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Business Observer Wednesday, Apr. 28, 2010 10 years ago

The Cavalry

A trio of large corporations sees fertile ground in the Gulf Coast. Will the moves signal an end to the downturn?
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

It could be banner days for Gulf Coast executives who believe in the business axiom that a recession will wane when giant corporations start to spend money again.

At least two supersized companies, AT&T and Canon, have recently done just that, in Florida and in particular on the Gulf Coast. And a third company, Broomfield, Colo.-based Level 3 Communications, announced in February it had hired several sales people to lead an aggressive expansion effort in Tampa.

Canon Business Solutions could have the most significant and surprising investment in the Gulf Coast. After all, its core business — top line hardware and software for photocopies and documents — is one that could be in serious jeopardy because companies of all sizes are seeking ways to cut costs.

But Tod Pike, the Long Island, N.Y-based president of Canon Business Solutions, says the company's parent, Canon U.S.A, made a firm decision in 2008 to spend-to-grow during the downturn. The strategy revolved around opening or expanding its presence in 14 markets nationwide in 2009 and 2010.

“We are running contrary to the market,” says Pike, who recently stopped by the company's Gulf Coast offices to meet with employees and customers. “We are out there hiring people.”

In Tampa, Canon moved into a new downtown office, near the cluster of law firms by the state and federal courthouses. Pike and a few other Canon executives attended an event in Tampa March 9, where Mayor Pam Iorio led a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Canon Business Solutions has 44 employees in Tampa, where its large corporate clients include Coca-Cola and Lazydays RV.

Meanwhile, Canon took over a 4,000-square-foot office suite just west of Interstate 75 in Sarasota most recently occupied by the local division of Centex Homes. Pike also says Canon might open a new office in the Fort Myers-Naples market in 2011, in addition to another potential office in Tallahassee.

The Sarasota office, which unofficially opened in January, is already staffed with 13 people, a mix of sales personnel and equipment technicians. Pike says on average the company needs to have one technician for every 150 machines it has in a market.

Lisa Malone-Beebe, the sales manager in charge of the Sarasota office and a 10-year Canon veteran, admits a new office in an economic downturn could seem like a big risk. But, says Malone-Beebe, “we know this area will rebound from the current economic slump.”

AT&T Corporate executives have made the same bet.

The company recently said it would be adding additional layers for its network in more than 300 sites in all of the Gulf Coast counties, from Pasco to Collier. And that announcement came a few moths after the company said it would build 65 new cell sites in Florida and upgrade nearly 250 existing sites to its 3G network.

AT&T spokeswoman Kelly Layne Starling says the company has spent $550 million on its wireless network in Florida over the past three years. “The west coast of Florida is an important market for us,” says Starling. “That's why we are adding so many sites to the network.”
— Mark Gordon

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