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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Thursday, Sep. 7, 2006 15 years ago

Coffee Talk

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Comp costs going down: The Boca Raton-based National Council on Compensation Insurance, a clearinghouse of workers comp research and data, has recommended an 11% reduction in Florida's rates for 2007. Generating home buyers: And now, the Tampa division of US Home has extended its offer of a free home generator through the end of September.Delta cuts back traffic to Gulf Coast citiesDagwood is hot: Dagwood's Sandwich Shoppes, a restaurant franchise company based in Clearwater and New Orleans, has contracted for 356 new locations since it launched in May.Homebuilders go bald for sales: The top executives at First Home Builders in Fort Myers pledged to shave their heads if they reached a goal of selling 2,900 homes so far this year. Meeting corporate demand: Shutts & Bowen's new Tampa managing partner, R. Allan Higbee, says the law firm's fast growth is in response to the burgeoning demand for corporate lawyers in the Tampa Bay area.Lee Memorial tops list: AARP, the nonprofit organization for people more than 50, ranked Lee Memorial Health System second in the country in its annual list of 50 Best Employers for Workers Over 50.More on double standard:For those who haven't heard enough about the former Tampa teacher placed on house arrest earlier this year for her sexual relationship with a teenage student, more is on its way.

Coffee Talk

+ Comp costs going down

Coffee Talk is all too aware of the property insurance pickle Florida finds itself in.

But the news may be getting better in the land of workers comp insurance: The Boca Raton-based National Council on Compensation Insurance, a clearinghouse of workers comp research and data, has recommended an 11% reduction in Florida's rates for 2007. The cut, if approved by the state Office of Insurance Regulation, would result in a total reduction of $407 million to Florida employers.

The NCCI says it's asking for the reduction for two reasons: First, there has been a significant decline in the frequency of workers comp claims, a drop it attributes to improvements in worker safety and technology, among other factors. Second, claims have a lower value, a result of 2003 legislation that tightened compensations standards, limited attorney fees and restricted the number of medical exams.

+ Generating home buyers

What's next, a free house?

Homebuilders are taking just about any steps they can to sell their product; last week Coffee Talk reported about a Bradenton agent who got a $62,000 voucher toward a Lexus or a Jaguar for closing on three Neal Communities homes. Other incentives have been common during the market slump, too, from $1 down deals to waived closing costs to TV giveaways.

And now, the Tampa division of US Home has extended its offer of a free home generator through the end of September. The builder is enticing buyers by offering a $20,000 Carrier Home Standby Generator with the purchase of any single-family home in one of the 14 Tampa Bay neighborhoods it builds in.

Delta cuts back traffic to Gulf Coast cities

Gulf Coast airports from Tampa to Fort Myers saw drops in passenger traffic in July because Delta Air Lines reduced the number of flights to Florida.

At Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Delta cut back the number of seats 50% by reducing its number of daily flights from 20 to 14 and replacing some large jets with small regional jets.

It's the same story at other Gulf Coast airports. For example, Delta cut the number of flights from 11 to eight at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

Delta spokeswoman Gina Laughlin says the airline shifted many larger jets, such as the Boeing 767, to its expanding international routes. No word on whether the dropped Florida seats will come back during the busy winter tourist season. "We have the opportunity to add seats as needed," Laughlin says.

Although the number of passengers is down, airport officials expect other airlines to pick up the slack. For example, JetBlue will start service from Sarasota to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport Sept. 21. In August, AirTran and Midwest Airlines announced new flights from Fort Myers to cities such as Detroit, Kansas City and Milwaukee.

Passenger traffic for major Gulf Coast airports

Airport July 2005 July 2006 %Change

Tampa International 827,223 776,753 ?6.1%

Sarasota Bradenton International 97,553 92,546 ?5.1%

Southwest Florida International 509,659 502,598 ?1.4%

+ Dagwood is hot

Blondie is a smash, and not only in the comic strip. Dagwood's Sandwich Shoppes, a restaurant franchise company based in Clearwater and New Orleans, has contracted for 356 new locations since it launched in May.

Investors, called market partners by the company, have purchased the rights to sell franchises to individual store operators in Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, West Palm Beach and the Panhandle in Florida, as well as northern Louisiana and Knoxville, Tenn.

Dagwood's CEO, Lamar Berry, creator of the concept along with Blondie comic strip creator Dean Young, says the stores should open soon. The company plans to hold it first training program Sept. 18 in New Orleans.

