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Take a look at how the biggest companies in Florida and Tampa Bay are driving the economy

Privately owned Publix was the largest company by revenue in Florida in 2015 — public or private.
Privately owned Publix was the largest company by revenue in Florida in 2015 — public or private.
Published Jul. 22, 2016

What do e-commerce firm Triad Retail Media, document imaging business Dex Imaging, Heritage Insurance Holdings and beverage maker Cott Corp. have in common?

They are among a handful of larger Tampa Bay area-based public and private companies to register sales gains of 30 percent or more last year, making them recent growth leaders in revenues in this region's metropolitan economy. Heritage revenues soared 69 percent last year, though the company has had to tighten its belt since then. Cott, pushing into new turf with coffee and water sales, rebounded from declining consumption in soda products with a 40 percent sales gain in 2015.

The 350 biggest companies based in Florida include multibillion-dollar giants of revenue such as Lakeland's Publix Super Markets, Miami's World Fuel Services and Clearwater's Tech Data Corp. At the smaller end of the 350, firms abound with specialty niches like Clearwater auto lender Nicholas Financial and Tampa perforated metal product maker McNichols Co.

A ranking by revenue of the 350 firms — including the 125 largest public and 225 biggest private companies based in Florida — appeared in the July issue of our sister publication Florida Trend. The numbers show the vast majority of these businesses reported solid if modest sales gains in 2015.

The overall performance of these companies offers a unique peek at the pace of our statewide economy. While the bulk of these companies reported singe-digit gains in revenues last year, it means the Florida economy is on steady ground and is still growing — if not at warp speed.

Here are three quick takeaways based on these statewide rankings.

1. Publix, the No. 1 supermarket chain by market share in Florida, last year became the biggest company by revenues of any company, private or public. Publix passed by the state's former No. 1 company — Miami's World Fuel Services — when the petroleum products distributor suffered from the downturn in the oil market and saw its 2015 revenues drop by 30 percent. World Fuel may bounce back should oil prices stabilize in 2016.

2. Among Florida's top 10 public companies, Tampa Bay lays claim to three (Tech Data, Jabil Circuit and WellCare Health Plans) whose combined revenues topped $58 billion. Among the top 10, that's more than any other metro area in the state. Orlando, in contrast, boasts only three public companies (Darden Restaurants, Tupperware and SeaWorld Entertainment) among the top 50 ranked corporations. Their combined revenues reach only $10.5 billion.

3. Among the 125 largest public companies in the state, just over a quarter of them saw their revenues decline in 2015. One of the hardest hit was the Florida Panhandle and once high-flying real estate developer St. Joe. Company revenues last year fell a stunning 85.3 percent as St. Joe hit a lull in development and finally resolved (with a $2.75 million fine) SEC allegations that it overvalued its land holdings following the financial crisis in 2009 and 2010.

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Among the 225 largest private companies, 32 or about 14 percent reported lower revenues last year. One of those was Tampa's J.H. Williams Oil, which saw revenues drop 27.5 percent. Most of Florida's oil-related businesses — even Tampa's Amalie Oil whose Amalie Arena brand adorns the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning — suffered revenue declines last year as petroleum prices fell.

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Of these 350 statewide companies tracked by Florida Trend, 64 or 21 percent are headquartered in the Tampa Bay metro area.

Clearwater's Tech Data remains by far the largest public company based on revenues in this metro area, a fact well known for many years to business readers.

Less known is the largest privately owned business by revenues here. It is based not in one of this metro's top three cities, but in Holiday. Southeast Personnel Leasing racked up $2.9 billion in revenues, up 10.6 percent over 2014, via its employee leasing business.

Southeast Personnel could use more recognition. A Forbes list released in the past few days added Seffner-based furniture retailer Rooms To Go to its new rankings of the largest private companies in the country. But Rooms To Go's $2.1 billion in revenues last year ranks second.

This metro area lost two significant public companies this summer, both the targets of acquisitions. TECO Energy, one of Tampa's key hometown companies for more than a century, is now a subsidiary of Emera, a Canadian power company. TECO ranked No. 32 in the state among public companies before its sale. And St. Petersburg's C1 Financial, the parent of C1 Bank, was bought by Arkansas-based Bank of the Ozarks. C1 branches are becoming branded under the Ozarks name. C1 ranked No. 116 on the state list of publicly traded corporations before its sale.

Of the ranked 125 public companies, 19 or about 15 percent were based in Tampa Bay. Of those 19, five saw their revenues drop last year, including tech distributor Tech Data, Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin' Brands, newly spun off Manitowoc Foodservice, call center operator Sykes Enterprises and mortgage firm Walter Investment Management.

Of the ranked 225 private companies, 46 or just over 20 percent are based in the Tampa Bay metro market. Yet only three — mobile communications servicer Syniverse, J.H. Williams Oil and McNichols Co., all of Tampa — saw revenues slip last year.

Indeed, in addition to the robust revenue growth of Triad Retail Media and Dex Imaging, several firms reported strong double-digit sales in 2015. They include Clearwater's Arthur Rutenberg Homes (up 23 percent), Tampa's Ferman Automotive Group (22 percent), Tampa construction firm Ripa & Associates (19 percent), Tampa's Health Plan Holdings (18 percent), Tampa's KHS&S Contractors (17 percent) and Riverview transportation manager BlueGrace Logistics (15 percent).

All in all, an encouraging performance by many.

Florida may lag far behind other high population states as a home to corporations of global size. But its diverse base of business still offers a solid economic foundation for Tampa Bay and Florida.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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