A company trying to detect citrus canker from the sky using military technology is left high and dry.
by Mike Vogel
Walk with a citrus canker inspection team through a south Florida neighborhood and discover the meaning of plodding. Teams knock on door after door before studying trees for telltale signs of the fruit-peel blemish that's the bane of the state's $8.5-billion citrus industry. The tree-to-tree search-and-destroy mission hasn't endeared the program to homeowners and has proved costly for the state ("The Grapefruits of Wrath," February 2001, www.FloridaTrend.com). A team can take a week to search one square mile.
Executives of the Melbourne-based Galileo Group thought they were on to something in 1999 when they proposed detecting canker from the air -- using a technology called hyperspectral imaging. Galileo, a 3-year-old company supported by Boca Raton high-tech incubator Cenetec, developed its technology for defense work like spotting camouflaged tanks. It's now trying to commercialize it for uses such as detecting skin cancer earlier or for passive drug screening.
Chief Executive Michael Barnes, a physicist who formerly worked with the CIA, reasoned the technology would allow the state to find infected trees sooner, not only eliminating the need for battalions of inspectors but also enabling the state to destroy sick trees before they infected others. That could reduce the rate of clear-cutting, which infuriates south Florida homeowners.
Galileo worked with Ensco, another military contractor with a Melbourne office, and with canker program Deputy Director Jack Neitzke to survey by air an infected citrus grove. They looked for a unique "signature" that would show up on enhanced aerial images just as a thunderstorm shows up red on the evening news radar. Findings were presented to the state citrus canker task force in July 1999 -- half a year before the state adopted its
major cutting campaign.
Barnes says the results had promise. But neither the industry nor the state wanted to fund further tests. Tim Schubert of the state's Division of Plant Industry says the technology wasn't good enough. He says the parties involved also began to fight over who owned the rights to the technology, and that made U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Tim Gottwald, the program's central scientific authority, skittish.
As it turns out, Gottwald and another key canker scientist, Jim Graham of the University of Florida's Citrus Research and Education Center, now have their own detection proposal. (Gottwald didn't respond to a request for comment, and Graham declined an
Galileo and Ensco seem on amicable terms now. Representatives of both say they abandoned the research because the state and citrus industry wouldn't fund it. Barnes says Galileo needs "in the low six figures" to validate the concept and is willing to donate its research but needs money to complete it.
Neitzke, the canker program deputy director, was disappointed that he couldn't persuade program officials to continue the research. "I'd like to put it to bed: Does it work or doesn't it?" Neitzke says. If the technology proves out, "it would save a hell of a lot of labor."
In the News
Boca Raton -- Computer training company PC Professor Computer Training Workshops plans to expand its Boca Raton headquarters by 3,000 square feet and add 12 employees
Florida Atlantic University has named seven professors to its new Internet Coast Institute, a certificate program and research center established last year by FAU alumni and internet technology entrepreneur Scott Adams. Professors Gopalkrishnan Iyer, William Hopwood, Qing Hu, Mark Peterson, Pradeep Korgaonkar, Marilyn Wiley and Ky Tuhn will serve for three years developing academic programs focusing on internet business development.
The Boca Raton News laid off 18 employees, including six from its newsroom. The newspaper's daily circulation has fallen to just over 14,000. It now has 85 employees
Boynton Beach -- Electronic component distributor United Technology Corp. of America has added about 12,000 square feet to its West Palm Beach facility and plans to create 60 jobs this year.
Fort Lauderdale -- Hvide Marine has changed its name to Seabulk International. The Fort Lauderdale company's stock now trades on Nasdaq under its new name and ticker symbol, SBLK.
The Florida Department of Education has opened a south Florida office at the downtown campus of Florida Atlantic University. The regional office is the department's second -- a branch at the University of South Florida was opened in January. Education Commissioner Charlie Crist wants to make the department more accessible to teachers, students and parents who can't make the trip to Tallahassee.
Flower retailer Gerald Stevens has agreed to sell its catalog and wire service business to the president of its order-generating unit, Andrew W. Williams, for $20 million, which will be used to pay off debt.
