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Business Observer Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Utilities lower costsTwo Gulf Coast utilities lowered their fuel cost estimates and, as a result, readjusted their projected 2009 prices for electricity.Veto power toutedBackers of an elected Hillsborough County mayor failed to get the measure on the November ballot. But they did succeed in getting something related to it before voters.Getting energy from wasteIn what may be a first on the Gulf Coast and for Florida, Tampa is meeting with seven companies who may build a waste-to-energy plant for the city.Tourism taxes riseOne bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economic setting in Manatee County continues to be tourism.Red Sox talks ... continueSarasota County and the City of Sarasota sent out a press release Tuesday morning announcing they had ended negotiations with the Boston Red Sox to lure the team's spring training complex to Sarasota. Naples gets big conferenceThe 2009 Florida Venture Capital Conference will be held in Naples from Feb. 3-4. Collier tourism increasesThe number of Collier County tourists increased 2.1% in August, according to Research Data Services, a Tampa-based research firm reported for the Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.Hodges University growsHodges University, a private Naples-based university, reported its enrollment surge 13% to 2,163 students, the first time the school has exceeded 2,000 students.

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Utilities lower costs

Two Gulf Coast utilities lowered their fuel cost estimates and, as a result, readjusted their projected 2009 prices for electricity.

Declines in oil and natural gas prices prompted Tampa Electric Co. and Progress Energy to make the adjustments.

Under the revised price increases, customers of Tampa Electric using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month would pay 12% more a month. The original plan called for a 22% hike. Tampa Electric also said it wanted a 9% increase in its base electric rate.

Under Progress Energy's revised plan, residents will pay 4.9% less than under its original proposal.

The Florida Public Service Commission will rule on the price changes in November.

Veto power touted

Backers of an elected Hillsborough County mayor failed to get the measure on the November ballot. But they did succeed in getting something related to it before voters.

Appearing on the ballot will be a referendum asking voters whether they support a veto power for the elected mayor position. Supporters plan to use the vote as a litmus test for the public's support for the county mayor idea.

A company doing business with Hillsborough would likely deal with the county mayor rather than the seven-member county commission.

Getting energy from waste

In what may be a first on the Gulf Coast and for Florida, Tampa is meeting with seven companies who may build a waste-to-energy plant for the city.

The companies responded after Tampa solicited information on production of ethanol from waste. Here are two examples:

• The University of Florida is working with Florida Crystals, a South Florida sugar producer, to open an ethanol production research facility next year using the material left over after sugar cane is processed.

• Tampa collects about 15,000 tons of yard waste each year and expects that to increase to 21,000 tons the next three years as it begins to collect in more areas. It also collects about 4,500 tons of newspapers, all of which could be turned to energy.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Tourism taxes rise

One bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economic setting in Manatee County continues to be tourism.

The county recently reported that August was one of its best months ever in terms of total tourist tax collections. The tax is a four-cent levy on every dollar spent by overnight visitors, including hotels, short-term condo and rental home stays.

The August 2008 total tourism tax revenue was just over $268,000, good enough to beat August 2007 by about $2,000. And the 12-month line tracks well, too: The county's tourism tax revenue rose about $30,000 from the 2007 fiscal year to the 2008 fiscal year, from about $5.016 million to about $5.045 million.

Red Sox talks ... continue

Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota sent out a press release Tuesday morning announcing they had ended negotiations with the Boston Red Sox to lure the team's spring training complex to Sarasota.

Not so fast, said the County Commission and voted 4-1 to continue negotiations. Apparently, commissioners were not informed of the decision.

The down economy and credit troubles have limited funding for any potential deal. And the county has already bought 1.2 acres near Payne Park for $4.8 million for a new stadium.

LEE/COLLIER

Naples gets big conference

The 2009 Florida Venture Capital Conference will be held in Naples from Feb. 3-4. The event will showcase 20 to 25 later-stage, high-growth private Florida companies before a national audience of venture capitalists, private equity investors and investment bankers.

The presenters of the last 17 conferences have raised $1.6 billion to date. About 1,200 people attended the 2008 conference, representing 200 venture-capital funds from the U.S., Europe and South America.

To apply to present at the conference or to attend, visit the Web site of the Florida Venture Forum at www.flvencap.org.

Collier tourism increases

The number of Collier County tourists increased 2.1% in August, according to Research Data Services, a Tampa-based research firm reported for the Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The increase included a 36% jump in European visitors and a 28% increase in Canadian tourists in August. By contrast, there wre domestic declines from every region of the country.

The increase in European and Canadian visitors helped boost tourism-related spending in August by 7.1% to $37.8 million, according to the research firm. For the year to date ending in August, visitation to Collier County is up 3% over the same period last year.

Hodges University grows

Hodges University, a private Naples-based university, reported its enrollment surge 13% to 2,163 students, the first time the school has exceeded 2,000 students.

The enrollment figure includes students attending classes at the university's six learning sites and its main campuses in Naples and Fort Myers. It also teaches students via the Internet. Of the total student population, 47% are minority students - 30% of those are Hispanic.

"Competition for good jobs has become increasingly fierce, and for the non-English-speaking resident of our area, it has become a necessity to learn the language," says Terry McMahan, president of the university.

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