Tampa Bay business leaders offer top wishes for 2013

Published Jan. 12, 2013

The dawn of a new year is time to dream … and dream big. Time to reach beyond the ol' standby of having "cautious optimism" for the months ahead. Here's a wide-ranging wish list from people in and around Tampa Bay's business community.

Greg Ross-Munro

Florida StartupBus Conductor, area entrepreneur, Tampa

"My wish would be this: For more events in Tampa Bay where tech entrepreneurs could pitch their ideas to qualified investors, and for the investors to be more willing to take a risk on new ideas. I'd also wish that the local business community would be more willing to support local entrepreneurs in using their services and technologies, so that it would be easy for companies to get their first sale. I think that is why places like San Francisco are so successful; not just because they have the talent and the money, but the entire community is willing to take small risks every day. So a good New Year's resolution for any business out there: Buy a locally grown product or technology this year!"

Gordon Gillette

president of Tampa Electric

"I would like Gov. Rick Scott and his Cabinet, sitting as the Power Plant Siting Board, to grant final approval to Tampa Electric's proposed expansion of the Polk Power Station. This will allow Tampa Electric to produce more electricity without purchasing land — in a more efficient, environmentally friendly manner, to the benefit of our customers. I wish for normal Florida weather. In the electric and natural gas industries, we pay close attention to the weather because it affects how our customers use our products. Between extreme temperatures and extreme storm activity, weather hasn't been 'normal' in the past several years."

Liz Smith

CEO, Bloomin' Brands, which includes Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's and Bonefish Grill, Tampa

BUOYED BY AN initial public offering last summer, Bloomin' Brands started lunch and brunch at some of its restaurants to expand its offerings and, hopefully, boost revenues for the casual dining chain.

"I wish everyone who said, 'I wish you were open for lunch,' now visits an Outback or Carrabba's for lunch, or brunches at Bonefish — weekly.''

Gary Regoli

president and CEO of Achieva Credit Union, Dunedin

"I hope we see regulatory relief via reversal of much of Dodd-Frank and the total dismantling of the (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). A recent example of the consternation the CFPB is causing is the international remittance rule that came out this fall. … Among other things, we will be required to disclose other entities' fees that we cannot control, exact amount of credit received by the recipient and exact exchange rates that can change throughout the day. Processes will be much more labor intensive and bond coverage costs will increase. Requirements and exposure may be egregious enough to force us to consider not offering international wires. We won't know to what extent until final rules come out."

Scott McIntyre

CEO, Solar Energy Management, Tampa

"We would like to see the state's political leadership get the courage to stand up to the investor-owned utilities and do what's right for the people of the state of Florida and get an energy policy. Right now we have none. We would like to see people — that is, the general populace — demand that Florida come out of the solar Dark Ages."

Carla Jimenez

co-founder, Inkwood Books, Tampa

"My wish for 2013 is for Internet sales tax fairness to finally be accomplished, whether by the Florida Legislature or by a federal solution. I am passionate about this not only because it would level the playing field for locally owned independent businesses like Inkwood Books, but also because I see the effects every day of the significant loss of public revenue for schools, parks, police and more."

Bob Buckhorn

Tampa Mayor

"A major grocery store in downtown Tampa. I believe there is an electricity about downtown that has not existed in a decade. The number of residents in downtown/Harbour Island has reached the tipping point where a grocery store makes financial sense."

Christine Burdick

president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership

"I want (Tampa's) streetcar expanded in both hours and routing. If we're bringing people downtown to discover what we have, then we will need better transportation. It's going to take raising awareness and building the political will to do it. We need to own up to what our transportation needs are."

Paul Wahnish

president of the Career Technical Education Foundation, Safety Harbor

"For the business community to forge a stronger relationship with high schools and middle schools to stress the need for 'cyber' safety awareness through educating and training local youth to become more responsible while living in a safer cyber world. A stronger business relationship will assist in preparing students to serve in the cyber security industry, which not only supports our local community but protects our military and their mission worldwide."

Maryann Ferenc

co-owner of Mise en Place restaurant in Tampa, and past chairwoman of Tampa Bay & Co., Tampa's tourism agency

"From a restaurant perspective, we're really hoping for people to continue to care about and eat in a healthier fashion. We see that and have been supporting that. From a business perspective, I hope that we continue to come together as a community from across the bay. In our neighborhood, we hope for continued growth of the university district (near the University of Tampa and downtown), which is really a reflection of local people investing. I pull into work in the morning, and I feel I am somewhere.''

Rhea Law

CEO and chairwoman of the board, Fowler White Boggs P.A., Tampa

"My wish is to see all sectors of the Tampa Bay marketplace — business, education and government — break through the hindrances of the past and begin to implement, not just continue to study, the vision for a well-connected and prosperous future.

Imagine tourism and business combining resources, so when people think of Florida it includes both beautiful beaches and an ideal environment for commercial enterprises. Imagine downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg (along with other cities in the region) developing and growing together around joint goals and success, instead of competing. This would include going to the next level in partnership with our sports franchises, owners, players and fans. Imagine closing the divide with a viable mass-transportation system that helps everyone be included in everything happening no matter its location.

