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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 22, 2003 18 years ago

Coffee Talk

This week's items:Entrepreneurial slump over?Fraud detectionMCC offers security technology certificateLegal appealThe missing linkOne more dig at the anti-bridge crowdBanker of the Year Nomination


Entrepreneurial slump over?

A recent study by New England's Babson College and funded by the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City suggests that entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. has stabilized. In 2000, entrepreneurial activity hit an all-time high, with 16.7% of the adult population engaged in creating or growing a new business. That number dropped to 11.7% in 2001 and 10.5% in 2002 - a number that is still 50% higher than it was in 1998.

Americans have more entrepreneurial optimism than in recent years, with 37% of American adults saying there will be "good opportunities for starting a business" in the next six months. The study also shows a rise in "informal capital," start-up funds provided by friends and family, rather than formal venture capital groups. About 4.6% of adults reported investing money in entrepreneurial firms in 2002, with 50% of those funds going to companies owned by relatives.

The study found that a gender gap among entrepreneurs persists, with men more likely than women to start up new businesses by a ratio of three to one. Another gap exists based on the education level attained by the starting entrepreneur - 35% of the most highly educated entrepreneurs expect to employ 20 or more people over the next five years, while 30% of entrepreneurs with less than a high school education expect to remain self-employed alone in that time.


Fraud detection

The Florida Bankers Association was responsible for the creation of a fraud-fighting network called The system allows users from the banking industry and law enforcement to share information to help prevent fraud,bank robberies and other crimes. It includes e-mail alerts and the ability to attach photos and images.

Deborah Drake, vice president of corporate investigations for Central Florida's Mercantile Bank, says she logs on to Fraud-Net up to 10 times a day. Drake recently received an alert that a man was cashing fraudulent checks in the area and she passed the alert on to bank branches and tellers. The man then tried to cash a bad check at a Mercantile Bank, and the teller alerted an off duty guard, leading to the man's arrest.

The California Bankers' Association will also join the Fraud-Net database, which already includes Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico and Texas.


MCC offers security technology certificate

In 2001, Manatee Community College received a capital incentive grant from the Florida Department of Education to develop an Information Technology Security certification program in partnership with St. Pete College. Unfortunately, those grant monies were subsequently cut.

MCC and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council realized, however that availability of IT security training might help attract businesses. Security technicians are in increasing demand, between best practices legislation and new computer decentralization requirements for financial companies. The council granted MCC $88,800 to develop the program, provided the college helps duplicate the program across the I-4 corridor, seeks National Science Foundation support and develops IT security institutes in the Tampa Bay area and east coast of the state.

MCC began to survey business leaders, from cable television companies to Sun Hydraulics, to learn what workplace skills needed to be addressed in the program. MCC plans to offer the new certificate program in Spring 2004 and an Associate in Applied Science and Associate in Science degree programs by the end of next spring.


Legal appeal

The Clearwater Bar Association invited John Carassas to be a speaker back when he was still a state representative. By the time he addressed an Aug. 14 noontime bar event, he was state Deputy Attorney General John Carassas. (See "Lawmaker Turns Law Enforcer," the Review, Aug. 8-14, 2003.)

Carassas declined to address the topic of perhaps most interest to Florida lawyers this summer - the Legislature's recent passage of alleged medical-malpractice insurance reform. "It's a done deal," says Carassas, begging off. He didn't get to vote on the legislation, either, since he left office in July.

But the new deputy AG spoke to the issue, after a fashion. With all the demonizing of trial lawyers by doctors and insurers during the medical-malpractice debate, Carassas asked why nobody with Esquire after their name will be on the ballot for the Oct. 7 special election to choose his replacement?

"I see a lot of good, competent people in this room and we have no attorneys in this race," Carassas told his audience at the downtown Clearwater Harborview Center.

It might be worth noting here that Carassas succeeded a member of the local medical community, chiropractor and current state Sen. Dennis L. Jones, R-Treasure Island, in House District 54. And it appears Carassas will be succeeded by a physician, former Seminole state senator Don Sullivan.