Young has teamed up with Berry, former chief marketing officer for Popeye's Fried Chicken, to launch the chain of sandwich shops.

The first restaurant, at a Palm Harbor strip mall on U.S. 19 in Pinellas County, is expected to open in late October. Yes, they'll sell Dagwood's foot-high cold cut sandwich.

Homebuilders go bald for sales

Motivating the troops in a slowing housing market sometimes means giving more ... hair.

As an added incentive, the top executives at First Home Builders in Fort Myers pledged to shave their heads if they reached a goal of selling 2,900 homes so far this year. The result: First Home President Fred Hermann and Executive Vice President of Construction Bill Keyes are now as bald as Mr. Clean.

No word on what they'll give up next.

+ Meeting corporate demand

Shutts & Bowen's new Tampa managing partner, R. Allan Higbee, says the law firm's fast growth is in response to the burgeoning demand for corporate lawyers in the Tampa Bay area.

The Miami-based firm opened its first Gulf Coast office earlier this year in Tampa, recruiting experienced lawyers from Carlton Fields, Fowler White and Shumaker Loop & Kendrick. Higbee, a corporate and securities lawyer, recently joined Shutts & Bowen after more than 25 years at Fowler White, where he was a shareholder.

Shutts & Bowen's 15-lawyer Tampa office plans to grow to 50 attorneys within 18 months, Higbee says, adding: "We are seeing more and more firms that are not from Tampa moving into this market. As this market grows in sophistication, the sophistication of the legal practice is also growing. The companies that are here have an expanse that's far beyond the Tampa region."

Higbee's clients include General Dynamics, Norsk Hydro, a large specialty metals company based in Oslo, Norway, as well as Oslo-based Yara, the world's largest mineral fertilizer manufacturer.

Other Fowler White attorneys that joined the firm with Higbee are corporate and healthcare lawyer David A. Gemunder and corporate attorneys Sally T. Woodward and Andrew Fruit.

+ Lee Memorial tops list

AARP, the nonprofit organization for people more than 50, ranked Lee Memorial Health System second in the country in its annual list of 50 Best Employers for Workers Over 50.

This is a repeat performance for Lee Memorial's human resource team, which recently was featured in the Review. In 2005, AARP ranked Lee Memorial in 10th place.

Lee Memorial actively recruits older workers to help staff its hospitals in Lee County. One-third of Lee Memorial's employees are over age 50 and about 12% are over 70. The nonprofit health system has adopted a broad range of strategies designed to attract older workers. These include flexible schedules that let workers obtain benefits while working a minimum of only 16 hours a week and giving them six months off during the slower summer months.

Other Florida winners included Leesburg Regional Medical Center and The Villages Regional Hospital in Leesburg, Brevard County Schools in Viera, Hospice of Marion County in Ocala, and Florida Hospital Waterman in Tavares.

+ More on double standard

For those who haven't heard enough about the former Tampa teacher placed on house arrest earlier this year for her sexual relationship with a teenage student, more is on its way.

It seems that Debra Lafave's attorney, John Fitzgibbons (profiled in the July 3 edition of the Review) chose NBC Today show host Matt Lauer over veteran news reporter Barbara Walters to do an in-depth interview with Lafave, who blames bipolar disorder for her actions.

The interview is expected to air Sept. 13 on NBC's Dateline.

+ What's Ahead...

Sept. 14 - The Economic Development Council of Collier County will hold its Excellence in Industry Awards Gala from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club. Cost is $150 per person. For more information, visit www.enaplesflorida.com or call 239-263-8989.

Sept. 20 - Worried about the housing bubble? Economist Hank Fishkind will discuss Florida's economic climate at a Sept. 20 meeting of the Real Estate Investment Council Inc., Tampa Bay, at the University Club, One Tampa City Center. The dinner meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. To register or for more information, visit reictampabay.org or call (813) 223-3737.

Sept. 22 - The Horizon Council, an economic development group in Lee County, hosts the Industry Appreciation Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. at Harborside Convention Center in downtown Fort Myers. For more information, contact the Horizon Council at 239-338-3161.

Oct. 27 - The Apex Award will be presented to a woman who has been nominated by her peers for outstanding achievement in career, community and leadership. The black-tie gala will be held at Harborside Events Center in Fort Myers and it begins at 6 p.m. To register, visit the Web site of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce at www.fortmyers.org.

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