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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Dec. 29, 2006 11 years ago

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Executives at Radiation Therapy Services spent the holidays refuting a Forbes magazine article they called "insulting and misleading."Last week's Review featured 2007 predictions, projections and prognostications from more than a dozen Gulf Coast area CEOs, from industries such as construction, insurance and banking. A bevy of chief marketing officers at nationwide retailers are looking forward to a strong 12 months. Fort Myers should take a cue from Dick Greco, who ordered the removal of parking meters Ybor City when he became mayor of Tampa in the 1990s.His reasoning: Why try to attract people to shop and dine in Ybor City and then ticket their cars when the meters run out?A group of Southwest Florida legislators says voters shouldn't expect much to happen during the upcoming special session of the state legislature.

Coffee Talk

+ Forbes targets radiation company

Executives at Radiation Therapy Services spent the holidays refuting a Forbes magazine article they called "insulting and misleading."

The Fort Myers-based company is the largest operator of radiation treatment centers in the country and Forbes questioned the company's success, citing a 2004 lawsuit alleging the company paid illegal kickbacks for patient referrals. The story's headline: "Beams and schemes."

On its Web site (www.rtsx.com), the company posted a detailed five-page response from Radiation Therapy's President and CEO Daniel Dosoretz and Chairman Howard Sheridan.

Coffee Talk won't rehash the details, but it appears investors were unruffled by the report. Radiation Therapy (symbol RTSX) closed at $31.60 on the first trading day after the article appeared on Dec. 26, down just 6 cents from the previous close.

+ Take the long view for planning

Last week's Review featured 2007 predictions, projections and prognostications from more than a dozen Gulf Coast area CEOs, from industries such as construction, insurance and banking.

And while that group proves looking ahead is always good business sense, the folks at Kraft Construction are really stretching their binoculars. The Naples-based company, the largest privately held construction firm in Florida, has been making a science out of the art of long-term planning.

"When you get to be as big we are," Kraft senior executive Jim Clemens tells Coffee Talk, "you have to take a long-term view."

For Clemens, head of the Sarasota division of Kraft, that means the next 12 months are basically spoken for, as far as ongoing and new construction projects. The company, which had $650 million in 2006 revenues, keeps a diverse lists of projects, from schools to health care buildings to offices, so the residential slowdown and its remnants don't have a major impact on the overall portfolio. And many of the new projects, such as a $35 million school in North Port, are the result of the housing boom bringing in new residents in the first place.

Looking into 2009 and 2010, Clemens projects Kraft will be working on several mixed-used projects with residential phases, as by then, the housing market will be in the midst of its comeback. What's more, in addition to a long-term view, Clemens says the company needs to take a regional and sometimes national view, as the business plan can change based on what's going on in other parts of Florida and the U.S.

Clemens takes a philosophical long-range view when worrying about what could go wrong to derail Kraft's ambitious plans. The ultimate goal, past revenues, he says, is to get and retain repeat customers.

And that only happens, Clemens says, when all of the company's employees, from managers to new crew-members, are performing at high levels. "That's how a good business ensures that it will be there through good times and bad times," he says, adding his biggest worry is making sure that high performance is happening every day.

+ Nationwide executives share local CEOs' optimism

Gulf Coast-based CEOs in fields such as banking, insurance, commercial real estate and even direct mail marketing - featured in last week's Review - aren't the only executives planning to sing an optimistic song in 2007.

A bevy of chief marketing officers at nationwide retailers are looking forward to a strong 12 months, too. About two-thirds, 64%, of the executives polled by accounting and consulting firm BDO Seidman LLP say they are more optimistic about the U.S. economy than they were a year ago, while 78% predict their companies' sales performance will improve off 2006.

Overall, the survey reports, the marketing executives project an average annual sales increase of 8.6%

+ Perilous parking in Fort Myers

Fort Myers should take a cue from Dick Greco, who ordered the removal of parking meters Ybor City when he became mayor of Tampa in the 1990s.

His reasoning: Why try to attract people to shop and dine in Ybor City and then ticket their cars when the meters run out?

Attendees at a regional economic conference at Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers now know all about the city's parking enforcement. The meters only take quarters and you're out of luck if you don't have any because there are no change machines in sight.

After the daylong event was over, lime-green parking tickets carpeted automobile windshields outside the center. The fine for visiting Fort Myers and not feeding the meter: $15 (the fine rises to $25 if you don't pay within three days).

Downtown Fort Myers has been working hard to shed its downtrodden image. There are new shops, landscaping and even a new name - the River District. But visitors won't come back if they have to be armed with a roll of quarters every time they visit.

To his credit, Don Paight, executive director of the Fort Myers Redevelopment Agency, says he's tried to persuade the city to remove the meters. Someone should give Greco a call.

+ Special session: Don't get your hopes up

A group of Southwest Florida legislators says voters shouldn't expect much to happen during the upcoming special session of the state legislature.

Two big problems are likely to dominate discussions: property insurance and taxes. Neither of them will be permanently fixed, legislators told a gathering at the Chamber of Southwest Florida's Regional Economic Outlook conference in Fort Myers earlier this month.

Sen. Mike Bennett says legislators will fix a few gaping problems with property insurance but he doesn't anticipate politicians to come up with any long-term solutions.

Ditto for property taxes. "This is one of those issues that won't be resolved until 2008 because it needs amendments to the [Florida] Constitution," says Sen. Burt Saunders.

Still, Southwest Florida legislators are thrilled that incoming Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp hails from Cape Coral, the peninsula in Lee County. "Everything we don't get we're going to blame on Jeff," Bennett joked.

What's Ahead

Jan. 25 - The Southwest Florida Real Estate Outlook conference will feature Florida economist Hank Fishkind and other speakers who will discuss the commercial real estate market from 7 a.m. until noon at Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers. The conference is sponsored by the CCIM commercial real estate organization. Cost is $50 for members; $60 for nonmembers. For more information, visit http://southwestfl.ccimnet.com or call Tim Becker at 239-390-1241.

Jan. 27 - Florida Gulf Coast University will host The Entrepreneur's Law School at the Lutgert College of Business. Lawyers will discuss the legal aspects of raising capital, enforcing real estate contracts, how to value a company for sale, estate planning, commercial litigation and other issues. Cost for the full day is $95 in advance and $105 at the door. To register online, visit http://cli.fgcu.edu/sbdc. For more information, call 239-225-4220.

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