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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Jul. 20, 2007 13 years ago

Coffee Talk

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Can Big Sugar save the planet?: Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, fresh from the environmental lovefest in Miami featuring California's "Governator," predicted Florida's sugarcane farmers would be able to produce ethanol more cheaply than Midwestern corn growers.Sun continues to rise in Sarasota: Sarasota and Bradenton are not known for their public company stars, not at least when compared to say Fort Myers, with Chico's or Clearwater, home to Tech Data.Florida company exits mortgage business: The continuing storm in the national mortgage industry brushed up against Sarasota late last month when a Vero Beach firm with a niche in federal government mortgages, such as those produced by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, exited the industry.Pasco growing in other ways: A month ago, we reported on the boom in retail development in south central Pasco County. But there's more than a retail boom.Southeast partner takes USF post: Irv Cohen, a partner with Southeast Capital Partners, is the latest high-profile business adviser to be named an Executive-in-Residence at the University of South Florida's College of Business in Tampa.Miva founder now selling shutters: What happened to Craig Pisaris-Henderson?

Coffee Talk

+ Can Big Sugar

save the planet?

Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, fresh from the environmental lovefest in Miami featuring California's "Governator," predicted Florida's sugarcane farmers would be able to produce ethanol more cheaply than Midwestern corn growers.

Kottkamp made the comment at a breakfast gathering of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, a Naples-based environmental group.

But at the same meeting, U.S. Congressman Connie Mack IV, lamented the poor health of the Caloosahatchee River, which flows from Lake Okeechobee to Fort Myers. Some environmental critics have pinned the river's woes on the agriculture industry, particularly sugar producers.

There's a dichotomy: An industry that dirties the Caloosahatchee to save us from oil.

If Big Sugar turns to ethanol, what a great deal: The government subsidizes sugar with tariffs on foreign sugar and gives subsidies to ethanol producers.

+ Sun continues

to rise in Sarasota

Sarasota and Bradenton are not known for their public company stars, not at least when compared to say Fort Myers, with Chico's or Clearwater, home to Tech Data.

But Sarasota-based valve manufacturer Sun Hydraulics is doing its part to change the image. The company has had a stellar 2007 so far, with increases in earnings, gross profits and performance ratios. And in doing so, Wall Street has taken note. Shares of Sun Hydraulics (Nasdaq: SNHY) have been trading in the mid $30-share range in July after beginning the year under $14 a share.

Company executives cite European and Asian sales as one catalyst for the success, but the basics are just that, basic, according to Sun Chief Executive and President Allen Carlson.

"Our growth, we believe, continues to be fueled by attending to basics: Having the right products for the marketplace, providing detailed product information on demand and delivering products when and where the customer wants." So said Carlson in a May statement regarding first-quarter earnings.

That simple approach led Robert W. Baird analysts to raise the target price on the stock $14 May 10, from $23 a share to $37 a share. And on July 10, Zacks.com, an investor-driven Web site, listed Sun as its "aggressive growth strategy" company of the week.

"Over the last five years, SNHY has reported average annual earnings growth of 44.5%, more than double the industry average," the Zacks.com report states. "Looking ahead, the company is expected to continue to grow faster than its peers, with analysts forecasting earnings growth of 23%, above the expected industry growth rate of 14.3%."

The company itself is projecting more success, both in the short- and long-term. For second quarter in 2007, Sun is estimating $41 million in sales, with earnings between 52 and 54 cents a share. In sales, that would be 11% growth over 2006, and in earnings per share, it would represent a 36% increase.

Sun also raised its earnings per share estimates for 2007 and 2008. For the current year, it bumped the number to $1.95 from $1.70 and in 2008, it's now projecting $2.20, up from $1.90.

+ Florida company exits

mortgage business

The continuing storm in the national mortgage industry brushed up against Sarasota late last month when a Vero Beach firm with a niche in federal government mortgages, such as those produced by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, exited the industry.

The local part of the news is boilerplate nationwide financial company doings: Vero Beach-based Opteum sold its mortgage holdings to Chicago-based private equity firm Sterling Partners, which is going to launch a new mortgage business, to be called Prospect Mortgage.

Sarasota's Opteum office, formerly known as Aclarian Mortgage and originally founded by local entrepreneur Bob DeCecco, is going from one owner to another in the deal.

The more interesting part of the deal is how much (or in this case, how little) Sterling paid for Opteum's nationwide mortgage portfolio: a measly $1.5 million. Referring to the company's thousands of mortgages across the country, DeCecco says, "Opteum doesn't want us to be a drain on their cash anymore."

He's not kidding. Opteum, traded on the NYSE under the symbol OPX (recent price: $2.34) had a net loss of $78.1 million in the first quarter this year, a setback the company attributed to problems in the general mortgage industry, as well as its costly efforts to get out of it.

That effort culminated in the Sterling Partners deal, announced June 30, a year to the day from when DeCecco sold Aclarian to Opteum. (See 7/17/06 Review).

In a statement, even Jeffrey Zimmer, Opteum's president and chief executive officer, conceded the sale price was less then he would have liked or expected.

+ Pasco growing

in other ways

A month ago, we reported on the boom in retail development in south central Pasco County. But there's more than a retail boom.