Lawyers used to make up almost half of the Florida Legislature, according to Carassas, but now only about one-fifth of our state lawmakers are attorneys.

Gulf Coast boasts low unemployment

Gov. Bush recently announced that Florida had 16 straight months of positive job growth, continuing to rank number one in the country in total employment growth. The Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation released preliminary July 2003 unemployment numbers; Florida's overall rate has remained essentially unchanged from last month, at about 5.4%, well below the national average rate of 6.2%.

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The missing link

"Diversifying Florida's Economy" was the name of the workshop. A contingent of Gov. Jeb Bush's aides, who have been touring Florida this summer, stopped in St. Petersburg to hear what the Tampa Bay area had to say about creating higher-wage jobs in the historically low-wage Sunshine State.

The auditorium at the Franklin Templeton Investments complex was packed Aug. 15. Politicians were there, from state Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, to Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann. Chamber of commerce and tourism bureau executives were there. Educators, private-industry council types and even a few journalists made it.

The only ones who appeared to stay away in droves were the folks who actually create decent jobs - business owners.

Bush operatives praised the governor's stewardship of the Florida tourist economy since the 2001 terrorist attacks. St. Petersburg College President Carl Kutter, a panelist, picked up on the theme by mentioning a recent USA Today report that listed Florida as one of the five best-run states in the nation. Two audience members seated near the back of the auditorium muttered in unison: "That's scary."

Eventually, more reality intruded. Some of the assembled began trotting out the perennial reasons why corporate America - and many entrepreneurs who aspire to become part of it - seems to shun Florida: lackluster education, limited transit options, uncertainty about water in the face of mismanaged growth.

More discouraging was the scarcity of creative new solutions in the room. No wonder the good-job generators found better things to do that day.


One more dig at the anti-bridge crowd

The John Ringling Bridge is almost open, but the antagonism between pro-bridge and anti-bridge groups remains, years after the rancorous debate. Recent announcements of the bridge dedication festivities (pictured) prompted this response from outspoken Sarasota resident Gil Waters:

"Ironically, Ringling Bridge supporters got vindication of a sort when the City of Sarasota and the Sarasota Herald Tribune used their rendering as the emblem of the signature span in its dedication advertising and invitations.

"Good Bridge 2000, the citizens group that fought for the fixed span bridge, bought and paid for an accurate computer generated picture of the 65 foot fixed span project that showed a sailboat and a motorboat cruising the bay.

"Anti-bridge forces called it 'distorted.' They printed their own inaccurate looming version of the proposed bridge.

"But justice is triumphed! The Good Bridge rendering tops Herald Tribune ads and the City of Sarasota invitation.

"Of course there is no credit line under the rendering in the name of the committee that fought for the curving graceful improvement that spans the bay. But it's really the thought that counts in the end. What's more, Sarasota finally has its handsome signature engineering marvel."

Banker of the Year Nomination

In September, the Review will announce the name of its second annual "Banker of the Year." Nominees may be bank president or CEOs who have guided their institutions to a record performance in the past two years. Or maybe they guided their bank out of a financial slump or other trauma. They could be private client officers who have excelled at attracting the bank's top customers. They are the bankers - up and down the entire Gulf Coast - from Hernando to Collier counties, responsible for extraordinary performance, efficiency and/or turnaround efforts.

Submit nominations with the name, employer and telephone number of the nominee, along with the reason for nominating the individual. Send to Senior Editor Kendall Jones at [email protected] or by fax at (941) 362-4808 or (813) 221-9403.


The Review incorrectly reported in the Aug. 8 edition the effects of Naples-based F.N.B. Corp.'s corporate split on shareholders. Under a tax-free ruling being sought from the IRS, there will be a two-year halt in a possible acquisition of the new Florida holding company by another institution because it would not be attractive financially. But shareholders will be able to buy and sell shares in the new company at any time.

In addition, the Aug. 15-21 issue incorrectly listed the amount of Sarasota's proposed impact fee increase. The average fee increase will be 14%. In addition, the county offered credits for some impact fees until three years ago when the credits were eliminated.

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