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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Thursday, Sep. 4, 2008 13 years ago

Coffee Talk

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+ Bank regulators seek coverBanking regulators are feeling the heat from Congress, and in turn they're putting pressure on Gulf Coast banks just as the regional economy struggles.+ Fowler White attorneysplit is amicableAbout 20% to 25% of the attorneys at Fowler White Boggs Banker in Tampa will be leaving the Tampa law firm Oct. 31. But they won't be going far.+ Lee County consultant:Raise taxesYou would think that raising taxes would be the furthest thing from the minds of Lee County commissioners, especially with the way the economy is going.+ Bank media guruplans for 'buyer's' marketOne of the Gulf Coast's most recognizable names in banking media relations has formed her own public relations firm.+ J. Christopher's looks to growBe on guard, First Watch.The Bradenton-based breakfast-brunch-and-lunch restaurant chain will likely face more competition from Atlanta-based J. Christopher's Restaurants LLC.+ Consultants to bringfirepower, ideas, to the publicA group of consultants and business gurus who have worked with numerous Gulf Coast chief executives on issues from budgeting to branding are bringing their road show to the public in a seminar scheduled for later this month.+ The next John Grisham?Cranking in Hyde Park?Cody Fowler Davis, a successful civil trial attorney and a member of a prominent Tampa family, is about to become a published author again.+ Horse droppingsto light up 1,40

Coffee Talk

+ Bank regulators seek cover

Banking regulators are feeling the heat from Congress, and in turn they're putting pressure on Gulf Coast banks just as the regional economy struggles.

The latest example: the Federal Reserve and Naples-based Orion Bancorp's "written agreement" signed Aug. 25. This document with an innocuous-sounding name is a regulatory enforcement action that orders the bank to strengthen its banking operations.

But Jerry Williams, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Orion, tells the Review that the bank already has instituted many of the procedures called for in the agreement. "There's not much in there of any substance that I disagree with," he says.

Orion is the Gulf Coast's second-largest bank, with $2.9 billion in assets and one of the most profitable in the region.

It's hard to read the agreement without suspecting it's an attempt by regulators to cover their rear ends. The 15-page agreement encompasses everything from proper board oversight to evaluating commercial real estate loans.

If the economy worsens, regulators may have to take tougher action against many banks as more loans go bad. Clearly, they don't want to be blamed for lax oversight, so they're slapping banks with agreements and other enforcement actions they can take show as proof they're doing their jobs.

A "written agreement" is one of the least harsh of enforcement actions. You know a bank is in deep doo-doo when regulators issue "cease and desist" orders. As Williams notes, the agreement doesn't require any of the steps typically required of troubled banks, such as raising capital or changing management. "It's not punitive in any way," Williams says.

Orion's Tier 1 capital, a measure of strength, stands at 7.63%, well above the 6% with which bankers feel comfortable, but slightly below the 8% that federal regulators say is well capitalized. For the six months ending June 30, Orion reported net income of $8.34 million compared to $16.9 million for same period in 2007.

Williams says Orion was the second bank in the state to go through the Federal Reserve's review. He predicts there will be plenty more "written agreements" in the coming months.

+ Fowler White attorney

split is amicable

About 20% to 25% of the attorneys at Fowler White Boggs Banker in Tampa will be leaving the Tampa law firm Oct. 31. But they won't be going far.

The attorneys are forming their own law firm that specifically practices insurance defense. It was a voluntarily move on their part, Fowler White President John Emmanuel told Coffee Talk.

"There's somewhat of a different business model, depending on what law you practice," Emmanuel says. "They will succeed doing that. The lawyers remaining will succeed as well."

When the lawyers break off, they will be using office space Fowler White will sublease them in the same building in downtown Tampa - the silver-colored Mac Building at 501 E. Kennedy Blvd. - as Fowler White uses.

"We plan to work with each other in the future," Emmanuel says. "We hope to refer matters back and forth. It's been a very collegial discussion and will remain that way."

Although Fowler White will retain that two-word shortened name, Emmanuel anticipates there will be a slight change to the entire firm name because one of the partners in the firm's entire name, senior partner Robert Banker, is leaving with the splinter group.

Fowler White, in business for 65 years, has offices in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Fort Myers, Tallahassee, Orlando, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale.