Everyone gets a piece of the action and everyone gains. I see our citizens supporting this through public revenue that comes from the increase and is not taken out of anyone's pockets. I would like to see our financial institutions stepping up and uniting to fund pieces of the future together, and our lawyers helping to figure out the best and most innovative agreements that benefit everyone, instead of protecting separate interests and settling disputes when deals don't happen.

I and many other leaders in the private and public sectors have devoted our careers to laying the groundwork for this to happen, and the timing is right to tap our potential and realize our possibilities. Why should we settle for any less than we can be?"

Chuck Sykes

CEO, Sykes Enterprises, and chairman, Tampa Bay Partnership

"That funding is obtained to build the USF Heart Institute facility. The Heart Institute will employ many researchers focusing on regenerative therapies, genomic medicine and new drug discovery. It would accelerate the momentum I believe our community already has going in the field of health, which is going to be front and center of every economic development initiative in our country. I'd love for our community to be known as the 'birthplace' for many of these discoveries which would spark the creation of many companies trying to capitalize on these discoveries and/or the source of talent that these efforts would attract to our community. The vision, the plan and the leadership is in place to make this happen. We just need the funding from Tallahassee and from the private sector. It can happen in 2013."

Moez Limayem

dean, University of South Florida College of Business, Tampa

"That legislators invest more in education in a way that ensures that students and workers have access to the training and education that tomorrow's workforce will need. Post-secondary education should not be available just to a few as the fastest-growing industries — the jobs of tomorrow — will require an education beyond a high school diploma. Training this workforce here in the Tampa Bay area could not only lower the region's unemployment rate, but also serve to lure companies with high-paying jobs to the region. In addition, investing in higher education leads to more research and innovation that can only be beneficial to our economy and our community."

Lee Arnold

CEO of commercial brokerage firm Colliers International Tampa Bay, Clearwater

"Stability would be the watchword, where we don't have quite the volatility we experience now on a daily basis. A stable environment to continue to improve real estate. The problem in 2012 was, from month to month in our business, we could never project our revenues. If you believe our markets are stabilized and there is going to be some consistency in job growth and taxation and that we're not borrowing ourselves into bankruptcy, then you're going to be more inclined to take more risk on additional people and capital investments.

The common thought is employment, but I would like to see solid employment of people in jobs that they're seeking. That's a little different than just looking for percentages. Let's get people in jobs where they're excited and creating more opportunities for other people.

The way people perceive taxes on their investments will technically impact confidence in investing more than any other single factor. If we know what the tax reform is, that's a lot better than not knowing. As long as it's an open question, that's another element of uncertainty. We need to eliminate the uncertainty to allow businesses to continue to invest and hire. One of the major problems is not knowing how your investments are going to be treated in the future. If you don't know … maybe you'll say I won't sell right now or invest in this.

I'd love to see continued solidification of the European debt crisis so we don't have to worry about Italy or bond defaults in Greece. That would make it a lot better for Florida and Tampa Bay."

Tim Higham

CEO of Interstate Transport, St. Petersburg

"This country is mired in an amount of debt so unsustainable that we either have to take our medicine now or have open-heart surgery in the next two or three years. I would love to see us basically fall of the cliff in some ways because I want us to get our fiscal house in order.

I'm a Republican and my wife is a Democrat. But I'd prefer to see tax rates increase even though I'm a Republican. I'm okay with raising my taxes, but tell me that the taxes you raise won't go into a new program; it will go toward paying off our debt.

I also want reforms from the clearly unsustainable programs we have in place today. Let's raise our retirement age (for Social Security). … Let's go ahead and scale something in gradually. In the '30s and '40s when Social Security was put in place, people were living into their early 60s. Now people are living to be 80 or 85. We don't have to cut benefits; just make people work longer."

Chris Moench

CEO of Directed Capital, an investment firm that buys distressed commercial mortgages, St. Petersburg

"Within our marketplace the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.) controls a huge volume of assets. Through this crisis the FDIC has really executed on a program of selling those assets in bulk, with $250 million of loans in a pool. And what that means is only a few financial players can participate. What we'd really like to see is the FDIC return to selling assets on a smaller basis, from the $5 (million) to $10 million range. Direct asset sales to the marketplace in general … outside the Wall Street world.

We would see banks and other institutions able to clean up their balance sheets and get healthy again, so they could return to normal lending. There's still a large volume of assets that need to be worked through and resolved."

Susan Glickman

Belleair Beach energy and climate consultant who lobbies for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

"We send $50 billion out of state every year to buy fuel for energy production because we don't have anything home grown. My wish is that our political leaders in the upcoming legislative session would understand the wisdom of keeping some of our $50 billion at home.

This would create jobs and a market for Florida farmers and reduce harmful pollution from some of our current energy sources."

Roy Binger

executive vice president, SunTrust Bank, St. Petersburg

"My wish would be for people and businesses to have a greater sense of well-being, and at SunTrust, we intend to help by lighting the way to financial well-being for our clients and the community."

