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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 11, 2006 12 years ago

Coffee Talk

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Hurricanes a boon for Superior MoldOne to One gets bigger and biggerA tale of roads and the rails Veteran banker forms another Lee County bankIndustry Expo seeks few good manufacturersBabcock Ranch could model homes in 2009Gulf Coast dominates insurance committeeSarasota's Saunders in Kelly's DublinTampa real estate meeting boasts CuomoEdgy moms become entrepreneurs Commercial builders still seeking more help

+ Hurricanes a boon for Superior Mold

Safety Harbor inventors Frank Leko and Mike Lohmeyer's Hurricane Clamps are a boon for one Clearwater plastics manufacturer.

Superior Mold Inc. owners Robert and Rhonda Kamphey are running their machinery seven days a week, 24 hours a day to keep up with demand for the glass-filled nylon sleeves that are primarily sold at smaller, independent hardware stores.

A package of the clamps, enough to install plywood on five windows, retails for $69 to $99, says Robert Kamphey, who founded Superior Mold about 26 years ago. The inside-the-window mounted clamp can hold up to 1,000 pounds of pressure on a piece of three-quarter-inch plywood or protect a window against sustained winds greater than 150 mph.

Prior to the clamps, demand for Superior Mold's services has been low because of competition from cheap labor overseas. The company is down to three employees, including Kamphey and his wife, from a high of 24 about six years ago.

"These clamps have helped dramatically," Kamphey says.

Superior Mold has made about 20,000 clamps a month for the past several months and business is expected to get even better.

The inventors are also working on several other hurricane products that are still in the research and development stage. And Kamphey expects the big-box retailers to eventually pick up the item.

Rhonda Kamphey says Superior Mold's telephones have rang incessantly since a trade publication, Plastic News, wrote an article last month about the clamps. The calls are from all over the world.

+ One to One gets bigger and bigger

Venice-based One to One Gulfcoast, a finalist for the Review's 2005 Technology Innovation Award, is getting bigger and expanding nationally. Using data software, the company works with non-profit agencies and schools seeking to improve mail-order fundraising programs.

Co-founder Brian Weiner tells Coffee Talk the company has trademarked the One to One name in an effort to launch satellite offices in regions nationwide; divisions in Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville have already opened. In addition to new offices, the firm is signing up some new high-profile clients, both in the region and nationally.

Wiener says the company has about 70 accounts this year, as opposed to 25 it had last year. New clients include the largest senior care facility in Boston, Habitat for Humanity branches in Jacksonville, Collier County and Sarasota and the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa.

One to One's forte is mailing customized full-color packets to a targeted donor list. Weiner and the company's co-founder, Dana Place, say the system is a big improvement on just mass mailing a mass-produced campaign brochure.

With all the growth, One to One also plans to move into a 20,000 square foot headquarters in Lakewood Ranch next year. "My goal," Weiner says, "is to get to the point where, nationally, we are known as the player when it comes to philanthropy."

+ A tale of roads and the rails

Politicians in the Tampa and Orlando regions have chosen two distinct paths when it comes to solving their respective area's transportation issues: Tampa is taking the more roads route, with a proposal to build a beltway from Hillsborough County south to Manatee County, while Orlando is hitting the rails, with a Gov. Jeb Bush-backed plan to build a commuter rail system going through four counties.

Bush is voting with Florida's wallet, when it comes to which plan he likes better, as the state plans to put at least $318 million into the infrastructure of the railroad project.

Dewey Mitchell, the chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a consortium of business and economic groups, might not be too happy with the choice Tampa's leaders have made. Speaking at a Sarasota Economic Development breakfast Aug. 7, Mitchell says that the issue of funding transportation for long-term needs is one that's "not a feel-good" thing, but it's an important one as the area continues outgrowing the already existing roads.

To prove his point, Mitchell, a co-owner of Prudential Tropical Realty in Pasco County, told an anecdote he heard from the committee who voted on Tampa's bid to host the 2012 Olympics. The area has plenty of great hotels and amenities, the committee said. But on transportation, it scored a zero.

+ Veteran banker forms another Lee County bank

Brenda O'Neil, a veteran Lee County banker who started Premier Community Bank of Southwest Florida, is creating a new community bank in Fort Myers called Preferred Community Bank.

O'Neil says the new bank is close to reaching its goal of raising $14 million. It is selling 1.4 million shares at $10 each, with a minimum purchase of 2,500 shares, or $25,000.

