Economic development officials say companies frequently cite all the sleaze as a reason for relocating to other areas. "If we want to attract and retain good businesses, we need an environment that recognizes and rewards good behavior," says Don Slesnick, a labor and employment attorney and member of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. "Right now, we don't have that."
To remedy the problem, the chamber has created an ethics division, headed by Slesnick. Among his goals: create a code of ethical conduct for chamber members and conduct an "ethics summit" to air the concerns of the business community. A similar effort has been launched by the Hispanic leadership organization Mesa Redonda. According to Slesnick, the two groups are working together to create a privately funded watchdog group to help ferret out corrupt officials and business practices.
Dario Moreno, a professor of political science at Florida International University in Miami, says the initiatives are an encouraging first step. "This is like an alcoholic admitting it has a problem," he says. "It's as if the city is saying: 'Hello, my name is Miami and I have a corruption problem.'"
But the real test, Moreno believes, will be in how members of business and civic groups discipline their own members. Indeed, at least two high-profile Mesa Redonda members are embroiled in public corruption controversies. "It's one thing to establish codes of conduct and behavior; it's another thing to live by them," says Moreno. - David Villano
BOYNTON BEACH 1-800-AutoTow's (OTC-AUTW), acquisition of two Tampa-area tow truck operators is the year-old company's first step in its plan to consolidate the car-towing industry.
DELRAY BEACH - Office supply superstore Office Depot (NYSE-ODP) will acquire California's Viking Office Products, a specialist in direct mail and advertising sales, in a $3 billion stock deal.
FORT LAUDERDALE Heavy equipment rental company NationsRent (NYSE-NRI), with revenues of almost $300 million, went public in August. CEO James L. Kirk and the Huizenga Family Trust are major shareholders.
HOLLYWOOD - The Florida Thundercats, an expansion franchise of the National Professional Soccer League, starts play this fall. The team, which expects to hire more than 30 full-time players and front-office staff, will play home games at the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise.
KEY BISCAYNE- California-based resort spa Golden Door will open in the Grand Bay Resort Condominium Hotel, slated to premiere January 2000. Patriot American Hospitality, based in Dallas, owns Golden Door and will operate Grand Bay Resort.
MIAMI - USA Latin America, a subsidiary of Universal Studios Networks, will relocate from New York City. The cable station, which primarily broadcasts dubbed U.S. programming to Latin audiences, will employ about 20.
Financier and island resident John J. Melk, his son, Daniel J. Melk, and developer Daniel E. McLean bought tony Fisher Island's last 40 undeveloped acres and 33 condos from New Jersey's MBL Life Assurance.
Terremark and KB Commercial Real Estate Group, two of south Florida's leading real estate companies, agreed to merge. Terremark's Manny Medina will serve as chairman and chief executive of the new company, Terremark Group.
Former NBA star Magic Johnson will team with pro basketball's Miami Heat to build a movie complex in downtown Miami. Johnson has worked to bring first-run movie theaters to low-income areas of Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta.
MIAMI SPRINGS- Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union National Bank plans to open a telephone call center that will provide multilingual services. More than 250 new jobs are expected.
PLANTATION - Detroit-based Strategic Staffing Solutions, an information technology staffing services firm, has opened an office here, the company's third in the state, raising its Florida work force to nearly 100.