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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Thursday, Sep. 11, 2008 13 years ago

Coffee Talk

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+ Game, set . . .tennis exec watchedOne of the Gulf Coast's leading sports industry executives might be in line for a big promotion. + World bankeroptimistic about FloridaSheila Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. - also known as the world's second most powerful woman, according to the Aug. 27 issue of Forbes - hit Sarasota recently with a sobering message for Gulf Coast bankers: The worst is yet to come. + Builders burnedabout election resultsMichael Reitmann thinks Lee County is on its way to becoming more like Collier County after a trio of Republican incumbents won their Lee County Commission primaries on anti-growth platforms.+ The commissioneris coming to townThe buildup to Tampa's Super Bowl XLIII preparation will heat up a little more Oct. 13 when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell comes to town.+ Philosopher brokerleads Tampa officeLucas Hewett, the new managing director of the Tampa region for GVA Advantis, does not hold an MBA or accounting degree. Nor did he intern at a financial services firm in college.+ Lee leaders seekstimulus packageEconomic stimulus and rescue packages are all the rage these days.+ Gulf Coast Apple guruutilizes advantageHere's one way to beat the economic blues: Run a business that is devoted to all things Apple - the computer company that continues to outperform its peers in an industry-wide slump, thanks to hot sellers like the iPod and the i

Coffee Talk

+ Game, set . . .

tennis exec watched

One of the Gulf Coast's leading sports industry executives might be in line for a big promotion.

The international tennis world is abuzz over rumors that Larry Scott, chairman and chief executive of the St. Petersburg-based Woman's Tennis Association, is in line to become head of a still-not-yet official organization that would oversee both the women's tour and the men's tour, currently known as the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

Either that, or Scott, a former player on the men's tour and number two executive of its governing body, would be a leading candidate to replace Etienne de Villiers, the current chairman and president of the ATP who is retiring Dec. 31.

Scott denies any interest in taking over for de Villiers. "I'm not interested in leaving the WTA to go back to the ATP," Scott said at a Sept. 3 press conference to announce new tour events and programs coming in 2009.

On the issue of a combined organization that would oversee both tours, Scott is less definite. "I've long been an advocate of closer collaboration between the governing bodies, and particularly between the ATP and WTA," Scott said at the same press conference. "I believe what's good for the men's tour is good for the women's tour and vice versa. I've tried to move our organizations closer together."

To the casual tennis fan, it might seem like the two tours already run as one. The sport's four Grand Slam championships are played and televised together and Scott pointed out that the groups have other sharing agreements, from drug testing to a new combined Web site, due out later this year. But many activities remain separate.

By pure business statistics, Scott would be an inspired pick to head up both tours: The WTA, which is run out of the top floor of the Bank of America building in downtown St. Petersburg, has grown revenues 138% since Scott took over in 2003, from $21.4 million that year to $50 million in 2007. Sponsorships have increased 500% over that time, from $5.4 million in 2003 to $33.2 million last year and attendance is up year-over-year, too.

+ World banker

optimistic about Florida

Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. - also known as the world's second most powerful woman, according to the Aug. 27 issue of Forbes - hit Sarasota recently with a sobering message for Gulf Coast bankers: The worst is yet to come.

"We haven't seen the bottom of the credit cycle yet," Bair said a few minutes before speaking at a Florida Bankers Association dinner at the Sarasota Hyatt Sept 4. While third quarter data isn't yet out, Bair says all the trend lines point to more dismal income statements, both in Florida and nationwide.

In a 15-minute session with the local media before the invitation-only dinner, Bair didn't answer questions regarding specific potentially troubled banks in the area. Yet as if on cue, the day after her appearance the FDIC publicly confirmed for the first time that Bradenton-based Freedom Bank was a recipient of a regulatory order from the agency.

The Freedom action requires the bank to make several changes, from loan oversight to its board makeup - changes the bank has been chipping away at since April, when it hired a new chief executive officer. With the announcement, Freedom became the fourth Gulf Coast-based bank to hear officially from regulators regarding loan and other financial soundness issues. (See story on Orion Bank, page 12.)