+ Lee County consultant:

Raise taxes

You would think that raising taxes would be the furthest thing from the minds of Lee County commissioners, especially with the way the economy is going.

But a Texas-based consultant they hired to examine taxes on new construction is suggesting just that. Duncan Associates recommends the county increase taxes on the construction of a new home by 7% to $9,634. That's an increase of $658 per house. The money would go to pay for roads, if they can raise it at all.

Never mind that the new-home construction market is in the dumps. The county won't see much tax revenue from that source because it issued just 37 permits for new single-family homes in August. The outlook is pretty dim for builders, especially considering the Republican incumbents on the county commission were all reelected on anti-growth platforms recently.

+ Bank media guru

plans for 'buyer's' market

One of the Gulf Coast's most recognizable names in banking media relations has formed her own public relations firm.

Christina Beyer most recently was director of corporate communications and marketing for Tampa-based Florida Bank Group, an $800 million holding company with banks in St. Petersburg and Sarasota, among other statewide locations. Now she tells Coffee Talk she's left the company in order to follow a life-long dream of running her own firm.

Beyer worked in the theater industry in New York City before relocating to Florida in the 1980s. She took on roles as a media relations executive for WEDU, the public TV station in Tampa and Florida Power Corp., before getting into banking.

Beyer's first banking gig was with Bank of America, where her roles ranged from serving as the national small business media relations manager to the Florida spokeswoman for crisis communications, including the bank's response and action during the 2004 hurricane season. Beyer was ultimately named a senior vice president in communications with the bank before leaving to join Florida Bank Group in 2006.

Even though Beyer plans on landing clients outside the banking realm, she's touting her years of financial work as an advantage in what has become a sour banking market. She hopes to capitalize on that experience by working with de novo and other startup banks.

+ J. Christopher's looks to grow

Be on guard, First Watch.

The Bradenton-based breakfast-brunch-and-lunch restaurant chain will likely face more competition from Atlanta-based J. Christopher's Restaurants LLC. The company told Coffee Talk it is actively looking for franchisees on the Gulf Coast for its breakfast-lunch brand.

J. Christopher's, which has one location in Tampa on North Dale Mabry Highway near Carrollwood, likes the region's demographics, population density and the retiree market, which has time to go out for breakfast and lunch.

While many restaurant chains are seeing lower sales, the breakfast segment has seen higher sales in many markets, the company says.

"Certainly we see that (the Gulf Coast) as a great area," says company President Dick Holbrook. "It is one of the key markets in the Southeast. There are opportunities for significant growth."

Holbrook sees First Watch as its direct competitor.

"Perkins, Denny's or IHop, those are more family restaurants," he says. "We are more casual. They are doing three meals a day. There's a difference in the look, feel, menu and brand position of family versus casual restaurants."

J. Christopher's is looking at a five-year expansion strategy on the Gulf Coast. Says Holbrook: "Once we get some interest there from a franchisee, we'll come to the market and do an evaluation. At that point, we'll frame up the size of the market."

+ Consultants to bring

firepower, ideas, to the public

A group of consultants and business gurus who have worked with numerous Gulf Coast chief executives on issues from budgeting to branding are bringing their road show to the public in a seminar scheduled for later this month.

The group, known as Trusted Advisors, is made up of eight Sarasota-based business leaders from various professions, including a Realtor, a tax and estate attorney and the founder of a multimillion-dollar computer services company. Other members of the group, which was initially formed last year to provide services and ideas to a larger group of area CEOs, include independent consultants who formerly worked in executive roles at Fortune 1,000 companies across the country.

Mike Sisti, a Trusted Advisors member who runs his own branding and marketing firm in Sarasota, says the current state of the economy makes seminars like this even more valuable. "Business owners need to be proactive and aggressive in order to take advantage of the competitors who are standing on the sidelines waiting for conditions to improve," says Sisti, who helped organize the event.

The seminar, one of several Trusted Advisors is planning over the next few months, is titled Low Cost Firepower, Branding and Marketing on a Small Budget. The Review is a co-sponsor of the event, scheduled for Sept. 22 at the Bird Key Yacht Club, from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.

Reservations are required; the cost is $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Go to http://www.sistiandothers.com/seminars.html for more information.

+ The next John Grisham?

Cranking in Hyde Park?

Cody Fowler Davis, a successful civil trial attorney and a member of a prominent Tampa family, is about to become a published author again.

