Updated 11 months ago
Business and the Economy
» Rasesh Thakkar / John Hitt
UCF President John Hitt (right) told Rasesh Thakkar in 2005 that he wanted UCF to have a biomedical sciences school. What followed is history. [Photo: Amy Mikler]
Senior managing director,
Bio: The former UCF grad joined Tavistock in 1987. "When I left this campus, I went out traveling the world looking for opportunities," Thakkar told a group of UCF graduates at a 2007 convocation ceremony. "Today, the world comes here to UCF looking for opportunities."
Personal Struggle: Thakkar's battle with lymphoma at age 28 had a major impact on his life. Thakkar knows the chemotherapy protocol he received kept him alive. "When you lay there in your hospital bed and face your mortality, you realize, had I been born 10 years earlier, I may not be alive were it not for the medical discoveries made. That's pretty profound, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that drives me quite a bit."
Perhaps the two most significant leaders in the evolution of the 600-acre complex are University of Central Florida President John Hitt and Senior Managing Director Rasesh "Sesh" Thakkar of the Tavistock Group.
The seeds for Medical City were planted back in 2005, when the two found their interests overlapped. Hitt told Thakkar he saw a biomedical sciences school at the university as vital to growing the school's research capacity. Thakkar says he was "stunned" to learn from Hitt that universities with medical schools attract an average of more than $200 million in research funding — nearly three times what a typical university without a medical school attracts.
President, University of Central Florida
Bio: The Texas native was named president of UCF in 1992 after having held academic, administrative or executive positions at Tulane University, Texas Christian University, Bradley University and the University of Maine.
Major Accomplishments: In addition to boosting the university's academic profile and spearheading the new medical school at UCF, Hitt is credited with adding an on-campus football stadium, a new arena and more campus housing.
Growth: This year, UCF's enrollment hit 53,500, making UCF the largest university in Florida and the third-largest in the country. The school's bragging rights also extend to the quality of students attending there. The 2009 incoming freshman class had an average SAT score of 1225, an average GPA of 3.8 and included 55 National Merit scholars. "We've had a very good year in growing to meet the needs of Florida in higher education."
Why Med Schools Matter: "You don't find a bioscience cluster around anything but a medical school."
A year later, Tavistock donated an additional 50 acres and $18 million for a facility for Burnham. With those anchors in place — and with additional support from the state, county and Orlando's business community — UCF's health and life sciences campus evolved, and in addition to the facilities that have opened or broken ground, there will also be a new University of Florida Academic and Research Center.
Hailed by some as potentially the biggest thing to hit central Florida since Disney World, the medical cluster is projected to create more than 30,000 jobs and have a $7.6-billion impact over the next decade. As Thakkar told Florida Trend last October, "Money follows scientists. Then money follows money. Then it grows from there."
— Amy Keller
Business and the Economy
» Foreclosed Homes
Perhaps nothing represents Florida's economic doldrums in 2009 better than a foreclosed home.
An initial wave of foreclosures came as interest rates reset, payments rose and many home buyers found themselves overextended. Another wave has followed, as homeowners lost jobs and the rate of foreclosure and delinquency in the state rose to one of the highest in the nation in 2009. As of September, one in every four mortgages in Florida was at least one payment past due or in foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. An increasing number of those foreclosures involve fixed-rate loans made to consumers with good credit, as opposed to the subprime loans that initially drove the crisis. Experts predict little improvement this year as continued high unemployment pushes more Floridians out of their homes. Amy Baker, chief economist for the state, doesn't expect a recovery in the Florida housing market until 2011. — Amy Keller
Home, Foreclosed Home
According to a November report from the Mortgage Bankers Association, 12.18% of Florida's 3.4 million mortgages were past due and 12.74% were in foreclosure.
|2009 Foreclosure Filings in Florida|
Nearly 80,000 Floridians declared bankruptcy through the end of October.
