New-economy companies are snubbing invitations to join southwest Florida Chambers.
A recent audit by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce found that the city's emerging new-economy base offers a healthy, and largely untapped, pool of potential members. The Chamber responded by creating a "new-economy task force'' to recruit young, growing companies -- many in fields such as information technology, software development and internet B2B.
Recruiting those firms, however, is more challenging than just reaching out. Many emerging companies feel the traditional local business network simply doesn't serve their needs. "The Chamber is a little broad for our efforts," says Mary Cassaday Jones, spokeswoman for Tampa-based CommerceQuest -- exactly the kind of dot-com company the local Chamber would like to recruit.
At this phase of their business development, new-economy firms, especially dot-coms, often don't need what local Chambers have to offer: Local connections, discounts on products and services, and networking.
They do, however, need the lobbying powers provided by Chambers at the regional and state level. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, for example, has had more success attracting members from the new-economy sector.
Local Chamber officials say they don't feel they're in competition with the state Chamber, explaining that membership in the statewide group over time actually may help push local firms back to the local organization. The state group, they explain, is one of the first state Chambers to have a formal connection with those on the local level; in addition, the Florida Chamber's online job posting services may prove useful to the new-economy companies as they expand and hire locally.
St. Petersburg Chamber President Russ Sloan sees workforce development as a key issue that will drive new-economy firms to local Chambers: Hiring
local support staffs, planning local expansions, having greater community involvement. Sloan is optimistic that local Chambers will overcome companies' reluctance to join over the next decade, as the new-economy companies gain the time and resources to think beyond establishing their business. "There will come a day when they need the Chamber," he predicts.
In the News
La Belle -- Agribusiness company Alico (Nasdaq-ALCO), which owns 141,500 acres in Florida, is selling 1,375 acres in Hendry County for $1.6 million.
Largo -- The bay area's only locally owned airline, Southeast Airlines, canceled its low-fare Atlanta service out of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport early this year, leaving it with only three flights -- all from St. Petersburg to Charlotte, N.C.
Manatee County -- Veterinary equipment manufacturer PetLift Corp., based in Brooklyn, N.Y., is moving into a newly built 12,000-sq.-ft. facility at the Solomon Industrial Park. The company will hire 15 to 20 people.
Naples -- Gulf Coast American Blinds added 20 employees to its 152-employee workforce after receiving a $3.3-million grant from the Collier County Industrial Development Authority. The IDA assists companies with financing expansions.
Watermark Communities Inc. plans to add more than $1 billion worth of luxury condominiums to Florida's residential landscape in 2001. The company plans 11 new residential towers for exclusive communities in Sarasota, Naples, Bonita Springs and Marco Island and others on the east coast, including West Palm Beach, Williams Island, Coral Gables and Jupiter.
A judge has frozen the assets of AiO Technologies and Southwest Financial Planning Group. The companies and their principals -- Michael J. Kehl at AiO and Craig Goodie at Southwest Financial -- are accused of selling $4.6-million in unregistered securities.
Polk County -- Polk County's Workforce Development Board, called Workforce 2020, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to give a presentation about its workforce and education initiatives. Among them, a proposed exchange program between Polk County Community College and the University of Tabasco in Mexico. Workforce 2020 is applying for a Florida grant to help establish cultural, educational and business ties between the two schools.
St. Petersburg -- Jabil Circuit has taken a big step into one of the hottest growth areas in telecommunications: Optics. The circuit board maker has created a new division, Jabil Technology Services, to help customers design and develop high-tech products. An optics lab is part of the new division. Work there will focus on optical product development and optical manufacturing technology.
Tampa -- Catalog retailer Fingerhut is closing its call and collection centers here, leaving 950 out of work. FACS Group, a financial administration and credit services firm based in Clearwater and owned by the same parent as Fingerhut, will hire up to 100 of the Fingerhut employees.
Morin Development Group is buying Walter Industries' signature headquarters property on Dale Mabry Highway for $16 million. Ongoing streamlining at the troubled company had left nearly half of the building vacant for the past 10 years. Walter Industries, the parent company of Jim Walter Homes, is looking for a new site in Tampa.
The City of Tampa has launched a website, www.TampaGov.com, to include government information as well as e-commerce for businesses and individuals. First online: Public safety-related services. Tampa residents will be able to request police documents such as crime and accident reports. Online business licensing, utility payment processing, permitting and parking administration will be phased in.
High-tech startup Jim Walter Technologies is developing software and hardware infrastructure to enable television viewers to use their digital cable systems to do what they now can through the internet. Called Vistela, it will enable viewers to make purchases, request information and take education programs using their existing TV remote and cable set-top box. It's expected to be test-marketed by mid-year.
Z-Tel Technologies plans to cut 400 jobs -- as many as 120 in Tampa -- and slash its marketing budget. The company, which offers local telephone service in 17 states, says it has as many as 25,000 accounts with overdue bills. The company has been plagued with complaints about service and billing. After the cuts, the company will have about 1,700 employees.