"Implied Consent," a novel about two competing lawyers that takes place in Tampa where Davis was raised, will be released Sept. 16. Richmond, Va.-based Palari Publishing is printing and distributing the book.

Born in 1959 in Tampa, Davis' grandfather, Cody Fowler, started the Fowler White law firm in Tampa. His brother, Congressman Jim Davis, ran for governor.

By day, Davis runs his own law firm in Tampa, Davis & Harmon, handling business law and other civil cases. By night, he grabs a yellow legal pad goes to the back room of his Hyde Park house and creates characters and scenes for legal novels.

Sometimes, if he's on a roll, the 48-year-old writes well into the night.

"At night, I relax by writing," Davis says. "I draw from my knowledge and experience. It's a hobby. I'm not driven by a deadline to produce so many books a year."

Those characters include Anderson Parker, an idealistic, young lawyer who plays by the rules. There is also Justin Cartright III, a win-at-all costs attorney who bends the rules. The book involves a civil case in which underage children drink and get into a fatal car accident on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa.

Davis visited a book expo in Los Angeles earlier this year and gave out 200 advance copies of the book. The response was positive.

"When you have a pen and create things, it's a lot of fun," Davis says.

It took Davis about a year and a half to write "Implied Consent." His wife helped develop one of the female characters in the book who makes life difficult for Parker.

"That was helpful because she brought in her own perspective on the character," Davis says.

+ Horse droppings

to light up 1,400 homes

Ocala calls itself the horse training capital of the world. Its climate in the fall, winter and spring brings horses from across the country to its 431 horse farms. And more than 35,000 thoroughbreds bring a lot of horse doo.

An 18-month-old Houston company, MaxWest Environmental Systems Inc., sees an opportunity. MaxWest is planning to build a facility in Ocala that will turn horse waste into electricity by the end of next year.

To build and operate the facility, MaxWest will use fees from horse owners, who will bring the waste to the facility, plus income from the electricity, as the funds to build and operate it. It will be jointly owned by MaxWest and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association.

Now, about those two million Florida cows . . .

ECONOMIC SNAPSHOT

JUNE CONSUMER NONDURABLES TAXABLE SALES

What the data shows: Sales of taxable consumer nondurables in June come from supermarkets, convenience stores, department and clothing stores, drug stores, pet dealers and suppliers, paint and wallpaper shops, bookstores, florists, among others.

What it means: The overall drop in taxable sales of consumer nondurables suggests people are starting to cut back on necessities and smaller-cost items. Until now, consumer nondurables have held up relatively well as Gulf Coast residents cut back on large-ticket items such as cars and washing machines instead. Now, the penny-pinching is spreading to less costly goods.

Forecast: When consumers begin to pinch pennies at convenience stores, drug stores and supermarkets, it means they're feeling the softening economy. If the unemployment rate continues to rise, consumer nondurable sales will continue to slow. The Gulf Coast will be more dependent on a successful tourism season this winter, which could help stabilize sales.

June sales

Area Nondurables Annual chg.

Fort Myers $250.6 ‑4.7%

Naples $128.9 ‑6.5%

Punta Gorda $55 ‑3.4%

Sarasota $258.7 ‑2.8%

Tampa $1,060.6 1%

Florida $8,115.9 ‑3.4%

Source: Florida Legislature Office of Economic & Demographic Research

BY THE NUMBERS

July home sales rise, prices decline

Existing-home sales generally continued to rise on the Gulf Coast as prices continued their slide. That trend was most pronounced in Lee County, which saw an 80% jump in sales with a 37% drop in prices in July compared with the same month a year ago.

In the existing-condo market, Naples saw a 43% jump in sales that coincided with a 10% drop in prices in July.

Prices along the Gulf Coast could continue to fall as foreclosures show little sign of slowing down. The decline in prices has a silver lining: it may attract even more buyers when the tourist season begins in earnest later this year.