Bob Dutkowsky

CEO of Tech Data Corp., Clearwater

"The indecision of the presidential election caused the U.S. to be back on its heels waiting to see what the answer was. Then came the fiscal cliff. … The U.S. economy needs direction more than anything else. It just needs to have direction."

Nick Vojnovic

president of Little Greek Restaurants, which has nine locations in the Tampa Bay area and two in Texas

"Our goal for 2013 is to grow from 11 to 17 locations. We hope to continue to open in other markets and see good success. I think the Greek/Mediterranean segment is exploding and some of the roots are here in the Tampa area with Pappas and others. People are looking for something different and healthy, and it's one of the few cuisines that do both.''

Little Greek's newest location at WestShore Plaza generated $20,000 in sales in the first week, setting a record for the company that generally breaks even at $7,000 a week per store. The area's 10th location is set to open in late January in New Tampa followed by others in Austin, Texas, and Louisville, Ky. Also in the works are restaurants in Largo, Ybor City, Brandon and Orlando.

Marty Lanahan

West Florida area president of Regions Bank, Tampa

"My wish for the coming year is that people get off the sidelines. One of the obstacles we have faced the last several years is uncertainty. This uncertainty has created a reluctance for business owners to invest in new ventures, to invest in their own business expansion, and to use debt financing as a vehicle for growth. As we move into 2013, the elections are behind us … the worst of the downturn is behind us … so my wish is that more certainty translates into renewed interest in growth and expansion by businesses. Obviously, that's good for banks, but it also means more jobs, more vibrant communities and stronger economic growth."

Michael Vivio

president of Cox Target Media, which owns Valpak, a direct marketing company based in Largo

"We want to continue to work with new technology to reach more people than ever, including through targeted mail delivery of our Blue Envelope, websites that enable discounts on online shopping and mobile apps. In the past, we were known primarily for our local deals but, with the acquisition of in June, we now bring extra value to consumers with more national brands than ever. Valpak and make it possible for people to save money on anything they might want to buy anywhere at any time.''

Jeff Adams

vice president of Tampa-based Griffin Contracting Inc.

"I would be looking for a more favorable climate for the renewable energies … either through incentives or more realistic purchase power agreements with Duke Energy or Progress Energy. I'm starting four solar fields in the Carolinas. They are much more favorable in the Carolinas. That's the reason we're up in the Carolinas."

D.T. Minich

executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the tourism arm of Pinellas County

"I wish there was another one or two boutique hotels in downtown St. Petersburg. Once the retail falls in place with the Shops at St. Pete (formerly BayWalk), and we already have the dining and the museums, I think it just adds to that whole feel of the downtown area to have some upscale (lodging) like the Birchwood Inn. If we could get a couple more then we could really be a destination.

Another item on the wish list: an international flight to South America. We just need a route anywhere in South America — that would be huge for the destination. That would really open up the South American market a lot more for us. Right now they're flying to Orlando or Miami. Another wish is for Brazil to move closer to visa waiver, just like the Europeans, who don't need approval to come to the States.

Our South American tourism market, it's growing in double digits, but it's still very small. But that's how we started out with Germany and the United Kingdom 20 years ago, and now it's a huge market opportunity for us."

Noah Lagos

director, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport

"We do have a PIE (that's the airport's code) in the sky wish! Continued growth in air service to new destinations and added flights to cities already served. More air service means more visitors to enjoy our great vacation destination as well as providing increased travel opportunities for the local traveling public."

Wade Faircloth

Hillsborough/Pinellas counties market president, Stonegate Bank

"I think margin compression is our biggest concern. We have older loans maturing and repricing at lower rates coupled with more competition, which is driving down rates on new deals. Consequently, I wish for a more normalized rate environment to alleviate margin compression."

Kevin Chadwick

owner of seven Keller Williams centers in Tampa Bay

"I'd like to see the cost of money (through interest rates) continue to be affordable. That we continue to see more and more inventory come on the market for new home buyers and for empty-nesters. And that they're able to afford those homes by keeping real estate taxes in check.

Also, quite frankly, I'd like to see prices continue to be on a steady rise. The community continues to grow and the market is quickly recovering. I'd like to see new home buyers, especially, be able to capitalize on today's values. I think that's really important."

Robin DeLaVergnE

executive director, Tampa General Hospital Foundation, and senior vice president, Tampa General Hospital

"Toward the end of last year, there were announcements of some exciting programs for entrepreneurs and startup companies in the region. For example, the i6 Challenge grant awarded to USF-led Tampa Bay WaVE and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's Startup Scholars Program. My wish is that the business community get behind efforts like these and strive to keep the companies in the Tampa Bay area after they are no longer startups. We work hard to keep the physicians that we train in our community, and we should do the same for the companies that are built here so that we are growing our economy and not that of another community."

Michael E. Griffin

Vertical Integration Inc., Tampa

"I wish that there isn't a single member of this community — regardless of age or background — that feels limited from their potential to make a meaningful impact in the business community. There is no ceiling nor barrier to anyone wanting to step up, be a leader and help take our region to where I know it can go."