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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 6, 2006 13 years ago

Coffee Talk

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Bam! Emeril will return to Naples: Star chef Emeril Lagasse will return to the Naples Winter Wine Festival in January, Coffee Talk hears.A new vision for Fisher: When entrepreneur Bill Fisher resigned as Southeast Division dealer development manager for Visionary Vehicles in late 2005, Coffee Talk had a feeling there might be a story to follow. Big doings in Sarasota: The talk percolating through Sarasota County's economic development circles is that a company with $1 billion in annual revenue soon will be announcing the relocation of its corporate headquarters staff to Sarasota.Builders Split: Some of the largest members of the Pasco Building Association say it's wrong to sue Pasco County over its recently adopted comprehensive growth management plan, even though they disagree with the new rules that they consider anti-growth.Soft landing in Fort Myers?: Southwest Florida International Airport's record-breaking passenger counts may be showing signs of leveling off, the latest numbers show.Banking the campaigns: With two former Sarasota bankers in the running for Katherine Harris' U.S. Congressional seat, Coffee Talk decided to take a peek at what all the potential candidates have been getting from banks in terms of campaign donations.
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Coffee Talk

+ Bam! Emeril will return to Naples

Star chef Emeril Lagasse will return to the Naples Winter Wine Festival in January, Coffee Talk hears. The festival raised nearly $14 million for children's charities this year, the most of any wine-related charity event in the world.

In addition to Lagasse, Coffee Talk has heard that other chefs will include Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud. Also attending will be wine reviewer Robert Parker, who reportedly will have a tasting of the venerable Bordeaux wines of Chateau Latour.

The weekend event is by invitation only and is limited to about 550 people. Tickets to this year's event cost $7,500 per couple or $20,000 for four people. Guests are expected to bid on lots that include rare vintages and exotic trips worth thousands of dollars.

Watch your mailbox for an invitation.

+ A new vision

for Fisher

When entrepreneur Bill Fisher resigned as Southeast Division dealer development manager for Visionary Vehicles in late 2005, Coffee Talk had a feeling there might be a story to follow. There was.

Fisher now tells Coffee Talk he quit when Visionary, one of the first companies trying to export Chinese-manufactured cars to the U.S., had a major cash crunch that could have put its distribution agreement with Chinese car manufacturer Chery Automobile Co in doubt.

Visionary's cash problems appeared potentially solved last month when billionaire investor George Soros agreed to purchase a majority stake in the company.

Fisher, though, isn't bitter. He attempted to find a backer on his own at first, ultimately securing an agreement with Fidelity International Investments Group for it to commit about $500 million for a U.S.-distribution agreement with Chery. That became moot when Visionary hooked up with Soros, known for his backing of national Democratic Party causes and candidates.

Fisher, who the Review wrote about in June, says Fidelity is backing him to find another way to bring the cars to the United States. Meanwhile, he and his wife continue to run their circuit-board sales company PCBsales.net.

+ Big doings in Sarasota

The talk percolating through Sarasota County's economic development circles is that a company with $1 billion in annual revenue soon will be announcing the relocation of its corporate headquarters staff to Sarasota. Sarasota Economic Development Corp. President Kathy Baylis wouldn't say if the information is true, citing standard confidentiality for any potential relocating firm. Other sources, however, tell Coffee Talk what we're hearing is true.

+ Builders Split

Some of the largest members of the Pasco Building Association say it's wrong to sue Pasco County over its recently adopted comprehensive growth management plan, even though they disagree with the new rules that they consider anti-growth.

To protest the building group's plans to sue Pasco government, several builders and developers recently left the 400-member organization. They say it's best to work out a solution with county officials, not to pursue a costly, combative lawsuit.

Developments that have quit include Heidt & Associates, Lexington Homes' Lake Jovita and Newland Communities.

"There are better ways to work with local government than to file a lawsuit," Pat Gassaway, a Heidt vice president, tells Coffee Talk.

The new plan, adopted June 27 by Pasco commissioners, limits growth to the more densely populated areas, where land is much more expensive, Gassaway says.

Some builders will choose to develop elsewhere, rather than pay even higher prices for property in a county that already has some of the highest property insurance rates in Florida.

+ Soft landing in Fort Myers?

Southwest Florida International Airport's record-breaking passenger counts may be showing signs of leveling off, the latest numbers show.

The airport registered a 2.7% decrease in the number of passengers who traveled through the Fort Myers airport in May compared to the same month in 2005. So far this year, the airport is up only 1.2% over last year's numbers.

Robert Ball, executive director of the Lee County Port Authority, blamed the anemic growth on the decreased number of flights. For example, Delta Airlines, the airport's largest carrier, cut 12 daily flights recently.

Meanwhile, the airport has proposed an annual operating budget of $110.1 million, a 4.4% increase. The budget is based on a 3.21% increase in passenger traffic.

Banking the campaigns

With two former Sarasota bankers in the running for Katherine Harris' U.S. Congressional seat, Coffee Talk decided to take a peek at what all the potential candidates have been getting from banks in terms of campaign donations.

And the big winner is, well, a banker: Republican Tramm Hudson, who was an executive with RBC Centura's West Florida division, had taken in $18,500 through March 31, according to the Federal Election Commission database. But the other banker in the race has received very little financial support. Former Sarasota Bank CEO Christine Jennings, a Democrat, has only netted $1,000 from bankers.

Coffee Talk analyzed the FEC's contribution numbers from political action committees. Candidates Michael La Fevers, Jan Schneider and Colin Boyle received no PAC contributions from banks.

Candidate Total

Vern Buchanan $7,000

AmSouth Bank PAC $2,500

Financial Services Roundtable PAC $1,000

SunTrust Bank Good Government Group Florida $2,500

Wachovia Corp. Employees Good Government Federal Fund I $1,000

Donna Clarke $1,000

Cash America International Inc. PAC* $1,000

*(Cash America International, Inc. owns and also franchises Cash America Pawn shops and Mr. Payroll check cashing kiosks.)

Nancy Detert $7,500

Credit Union Legislative Action Council of Cuna $5,000

SunTrust Bank Good Government Group Florida $2,500

Tramm Hudson $18,500

America's Community Bankers Community Campaign Committee $2,000

American Bankers Association PAC $10,000

Independent Community Bankers Of America PAC $2,000

SunTrust Bank Good Government Group Florida $2,500

Wells Fargo And Company Employee PAC* $2,000

*(AKA Wells Fargo Employee PAC)

Christine Jennings $1,000

Florida Bankers Association PAC $1,000

Source: The Federal Election Commission (www.fec.gov)

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