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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Nov. 28, 2008 11 years ago

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+ Homer's wine fest:Dough for D'oh!This awful year in business can pretty much be summed up with one word: D'oh!+ Obama electioncould help Largo firmGeoPhama, a Largo pharmaceuticals maker, is hopeful that the new Obama presidency will be good for the company, which is seeking government approval for breakthrough drugs, including an ovarian cancer detection device - the president-elect's mother died of ovarian cancer.+ Melting Potneeds a wheelbarrowPlenty of business awards are given out each year on the Gulf Coast.+ Naples to hostventure forumContrary to what you might have read, venture capital hasn't disappeared. It's probably sitting in T-bills waiting for the right opportunity.+ Tampa scorecardimproves slightlyThe latest economic scorecard for the Tampa Bay area, compiled by the Tampa Bay Partnership, showed a slight improvement, although the Bay area ranked in last place overall among six southern markets.+ Super Bowlleads to Super contestForget the Super Bowl, the 'Big Game' being played in Tampa Feb. 1. + Junior Achievementdinner draws big crowdWith the Gulf Coast's economy weakening, it was a pleasant surprise to see more than 650 people recently attend Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida's induction of Todd Gates and Paul Marinelli to its business hall of fame.Gulf Coast foreclosurescontinue to riseHome foreclosures rose at the steepest pace in the Naples-Marco Island area

Coffee Talk

+ Homer's wine fest:

Dough for D'oh!

This awful year in business can pretty much be summed up with one word: D'oh!

But if you give enough dough to the Naples Children & Education Foundation at the upcoming Naples Winter Wine Festival, you'll be drawn into an episode of The Simpsons. Your character will be immortalized with the likes of Homer Simpson, Krusty the Clown and Itchy and Scratchy. In addition, the highest bidder will receive two tickets to the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony.

Other auction lots include a wild-boar hunt in Tuscany, a party at Blackberry Farm with Grammy award-winning singer Martina McBride and a shopping spree at Tiffany.

And participants won't be sipping on Duff Beer, Homer Simpson's favorite beverage. Wine lots include five magnums of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and a hand-signed magnum from each of the 28 participating vintners.

Festival ticket packages cost $7,500 per couple for the Feb. 6-8 event. Since 2001, the festival has raised nearly $70 million for children's charities.

+ Obama election

could help Largo firm

GeoPhama, a Largo pharmaceuticals maker, is hopeful that the new Obama presidency will be good for the company, which is seeking government approval for breakthrough drugs, including an ovarian cancer detection device - the president-elect's mother died of ovarian cancer.

If the ovarian product hits on a level GeoPharma expects, it could launch the company's stock price many times over what they are now, says Alexander Nachman, director of investor relations.

Government officials recently visited the company headquarters and the meeting went well. "I think it (the new administration) could help, big time," Nachman told Coffee Talk.

+ Bob Graham's mission:

"...a new tax structure"

Citing the 43,000 homes lost to foreclosure in Florida and a projected net increase in the State's population of just 4,234 for 2008, Democrat, former U.S. Senator and former Gov. Bob Graham is calling for a new tax system in Florida.

Speaking Nov. 21 to a group of mostly city planning professors, students and practicing planners at the University of Florida, he told his audience, "We cannot continue to operate in this state with growth as the engine."

Calling for more education funding, Graham emphasized that changing Florida's economy "begins with a commitment to education. We need a new tax structure." He went on to decry the removal of the unpopular state services tax "which was meant to fund infrastructure." Instead, he says, we have "Florida on the cheap."

The lecture was titled "Growth, Growth Management and Sustainability in a Distressed Economy: Where are We and Where are We Going?" The answers seem to be that we are in the middle of a tax revolt going into a recession and more taxes is where we are going.

Coffee talk is compelled to ask: If Florida is so cheap, why are there so many foreclosures, families moving out and people who cannot afford health insurance? Could it be that homeowners and homebuyers have been given little choice but to over-allocate resources on housing, impact fees, home insurance and property taxes, which all added to the housing bubble? Just asking.