Juno Beach -- The $8-billion merger between Juno Beach-based FPL Group (NYSE-FPL) and Entergy Corp. fell through last month. It is the second failed merger effort for FPL, which previously attempted to join up with Spain's Iberdola.
Loxahatchee -- California juice producer Odwalla plans to build a 35,000-sq.-ft. processing plant in partnership with Callery-Judge Groves. The facility is expected to employ 100.
Plantation -- Boca Raton medical real estate company The Greenfield Group has broken ground on a 48,500-sq.-ft. medical office building on the campus of the Westside Regional Medical Center. The eight-story building is scheduled to open in September.
Pompano Beach -- Henderson Investors North America has sold The Pointe at Crystal Lake, a 292-apartment complex in Pompano Beach, to The RREEF Funds, a pension fund adviser, for $18.8 million.
A business park catering to construction businesses is being built in Pompano Beach. The park features 78 industrial units that will be sold from $99,600 to $398,000. The design allows construction-related companies to network with each other. Amenities such as a fueling island and a vehicle maintenance area are included. The park will also house companies that service the construction industry such as a building permit and lien provider. Developer Craig Govan is teaming up with Deerfield Beach-based Taurus Investment Group on the project.
Riviera Beach -- Hurricane shutter manufacturer Eastern Metal Supply has moved to a 112,000-sq.-ft. warehouse as part of an expansion that will include about 50 new jobs.
Royal Palm Beach -- Anthony Groves, a 235-acre citrus grove owned by Marvin and Craig Anthony, has been sold to Broward County home builder Transeastern for $9.8 million. Transeastern plans to build 1,175 homes and apartments on the property.
Sunrise -- Pediatrix Medical Group (NYSE-PDX) is buying rival Magella Healthcare Corp. of Dallas for $182 million. The merger, which requires shareholder approval, would create a $322-million business employing more than 550 neonatologists and perinatologists.
West Palm Beach -- Anthony Visone has been named president and chief executive officer of the SEI Restaurant Group, which owns and operates Max's Beach Place in Fort Lauderdale, Max's Grille at Las Olas Riverfront, Max's Grille in Weston and Sforza Ristorante and My Martini Grille in West Palm Beach.
Hard times at Yupi reveal hazards of the Latin American internet gold rush.
by David Villano
No company symbolized the high-flying Latin internet industry better than Miami Beach-based Yupi Internet. The Spanish-language portal launched its service in 1996, later raising more than $100 million in private funds from such investors as Sony Corp. of America, cable giant Comcast and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Much of the startup capital was used on a flashy branding campaign: The company's logo appeared on billboards across south Florida, and TV ads flooded the airwaves.
But like many in the internet economy, Yupi has been forced to rethink its business plan. A year ago, the company postponed its IPO when tech stocks first fell from favor on Wall Street. In December, just days before Christmas, Yupi shocked its staff by handing pink slips to 160 of its 270 employees. Two months later, it formally withdrew its IPO registration.
Yupi is not the only Latin internet company struggling to find its feet. The New York-based portal StarMedia Network has cut 25% of its staff in recent months. Its stock fell from a high of $62 to around $2. Two other Miami-based Latin internet sites, eritmo.com and DeRemate.com, also have laid off employees. And in February, a major conference to promote e-commerce in Latin America was canceled because of a lack of interest from both entrepreneurs and investors.
Analysts say many of the dot-coms and portals stumbled by rushing into a market still in its infancy. Latin America's telecommunications infrastructure lags far behind U.S. standards. As a result, just 2% of homes in the region now have internet access. That figure should jump to 30% by 2006, but with internet companies finding it more difficult than expected to generate revenues, only the companies with the deepest pockets are expected to survive that long. "This was an example of the cart coming before the horse," says David Joyce, media analyst for Guzman & Co., a Miami-based investment bank.
Yupi had the misfortune of coming in on the tail end of the Latin internet frenzy. Without the $175 million it hoped to raise through an IPO, Joyce believes it may get squeezed out of a crowded field. Its competition is fierce and well-capitalized: America Online Latin America, Yahoo! Latin America and Terra Lycos.
