buffet of regional economic activity – much of it focused on what's starting to materialize during the latter half of this year. Happy grazing.

1. Steve Griggs: CEO, Tampa Bay Lightning. He just took over the CEO reins from mentor Tod Leiweke (now NFL chief operating officer). Griggs was singled out for superior leadership by his own employees in this year's Tampa Bay Times "Top Workplace" survey. That should help keep the Bolts strong and Amalie Arena prosperous. But Leiweke also served as right hand man to Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his massive real estate development planned just south of downtown Tampa. Griggs is expected to stay more focused on the Lightning – let's keep that eye on the Stanley Cup – while Vinik looks elsewhere to augment his real estate team.

2. Joy Mangano: HSN infomercial star. She is one of the queens of infomercials and a legend at St. Petersburg's HSN for her innovative household product designs (Miracle Mop, Huggable Hangars) and her ability to sell them on TV. In 1999, HSN so wanted Mangano's line of "why didn't somebody think of this before" products that HSN bought her company. Now Mangano's life story is about to hit the big screen. A movie called Joy comes out this holiday season that is a comedy/biography of Mangano's life starring an A-Team cast of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.

3. Tom Jewsbury: Executive Director, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. The good news? In his first year as chief he oversees a booming airport that keeps racking up one record month of passenger traffic after another. The bad news? The airport is 95 percent dependent on flights from one airline, Allegiant Air. He says a top priority is to diversify with a new air service, while adding new destinations and increasing frequency of flights. "We are very optimistic that we will see new service within the next six to twelve months," he says. "At the same time, we are very fortunate to have Allegiant as our dominant carrier."

4. Greg Celestan: CEO, Celestar Corp. The ex-military CEO of his own Tampa firm provides military intelligence consulting and chaired the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Now he's aiming at a defense industry business "cluster" in the Tampa Heights area north of downtown to be close to where military idea lab SofWorX will pursue advanced tech for the U.S. Special Operations Command. Celestan wants to be lead tenant/owner of a 60,000-square-foot building, and perhaps more – if he can cut a land deal with the area developer. Says Celestan: "I have several companies from D.C. that want to partner with me on the building."

5. Tom James: Chairman, Raymond James Financial. The senior Tampa Bay business statesmen already has passed the reins of his investment firm over to CEO Paul Reilly. Now James is reportedly exploring downtown St. Petersburg for a museum site to house his collection of western and Native American art. A life-long pursuit of love, his collection currently adorns the walls of the multi-tower Raymond James headquarters. One potential museum site could be the 100 Central Avenue building, first developed over 25 years ago by Bay Plaza. It has since housed Progress Energy and the failed Universal Healthcare.

6. Larry Feldman: Developer, Feldman Equities. He plans a 52-story downtown Tampa tower where fellow New York developer Donald Trump once plastered his name on the ill-fated Trump Tower Tampa. He has bought major commercial properties here at recession prices. In addition to co-owning the Wells Fargo Center in downtown Tampa, he has three office buildings in St. Petersburg. Downtown St. Pete and Tampa are outperforming suburban markets, he says. As corporate executives tell him, "my workforce will be a lot happier here than in a suburban parking lot environment where they've got to get in their cars." His mantra? "Walkability."

7. Lara Croft: Veterinarian, SeaWorld. She's not that Lara Croft. But you can still see this Dr. Croft in TV ads praising the care that she says her theme park employer, SeaWorld Orlando, provides the orca whales it keeps. "Our whales are healthy and thriving," Croft says in a national ad campaign that started in the spring and continues now in certain TV markets. "I wouldn't work here if they weren't." Croft is part of the larger SeaWorld response to the 2013 Blackfish film that argued captive killer whales are dangerous and deserve to be free. SeaWorld, the parent company of Busch Gardens in Tampa, has been fighting weak attendance and revenues ever since. Can the park regain its mojo?

8. Doug Esamann: President, Duke Energy Florida Region. He's the Duke veteran in North Carolina who now oversees Duke's Florida (and Midwest) power business. He's also the guy who helped run Duke Indiana during the construction and debut of Edwardsport – Duke's new, $3.5 billion power plant that's already suffering from cracked welds and eroding pipes. Indiana news reports say a good chunk of the repair costs could be passed along to Duke's 790,000 Indiana customers who already are on the hook for much of the plant's construction costs. That may sound too familiar to Floridians.

9. Grant Palmer: Director, SRI St. Petersburg. He arrived quietly last year at SRI St. Petersburg, the waterfront sensor research facility operated by California's SRI International. Now he's taken over as local director of SRI, succeeding Larry Langebrake, who ran SRI since it expanded here more than six years ago. Palmer will try to commercialize more of SRI's technology, especially underwater sensors that, by withstanding harsh conditions, could be used in NASA trips to Mars. Palmer's resume says he has "extensive experience" in the U.S. defense and national security sectors, potential customers of SRI products.

10. Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, Co-President, Glazer Family Foundation. Can she fix this? The only daughter of the late Malcolm Glazer finds herself embroiled in a national backlash to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' well intentioned but poorly conceived "RED" campaign to build a bigger fan base among women. "RED is a groundbreaking women's movement designed to recognize and celebrate our female fan base," said Glazer Kassewitz. The New York Times called her remarks "swiftly alienating her female fan base" and REDS an initiative "borne of a social sensibility circa 1951." She will need to be out front in any Bucs re-do.

