by Art Levy
Updated 5 yearss ago
Tampa/ Hillsborough County
Stuart Rogel, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, was ecstatic in January when President Barack Obama came to Tampa and announced that Florida will get a $1.25-billion federal grant to build a high-speed rail system from Tampa to Orlando. Rogel says the project, which is projected to bring 23,000 jobs, further confirms that Tampa Bay is “finding its way out of this pretty significant downturn.”
When Robert J. Rohrlack Jr. moved to Tampa about a year ago to become president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the talk on the street was: “Wow, things are bad. How bad is it going to get?” Now, he hears more optimism. Rogel will be watching the housing market for signs of improvement. He’s concerned, for example, by a 25% commercial vacancy rate in Tampa’s Westshore business district. “You don’t see a real turnaround until you see more stability in the residential and commercial markets,” he says. “Those are still harbingers for this economy.”
People to Watch
» The economic downturn has not slowed Gary Wishnatzki’s strawberry business. In fact, until a stretch of unusually cold weather last January and February, his sales had been up. He attributes the increases in part to an aggressive rebranding campaign, featuring a new name, Wish Farms, that replaces Wishnatzki Farms, and to a series of YouTube videos featuring the adventures of “Pixie Pete,” actually his son, Nick, dressed in a fairy costume complete with wings. “It’s working,” Wishnatzki says. “I might put on the wings next.”
Gary Wishnatzki, CEO of Wish Farms, and “Misty” at the company’s strawberry field. Wishnatzki attributes some of the company’s success to Wish Farms’ “Pixie Pete” YouTube clips. His son, Nick, also plays a role in the clip, along with pixie “Misty.” [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
» Ronnie Duncan, newly named chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, is taking a leadership role in finding solutions to Tampa Bay’s congested traffic situation. Forbes recently named Tampa the worst in the nation for commuting. Duncan says the region needs to take a “holistic” approach to public transportation, with each county’s system connecting to the next.
Businesses to Watch
» BlueGrace Logistics, a logistics and transportation management company, is adding 50 jobs following a move from a 2,000-sq.-ft. office in Apollo Beach to a 12,000-sq.-ft. facility in Riverview. The company has thrived in the down economy, says president and CEO Bobby Harris, by helping companies cut shipping costs. “With the technology I have, you can type in your origin, the destination ZIP, and it’ll give you multiple service options and the most up-to-date costs. We’re kind of like Orbitz.”
» The University of South Florida has teamed up with drug maker AstraZeneca to help bring a promising anti-depression drug to market. If the drug, called for now TC-5214, is successful, USF could reap millions of dollars in royalties.
» Food distributor Gordon Food Service has purchased a 1-million-sq.-ft. former Albertson’s distribution center in Plant City. The company plans to hire 350 workers at an average wage of $45,000.
» MacDill Federal Credit Union is hiring supervisors, tellers and administrative assistants.
» Hillsborough Community College is hiring instructors, accountants and human resources workers.
» Busch Entertainment is hiring sales clerks, performers and hosts.
» Raymond James Financial is looking for analysts, software engineers and compliance advisers.
St. Petersburg/Pinellas County
Mike Meidel, Pinellas County’s economic development director, looks at the bright side: “This year, we’ve had an unusual amount of development for as bad as the economy has been.” Meidel sees orders picking up — and companies adding staff — in the county’s medical device manufacturing industry, which has weathered the downturn well. He also sees the mixed-use development of Toytown, a former landfill site in north St. Petersburg, moving forward this year. The project will include 70 acres for recreational/civic uses, including possibly a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. Downtown St. Petersburg’s BayWalk development continues to struggle, but Dave Goodwin, the city’s economic development director, says the city’s arts cluster is “going gangbusters.” The Morean Arts Center, for example, announced it is bringing a permanent collection of glass artist Dale Chihuly’s work to a 10,000-sq.-ft. gallery on Beach Drive, and the Salvador Dali museum, located south of downtown, is building a $36-million facility nearby. In Clearwater, Bob Clifford, president and CEO of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, sees positive signs with the recent opening of a Hyatt hotel in Clearwater Beach.
People to Watch
» Kelly Bosetti, president of CEA Marketing Group in Clearwater, says her firm fits the profile of the sort of company that has gone under during the bad economy. She depended on the home building industry for 80% of her business, for instance, and says many companies have been cutting their marketing spending or eliminating it altogether. So how did CEA Marketing Group win the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 midsized business of the year award? For one, she diversified her client base and then learned all she could about social media. “We spent the majority of last year jumping in and learning all the new technologies out there,” she says. “As a company, if you don’t, you’re kind of going to be left in the dust.”
» Sheila C. Johnson, owner of the Innisbrook Golf & Spa Resort, recently oversaw $26 million in renovations at the Pinellas County resort, including upgrades to meeting areas and restaurants and a new spa. Johnson, named this year by President Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, also worked with the University of South Florida to create the Innisbrook Leadership Institute, a business leadership program.
CEO Abdul Lateef’s Plasma-Therm has thrived since a management buyout last year. [Photo: Mark Wemple]
» Previously owned by a Swiss conglomerate, Plasma-Therm didn’t thrive until a management buyout in early 2009. Since then, the company has grown its workforce from 75 to 81 and has plans to add 10 more jobs this year. The company creates semiconductor equipment that goes into a variety of devices, from cell phones and missile-guidance systems to sensors contained in Wii remote controls. CEO Abdul Lateef says that kind of diversity has helped the company grow even through the down economy.
» After plans to build a waterfront stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in downtown St. Petersburg fizzled last year, a task force evaluated other potential sites, including some in Hillsborough County. St. Petersburg officials, noting that the team’s lease at Tropicana Field doesn’t run out until 2027, won’t discuss locations outside the city limits.