Despite the passage of a federal law in 2005 that makes filing for Chapter 7 more difficult, 59,448 Floridians filed for bankruptcy liquidation last year and another 19,565 filed for Chapter 13 personal bankruptcy reorganization. The state ranks second after California in terms of actual number of bankruptcies —169,692 Californians filed for bankruptcy during the same period — and 15th in the nation among states with the greatest per capita bankruptcy filings.
|2009||79,863 (through Oct.)|
|Source: Automated Access to Court
Electronic Records (through October 2009)
Business and the Economy
» The Emigrants
Ray Tirado, a former insurance sales and risk manager, packed up before Thanksgiving and moved back to Ohio. [Photo: Mark Wemple]
Many of the better companies where he applied never called — despite his five years of success in Florida insurance sales and risk management and his participation in the Manatee Chamber and young professionals groups.
National listings such as Monster.com were even more frustrating: "Half of the ads turn out to be schemes or work-from-home or commission-only life insurance sales," Tirado says.
In November, the 26-year-old gave up on Florida. The week before Thanksgiving, he packed a U-Haul trailer, hooked it up to the back of his car and headed north on Interstate 75, returning home to live with his mother in Columbus, Ohio.
Tirado is just one of 500,000 Floridians who left the state in 2009, demographers say. It was the first time since World War II that Florida's population actually shrank, falling by some 58,000 residents. (The state may still pass New York in this year's Census to become the third-largest state in the nation.) Public school enrollment in Florida also dropped, by nearly 30,000 students statewide.
Demographers and economists say that once the recession ends, Florida will begin to attract residents once again, though perhaps not at the go-go rates of the 20th century. Tirado believes that theory; he may move back himself one day — but only if he's an entrepreneur working for himself and doesn't have to hunt for a job.
"One thing I'm really not looking forward to in Ohio," he says, "is the winter."
— Cynthia Barnett
Business and the Economy
» Harry Potter
Visitors will journey through scenes and rooms modeled after those in the Harry Potter movies. The Hogwarts castle, made to look 700 feet tall, is the centerpiece. The attraction also features three rides.
Face it. As Florida tries to re-create itself as Silicon Valley on the Beach or Research Triangle South, tourism and agriculture remain the keys to the economy. Tourism accounts for nearly a third of employment in the tri-county Orlando area, for example. And in 2009, a fictitious British wizard made the most significant single contribution to building Florida's tourism industry. Universal spent big — an unconfirmed $200-million-plus — to build the 20-acre Wizarding World of Harry Potter that opens this spring at Islands of Adventure.
To his fans, Potter represents adventure, loyalty, laughs and pluck. To Florida — like plenty of other foreign transplants who prop up our economy — he represents cold, hard cash, jobs and construction employment in a state with over 10% unemployment.
Potter will put heads in beds for an industry that projected the Orlando tourist count to fall 9% in 2009 leading to layoffs, shorter weeks and furloughs. "I think it's going to be sensational for the destination — 300 million fans around the globe," says Gary Sain, president and CEO of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Good news given that international tourism — down nearly 10% in 2009 — makes up just 7% of the Orlando market, but those visitors spend 23% of the tourism money. Disney begins construction this year on an expansion of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom that some estimates tag at $1 billion. Look for the Little Mermaid in this space in a future year. — Mike Vogel
Business and the Economy
» Arthur Nadel
Arthur Nadel’s investors lost an estimated $170 million.
A tailor's son, Nadel came to Sarasota in 1978 and was disbarred a few years later for improperly using escrow money while an attorney in New York. He flopped in business and for a time played piano in bars until he got into money management, churned out eye-popping returns and became a big shot local philanthropist. His scheme took in $400 million before collapsing. Investors lost $170 million, estimates receiver Burton Wiand of Wiand Guerra King.
Wiand had a busy 2009, selling Nadel's property, trying to claw back the $30 million to $40 million in false profits some people were paid and preparing litigation against attorneys and others who dealt with Nadel but didn't detect or expose
"If we're successful there, those would be large dollar amounts also," Wiand says. Nadel, who turned 77 on New Year's Day, sits in jail in New York — in the same facility where Madoff was taken after his arrest. The federal public defender for him, Mark Gombiner, says Nadel hasn't been able to make bail. — Mike Vogel
» William Hauswirth
William Hauswirth published research last year that experts say offers significant hope that gene therapy could one day help cure human vision disorders. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Florida Trend: What made you decide to study ophthalmology?