American Body Co. is breaking ground on State Road 52 near the Suncoast Parkway on an 80,000-square-foot manufacturing plant on a 20-acre site in the North Suncoast Industrial Park.

The Tampa-based company makes fleet truck bodies for suppliers and expects moving into the facility by the end of the year.

That will bring 110 jobs to Pasco. The company may increase that to 150. Goodbye Hillsborough.

A little farther south down the Suncoast Parkway at State road 54 in Pasco, a new mixed-used development, Northpointe Village, is emerging.Another suburban office park? Not really. This one is designed like a little downtown.

Hogan Development has created space for 20,000 square feet of office on the top floors and retail on the bottom.

There is room for an additional 1 million square feet of office space; 60 acres in all are available. Two restaurants have moved in.

On the other end of State Road 54, at Interstate 75, there is room for 114,000 square feet of flex space for office or industrial uses.

And at State Road 52 and I-75, at One Pasco Center, there is 27,000 square feet of flex space and room to build it out to 96,000.

And the houses keep coming. Connerton, on U.S. 41 north of State Road 54, features executive home sites. The traffic from this development is supposed to be the catalyst for linking Ridge Road to a new extention of Collier Parkway in Land O' Lakes, effectively tying old Land O' Lakes to the new.

+ Southeast partner

takes USF post

Irv Cohen, a partner with Southeast Capital Partners, is the latest high-profile business adviser to be named an Executive-in-Residence at the University of South Florida's College of Business in Tampa.

Cohen, former vice president of GunnAllen Financial and former president of J.P. Morgan Treasury Technologies, is also a member of the college's Executive Advisory Council.

Established four years ago, the Executive-in-Residence program brings the knowledge and experience of national business leaders into the classroom. Executives help with particular projects and serve as student mentors and ambassadors of the College of Business. 

Cohen is one of four CEOs serving the business school in this capacity, joining Frank Morsani, president of Automotive Investments in Tampa; George Seegers, retired president and CEO of Citigroup Tampa; and Les Muma, retired CEO of Fiserv.

Cohen is working to launch the College's new Financial Services Education Center opening this fall. The center will be used for a select group of finance majors to apply financial concepts, many of which cannot be taught in the traditional classroom setting.

The students will manage the center, evaluate data, make financial decisions and implement business programs as if they worked for a financial services organization.

+ Miva founder

now selling shutters

What happened to Craig Pisaris-Henderson?

The founder of Fort Myers-based technology company Miva (formerly Findwhat.com) who resigned from his position as chairman and CEO in 2006 is now selling hurricane shutters.

Pisaris-Henderson's company is called Storm Safe Shutters & Windows, which has operated in Southwest Florida for 14 years but was recently acquired by Pisaris-Henderson.

Admitting defeat?

To the contrary ...

Oscar Parsons wants you to know he is not admitting defeat.

Parsons took issue with those latter two words in last week's Coffee Talk, which reported he has put up for sale his 120,000-square-foot Sarasota Bradenton International Convention Center. Parsons has operated the privately owned center for five years.

In a letter to the Review, Parsons says:

"Please be advised that the writer wishes to take issue with a number of statements in your July 13 issue referring to Oscar Parsons ...

"1. How did you come up with the 'garden hose' analogy (a reference to our description that trying to operate a private convention center is akin to using a garden hose on a raging warehouse fire).

"2. When and where did Parsons admit defeat as an expensive failure?

"3. What type of statistical evidence did Parsons admit was working against him from the start?

"4. Where did Parsons state that he had spent $10 million on facility improvement? (He told us that in previous interviews.)

"The real facts are that Parsons is not admitting defeat.

"1. It has taken longer than expected, for various reasons, to bring sales up to speed.

"2. Parsons had good statistical evidence that with a 70% capacity at 14 cents per square foot (a competitive figure) together with the potential auxiliary income, the numbers looked very good.

"3. Ninety percent of all convention centers lose money, mainly because something like 98% are funded and operated by governmental agencies. (Van Wezel, case in point). SBICC has never asked for governmental help. Instead of gobbling up almost $1 million in taxpayer money, Parsons paid $66,918.85 hard money in SBICC property taxes to Manatee County last year.

"4. Twenty landscaped acres complete with 735 paved parking spaces wiith appropriate lighting, a 120,000 square feet of Category 3 hurricane-rate building, in a prime location, suggest an extremely low facility cost, versus $50 million to $60 million for a similar facility cost, as previous consultants had concluded.

"5. The Center has always cash flowed, our accounts are current. No long term or short term debt, does not constitute an expensive failure.

"6. The convention center is still viable and growing. Parsons is just running out of time - agewise (that was the real essence of our interview).

"7. The real news story in this scenario is the reluctance and indifference of Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau (it won't even distribute our material on its expensive marketing missions) and to some extent the lack of real interest form the Manatee Convention and Visitors Bureau. Neither chamber of commerce, nor any county or city commission has offered a visible interest or moral support to this endeavor. Nevertheless, the public is liking us. And so far we're making it without the bureau, chambers or politicians' support.

Oscar Parsons

President, Sarasota Bradenton

International Convention Center

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