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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 11 years ago

Coffee Talk

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+ The Grinch thatnearly stole FGCUPolitical correctness is still alive and well in academia. + Gulf Coast buildertakes on fedsIn the past 40 years, Charlotte County homebuilder Earl Snyder has survived three housing busts that brought down many of his construction brethren. + Gulf Coast buildertakes on fedsIn the past 40 years, Charlotte County homebuilder Earl Snyder has survived three housing busts that brought down many of his construction brethren.+ An international vacationand a cheap surgery?Rob Pariseau, chief executive of Tampa-based Benefits Solutions Group, told Coffee Talk about an emerging health care business trend: Medical tourism.+ Foreclosure feverabates in LeeMaybe lenders in Lee County running out of houses to foreclose on.+ Foreclosure feverabates in LeeMaybe lenders in Lee County running out of houses to foreclose on.+ Builders lobbying grouphires new leaderThe Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, an advocacy and lobbying group for developers, builders and construction firms, sees 2009 as a growth year - despite the fact that many members, both current and potential new ones, are desperately seeking ways to cut back on expenses. New banking twist:Roll out the proTampa-based HomeBanc will unveil two new branches in Tampa Monday, Dec. 8.+ Lee County'sland shopping spreeWho says there are no real estate buyers?+ Top-notch talentwary of move to Tampa

Coffee Talk

+ The Grinch that

nearly stole FGCU

Political correctness is still alive and well in academia.

Wilson Bradshaw, president of Florida Gulf Coast University, declared all common areas of the Fort Myers university off-limits for holiday decorations. The reason: The great need to not offend anyone's beliefs.

In a memo to university employees, Bradshaw told them that decorations should be limited to their desks only. "Please know that there is no attempt to suppress expression of the holiday spirit," he wrote.

But that's exactly the way most employees saw it. And the subsequent uproar caused Bradshaw to quickly reverse his decision and the common areas will once again be decorated.

So, happy holi... season's greet... oh heck, Merry Christmas!

+ Gulf Coast builder

takes on feds

In the past 40 years, Charlotte County homebuilder Earl Snyder has survived three housing busts that brought down many of his construction brethren. His mantra has always been to keep it small, simple and steady.

But this latest bust put Snyder, president and founder of Englewood-based Snyder Construction, in a complicated spot he's never been in before: His $2.5 million line of credit evaporated Nov. 1 after the institution holding the funds, Bradenton-based Freedom Bank, was shut down by state regulators. The timing was drop-dead awful, as Snyder had material purchases to make and subcontractor bills to pay on 10 houses in the middle of being built.

Snyder ultimately used $234,000 of his own money to complete five houses, a move he says he was forced to take after 15 banks, from Tampa to Fort Myers, turned down his loan requests. Says Snyder: "I'm not going to let this ruin my reputation."

The real punch to Snyder's gut, however, came courtesy of the bevy of officials at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that monitored the transition from Freedom to Fifth-Third Bank, which took over the failed bank's assets.

Snyder says at the FDIC's request he met with the organization's officials soon after Freedom was shut down. He tells Coffee Talk he ended up in a conference room inside what was Freedom's headquarters, facing six suit-wearing officials who demanded Snyder pay back the $2.5 million in credit by the end of 2008 - or else.

"I felt like I was in high school and I was facing the principal for breaking the window in the gymnasium," Snyder says. "If they had talked to me like that in the parking lot, I might have punched one of them in the face."

Instead, Snyder, who initially built homes in Manatee County after moving to Florida from Ohio in 1969, went back to work to figure out a way to finish the homes he had already started. Snyder Construction is an approved Federal Housing Authority builder and most of its homes sell for $129,000 each. All of the company's homes are built in Englewood, a small town in northern Charlotte County.

In addition to using his own money to finish some houses - two of which were recently bought and are expected to close by mid-December - Snyder began working the phones to speak with lobbyists and politicians about his experience.