William Hauswirth: "I was a molecular biologist with a long-standing side interest in light and its interaction with cells, especially vision. When it became possible to deliver genes to living cells, it became obvious to me that there was a great opportunity to treat blindness using the molecular techniques with which I was familiar."
FT: When and how did your research turn to gene therapy, and how long have you spent working to figure out how genes can treat blindness?
WH: "In the early 1980s two key advances happened that made gene therapy for blinding genetic disease at least theoretically possible. First, the tools were developed (at UF) to create safe human viruses that could deliver potentially therapeutic genes to living cells. Second, the first gene causing a blinding disease of the retina was discovered, and it was clear that many more were to follow."
FT: Your techniques have successfully cured color blindness in monkeys and have actually restored vision in people who were born with a form of genetic blindness. Can you explain how each of those treatments works?
WH: "Both treatments involved making in the lab a human virus that was able to efficiently and safely deliver a gene missing in either the color-blind monkeys or in one genetic form of childhood blindness. We then injected each new virus carrying the correct therapeutic gene into the retinas of affected monkeys or humans. After a few months each had regained partial function to correct their vision deficit: Red color vision was restored for the monkeys and ability to perceive objects they could not previously see for the people."
FT: What is the status of human clinical trials — and how close are you to clinical treatment?
WH: "The clinical trial has been under way for almost two years, and we have treated nine young adults and children so far. Our plan requires us to move very carefully at the beginning of such a novel form of therapy. We can only report on the outcome for the first three, and all had clinically significant improvement in their vision, one being able to see objects in 60,000 times dimmer light than before gene therapy. There were no adverse side effects in any patient."
FT: What are the implications for other types of blindness?
WH: "These results suggest that many forms of genetic blindness are likely to respond as well to the correctly designed retinal gene therapy. Each therapy will require its own specific gene to be inserted into the virus and a carefully designed clinical trial to document safety and efficacy."
FT: Can you describe the feeling of helping someone to see again?
WH: "The feeling is difficult to put into words: It is sort of like wandering for days in a dense, rainy jungle thinking that you may never find your way home and then suddenly emerging into a sunny, dry clearing with your home in front of you. The sense of joy is subdued but very warm and real." — Cynthia Barnett
» Augusto 'Gus' Casamayor
One of Gus Casamayor's side projects involves an effort to help reforest Haiti. He also gives presentations around Florida to children on good environmental practices, using cartoons and slide shows. [Photo: Daniel Portnoy]
After the seminar, an executive at the local Alas Doradas paper mill asked him to help Alas Doradas. Wal-Mart of El Salvador had just expanded into the area and was firing vendors that didn't comply with Wal-Mart's insistence on selling recycled paper products and other green practices. Ultimately, the mill got its Green Partners certification and saved the Wal-Mart account.
Certified Green Partners is piling up success stories like that one: This year, it passed the 100-milestone in the number of firms and government entities it has certified, which include the city of Hialeah and Monsignor Pace High School. In April, Casamayor, 62, was recognized with a Point of Light award from Gov. Charlie Crist for his "compassion for the planet."
The third generation of his family to work in the printing business, Casamayor became aware about three years ago that his industry is one of the least environmentally friendly business sectors. Through paper consumption, it contributes to both pollution and deforestation; in addition, most printers use petroleum-based inks, and too few recycle their waste paper. In response, Casamayor completely changed his own business operations, using only paper produced from sustainable forests and only vegetable-based inks and became the first printer in the U.S. certified by four domestic and international environmental practices organizations. And he started Certified Green Partners to spread the environmental message — first to other printers and then more broadly.
Certification starts with how a business, school or office consumes paper and ink and goes on to encompass extensive waste-reduction and recycling strategies. An independent accountant must audit the business to ensure that practices are in place before Certified Green Partners will issue the certification. Cost begins at $500, Casamayor says.
A point of pride for Casamayor is that green practices save money. "Pace High School is saving more than $20,000 a year," he says. "A day care I'm working with saved about $4,000." Even other printers skeptical about the costs of vegetable-based inks and certified paper have become believers, he says. "I save them money every time."