Preferred Community Bank will open its first office early next year near the intersection of Colonial Boulevard and Winkler Avenue in Fort Myers. It will target small businesses and consumers. About 30 banks do business in Lee County, according to the latest figures from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

O'Neil built Premier Community Bank of Southwest Florida, a subsidiary of Clearwater-based P.C.B. Bancorp which Colonial Bank acquired in 2004 for $141 million. O'Neil will be the chairman and CEO of Preferred Community Bank.

In addition, William Spearman will be president and chief lending officer. Board members include Rob Bagans, president of Realty World in Lehigh Acres, St. Louis real estate investor Carmelo Natoli, J. Jeffery Rice, a partner in the Fort Myers personal injury law firm Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz, Fort Myers architect Michael Sheeley and Naples real estate broker John Toussel.

+ Industry Expo seeks few good manufacturers

Wanted: Manufacturers and suppliers from across Florida to strut their stuff in Sarasota later this year.

The pitch comes from the Economic Development Council of Sarasota County, which is one of several area economic agencies putting together the Sun Coast Industry Expo, scheduled for Nov. 8 at the Sarasota Bradenton International Convention Center.

This is the first year the expo organizers are seeking manufacturers outside of the Sarasota area, in addition to local companies. Last year, 85 companies set up at the expo.

The all-day event is not open to the public. The cost to exhibit is $250. Call (941) 309-1200, ext. 203 for information.

+ Babcock Ranch could model homes in 2009

Now that the partnership of Morgan Stanley and West Palm Beach developer Syd Kitson has closed on the deal to buy Babcock Ranch, model homes may be available by the end of 2009.

Speaking to commercial real estate executives in Fort Myers recently, Kitson & Partners Senior Vice President and General Counsel Terrence Holihen says it will take about 36 months to plan, obtain permits and install utilities on the land that straddles Charlotte and Lee counties.

Kitson and Morgan Stanley bought the company that owned the 91,000-acre ranch for an undisclosed sum and sold nearly 74,000 acres to the state and Lee County for about $350 million. The partnership plans to build about 19,500 homes on the remaining 17,000 acres.

Holihen says the roads leading to the ranch will have to be widened to accommodate 40,000 new residents. This might also include a new interchange along Interstate-75, he says.

+ Gulf Coast dominates insurance committee

Coffee Talk is not above bragging about how talented the Gulf Coast business community is, but even we were surprised by the turn out of regional experts for Gov. Jeb Bush's Property & Casualty Insurance Technical Advisory Committee. Local experts were appointed to fill five of the 12 spots in the committee looking at changes to improve insurance conditions for both businesses and residential properties statewide.

Those Gulf Coast experts were John Auer, of St. Petersburg, president of American Strategic Insurance; Nancy Bailey, of Tampa, president and CEO of Travelers of Florida; Joe Formusa, of Tampa, senior vice president for State Farm Insurance Cos.; John Laurie, of Bradenton, principal and COO of Wyman, Green & Blalock Inc.; and Phil Lawson, of St. Petersburg, president of Allstate Floridian.

Sarasota's Saunders in Kelly's Dublin

It sure must be a boost to economic development to have a Sarasota business leader as the head of an international business group. Take Michael Saunders' chairmanship of the Leading Real Estate Cos. of the World.

When the group sponsored the International Real Estate Symposium in Dublin, Ireland, Saunders recommended as a guest speaker Paddy Kelly, whose Irish American Properties/Redquartz Developments plans to develop the Sarasota Quay into Sarasota Bayside.

"The theme was business without borders," Saunders says. "He described the potential he saw in Dublin 15 years ago, and how he sees the same potential in Sarasota."

The symposium was great for networking.

"It was a great opportunity to make great connections from all over the world," Saunders tells Coffee Talk. "There were representatives from Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and several from the United Arab Emirates."

The big take-away theme from the event, Saunders says, was that real estate professionals should try to understand the cultures and business practices of other countries.

"If international professionals feel they don't have a common language [with their U.S. counterparts] they're going to go away, feeling that the market is just too complex," she says.

The organization's Web site describes some of the differences between real estate closings throughout the world.

Kelly says the theme of his speech was the important relationship between U.S. and Irish investment.