» Cigar maker Oettinger Davidoff Group is opening its world headquarters in Pinellas Park. The company will hire 90 people to work in a 100,000-sq.-ft. facility that it purchased for $7.1 million. Salaries will average $55,000 a year.
» Jabil Circuit is hiring IT project managers, supervisors and engineers.
» Progress Energy has open positions for combustion turbine technicians and commercial energy efficiency auditors.
» Morton Plant Mease is hiring nurses, patient care technicians and social services specialists.
Lakeland /Polk County
It’s no joke, says Tom Patton, that a good portion of Polk County’s economy will soon be built with Legos. Patton, executive director of the Central Florida Development Council, says the new Legoland theme park, set to replace the defunct Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven within 18 months, is expected to create 1,000 jobs, attract 2 million visitors each year and have an annual economic impact of $459 million. Three other bright spots: A Polk County stop along the proposed Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail, the proposed CSX integrated logistics center in Winter Haven and the continuing growth of USF-Polytechnic. “Each one of those is a blockbuster,” Patton says.
Person to Watch
» When Marshall Goodman was the provost of San Jose State University during the early 2000s, he felt it was important for the students to collaborate and intern at nearby Google. As a result, he says 10% of Goggle’s computer engineers are San Jose State University graduates. Now vice president and CEO of USF-Polytechnic, Goodman has brought that same sense of academic-business partnership to central Florida. The school, for instance, came up with a program called e-portfolio, which allows potential employers to review a student’s school projects online. USF-Polytechnic also opened two business incubators in Lakeland last year with more possibly to come. “I call them applied learning classrooms,” he says. “Yes, we have an academic mission, but we also have an economic development mission. You don’t want to just educate individuals and graduate them. You want to graduate them into jobs in the community.”
Business to Watch
» WellDyneRx, a pharmacy benefit management company, opened a facility in Lakeland last year with more than 100 employees. This year, the Colorado based firm expects to expand its Polk County operation by nearly 600 people. The company spent $20 million to open the 66,000-sq.-ft. Lakeland facility.
John Hagen, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, says he’s heartened by a growing number of local companies that have actually started to grow again. “We have a lot of small companies here, small manufacturers, and I think it’s kind of interesting that some of them are trying to expand,” Hagen says. To help, county commissioners have appropriated $2 million for an economic development incentive fund “so we have some money to help these companies,” Hagen says.
Person to Watch
» Before Anthony Gaeto came along, you were out of luck if you wanted a fast and easy way to buy a tomato-milling machine. His firm, Web Direct Brands, specializes in creating websites for obscure products from the milling machines — which come in handy for making tomato sauce — to autoharps and driveway gates. The Odessa company recently received a $250,000 economic gardening loan from the Black Business Investment Fund of Florida, which Gaeto says will help the company expand. Web Direct Brands employs 30, and Gaeto plans to hire another five or six by the end of the year. “I’d like to be a $100-million company — possibly beyond that,” he says. “We have a really nice growth model now, and we just want to continue on and see where it takes us.”
Businesses to Watch
» Economic development officials say the $200-million trade agreement that Dais Analytic signed with a Chinese government-owned company last September has the potential to bring 1,000 jobs to Pasco County. The five-year contract calls for the Odessa-based nanotechnology firm to create components for heating, cooling and water clean-up products.
» FreightCenter, a Trinity-based logistics company, plans to hire 75 employees this year and move into a 10,000-sq.-ft. facility. The company’s sales departmentgrew 300% in 2009.
With an uncomfortably high unemployment rate, Hernando County economic development officials are stepping up their efforts to lure businesses and jobs. Mike McHugh, the county’s business development director, has suggested boosting the county’s economic development project reserve — a source of incentives — from $500,000 to $5 million.
Business to Watch
» Last year, local officials showed how highly they think of Brooksville’s Sparton Electronics: They offered the high-tech firm $300,000 in incentives to stay in Hernando County and add 100 jobs. The company, which already employs 179, makes electronic circuit boards used in the aerospace, defense and medical industries.
John Siefert, executive director of the Citrus County Economic Development Council, concedes that the county’s unemployment rate has reached an “unhealthy” level. As a result, he says the newly reorganized development council is focusing this year on creating jobs. Examples include helping local businesses secure stimulus money and bank loans. One positive sign, Siefert says, has been continued job stability at Progress Energy, the county’s largest employer.
Person to Watch
» Within a year of getting elected to the Citrus County Commission, 30-year-old Joe Meek became both president of the Citrus County Economic Development Council and one of the county’s leading pro-business voices. “In the past, Citrus County has gotten a reputation as being not a friendly place to do business,” he says. “We’re working extremely hard to change that. We’re putting a priority on removing excess regulation.”
Business to Watch
» Dixie Hollins won zoning approval earlier this year for a 547-acre, mixed-use development. Called Hollinswood Harbor, the development is to include a marina and residential, industrial, commercial and retail components. Hollins’ grandfather, also named Dixie Hollins, was a former Pinellas County superintendent of public instruction and is the namesake of Dixie Hollins High School in Kenneth City.
|MSA||Jan. 2009||Jan. 2010||% Change||Jobless Rate|
|Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation|
Single-family existing-home sales by Realtors
|MSA||Jan. 2010 Sales||1-Year Change||Jan. 2010 Price||1-Year Change|
|Source: Florida Association of Realtors|
|» Population Totals|
|2.4% or higher 1.0%-2.4% 1.0% or less|
|Average Annual Growth|
|» Population by Age|
|Years of Age (2010)|
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|County||Per Capita Income 2010||Labor||Property||Transfer|