— Mark Howard
|Links: Watch a Certified Green Partners video.|
Burmese Python: Bad
African rock python: Worse
The state has been ringing the alarm bell — mostly quietly — about invasive species in Florida for at least 15 years. This summer, it began taking action — tepidly — to constrain the growth in the python population, issuing special licenses to snake hunters who subsequently killed 37 of the constrictors. State wildlife officials hope to issue even more licenses next year. Meanwhile, sportsmen with regular hunting licenses can kill any snakes they come across in certain areas of the Everglades.
A note of irony: According to National Geographic, "habitat depletion, continued demand for Burmese pythons in the pet trade and hunting for their skins and flesh ... have landed these graceful giants on the threatened species list" in their native environments in Southeast Asia and Africa. — Mark Howard
» Florida Power & Light
FPL opened its DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in October, the largest solar photovoltaic plant in the nation. Located on FPL-owned land in DeSoto County, the plant has more than 90,500 solar panels that generate some 42,000 megawatt-hours a year, or enough power for about 3,000 homes.
Eric Silagy is leading FPL's push to make Florida a manufacturing base for solar equipment.
[Photo: Matt Dean]
Less well-known are the company's efforts to make the state a manufacturing base for solar equipment. Eric Silagy, FPL's vice president of development, says if Florida increased its commitment to large-scale solar, it could land some of the thousands of jobs and multimillion manufacturing plants opening their doors in states such as Pennsylvania, Arizona and Texas.
Chinese solar panel maker Suntech Power announced at year's end that it would set up its first U.S. factory in Phoenix. Silagy lobbied the company on Florida's behalf; he says the state simply didn't exhibit the support for solar that Arizona did. "This is a generational opportunity," Silagy says. "We have the opportunity to build a whole new economic base, but the window is now, and it's short." — Cynthia Barnett
» Marion County
Lucienne Gaufillet, who had worked for developers for more than 10 years, aims to create jobs and long-term sustainability. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
That's just what County Administrator Lee A. Niblock was looking for as he put together a team to "immediately boost the economy and create jobs and long-term sustainability." County officials acknowledge that their over-reliance on the housing industry left Ocala and Marion County worse off than surrounding counties in the recession. Unemployment hit 13% in the wake of major corporate shutdowns, from cabinet maker Merillat Industries to mortgage giant Taylor, Bean & Whitaker. Over the course of the year, the county lost 1,300 jobs in manufacturing alone, another 1,100 in retail and another 1,000 in financial services.
"I think what got me here is the county's commitment to do things differently and not follow the same path they followed in the past," Gaufillet says. "There is a fearlessness that we have to think hard about how to do things and not be afraid of change."
By year's end, that new and urgent approach had begun to pay off. Working closely with Ocala city government, the EDC, the workforce board, community services and state agencies like the Department of Children & Families, Gaufillet and her colleagues have come up with creative new ways to generate jobs. They dug up a rarely used subsection of the federal stimulus bill to create a subsidized employment program, similar to the WPA projects of the 1930s. Workforce Connection finds unemployed workers, the county puts them in needed temporary positions from parks designers to plumbers, and the Department of Children & Families pays 80% of their salaries with federal stimulus funds. The project has become a pilot for the state.
"We are constantly poring through research, looking at what other parts of the country are doing and going over and over how to attract new opportunities," Gaufillet says. "We're definitely on a new path. Hopefully it has a more sustainable outcome."
— Cynthia Barnett
» Sen Mike Bennett
Mike Bennett’s SB 360 eliminates the DRI review process in dense urban areas. [Photo: AP]
After Mike Bennett's Senate Bill 360 passed the Legislature last spring, just about every stakeholder involved in growth management except for developers pressured Gov. Charlie Crist to veto it. Crist signed the bill into law.
SB 360 eliminates the Developments of Regional Impact (DRI) review process and state oversight of transportation concurrency in dense urban areas.
Bennett says transportation concurrency was unfair because the last developer in the pipeline was stuck with the entire bill for new roads. As a result, developers sought to build farther and farther out, encouraging urban sprawl.
Critics say one problem with the bill is that it too broadly defines dense urban areas. It covers 238 cities and eight counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Seminole, Duval, Hillsborough and Pinellas.
