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What You Need to Know About Florida Today

Will Short Gorham | 1/24/2011

What's New in 2011 Tax Law

Thanks to a little-known holiday in Washington, D.C., taxpayers will get an extra three days to file their 2010 federal tax returns this year.

But some taxpayers will not be able to file until Feb. 14. The IRS is reprogramming its processing systems after tax-law changes passed in December. Those who itemize deductions on Schedule A, claim the higher education tuition and fees deduction or the educator expense deduction will have to wait. Congress made last-minute changes to the 2010 tax law passed in December, and the Internal Revenue Service needed more time to re-program its processing systems. Most of Florida's 9 million taxpayers will not have to wait until mid-February to file, said Mike Dobzinski, IRS spokesman for the state. This year's tax season has other new wrinkles. [Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune]

Related:
» Tax Planning: Brass Tax


You May Not Know Acosta, But You See Its Work Every Day

It's one of Jacksonville's largest companies with $1 billion in annual sales and a payroll of about 17,000 people in the U.S. and Canada.

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You see the results of its work nearly every day, even if you don't realize it. And there's a good chance you've never even heard of this company. Or if you did hear its name, unless you happened to drive by its headquarters building along Interstate 95 in Jacksonville, you thought someone was talking about a local bridge. The company is Acosta Sales & Marketing, and its business is helping manufacturers get their products on store shelves and sold in grocery stores and other retailers. "I would call us an outsourced provider of sales and marketing services for the consumer packaged goods industry," Acosta President and CEO Robert Hill said. Acosta provides its services to more than 1,000 consumer packaged goods companies. Those companies rely on Acosta to get their products marketed in 130,000 retail stores and wholesalers in the U.S. and Canada. When you decide to buy a product in the supermarket, it may very well be because of what Acosta did to promote it and place it on the shelf. [Source: Florida Times-Union]


Even Habitat for Humanity Sometimes Has to Foreclose

Thousands of lenders are filing foreclosure lawsuits all over the country, but this one is a little bit different: Habitat for Humanity. The Habitat organization for East and Central Pasco had never filed a foreclosure lawsuit against a client, but this month filed two. "It hurts inside if you have to serve them with these types of papers," said president and chief executive John Finnerty. "We're in the business of putting people into houses, not taking them out." The Habitat organization in Hillsborough County filed three foreclosure lawsuits in July. The Pinellas organization filed one last month. The "great recession" is hurting homeowners all over the country, so perhaps it's not surprising that even people who receive Habitat's relatively low-cost houses would feel the pinch. But Habitat directors say there are several reasons for their foreclosure lawsuits, and some have nothing to do with the economy. They say they work hard to avoid foreclosures, and file them only as a last resort. "We don't want that on their credit report, they don't want it on their credit report," said Brian Hastings, interim executive director of Hillsborough's Habitat for Humanity. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]


Mr. Gehry's Opus: How New World Center Concert Hall Got Built

The story of how the world's most celebrated living architect came to design an ingenious new music-academy campus and concert hall in Miami Beach goes back almost 60 years, to a rather prosaic circumstance: Frank Gehry, then a young, unknown Los Angeles architect, baby-sat a precocious 8-year-old named Michael Thomas.

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A few years later, the piano prodigy would shoot to fame as an orchestral conductor under his full name, Michael Tilson Thomas. As so often happens with architects, it took Gehry longer, into his sixth decade, before he, too, gained world renown. Umpteen Grammys and architectural accolades later, their long friendship has been cemented in a new, high-tech musical home for the New World Symphony -- the Beach-based orchestra for young musicians that Tilson Thomas founded and leads -- quite unlike any other concert hall anywhere. As much Tilson Thomas' handiwork as Gehry's, the $160 million New World Center, which opens this week with a series of galas and concerts, bears their shared trademarks of edgy experimentation, intellectual rigor and artistic ambition tempered by unabashedly populist impulses. [Source: Miami Herald]

Related:
» Arts/Entertainment Newsmakers of the Year: New World Symphony


USF Study: Political Lobbying Boosts the Bottom Line

Businesses that engage in political activity see a boost to their bottom lines, says a study by a University of South Florida researcher. Seem obvious? Previous evidence has been inconclusive, prompting USF business professor Sean Lux and two University of Tennessee researchers to comb through earlier studies. Their work, published this month in the Journal of Management, demonstrates a clear tie between corporate political activity and improved performance. Such activity can range from directly giving funds to a candidate's campaign or hiring lobbyists to influence politicians. Think Disney winning a copyright law to lengthen its hold on Mickey Mouse or Lockheed Martin lobbying Congress to keep producing the F-22 Raptor. The researchers' interest was piqued a year ago by the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that Congress cannot regulate political speech. The decision loosened restraints on a company's ability to contribute money to support or attack politicians. That raised the stakes behind a key question: Do contributions work? Corporate performance suggests so. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]