+ Melting Pot

needs a wheelbarrow

Plenty of business awards are given out each year on the Gulf Coast. But it is still unusual for one company to collect many, particularly when that company is in a struggling industry.

Defying the consolidation and slowdown trend in restaurants is The Melting Pot, a Tampa-based fondue restaurant chain.

There may not be a fondue pot big enough to carry back the awards the company won so far this year. Those include:

• Ernst & Young 2008 Florida Entrepreneur of the Year. CEO Mark Johnston, Chairman Mike Johnston and COO Bob Johnston were recognized as overall winners for retail and consumer products for Florida.

• Small Business of the Year for 2008. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce selected The Melting Pot Restaurants as the overall winner.

• Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association's 2008 Hospitality Hall of Fame induction as "Restaurateur of the Year." COO Bob Johnston was recognized with this honor as an influential leader in Florida's hospitality industry.

• Franchise Times ranking as one of the top 200 franchise chains. The Melting Pot earned this spot with nationwide sales of $220 million.

• Secret Service Systems award. The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting organization, presented this award to The Melting Pot for developing the best service system including ideas, training, implementation, execution and the personalization of each customer's experience.

• Mayor's award for charitable contributions. The Melting Pot received this honor for the second consecutive year after receiving the highest marks of all Tampa applicants for community involvement.

The past four years, The Melting Pot has nearly doubled in size, growing from 67 to 137 restaurants with 29 more in various stages of development. The company is on pace to open 12 more restaurants in 2009.

+ Naples to host

venture forum

Contrary to what you might have read, venture capital hasn't disappeared. It's probably sitting in T-bills waiting for the right opportunity.

Venture capitalists will descend on Naples Feb. 3 and 4 to listen to company pitches for their money.

Organizers hope 2009's attendance will at least match 2008's attendance of 1,200. Of those, 200 represented venture-capital firms from the U.S., Europe and South America.

So far, the last 17 conferences have raised $1.6 billion for entrepreneurial, Florida-based companies. Presenting companies will be vetted on four criteria: talented management teams, proprietary technology, high-growth potential and seeking later-stage funding.

+ Tampa scorecard

improves slightly

The latest economic scorecard for the Tampa Bay area, compiled by the Tampa Bay Partnership, showed a slight improvement, although the Bay area ranked in last place overall among six southern markets.

The scorecard measures employment and workforce; income and productivity; housing; innovation; education and transportation. It compares the region's economic performance against Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Jacksonville, and Raleigh-Durham.

Tampa Bay ranked in last place in workforce, housing and transportation. It was fifth place in innovation and third place in education, income and productivity.

Tampa Bay was one of only two regions experiencing growth in housing permit activity. Tampa Bay's ranking for income and productivity improved with indicators for wages, household income, and per capita income all contributing to the increase. In the innovation category, the ranking for patents improved.

Of the 19 indicators updated, eight were unchanged, six improved and five declined. In the previous scorecard, only two rankings improved, eight declined and nine were unchanged. 

In transportation, the Bay area improved in every indicator except vehicle miles traveled per capita, a measure of sprawl. Tampa Bay's rankings fell despite these improvements because the comparison regions made greater improvements.

The Tampa Bay region lost more than 33,500 jobs in the year that separates the third quarter of 2008 from the third quarter of 2007.

The fall 2008 report represents the sixth edition of the scorecard, which was introduced in January 2006.

+ Super Bowl

leads to Super contest

Forget the Super Bowl, the 'Big Game' being played in Tampa Feb. 1.

The real action will be at the parties in the days leading up to the game. That's where celebrities from the sports and entertainment worlds mingle with business executives and occasionally, the common folk who find a way in.

