Robert E. Hilson
Florida Market President
Bank of America
U.S. Economy in 2007
We expect the Florida economy to outgrow the U.S. economy in general. We are very bullish about our prospects for Florida next year and beyond. Tourism is very, very strong here, and transportation, utility and healthcare sectors continue to be strong as well.
I don't think it's any secret that residential construction spending is not at the robust level it was six to 12 months ago, but it's still a good sector to be in. Also, in the professional and business services base, I don't know if you'll see the same kind of growth we've seen in the last couple of years.
However, again, those sectors remain really strong in Florida. I do have a bias for this state. The weather is spectacular, and it will continue forever to be a driver of population growth. A low interest rate and low inflation will contribute to, I think, good solid growth in the economy next year, and that's very good for our company.
As a community planning and design and engineering firm, one of the big drivers for us is where our current client base wants to do business. In the next few years, we will be expanding to the north rather than to the south. The national and regional developers and builder-developers really maximized out their opportunities in the markets that existed in the early 2000s in South and Southwest Florida.
A lot of them moved up to Central Florida in 2002 and 2003, and they began moving to North Florida in the last couple of years. They are moving north because there's less competition; the national and regional developer-builders really haven't been in those marketplaces to any large degree. The constraints on growth have not really caught up with those North Florida communities.
Capital Partners Properties
2007 Company Forecast
Like many companies, we have experienced upward pressure on salaries and the associated insurance compensation policies that go with that. But, in our case, the effect has been negligible and hasn't stopped us from reaching our goals. What will have the most impact in the coming year is the dramatic increase in commercial insurance costs.
Going into 2007, the rising cost of insurance is a factor that is going to restrict our growth in Florida, and I don't know if we're going to see any abatement of those costs. We have a global property and casualty insurance policy because we have 7.5 million square feet of commercial office space not only in Florida, but also in Charlotte and Atlanta.
Diversifying and growing outside the state and into new markets where the property and casualty costs are not as high, will help us to buy more in Florida where the cost of insurance is four times as high as other areas.
William Miller Jr.
Moore Stephens Lovelace, P.A.
We were at one point in 2005/2006 looking at building our own corporate headquarters, and we had entertained possibly doing some things in Winter Park. But the prices in Winter Park were just not to the point where we thought it made economic sense to buy and build on our own dirt. So we stopped our pursuit.
The costs were so high it took us out of the market. We have clients that are developers, so we are aware that the costs of commercial space are increasing.
I just didn't realize how high the cost had risen in terms of what we were looking for and the quality product we wanted to operate out of.
We'll keep our eyes open and wait for the market to come back to us. Hopefully, it will. Real estate is still a good investment in Florida and always will be.
William S. Dalton, Ph.D., M.D.
H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center
I believe most organizations (in and out of Florida) are faced with difficulties in recruiting for certain types of positions. In addition, all are facing an aging workforce which, in turn, adds to the projected labor shortage increases. This presents many challenges as we try to recruit and retain all positions. Our most valuable asset is our employees.
The work environment is an important factor for employee satisfaction in cancer research and delivery of cancer care. We continue to develop innovative recruiting and retention tools to maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace. These include recognizing our employees through employee referral programs, flexible working arrangements such as compressed work schedules, job sharing, etc., and competitive benefit and compensation programs. For example, we offer reduced health insurance premiums for employees, based on their length of service. The longer they are employed, the greater the discount provided on their health insurance premiums by the Cancer Center.
At Centex, we are fortunate to be a top performer, and people want to come here. That doesn't mean we can ever stop being competitive with salaries and benefits. We plan a steady increase in wages of 4% to 5% for 2007. However, individual increases and bonuses are tied directly to a very thorough performance evaluation.
The biggest struggles we have with recruiting to our company seem to be the same top three with most Florida companies: housing, taxes and insurance costs. The need we see from our sub-contractors as far as qualified labor is still workforce development, especially soft skills such as conflict resolution, communication and the ability to excel when challenged.
Skills can be taught on site in many situations; a willing attitude and eagerness to be part of a team is what will help someone achieve success in our company. That's probably pretty consistent with Florida companies overall. No matter at what level an employee starts, attitude is everything.
Suntrust Bank Florida
The biggest myth about doing business internationally is that it's complicated and that there's nowhere to turn for advice. Yes, it is complicated, but there are many places to get help.
Enterprise Florida is a great example, and there are chambers of commerce and local international organizations in the major cities, too. Enterprise Florida now has 14 offices around the world where the interests of Florida and the benefits of doing business in Florida are being promoted to individuals and businesses in those countries. While less than 10% of our company's business currently is internationally-oriented, I would say that's going to increase for us as we become more of a global economy.
The business we do all relates to our operation footprint in Florida, and that could come in the form of trade finance or reverse investment -- companies or individuals overseas that are investing in businesses in the state of Florida or maybe expanding their businesses from overseas into Florida.
BankUnited Financial Corp.
Examples of improved technology that are most effective in our organization's performance include new methods of reviewing and setting up mortgage loans, various upgrades to existing platforms and expansion of our online banking system.
In the banking industry, security is obviously a crucial concern, and we rolled out a multi-layered authentication system in the fall of 2006. We have new employee training on existing systems and upgrades, and we do training on an ongoing basis. Some employees attend outside academies in train-the-trainer scenarios, but we rarely work with consultants to examine ways to improve productivity; we use mostly in-house trainers and training. With regard to incentives at BankUnited, process improvement and productivity are two of the elements we use to make annual bonus calculations.