"American companies make up roughly a quarter of all investment in Ireland," Kelly says. "There are some 600 American companies in Ireland that directly hire some 90,000 people in Ireland. Ireland has gone from an importer to one of the biggest exporting countries, in no small part to our American friends."

Edgy moms become entrepreneurs

Elena Neitlich and Cari Whiddon are sisters-like best friends, right down to the bragging each does for the other in front of strangers.

So it really wasn't that unusual when a phone call from Neitlich to Whiddon went something like this from a heart-thumping, excited Neitlich bellowing: "I have it, I got it! Potty training target practice!"

Call it R&D, mommy style.

Neitlich and Whiddon are the founders of a fledging Osprey, Sarasota County-based home business, Moms on Edge. The target practice gadget was one of seven products the duo created and now sells online and at a few retail stores.

But while Neitlich and Whiddon, who call themselves 'momtrepreneurs,' have no shortage of ideas or spirit, they are lacking in retail and online business experience.

They hope help is on the way, though. They recently won a contest sponsored by Entrepreneur magazine and ProStores, an eBay-based software company. Moms on Edge was one of six businesses selected out of more than 500 companies nationwide to receive free, yearlong advice and training from the magazine and online selling operation.

"We really need this help," says Neitlich, the mother of Noah, 3 and Seth, 1. "I don't understand the online marketplace."

Neitlich and Whiddon, both stay-at-home moms, started Moms on Edge in 2005 after struggling with many of the issues millions of other parents have encountered. The plan was to help themselves and then, through the business, to help others raise "well-mannered, well-behaved and well-adjusted kids." In addition to the potty training help, products include a good manners board game and a "share square" mat to prevent fighting among young friends.

The moms found out they won the contest in June. Since then, they have already picked up a few advice nuggets. The editor of Entrepreneur magazine gave them tips about how to reach the bigwigs at the major children's magazines. The ProStores staff explained about how to move merchandise around online, just as if it were in a stand-alone store.

Over the next year, Neitlich and Whiddon, mom of 3-year-old twins Lauren and Luke, expect to learn more about online marketing, the overseas manufacturing maze and how to get their products in national retail giants such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Linen's N' Things.

+ Tampa real estate meeting boasts Cuomo

Former New York Realtors get ready for a blast from the past this October. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo is scheduled to be the closing speaker for the CCIM & IREM Success Series 2006 held from Oct. 20-21 at the Tampa Convention Center.

The event, which is the second combined meeting of the real estate groups, is expected to attract about 1,000 people. Don't expect Cuomo to discuss the impact of insurance or changing cap rates, the former governor, famous for the his "A Tale of Two Cities" keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, will be giving a motivation speech discussing the American legacy.

However local experts will be among the presenters. Randy Wedding of Wedding, Stephenson & Ibarg├╝en Architects Inc. in St. Petersburg will moderate a best practice presentation, "City Revitalization and its Impact on Your Bottom Line," with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker as a panelist. Steven M. Ekovich, of Marcus & Millichap in Tampa, will speak on the real-estate cycle focused presentation "The Rise and Fall (or Stumble) of Real Estate." Also, Steven Easton of Easton Realty in St. Petersburg will presentation at the session 'Financial Analysis for Managers."

Members of either of the two groups can get tickets for $625 until Sept. 15, then the price increases to $725. Non-members can pay the early bird price of $775, before it goes up by $100 after Sept. 15. For information, go to ccim.com.

+ Commercial builders still seeking more help

Construction company executives have been hoping the current residential slowdown would have some impact on subcontractor pricing, as demand for their services wanes. In that respect, the newest string of labor numbers are both good and bad. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in March, April, May and June that overall construction employment figures remained virtually unchanged, at a seasonally adjusted total of 7.5 million.

The future employment trend is for the nonresidential sector to further increase its employment while the residential job picture will worsen, says Ken Simonson, chief economist for The Associated General Contractors of America, the largest national construction trade association in the United States.

Simonson says that nonresidential builders tell him they would like to do even more hiring but can't find enough qualified workers.

"[But] single-family and condominium construction are slowing, and employment in these sectors will drop faster once the backlog of current projects is finished," Simonson says.

Looking at the year ending in June, construction employment has grown by 3.1%, Simonson says.

+ What's Ahead...

August 24 - Money management firm Udell Associates is hosting an Estate Planner's Forum from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. Topics include planning strategies and avoiding mistakes. Call (941) 951-0443 for more information.

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