Yupi also has been hurt by an industrywide drop in online advertising. At first almost solely reliant on ad revenues, the company has begun efforts to diversify its revenue stream. A year ago, it launched shopping, job search and women's sites as well as a business directory. Meanwhile, says company spokesperson Jennifer Pakradooni, the company is "exploring any and all opportunities" that can help keep it afloat. "At this point we're not ready to rule out anything," she says.
In the News
Miami -- Hoping to expand sales in Latin America, Ireland's Camron Syclane will open an office in southwest Miami. The company manufactures and distributes plastic book covers. As many as 30 jobs will be created.
Cristina Saralegui Enterprises, which produces the hugely popular Spanish-language talk show Cristina, as well as other programming, has a new home. The company's Blue Dolphin Studios, a state-of-the-art television and production studio in the Airport West area of Miami, is completed. The 50,000-sq.-ft., $5-million facility, built by Miami's Adler Group, includes three sound stages.
Ryder Systems (NYSE-R) will eliminate about 700 jobs worldwide, including as many as 125 at its Miami headquarters. The cuts represent about 2% of Ryder's total workforce of 30,000. Ryder CEO Gregory Swienton has been under pressure from shareholders to boost earnings. Speculation continues that the transportation and logistics provider may be sold or possibly split into two or more independent companies.
After insisting for months that he will not seek re-election, Miami Mayor Joe Carollo has reversed himself, declaring his candidacy in the November race. He faces at least seven challengers. Carollo is set to stand trial on a misdemeanor battery charge for allegedly hitting his wife in the face with a tea container. Carollo has said the allegations are false and insists they will not be a factor in the election.
Despite record airline travel in the U.S. in 2000, Miami International Airport reported its third consecutive year of declining passenger traffic. The 0.8% drop comes as Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport reported a gain of more than 13%. Travelers have cited congestion, poor service and higher ticket costs at Miami International.
New York-based HotJobs.com, an online employment matching company, will expand its Miami operations, creating at least 60 positions.
Brooklyn's MDEK will relocate to Miami, creating 73 jobs. MDEK designs and manufactures electronic components.
Robert Reynolds, of Miami-based Morris & Reynolds Insurance, has become the first Florida insurance agent honored as national Agent of the Year by the Certified Professional Insurance Agents Society
French advertising and communications giant Publicis Groupe bought a 49% stake in Miami-based Sanchez & Levitan, a Hispanic marketing company, for an undisclosed amount. The purchase creates a new agency, Publicis Sanchez & Levitan, which will employ more than 100. Aida Levitan will be chief executive.
Miami-Dade -- Despite objections from County Mayor Alex Penelas, the county commission approved Angela Gittens as director of Miami-Dade's Department of Aviation. Gittens formerly headed Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. Penelas insisted on a Miami-Dade insider for the post. Meanwhile, a proposal from a blue-ribbon panel of civic leaders calling for an independent aviation authority to oversee airport operations appears dead. At least three proposals have been presented to commissioners, but none has received enough support to be put to vote.
After considering sites in Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., Miami-based IDS Telecom decided to expand in Miami-Dade. The $4.5-million expansion is expected to create 150 jobs over the next three years. IDS Telecom provides long-distance and other data transfer services.
The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's public/private economic development agency, is planning a three-year worldwide marketing and public relations campaign designed to educate corporate leaders about the benefits of doing business in Miami. The private sector will contribute about one-third of the campaign's $3-million annual cost.
The county commission will allow voters to decide on a proposed bond issue that could raise as much as $1.5 billion for a long list of improvements, including upgrades to seaport facilities, parks and jails. The referendum could be held as early as this fall.
Parrot Jungle and Gardens has been cleared to move to Watson Island, a public park between South Beach and downtown Miami, in 2003. The tropical bird aviary and reptile attraction, now located in Pinecrest, has already broken ground.
Stadium site: Along Miami River
MIAMI -- The Miami City Commission has selected a 20-acre site along the Miami River in downtown Miami for a Florida Marlins baseball stadium.
The selection was hailed as a victory for civic activists, who opposed the Marlins' preferred site in Bicentennial Park. City, county and state officials will now discuss funding options for the $385-million, publicly financed stadium.