But Bair, who also made an appearance in Sarasota last December, wasn't playing the role of an early season Grinch. "I think overall the banks of Florida are doing a pretty good job," she says, pointing out that nationwide, 98% of the country's 8,000-plus banks are well capitalized.

That meshes well with what the Review reported in its Sept. 5 special issue on banking: That 98.8% of Gulf Coast-based community banks were well-capitalized as of June 30, a finding based on certain capital ratios analyzed from 2008 second quarter data released by the FDIC.

Bair's speech and the happy hour that preceded it attended by a consortium of more than 500 statewide bankers also contained a small dose of optimism. Gallows humor was in short supply; instead, pockets of bankers just shrugged and said they are doing the best they can to survive the tough times.

"I'm an optimist by nature," Bair told the bankers to end her speech. "And I still believe we could see a renaissance in Main Street banking in the years ahead after we get through the current mess."

+ Builders burned

about election results

Michael Reitmann thinks Lee County is on its way to becoming more like Collier County after a trio of Republican incumbents won their Lee County Commission primaries on anti-growth platforms.

"They are hostile to business," Reitmann warned a group of commercial real estate brokers recently. Reitmann is executive vice president of the Lee Building Industry Association. "They want another Naples."

Frank Mann, Ray Judah and Bob Janes beat back opponents that were pro-development despite a weak economy and rising unemployment. Observers say voters in the once fast-growing areas of South Lee County who are now opposed to new development were instrumental in keeping the trio on the board. "Right now, they think they have a mandate," Reitmann warned.

Collier County is well known for its anti-development bias. For one thing, it has the highest taxes on new construction of any county in the state and a permitting process that is famously slow.

"We still have a chance to unseat them" in the general election, Reitmann says, though the odds are long in this traditionally strong Republican enclave.

+ The commissioner

is coming to town

The buildup to Tampa's Super Bowl XLIII preparation will heat up a little more Oct. 13 when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell comes to town.

Goodell is speaking at the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee Luncheon at the Tampa Marriott Waterside at 11:30 a.m.

The Host Committee is headed up by longtime Tampa real estate executive Dick Beard III. Beard said Goodell will discuss the unique aspects of this year's game.

 Tickets for the luncheon are available at www.TampaBaySuperBowl.com.

Since taking office in 2006, Goodell 49, has created the first NFL Player Advisory Council, strengthened the league's anti-steroids policy, launched new television contracts and added international regular-season games, and improved the NFL's media access policies.

+ Philosopher broker

leads Tampa office

Lucas Hewett, the new managing director of the Tampa region for GVA Advantis, does not hold an MBA or accounting degree. Nor did he intern at a financial services firm in college.

Instead, Hewett majored in philosophy at Palm Beach Atlantic University and taught history to high school students before becoming a commercial real estate broker for Advantis, where he's been for 10 years. He also sits on the company's board.

Hewett told Coffee Talk that he considers philosophy and his liberal arts background as an excellent preparation for the skills needed in brokerage work.

"Philosophy and the liberal arts degree served me well in sales, logic and communications," he says. "Philosophy is about sitting around a room, negotiating, arguing, thinking and presenting ideas. That's really an attribute in business, being a good communicator."

Prior to managing the 50-person Tampa office, Hewett headed up the northwest Florida region in Tallahassee.

Hewett and his staff help clients with construction, development, financing and property management.

"Lots of folks grind out business degrees," Hewett says. "They come out to clients and talk about themselves. We talk more about the client. Clients really respond to that. They want solutions. They want results. It's about understanding needs and giving results."

At 31, Hewett finds himself managing many people closer to his parents' age than his own.

"It was something I was concerned about when I started, but rather than age, it was about proving credibility," he says. "I'm much more one of them. I spend most of my time doing business development, winning construction, property management business. I'm kind of a guy that connects the dots."