He met with representatives of the Florida Home Builders Association in Tallahassee and in late November he met with U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key. He also says he's been speaking with an attorney in Philadelphia, about the viability of filing a class-action lawsuit to challenge his treatment by the FDIC; officials at the agency didn't return calls seeking comment.

Snyder's beef is two-fold: One, he thinks the way he was treated, "like a criminal," was awful. But two, he believes the fact that the FDIC is essentially telling banks not to lend to homebuilders anymore is another reason the slowdown will linger.

"As builders, we don't want a bailout. We're not the Big Three," says Snyder, referring to the begging approach of the big car companies in Detroit. "We want a timeout [before] this thing gets out of control."

+ An international vacation

and a cheap surgery?

Rob Pariseau, chief executive of Tampa-based Benefits Solutions Group, told Coffee Talk about an emerging health care business trend: Medical tourism.

Medical tourism is Americans going abroad to have surgery and save money - a good chunk of money.

Poor investment results, deteriorating enrollment and accelerating health care costs combine to push health insurance rates ever higher. Some are going to great lengths to rein in those costs, Pariseau says.

By 2010, more than six million Americans annually will be seeking medical treatment abroad, according to Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. The potential savings are significant. Knee surgery that costs $70,000 to $80,000 in the United States can be performed in India for $8,000 to $10,000, including follow-up care and rehabilitation.

Similar savings could be achieved for such common procedures as hip replacements and spine surgery, Pariseau notes.

+ Foreclosure fever

abates in Lee

Maybe lenders in Lee County running out of houses to foreclose on.

Data collected by Jeff Tumbarello with the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association showed a sharp decline in foreclosure filings in November compared to the previous month. Foreclosure filings dropped 33% in November to 1,775, compared to 2,665 in October.

On a per-day basis, there were 88 filings per day in November compared with 121 per day in October.

Tumbarello attributes the decline to the first effects of the federal bailout program and the possibility that lenders have worked through the excesses of the recent real estate boom.

If the trend continues, the level of foreclosures will begin to recede and Lee County's overbuilt housing market could start its long-awaited recovery.

+ Builders lobbying group

hires new leader

The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, an advocacy and lobbying group for developers, builders and construction firms, sees 2009 as a growth year - despite the fact that many members, both current and potential new ones, are desperately seeking ways to cut back on expenses.

That's the message being sent by Mary Dougherty-Slapp, who took over as the GCBE's new executive director Dec. 1. She hopes to expand the organization's membership roster, both in counties it's already in, such as Sarasota and Manatee, and into new areas, such as DeSoto and Charlotte counties.

"The good times are for maintaining the status quo," says Dougherty-Slapp. "But in times like this, we need to show strength in numbers."

The GBCE currently has about 350 members, which pay annual dues of $500. The exchange hopes to add at least 100 new members in 2009, in addition to revamping its Web site and creating a new logo and marketing plan.

Dougherty-Slapp, who most recently served as executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Manatee County, is also charged with leading GCBE's lobbying efforts, both locally and in Tallahassee. In that regard, Dougherty-Slapp says she realizes she's replacing a top-notch networker and lobbyist in Jay Brady, who ran the exchange for 14 years.

Brady's tenure at the GCBE was also marked by his passionate approach to pro-builder and pro-developer issues, from impact fees (less is more) to his bedrock belief that less government intervention equates to a more robust development industry. Brady and the exchange parted ways earlier this year; Dougherty-Slapp says Brady was one of the first people she called when she considered taking the GCBE job, partially to gauge the intensity of her challenges.

"I hope to bring my successes and strengths to the job," says Dougherty-Slapp, who served as the deputy county manager in DeSoto County before taking the post with the Home Builders Association of Manatee County in 2006. "Change is sometimes a good thing."

