Hinton Farms Produce, run by husband and wife team Cammy and Wylie Hinton, will be distributing two new varieties of strawberries this season. The Earlibrite and Festival berries won't look or taste any different from others, but they're a step forward for growers in the state's $150-million strawberry industry.
In the past, berry growers paid an average $250,000 a year in royalties to California for the use of California plant varieties. The two new varieties were developed from research at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).
The growers still have to pay royalties, but the money stays in state, helping to fund further IFAS research. In the past two years, royalties from four new varieties have provided some $200,000 for IFAS. The Hintons say the help from IFAS is indispensable to the small growers, who dominate the strawberry industry, 90% of which is concentrated in Hillsborough County in the Plant City area. "Nobody in the industry has the money to go out and do their own research," says Cammy Hinton. "We count very much" on UF, she says.
Now, the university hopes to strengthen its ties to the state's agricultural community with new degree programs in west-central Florida. One in the works would be operated in conjunction with Hillsborough Community College at Plant City and IFAS centers in Apopka and Immokalee.
About 2,000 students attend classes at the Plant City campus, but only 100 are enrolled in agricultural studies. While enrollment in agricultural studies has doubled over the last 10 years, most UF graduates are not going into traditional agricultural production. The relatively newer fields of food science and nutrition, food resource economics and agribusiness are attracting students both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The proposed program would offer bachelor's degrees in fields such as agriculture, agribusiness, agri-economics and natural resource management, where students will learn about disease management, food resource economics, dietetics, food safety, packaging and marketing.
University officials say the proposed program will serve the changing agricultural and natural sciences needs along the I-4 and I-75 corridors.
Ultimately, the school hopes to build a brain trust of expertise in fields that will both maintain and strengthen Florida agriculture, one of the state's three biggest industrial sectors. "East Hillsborough County is a major agricultural area," says Felix Haynes, president of HCC at Plant City, who will oversee the new program if the Legislature approves the $2.4 million in funding the school is seeking. "The need is there for more programs."
In the News
Bonita Springs -- Connecticut-based FlexiInternational Software will locate its newest subsidiary, Flexi Financial Management Services, in Lee County. FlexiFMS offers an extension of its parent company's software product line geared toward back-office accounting processes.
Brandon-- Mercantile Bank opened its 15th branch office in the Tampa Bay area in Brandon. The branch is operating out of temporary facilities but plans to move into Provident Bank of Florida's Brandon facility, which it is purchasing, by May. The community bank, a subsidiary of St. Petersburg-based Gulf West Banks, caters primarily to small businesses.
Dunedin-- Nielsen Media Research, the U.S. TV ratings company, is being reunited with its parent company, ACNielsen Corp. Dutch publisher VNU NV, which purchased Nielsen Media Research in 1999, is buying Stamford, Conn.-based ACNielsen Corp. for $2.3 billion. The acquisition makes VNU one of the largest marketing information companies worldwide, with annual sales of $2.6 billion.
Manatee-- Thousands of large, blue and white buttons reading "Have We Got Jobs For You!" have been distributed as part of Manatee Economic Development Council's campaign to help companies attract employees. The council is also trying to draw attention to its new Job Focus website, www.jobfocus.com.
The Manatee County Commission gave IMC Phosphate the green light to extend its phosphate mining operations at Four Corners Mine to an additional 2,508 acres formerly zoned for agricultural use. The commissioners also passed a separate resolution asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the regional impact of phosphate mining in southwest Florida -- a move advocated by neighboring Sarasota and Collier counties.
Naples-- Five gulf-front resorts, under the mantle of the Naples Visitors' Bureau, a private tourist development organization, recently pledged $100,000 to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary's newest addition: The Blair Audubon Center, the first in a new generation of education centers by the National Audubon Society. The center's programs focus on the Everglades' ecosystem and attempt to create a culture of conservation through innovative exhibits and interactive productions.
Sarasota -- Andersen Worldwide's VantageSource moved its Chicago operations to a new, 30,000-sq.-ft. facility at the Sarasota Bradenton Commerce Center. The company distributes Arthur Andersen's software and knowledge products and resells computer hardware and software products to Andersen clients. The new distribution center will handle all of Arthur Andersen's product and distribution needs. It employs 15.
Tampa -- Boston-based John Hancock Financial Services will bring 200 high-paying tech jobs to Tampa when it opens its new information technology facility at the netp@rk complex next month. Salaries will range from $50,000 to $75,000, double the average wage in Hillsborough County. Hancock already owns the netp@rk building it will occupy.
Local dot.com company CommerceQuest laid off 14% of its workforce worldwide by the end of last year and restructured its operations to focus on Fortune 2000 clients, where most of its business came from last year. The company provides e-commerce solutions that integrate business processes and applications. Recent clients include Securities Industry Automation Corp., Bethlehem Steel and British brokerage Gartmore Investments. CommerceQuest has offices in South Africa, Australia and Europe as well as Tampa.
In a first for Florida-based law firms, Carlton Fields has opened an office in Silicon Valley. The five-attorney San Jose, Calif., office will handle the firm's growing high-tech, e-commerce and internet practice.
PricewaterhouseCoopers and VentureOne Corp. will begin teaming up to produce a quarterly survey of venture capital data, replacing their two separate surveys. The new survey will be posted on the websites of both firms: www.pwcmoneytree.com and www.ventureone.com.
Enporion Inc., which will help utilities do business on the internet, plans to set up its headquarters at Harbour Island. The company, a partnership of seven utilities, hopes to bring 120 jobs within two years at an average salary of $60,000, twice Hillsborough County's average. The company will be looking for programmers, marketing experts and financial executives.
Sykes Enterprises: Call Center Closes
TAMPA -- Sykes Enterprises is closing its lone call center in the Tampa Bay area, eliminating 46 jobs. The call center was the smallest of Sykes' 39 worldwide. The technical support company has been under increasing pressure from Wall Street to boost its lackluster performance.
Company founder and local philanthropist John Sykes has been a prominent player in the Tampa business community but recently scaled back some of his commitments to focus more attention on the company. In December, he stepped down as chairman of Florida 2012, Tampa's regional bid to become the U.S. host city for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The group submitted its bid to the U.S. Olympic Committee in December. The USOC will choose its candidate in fall 2002, and the International Olympic Committee will announce the final winner in 2005.
Meanwhile, Sykes will have more time to try to drive up the company's stock price.