ALSO AROUND FLORIDA:

› Column: Industry Clusters Could Raise the Bar on Tampa Bay Jobs
A dozen years ago I got a phone call from an ambitious fellow in California weighing a job offer at Clearwater's Tech Data Corp., a major technology distributor and a dynamic public corporation. Before committing, the caller thought it best to ask a business reporter how much bench strength Tampa Bay boasted in tech companies. Why? To be reassured, should he part ways with Tech Data, that other opportunities existed here that offered quality tech jobs and comparable pay. His concern then is even more critical now to this region. Talent is a lot easier to recruit from afar or train locally when there are concentrations of businesses — be they tech companies, financial institutions or health care organizations. They can support each other and, together, sustain a substantial pool of skilled workers with similar pay and career expectations.

› Alachua Considers Privatizing Veterans Services
To privatize or not to privatize: That is the question County Manager Randall Reid expects officials to grapple with more frequently in a time of budget crunches. Already, the county has contracted out mowing and functions such as the design of road projects. In other areas, privatization has included solid waste, jail operations, building permitting and inspections, and a myriad other government functions. Now, Alachua County is in the process of reviewing a proposal from the Disabled American Veterans to privatize the county's Office of Veterans Services. The state DAV headquarters is in Gainesville, and like the county office, the organization assists veterans and their dependents in applying for Veterans Affairs benefits. In a short written proposal to county government, the organization projected it could increase payments to the local veteran population at half of the county's current $217,000 budget for Veterans Services. DAV Executive Director Al Linden said the organization took over veterans services for Escambia County in 1991 and has held that contract since.

› Orlando 'Medical City' a Model of Lab's Potential
Southwest Florida needs look no further than Orlando for an example of what landing Jackson Laboratories' proposed personalized medicine institute could mean for the region's economy. Jackson Laboratory executives use the so-called Medical City at Lake Nona -- a sprawling biomedical hub minutes from Orlando International Airport and anchored by a branch of the California-based Sanford-Burnham Institute -- as the paragon for what their venture could become. On what was once scrubby cattle land in a relatively remote part of Orange County, Medical City already is home to the University of Central Florida School of Medicine and UCF's Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. In the works are the $400 million Nemours Children's Hospital and the $600 million Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Perhaps more important, Medical City has also attracted two commercial pharmaceutical ventures that have latched on to Sanford-Burnham, the operator of one of only four National Institute of Health-approved computer centers for screening small molecules -- a cutting-edge tool for identifying new potential medicines.
» Related: The Makings of a Medical City

› Holocaust Center Seeks Plan to Stay in Hollywood
Officials at The Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, at home in downtown Hollywood since 2007, want to strike a deal that could have the center operate virtually mortgage free. The 30-year nonprofit center’s permanent home, an art deco building at 2031 Harrison St., was purchased in August 2004 from the Hollywood Community Redevelopment Agency for $1.2 million payable over 15 years. In the past, it had been housed at Florida International University and other Miami-Dade locations. Now, after spending $3.5 million in renovations and repairs and facing $17,000 in mortgage payments per month, the center’s board is asking the CRA to retake ownership of the building then lease it back to the center for $1 a year for 99 years.

› Hillsborough Schools Chief Treads Carefully in National Spotlight
She led a superintendents' revolt against Tallahassee over questionable test scores, and spoke up for teachers in Washington amid anti-union talk. Last week she was back in Tampa, teaching school leaders from across the state how to surf the waves of education change. "We need to be adults," Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia said, urging them to resolve their differences. "That means working hand-in-hand with our teachers and teachers' unions to make this a productive reform effort in Florida." Lately it seems like Elia is everywhere — and arguably more in the national news than Florida's own education commissioner, with appearances on The Early Show on CBS and upper-crust media outlets like Newsweek and the Economist. Her name has been floated as a possible state or even national education leader. How has she done it? With a little sugar and a little salt. Call it forceful collaboration.

› Business Leaders Dig into Economic Gardening
Agriculture is not the only business where it's important to cultivate opportunities for growth. Business owners of all kinds can benefit from that perspective through the Florida Economic Gardening Institute at the University of Central Florida. Flagler County business leaders got a first-hand look at how the program works and the kinds of assistance available during Enterprise Flagler's quarterly luncheon Thursday. Keynote speaker Keith Engh outlined the programs and benefits of the economic "gardening" program. Engh said if nothing else he wanted those in attendance to understand that the program -- and GrowFL, a companion program -- provide "second-stage" businesses with technical and executive assistance at no charge. Second stage businesses are defined as those that are not start-up companies and have a track record of growth and profitability. To qualify for the economic gardening program, which is funded by the state, companies must employ at least 10 but no more than 100 employees, have gross revenues between $1 million and $50 million, and meet certain business sector requirements. Engh said the central idea behind the program is to help Florida companies grow.


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