Besides managing the Tampa office, Hewett also uses his teaching experience to train brokers in all the Advantis offices.

+ Lee leaders seek

stimulus package

Economic stimulus and rescue packages are all the rage these days.

Belatedly recognizing the severity of the economic downturn in Lee County, the Horizon Council, the area's leading economic-development organization, is asking the county to allocate $25 million in incentives to help existing businesses grow and attract new companies to the area.

The council has started a letter-writing campaign to urge Lee County commissioners to allocate the money from the county's existing reserves. The second hearing on the issue will be held Sept. 25.

But the commissioners may not be in a giving mood. Three commissioners won their Republican primaries recently on anti-growth platforms. The electorate that kept them in their seats is not known for being pro-business. Still, there's hope that the economic downturn will strike a cord with the commissioners, especially with election day around the corner.

+ Gulf Coast Apple guru

utilizes advantage

Here's one way to beat the economic blues: Run a business that is devoted to all things Apple - the computer company that continues to outperform its peers in an industry-wide slump, thanks to hot sellers like the iPod and the iPhone.

That's what Ron Blunden has done for the past 17 years, first in Brandon and more recently in Sarasota. Blunden runs Computer Advantage, an Apple service, sales and training store that recently surpassed $5 million in annual revenues after topping out at about $4.6 million in 2007.

"We're well ahead of last year," Blunden tells Coffee Talk. "We're doing well."

So well that Blunden recently closed on a deal to buy two more Apple service stores in Georgia from a fellow Apple aficionado. One store is in Savannah and another store is in Fayetteville, just south of Atlanta.

Those two stores, with a combined 13 employees, will join Blunden's flagship Sarasota store on Tamiami Trail near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. That store has grown from 3 employees to 12 in the past decade by focusing on Apple products. (The Observer Group, parent of the Review, has a contract with Computer Advantage to service computers.)

Blunden says he wasn't looking to buy any new stores when the owner of the Georgia stores, which go by AIS Computers, approached him at an Apple dealers meeting a few months ago. The price and timing were right, says Blunden, who declined to elaborate on what he paid for the stores.

BY THE NUMBERS

Gulf Coast Airport Traffic for july

July July YTD YTD

Total Passengers 2007 2008 change 2007 2008 change

Tampa International 1,642,440 1,577,779 -3.94% 11,755,715 11,574,975 -1.54%

Southwest Florida Int. 535,264 502,594 -6.10% 5,295,670 5,039,900 -4.83%

Sarasota Bradenton Int. 110,832 103,789 -6.35% 1,014,788 1,017,113 0.23%

St. Pete-Clearwater Int. 75,719 76,241 0.69% 461,939 565,276 22.37%

TOTAL 2,364,255 2,260,403 -4.39% 18,528,112 18,197,264 -1.79%

July July YTD YTD

Cargo/Freight 2007 2008 change 2007 2008 change

Tampa International 16,980,613 17,968,594 5.82% 114,596,873 125,189,894 9.24%

Southwest Florida Int. 2,979,852 2,571,457 -13.71% 23,312,747 19,564,456 -16.08%

Sarasota Bradenton Int. 32,109 37,224 15.93% 322,649 299,058 -7.31%

St. Pete-Clearwater Int. 4,345,684 3,088,787 -28.92% 34,799,804 26,958,850 -22.53%

TOTAL 24,338,258 23,666,062 -2.76% 173,032,073 172,012,258 -0.59%

Job seekers: Go to Sarasota

Sarasota seems to be holding up much better than its neighbors to the north and south when it comes to staffing plans in the fourth quarter, according to Manpower employment surveys on the Gulf Coast.

More than 40% of businesses in the Tampa and Fort Myers areas told surveyors they plan to reduce the size of their staffs in the fourth quarter of this year. By contrast, none plans to do so in the Sarasota area. The best job prospects in Sarasota are in durable-goods manufacturing, education and services, the employment firm says.

The table below shows the percentage of employers who plan to change or maintain the size of their staffs in the period from October to December.

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