+ New banking twist:

Roll out the pro

Tampa-based HomeBanc will unveil two new branches in Tampa Monday, Dec. 8. To mark the occasion, it is bringing in Brittany Lincicome, a professional golfer it sponsors, to make an appearance Dec. 10 during the weeklong grand opening activities.

Lincicome, who wears the HomeBanc logo on the women' pro tour, will be at the 3725 W. Grace St. branch from 2 to 3:30 p.m. and at the 7650 Courtney Campbell Causeway branch from 4 to 5:30 p.m. to pose for pictures and sign autographs.

+ Lee County's

land shopping spree

Who says there are no real estate buyers?

In Lee County, commissioners recently voted to spend $23.9 million for 1,726 acres in rural Alva, a sum that represents about $13,847 per acre. The agriculture land is owned by the Benderson Group of Sarasota, which was going to develop the property for residential and commercial purposes.

But when Lee County's real estate market collapsed, the county decided to buy the property with taxpayer funds set aside for environmental protection. Now, that land will never be developed and it will never generate any taxable revenue.

Realtors say this is a great time to buy, but it's apparently also a great time to sell....to county government.

+ Top-notch talent

wary of move to Tampa

Skyway Capital Partners has built a successful mid-market investment and merchant banking business in Tampa, but it has faced a challenge: Luring top talent to Tampa.

The struggle, not unlike other Gulf Coast firms, is in getting ivy league-educated investment bankers from mega markets, like New York and Chicago, away from their industry and college alumni contacts and convincing them that Florida's education system will be good for their children.

It is something economic development groups have been aware of for years and have been trying to overcome.

One of Skyway's two founders, Brian Crino, also the firm's president, did relocate from Chicago. The firm's chief executive is an ivy league grad, now living in Tampa. Management sees the challenge, but says the perception of the area is improving.

"It is an issue sometimes, but it is getting better," Crino says.

ECONOMIC SNAPSHOT

Gulf Coast Retail Activity in September

What the data shows: The index of retail activity is constructed to measure personal consumption and it combines the categories of autos, consumer durables, tourism and consumer non-durables. The index's base equaled 100 in 1988. For example, an index of 300 today would have taxable sales equal to three times the base period in 1988, or a 200% increase. The data here shows September's index and how it compared to the same month in 2007.

What it means: September retail sales reflected the amplification of the credit crisis, the same month Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy. All areas of the Gulf Coast fared worse than the state as a whole on an annual percentage change. Areas largely dependent on construction, such as Punta Gorda, Fort Myers and Naples, all showed double-digit percentage annual declines.

Forecast: September's decline in the index of retail activity showed the first signs of a much more severe consumer contraction that likely spread to October and November. The worst performing component of the index in September was the category of autos, sales of which have fallen nationally in October and November at even steeper levels. The category of tourism may help soften the blow as winter sends more visitors to Florida.

September retail index

Area retail activity %Annual chg.

Tampa 210.6 ‑8%

Sarasota 213.4 ‑9.9%

Naples 306.4 ‑10.4%

Fort Myers 278.3 ‑11.4%

Punta Gorda 257.3 ‑13%

Florida 242.8 ‑6.8%

Source: Florida Legislature Office of

Economic & Demographic Research

Gateway Bank giveaway

leads to timely donations

Coffee Talk recently reported how Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida handed out product samples - crisp $5 bills - to draw people into coming to an open house for a new branch of the Sarasota-based bank opening in Bradenton.

Now comes an usual twist to that un-banker like giveaway: At the open house, attended by more than 300 people, Gateway's $500 gas card drawing was won by Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube. The sheriff turned around and gave the card to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch of Bradenton-Sarasota.

Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida is a sister bank of two other Florida-based Gateways, one in Daytona, and another in Ocala. Pictured here from left to right are Joe McLeod, donor relations Officer for the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch; Dwight Lord, program director for Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch; W. Roy Owen, Manatee County area executive for Gateway Bank; Cindy Denison, group vice president for Gateway Bank; and Sheriff Brad Steube.

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