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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Feb. 27, 2004 14 years ago

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

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This week's items: Call for Entrepreneur 2004 entries; save the dateMichael Saunders' limp New president at Vengroff Williams great with namesAnother comeback for Anthony?

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

Call for Entrepreneur 2004 entries; save the date

GCBR's annual Entrepreneur Award luncheon will be Friday, May 14 at the Sarasota Hyatt. But before the call for reservations goes out, we need your help finding this year's top entrepreneurs.

We're looking for Gulf Coast entrepreneurs from Manatee to Charlotte counties who have guided their companies through outstanding performance and growth over the past three years. The entrepreneurs' companies must be based in Manatee, Sarasota or Charlotte counties.

Please send us the nominee's name, company name and your name via e-mail to:

[email protected]

We're also happy to report that GCBR's Entrepreneur 2003 winner, Lee Wetherington, continues to soar. Lee Wetherington Cos., the Sarasota-based home builder, recently reported a 56% increase in sales in 2003 vs. 2002 - to $111.7 million. Builder magazine also named Wetherington America's "best builder" among builders who complete 101-500 homes a year. Wetherington's company completed 304 homes in 2003.

Michael Saunders' limp

When you see the limp in her walk and the black brace enveloping Michael Saunders' right knee, you think: Oooh. Must have been a skiing tumble - Aspen? Sun Valley? Perhaps St. Moritz or Gstaad?

She wishes it were that exotic.

"I kept telling our tech people I needed a cordless phone," Saunders told Coffee Talk recently. She warned her Michael Saunders & Co. tech experts that someone was liable to get hurt in her office with the wire running from the wall to her conference table. But the techies said no - she couldn't get good reception on a cordless.

Alas, Saunders pushed back from the conference table nearly a month ago in her Sarasota Gallery office and - ka-boom - down she went, tangled in the telephone cord like a fish in an octopus' grasp.

Saunders walked around injured for a week or more with the pain persisting. An MRI revealed she had fractured her leg.

She now has the cordless phone.

New president at Vengroff Williams great with names

Sarasota-based Vengroff Williams & Co. has a new Sarasota president. Joe Simonetta, 60, an architect, former tennis pro at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, a one-time candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania and holder of a master's of divinity from Harvard, became president of VWA's Sarasota operations in late January, two weeks after he wrote a 50-page analysis of the company's internal operations.

Founder Harvey Vengroff and Chief Executive Officer Bob Williams liked the report and its conclusions so much they asked Simonetta to take the top job in Sarasota. What did Simonetta say that was so compelling? "I recommended they needed a COO. Bob is overextended," Simonetta says.

Williams has been spending three weeks a month in Europe overseeing the company's expansion, while still trying to oversee the company's half-dozen offices around the United States. "I said someone needed to be hands-on for the 150 people here," Simonetta says.

After Simonetta presented his recommendations to Vengroff and Williams in Williams' office, Vengroff turned to Williams and said, "What about Joe?" Williams agreed.

To make an impression on the 200 VWA associates at his introduction, Simonetta asked all of the company's employees present to raise their hands. He said they could put their hands down as he called their names. Vengroff says Simonetta, who had been with the company less than a month, remembered every person's name.

Says Simonetta: "That got their attention."

Another comeback for Anthony?

Veteran Manatee County banker Gerald L. Anthony received 10 weeks of severance pay when he quit Coast Financial Holdings Inc. Feb. 17. But Anthony received something in return for his resignation as president and chief executive of Coast Bank's parent that he probably considers more valuable at this stage of his career.

Coast Chairman James K. Toomey and the rest of the holding company's board of directors agreed to cancel a clause in the 61-year-old Anthony's employment contract that prohibited him from competing in Manatee against Coast for one year after a separation.

The $125,000-a-year contract was set to expire at the end of March.

The non-compete waiver could be significant. Anthony has expressed a desire to stay in banking and in the Bradenton area. Anthony didn't return a telephone call to his home before Coffee Talk's deadline.

Another sports team looking for public handouts

Even though five years remain on the lease between the city of Sarasota and the Cincinnati Reds at Ed Smith Stadium, the two parties have begun talks about seeking public funds to renovate the aging ball park.

Like all pro teams, the Reds want taxpayers to help pay. In exchange, the city wants the Reds to sign a long-term lease. Now it's up to the Legislature, which last year contributed an average of $13.5 million each in matching funds to five stadium projects around the state.

Sarasota City Manager Mike McNees says the city would likely ask the Reds to pay for 18% to 25% of the total renovation project, leaving taxpayers' portion in the $6 million to $10 million range.

"I really look at this as an investment," McNees says. "The money that is being talked about is derived from sales tax revenues, which would be directly impacted. We have also told the Reds that we are not going to spend public money on bells and whistles. We want to deal only with their business critical needs. The Reds have made it clear to us that they plan to sign a longer lease if this goes through. I would like to emphasize that there is a legitimate economic development impact here. This is about keeping jobs in Sarasota. With all of the talk of arenas and teams, we want to make sure we are not losing one that we already have."

A subsidy is a subsidy no matter how you couch it.

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