October 30, 2014

Around the State

| 8/1/1997
Bradenton

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A $445,000 state Economic Development Road Fund Grant will enable SecurityLink, a unit of Chicago-based communications-services provider Ameritech, to pursue plans for a $17 million center in Manatee County. SecurityLink, which provides alarm systems and security monitoring, plans to build a 100,000-square-foot, two-story monitoring facility that will open in February 1998. It expects to employ 500 by the end of 1998 and hire another 500 by 2002.

Charolotte County

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Punta Gorda is the best place to live in Florida and the sixth-best place in the U.S., according to Money magazine's 1997 survey of the 300 largest metro areas. Twenty Florida communities made the list, including four others in the southwest: Sarasota/Bradenton, 21; Naples, 30; Tampa/St. Petersburg, 31; and Fort Myers/Cape Coral, 35. Other Florida cities breaking the top ten: Jacksonville, 9, and Fort Walton Beach, 10.

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Clearwater

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Checkers (Nasdaq-CHKR) and Louisville-based Rally's Hamburgers called off their $113.5 million merger agreement, citing "accounting problems." The merger would have enabled the two failing chains to cut costs and expand their marketing efforts. Over the last three years, Checkers has lost more than $86 million and Rally's has lost about $66 million.

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Collier County

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Vice President Al Gore came to the Everglades to announce that the federal government will pay $50 million to buy 31,000 acres of private land, including the failed South Golden Gate Estates development [FT, December 1996] east of Naples. The land will also include Fakahatchee Strand and Belle Meade.

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Largo

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Sun Jet International filed for bankruptcy, laid off most of its 145 employees and stopped all flights. According to the St. Petersburg Times, the four-jet operation, with rising debt and two planes out of operation, could no longer compete with larger lines. The company began struggling after the 1996 ValuJet crash, which shook public confidence in smaller carriers.

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Riscorp Collapse

The Losers...

... will be Riscorp shareholders if the proposed sale of Riscorp's insurance operations goes through. Zenith National Insurance Corp. of Woodland Hills, Calif., agreed with the Sarasota-based company, Florida's second largest writer of workers' compensation insurance, to purchase Riscorp's operating assets for at least $35 million in cash and $15 million in assumed debt. But Zenith will not be purchasing Riscorp stock, so shareholders will soon own a shell company with legal problems and stock that is almost worthless. Shareholders are pursuing a class-action lawsuit that claims Riscorp misrepresented financial results to boost the value of its stock shortly after going public. Separately, policyholders of an insurance company purchased by Riscorp in 1995 are suing, alleging they were not properly informed or compensated. Also a grand jury is investigating political contributions by company execs. The future looked bright when Riscorp went public in February 1996 and sold 10 million shares at $19. In May 1996, stock traded at $24, and numbers for the first six months of 1996 - income nearly $9 million on more than $100 million in revenues - portrayed a healthy company. But in November, amid legal problems and disappointing third quarter earnings, Riscorp shares fell below $5 and management proposed selling the company. On news of Zenith's offer to buy Riscorp's insurance business, shares sold for 63 cents. The sale could close in the fourth quarter, and Zenith will expand its base in Florida and gain a presence in Alabama and North Carolina. Zenith plans to maintain operations in Sarasota, where Riscorp employs 450.

-Tim Meyer

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Tampa

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Telecommunications company Intermedia Communications (Nasdaq-ICIX) agreed to purchase Internet service provider Digex of Washington, D.C., for about $150 million. Digex, a national Internet carrier focusing on business clients, employs 450 and will provide Intermedia with high-quality employees and an established customer base. The combined company will have more than 18,000 customers and employ more than 1,500.

Davel Communications (Nasdaq-DAVL) acquired the assets of Quarter Call of Washington, D.C., for about $2.1 million and will receive location agreements, parts and inventory on about 1,000 pay phones. Davel, one of the largest independent providers of pay phone service in the country, operates 18,000 phones in 28 states.

Buena Vista Hospitality Group plans to build the west coast's largest convention hotel - a $100 million-plus, 800-room facility at Busch Gardens. The hotel will feature 90,000 square feet of convention and meeting space, twice as much as any other resort in the Tampa Bay area and will overlook Busch Gardens' Serengeti Plain where 3,000 animals roam.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Southwest, Business Florida

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