Malaka Hilton, president of Sarasota-based Admiral Travel Gallery, is trying to capitalize on that party angle of the Super Bowl. Admiral Travel specializes in unique global trips, from luxury African safaris to walking tours in Morocco with Winston Churchill's granddaughter.

To reward current customers and entice new ones, Admiral recently launched an awards program for clients where deposits on trips puts them in a random drawing to win a slew of prizes - the types of experiences that even the agency's high-end travel packages don't normally provide.

The contest's first prize is two passes to Moves Magazine's 3rd Annual Super Bowl Party, to be held at The Venue in Tampa Jan. 28. The magazine's past two parties have been one of the game's biggest see-and-be-seen events, with appearances from everyone from former NFL star Jim Brown to Paris Hilton.

Malaka Hilton, who doubles as a travel writer for the magazine, will be escorting the contest winners to the party. The winners will also receive dinner, a roundtrip limo and a night in a nearby luxury hotel.

The awards program and the contests represent Admiral's push to keep up bookings during the economic downturn. While business has been okay, Hilton says it's clearly off from what it was two years ago or even last year. "We want to see more people put deposits on trips," she says.

+ Junior Achievement

dinner draws big crowd

With the Gulf Coast's economy weakening, it was a pleasant surprise to see more than 650 people recently attend Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida's induction of Todd Gates and Paul Marinelli to its business hall of fame.

Gates is chairman of Gates, a Naples-based development company and the Review's Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007. Marinelli was president and chief executive officer of Barron Collier Companies until his death on April 10.

Junior Achievement leads volunteers in schools to teach children about economics, financial literacy and sound business practices. With the economic challenges ahead, most would agree it's more important than ever to teach children this often-ignored subject.

+ Corrections

• A commercial real estate brief in the Nov. 21 issue should have said that Robert Martin owns property behind a Friendly's Restaurant building on State Road 64. SR 64 Real Estate Holdings LLC owns the Friendly's building.

• The timing of $4.8 million in sales reported by Sunovia Energy Technologies, a Sarasota-based publicly traded company, was incorrect in the Oct. 31 Review. The sales are currently pending.

GULF COAST UNEMPLOYMENT

What the data shows: Local area unemployment statistics for October, not seasonally adjusted. Florida's unemployment is the highest since 1993.

What it means: All areas of the Gulf Coast showed higher unemployment rates than the state and the nation on a year-over-year percentage basis. The declines in construction are mostly to blame for the rise. Especially hard hit are Punta Gorda and Cape Coral-Fort Myers, which rode the construction boom a few years ago. The Cape Coral-Fort Myers also experienced the biggest jump in unemployment on a percentage-point basis compared with October 2007. For businesses that are expanding, the growing ranks of unemployed mean more selection.

Forecast: The unemployment rate may stabilize with the arrival of the winter tourism season. However, seasonal retail employment may be limited because of the consumer-spending contraction. And initial tourism and airport-traffic numbers suggest the number of visitors to Florida is slowing.

Gulf Coast foreclosures

continue to rise

Home foreclosures rose at the steepest pace in the Naples-Marco Island area of the Gulf Coast in October, though the Tampa Bay area still registered the highest total number of foreclosures, according to RealtyTrac.

Meanwhile, Hernando County showed a 5% decrease in foreclosures in October compared with the same month a year ago, the only county on the Gulf Coast to show a decline.

Although the rise in foreclosures has affected Lee and Collier counties, Pasco County also has seen a large percentage increase in October. Pasco is north of Tampa and many residents of that county work in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

OCTOBER FORECLOSURES

Area foreclosures Annual chg.

Naples-Marco Island 1,210 194%

Cape Coral-Fort Myers 4,310 109%

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 7,553 84%

Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice 2,033 22%

County foreclosures foreclosures Annual chg.

Collier 1,210 194%

Pasco 1,650 186%

Lee 4,310 109%

Pinellas 2,310 79%

Hillsborough 3,216 75%

Manatee 886 32%

Sarasota 1,147 15%

Hernando 377 ‑5%

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