11. Bill Fruth: President, Policom Corp. The economic development consultant has long advised dense Pinellas County how hard it will be to grow and stay competitive when it's not efficiently redeveloping what little land is available. He's one reason – among many in Pinellas – that two key land tracts are now in the pipeline for potential sale and development. The county is taking "requests for negotiation" until Aug. 31 to test market interest in both the 240-acre Toytown property (a former garbage site) along I-275 and the 96-acre Young-Rainey STAR Center in Largo. Long term, Pinellas must learn better ways to recycle its spaces for better jobs and growth.

12. Chas Bruck: Partner, Soho Capital. He and Soho Capital partner Adam Harden are quietly working just north of downtown Tampa to revitalize the Tampa Heights waterfront around the Ulele restaurant and Armature Works building with a high-density plan for residential living, office space and retail. This is also the area where SOCOM's military SofWorX idea lab will take hold and where Celestar CEO Greg Celestan (see No. 4) hopes to inspire a defense industry cluster. SoHo Capital's project is big, conjuring some comparison with Lighting owner Jeff Vinik's much higher profile project just south of downtown Tampa. Two mega-projects? Lucky Tampa.

13. Gregg Scarlett: President, Bonefish Grill. Your mission, Mr. Scarlett, is to revive the Bonefish Grill chain and turn it into the growth engine that parent company Bloomin' Brands hopes it can become. Bloomin' CEO Liz Smith says Scarlett was key to the resurgence of both Outback and Carrabba's – two other core Bloomin' chains. Now he's taking on Bonefish this year after spending seven years with the chain. "No one knows this brand better," says Smith. But here's my question: Can a seafood chain with meal prices higher than steak-based Outback attract enough customers to become Bloomin's next great growth machine?

14. Ami Forte: Investment Adviser, Morgan Stanley. The Palm Harbor wealth adviser long enjoyed great income and celebrity managing hundreds of millions of dollars for select clients. One of the richest was Home Shopping Network co-founder Roy Speer, who died three years ago this month. Forte, who had a 14-year affair with Speer, now faces an ongoing arbitration hearing sparked by claims by Speer's widow that Forte took advantage of Roy Speer's health and failing mental capacity to churn his investment accounts to the tune of millions of dollars in fees. Morgan Stanley says it backs Forte. But her name is gone from the firm's online directory.

15. Bill Brand: President, HSN. "Bill was the first person I hired to join the HSN team and has been one of my key partners in transforming HSN into the full network of experiences that it is today," CEO Mindy Grossman said last summer when she named Brand president of the TV/interactive retailer. "We're a 38-year-old business that knows how to tell stories to consumers," Brand recently told Entrepreneur magazine. "That's something you cannot get anywhere else." One recent HSN initiative celebrates the entrepreneurs it has helped catapult to fame with successful brands like Serious Skin Care and R.J. Graziano jewelry. His name alone is worth a promotion.

16. Gary Friedman: CEO, Restoration Hardware. He heads a San Francisco-based retailer known for high prices and compelling upscale home decor and furnishings. That's not unique. But his plan to open a 3-story, 45,000-square-foot gallery store concept this fall at (but not inside) Tampa's International Plaza is part of a bigger push by the "RH" brand into elite territory. What should we expect? RH opened an even larger 8-story version of its gallery store last fall in Atlanta. "There's a lack of imagination in retail," Friedman told the Atlanta media at the time. "We are on to something here. We are not just selling product. We are selling a feeling."

17. Charlotte Baker: CEO, Digital Hands. To say women executives in the cybersecurity world are rare is an understatement. Meet Baker, who started Tampa's Digital Hands to provide IT security services 14 years ago. She has since become a foundation player for the Tampa Bay technology and entrepreneur movements, as well as a voice testifying before Congress for women-owned businesses seeking federal contracts. A few months ago, Gov. Rick Scott recognized her for her job creation with the Governor's Business Ambassador Award. Digital Hands grew 278 percent since 2010 and expects to grow another 200 percent in the next four years.

18. Maurice Gallagher, CEO, Allegiant Travel. He's emerged quickly as one of the key economic contributors to the Pinellas County and surrounding economies. Not only is his Allegiant Travel a huge supplier of booked hotel rooms in this region, but most of the people he books here arrive as tourists on his Allegiant Air. That's the same airline that provides 95 percent of the passenger traffic to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. While Allegiant has suffered some questions of airline safety this year, neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor Wall Street seem particularly concerned. The company's stock is up 55 percent since the start of 2015.

19. Sophia Wisniewska: Regional Chancellor, USF St. Petersburg. When the university search committee this summer could not recommend someone with the right stuff to serve as the new dean of USF St. Pete's Kate Tiedemann College of Business, Wisniewska wasted no time admitting the search had failed and rebooted the whole process. Bravo. The business school has long suffered from a lack of committed space to call its own, though that's about to change, as well as too much turnover of its deans. A new business building is going up on campus and, with luck, a dean will soon arrive with a clear mission and some staying power.

20. Alan List: CEO, Moffitt Cancer Center. He's a mile-a-minute guy as any medical specialist in blood cancers who also serves as the top executive of one of the country's major cancer fighting centers must be. But the planned opening this November of a new area cancer facility that effectively doubles the size of Moffitt is clearly a big deal even to Dr. List. The new 207,000-square-foot, 6-story Moffitt McKinley Outpatient Center sits on 30 acres just off McKinley Drive not far from Moffitt's main location on the USF Tampa campus. Once that ribbon is cut, then List can ponder the possible replacement of Moffitt's hospital with a larger building.

Contact Robert Trigaux at