Existing single-family homes

July sales July median price

Area 2007 2008 %Chg. 2007 2008 %Chg.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers 426 768 80% $246,100 $154,900 ‑37%

Marco Island 26 31 19% $540,900 $462,500 ‑14%

Naples 154 188 22% $495,000 $302,000 ‑39%

Punta Gorda 185 200 8% $179,600 $141,800 ‑21%

Sarasota-Bradenton 711 657 ‑8% $277,700 $230,100 ‑17%

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 2,068 2,174 5% $215,600 $176,500 ‑18%

Existing condos

July sales July median price

Area 2007 2008 %Chg. 2007 2008 %Chg.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers 129 174 35% $230,400 $210,400 ‑9%

Marco Island 39 41 5% $475,000 $470,000 ‑1%

Naples 121 173 43% $279,000 $250,000 ‑10%

Punta Gorda 12 15 25% $130,000 $142,500 10%

Sarasota-Bradenton 299 199 ‑33% $231,400 $227,200 ‑2%

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 543 483 ‑14% $172,100 $147,300 ‑11%

Sources: Florida Association of Realtors, Naples Area Board of Realtors

Posh doggie treat business is

Gulf Coast bound

Look out Gulf Coast dog lovers and entrepreneurs: A taste of the swanky lifestyle for canines that is more prevalent on Florida's East Coast is coming this way.

Woof Gang Bakery, a Palm Beach Gardens-based gourmet dog treat franchise operation with stores in locations such has Jupiter and Key Biscayne, plans to open more than a dozen new stores on the Gulf Coast. The company is targeting markets in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota, Lee and Collier counties.

The company, which is actively seeking franchise owners for its Gulf Coast locations, bills itself as the industry leader for "superior pet necessities as well as stylish accessories, all competitively priced." Far be it for Coffee Talk to judge whether organic doggie treats and disincentive doggie spa products - a pair of Woof Gang staples - count as "necessities."

Nonetheless, there could be some serious bark on the business end of Woof Gang. For starters, the pet industry is a growing billion-dollar landscape and pet lovers are a passionate bunch, regardless of the state of the economy. Indeed, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association reports there are 71 million households in the U.S. that own at least one pet and industry spending surpassed $40 billion last year.

Woof Gang is even throwing out some bones to would be franchisees. On the back end, it's offering 100% financing to qualified applicants. And on the front end, the company aims to keep overhead low. Woof Gang stores are small, typically from 700 to 1,500 square feet, and the employee base, including the owner, is usually no higher than three people per store.

Gulf Coast dailies still figuring it out

The reeling daily newspaper industry's so-called salvation - the Internet - has been more like a sieve, at least on some parts of the Gulf Coast.

A new and comprehensive report on Web site traffic for daily newspapers in metro areas nationwide indicates that papers in cities such as Bradenton, Sarasota and St. Petersburg are lagging well behind many other metro areas.

The 2008 Newspaper Audience Ratings Report, published by New York City-based Scarborough Research, determined the percentage of adults in a newspaper market's total adult population who visited the paper's Web site during a seven-day period.

In Bradenton and Sarasota, for example, the two major dailies - the Bradenton Herald and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune - both reported a weekly Web site audience of 1% in 2007.

Other Gulf Coast papers fared better, but only one, the Tampa Tribune with 11%, got into double digits.

However, the Sarasota and Bradenton papers get a partial pass on those numbers - the survey counts those areas as part of the Tampa/St. Petersburg market, which totals more than 3.3 million people.

Nonetheless, many other markets nationwide trumped the Gulf Coast in terms of an integrated newspaper audience, which tracks adults in the given market that read both the print and online version of the paper over a seven-day period.

The Fort Myers News-Press was tops on the Gulf Coast in that category, with a 42% rate, followed by the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times, which both produced a 36% integrated audience.

But newspapers in more than 70 of 83 metro markets nationwide analyzed by Scarborough had higher integrated readership counts than any Gulf Coast papers. Those areas include daily newspapers in cities such as Charlotte, Cleveland, Flint, Mich., Hartford, Ct., Jacksonville, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Orlando and San Antonio.

READERSHIP COUNTS

The following is a glimpse at the integrated readership counts of the seven biggest Gulf Coast newspapers in terms of daily circulation figures.

Integrated %/Total

Newspaper Audience Metro Area

Bradenton Herald 216,000 7%

Charlotte Sun 111,000 12%

Fort Myers News-Press 385,000 42%

Naples Daily News 238,000 26%

St. Petersburg Times 1,179,000 36%

Sarasota Herald-Tribune 357,000 11%

Tampa Tribune 1,188,000 36%

Source: Scarborough Research

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