Executive Managing Director
We're a professional services business, so anything that affects our employees has a direct impact on our business. Our revenue is based on our professional employees being here and generating billable hours. If the communications network is down, we lose revenue or are unable to perform.
We have offices throughout Florida. At the time Hurricane Wilma came through, the plan was that communications would flow into whatever offices remained open. Never did we think a hurricane would affect the Naples, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach offices at once. It was a struggle for us to deal with that because the methodology we had in place for communicating with our employees was basically shut down. All of our offices were without power and closed. As we are a national firm, we have since made arrangements for alternatives to local communications.
Progress Energy Florida
Rising healthcare costs continue to impact companies across the country. To counter that, Progress Energy developed a strategy for healthcare benefits, and we have begun to slow the growth in healthcare costs. For 2007, employee contributions toward the cost of medical coverage will not increase.
Progress Energy is committed to offering competitive medical plan options that give employees choices about deductibles, co-payments and premiums. We are committed to offering a competitive, flexible and high-quality benefits program that is affordable to employees, retirees and the company. Employees bear 25% to 30% of premiums, with the company covering the balance.
Overall costs are expected to rise between 5% and 10% in 2007. For 2007, Progress Energy introduced a high-deductible health plan that allows employees to establish an optional health savings account to save for long-term medical expenses. We also extended eligibility for benefits to domestic partners of employees and retirees.
Howell W. Melton Jr.
Holland & Knight
The decrease in charitable spending surprises me because for us it is not about the dollar or economic uncertainty. Giving back is part of our core cultural values, which also include pro bono work for poor people and diversity in our hiring.
We expect our lawyers to give a certain percentage of the compensation they receive. We also donate 60,000 pro-bono hours a year at 17 offices in nine states. In addition to the $1.2 million of this year's budget set aside for giving, our Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation funds special construction projects such as the new memorial in New York to the 342 firefighters who died on 9/11, and the Chesterfield Smith classroom at the University of Florida law school.
We'll give more in 2007 because we've been fortunate this year, which gives us greater resources to use.
The bottom line is certainly important to us, but we've always focused on being something more. We continue to give even when we could cut back and improve our bottom-line performance.
Banking is based on technology. If we don't stay abreast of the situation, we're going to be behind the eight ball. We're in a dynamic community, where younger people are becoming customers. If we don't have all the necessary tech support, my assessment is we'll fall behind.
But the problem with technology is that it's costly, takes time to learn and is complicated. So we focus on support. We have 17 people in IT supporting our Internet, mainframe and input, output and data processing.
We just concluded a strategic planning meeting of executives from across the bank. Our emerging strategy was to refine long-term technology plans in order to set priorities, know where we're going and revisit the issue as needed. We're keeping up with customer expectations and getting into new areas. One begets the other. We don't seek to be a pioneer -- we can't afford that. Whatever system we choose has to be tried and true.
President, CEO & Founder
Michael Saunders and Company
I'm 64, and about three years ago, I said to myself, "It's ridiculous to think you're going to live forever." My succession plan became my son, Drayton, who'd been running a wholesale bagel business in Santiago, Chile, for eight years. I went down there and said to him, "If you have an interest in becoming part of this company, there's a role for you."
He came to a management retreat, spent a lot of time talking with me and meeting with tax and business planners and decided it was time to come back. I built this business brick by brick, and because Drayton had a business himself, he knew what that takes. Drayton's arrival gave our managers confidence because they knew our company's core values weren't going to change. Each year, Drayton takes on more responsibility, and it gives everyone comfort to know he's growing in knowledge of the company and the industry.
Alan S. Becker
Becker & Poliakoff
I and many of our attorneys travel extensively within the state - in part because of business with state government in Tallahassee, in part because we have offices and clients throughout Florida.
I anticipate that I'll be traveling at least several times a month in 2007, which is pretty comparable to my 2006 schedule. I personally travel at least several times a year internationally, at least two dozen times a year to other states and a like amount within Florida. Many of our attorneys have similar travel schedules.
We have not found that technology (such as video conferencing) has cut down much on travel, so much as it has made more frequent meetings and greater participation possible. Our firm's travel needs remain pretty constant and continue to grow.
Vice President for Research
University of Florida
Being entrepreneurial means being an original thinker. To have success in research, creative thinking is the first order of business. It's very important. So is a can-do attitude, the ability to press ahead and find solutions.
In research, you need curiosity; you have to be someone who wants to keep learning forever. Hard work is a given for success. I was born and raised on a Virginia farm, and living on a farm teaches you entrepreneurial thinking. There you are, face-to-face with the problem, and you have to solve it.
I was the first in my family to go to college, and I have been fortunate enough to be involved in research on everything from moon dust to artificial hearts. The University of Florida has virtually every degree program you can name. And we're building for the future, with 800,000 square feet of new research space.
WRS Infrastructure & Environment Inc.
Financing in 2007
I believe it will be easier for us to seek a new loan or extend a current one in the coming year. Our financial performance is very strong right now.
Separate from our specific situation, there is a great deal of capital available in the market, and lending institutions appear to be more aggressive and responsive. Overall, however, I believe there has been a drop in corporate expectations of seeking financing because SOX [the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002] may be having an impact on the public markets, IPO transactions and secondary offerings.
Having been the CFO of a small cap public company, I find these regulations (especially 404) very burdensome. As a result of SOX requirements, fewer transactions are being completed, which means less activity for investment banking firms and therefore more capital becoming available.