Heinrich has more company than she may think. In 2001, according to a study by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, there were 4.1 million wildlife watchers in Florida, that is people who feed, observe or photograph animals and fish. About three-quarters of them were birdwatchers. The study says birders in the state outnumber fishermen and hunters, who numbered 3.1 million and 226,000, respectively, and now account for a multimillion-dollar economic impact.
Why the zest for birding? "You put me anywhere in the country, and I'll find a bird," says Peter Stangel, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's southeast regional director, who has been an avid birdwatcher since age 5. "It's inexpensive to get started, and birds are intriguing."
There are more than 470 species of birds in Florida, the second most popular destination for birders behind California. And in the winter, more than 60 species take a breather in southwest Florida before continuing south. Between Hernando and Sarasota counties, there are about 55 recreation areas designated by the Pinellas County Environmental Foundation as official birding sites.
About 3,000 birders will visit those sites when they descend on Eckerd College Sept. 26-29 for the Florida Birding Festival & Nature Expo. And about 1,000 will come from out of state, pumping close to $600,000 into the local economy, according to the St. Petersburg/ Clearwater Area Visitors and Convention Bureau.
The impact of birders in southwest Florida will likely increase this fall, when the area becomes part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. When it's complete in 2006, with road signs on major highways
directing people to parks designated as official birding sites, the highway trail will run 2,000 miles, from the Panhandle to south Florida. The east coast section, open since last November, has attracted birders from 45 states and six countries, Heinrich says.
Stangel likes to point out that twice as many vacationers said they birdwatched as golfed when polled by Fortune magazine in 1990. "We've gone from the image of a little old lady in tennis shoes to, well, anyone," he says.
IN THE NEWS ...
Clearwater -- The city has awarded 801 Celery Inc. a $160,000 brownfields loan, the first Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan made in the region. With $500,000 in grant money from the Environmental Protection Agency, the city plans to make more low-interest loans available to businesses willing to move to its 1,800 acres of brownfields sites.
Fort Myers -- Fort Myers-based TKW Consulting Engineers has acquired Duane Hall Engineering, which has specialized in civil/transportation engineering for more than 30 years in southwest Florida. Employees of Duane Hall Engineering will now work out of TKW's offices.
Lee County -- The Lee County Port Authority has proposed raising its operating budget for the 2002-03 fiscal year to $53.7 million, up 3% from last year. The authority says the increase is necessary because of federal mandates requiring four new security workers at the Southwest Florida International Airport and Page Field General Aviation Airport. The authority also cited rising insurance costs. Lee County Board of Port Commissioners will decide this fall.
St. Petersburg -- Southeast Airlines, which flies from the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, is expanding service to Allentown, Pa. Fares start at $59 each way. The airline, based in Largo, also flies to Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss.; Newark, N.J.; and Fort Lauderdale.
Payment Systems for Credit Unions, a provider of financial and electronic services to credit unions, has changed its name to PSCU Financial Services.
St. Petersburg-based Republic Bancshares (Nasdaq-REPB) has sold Cypress Woods Golf & Country Club in Naples to U.S. Home Corp., a unit of Miami-based Lennar, for about $14.5 million. The bank acquired the golf course after the course's owners, who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, defaulted on a loan. Republic was owed more than $13 million. The bank says the bad loan accounted for 22% of its non-performing assets.
Tampa -- ARAG Group, a legal advisory administrator based in Des Moines, Iowa, acquired Tampa-based LegalWise North America, a legal insurance provider. Details of the acquisition were not disclosed.
The Tampa Bay region outperformed 35 other metro areas in economic development, according to Southern Business & Development magazine, naming the area the 2002 Mega-Market of the Southeast. Tampa Bay beat out Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth and northern Virginia/Washington, D.C., with more economic development deals resulting in 200 or more new jobs or an investment of $30 million or more.
Tampa Bay -- After 30 some years of negotiations, the Builders Association of Greater Tampa Bay and the Contractors and Builders Association of Pinellas County have agreed to merge, forming the Tampa Bay Builders Association. The two associations will set up shop in Tampa in November.
Treasure Island -- Sloppy Joe's restaurant and bar in Key West, once a favorite hangout of Ernest Hemingway, is expanding to Treasure Island and will be connected to the Bilmar Beach Resort. The 300-seat bar and restaurant will have an outside deck overlooking the Gulf and is scheduled to open in October.
Wimauma -- Sanwa Growers, a distributor of Asian and Hispanic specialty foods, has expanded to the Sanford State Farmers' Market, the oldest state-owned farmers market in the U.S. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will work with Sanwa to add a state-of-the-art distribution center at the market.
KANE'S SUES ATTORNEY GENERAL
PINELLAS PARK -- Kane's Furniture is suing the state Attorney General's Office after the office accused Kane's of making misrepresentations in ads, delivering incomplete orders, making credit errors, having a pattern of delivering defective furniture and providing inadequate customer service. The furniture chain says the Attorney General's Office overstepped its authority by ordering the furniture retailer to hire a customer service manager and to implement a system to track customer complaints, among other requests. Kane's faced similar allegations in the 1990s of misrepresenting sale prices in ads and of poor customer service and agreed to pay an $80,000 fine and promised to advertise legitimate sale prices.