About 20 local governments have sued over the new law, arguing that it's so broad it violates Florida's single-subject act and that it constitutes an unfunded mandate. Bennett emphasizes that "nothing in the bill took power away from local governments. It allowed them to fix the problem themselves." The litigation charges that the new law sticks local governments with the transportation-concurrency problem they cannot afford to fix.
"The legislation was well-intentioned and it has some good provisions in it," says Tom Pelham, secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs that oversees Florida's growth-management process. "However, implementation is going to be deeply hindered by the lack of broad-based support." — Cynthia Barnett
» Ray Sansom
On the same day Sansom became House Speaker, he accepted a $110,000 job at Northwest Florida State College. [Photo: AP]
Ray Sansom is scheduled to go to trial this year on charges stemming from his role in funneling $35 million in taxpayer money to Northwest Florida State College. Some $6 million was earmarked for a building that appears to have been aimed at benefiting developer Jay Odom, a friend and supporter of Sansom, rather than the school.
Ironically, that $6 million might not have even generated concern in a less-lean budgetary year. But regardless of the outcome of the trial, the revelations about Sansom's conduct that poured out in a stream during 2009 crystallized a disconnect between the way some elected representatives see their duties and the way they're viewed by the public. Also revealed was that Sansom and the school's president, Bob Richburg, arranged a meeting of the college's board of trustees 150 miles off campus to talk about legislation that ultimately gave the school and other community colleges the right to offer four-year degrees.
It's fair to say that Sansom and many legislators see what he did as business as usual. Reports of Sansom's defense strategy indicate his attorneys will argue that no wrongdoing occurred because the Legislature functioned the way it always functioned — that any irregularities in Sansom's handling of appropriations for the school ceased being irregular when the Legislature voted to approve them.
Contrast that view with the language the grand jury used when it indicted Sansom. The Speaker, it said, "because of his friendship and political contributions, violated the trust that the citizens of Florida should expect from its elected representatives."
Meanwhile, the case highlighted the absence of a reliable, planned approach to funding higher education. In the current environment, both college presidents and legislators understand that one route to better funding for their institutions can come via a legislator's ascension to a leadership position — creating plenty of incentives to jockey for position and operate at the ethical margins. — Mark Howard
» Rail Transit / State Sen. Paula Dockery
State Sen. Paula Dockery. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Win-win-win-win? Yes, say development interests and those who believe the state finally took some big steps toward creating alternatives to highways. But the enthusiasm isn't universal. On the way to the deal, state Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland galvanized substantial opposition from those who felt the state was being railroaded. Dockery says she initially dug into the CSX deal because of its negative impacts on communities she represents, including Lakeland and Bartow. Over time she amassed data on track sales elsewhere and liability costs that convinced her the deal had been "poorly negotiated"and could be improved. Her dogged campaign stalled the deal for two years, with Dockery arguing it amounted to corporate welfare for CSX and a transit boondoggle for central Florida.
Dockery may have made few friends among transit advocates and economic development types in central Florida, but because of her efforts no lawmaker can say he walked into the deal unawares.
And the deal, though done, still leaves a question mark: The coming decades will prove whether 2009 marked the beginning of a transportation transformation in the state — or just the outlay of a lot of taxpayer dollars to shuffle the deck. — Mark Howard
» Brain Drain
Professor Joe Sanders says Columbus State University, where he now teaches, is devoted to the arts and is growing. [Photo: Lara Rossignol]
But three years later, Sanders, his wife and two teenagers were packing up again. This past fall, he left FSU for Columbus State University, a 9,000-student campus on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in western Georgia, where he is the Alan F. Rothschild Distinguished Chair in Art and a professor in the College of Arts.
Sanders represents the many university professors and staffers who left the state in 2009 as a result of Florida's economic crisis and the impact of the Legislature's funding decisions on higher education. State University System data show Florida's 11 public universities eliminated 2,800 positions in 2009 alone. Most of those were vacancies or retirements; only 350 were layoffs. But Florida's universities reported an increasing "brain drain" along the lines of Sanders, who says he left FSU in large part because of lack of financial support for his department.
FSU has long been known for its arts programs. But, counting Sanders, the art department will be down to seven professors by the summer. Its once large-scale ceramics program has been downsized. Sanders was particularly worried about the future after his studio art program and other art programs showed up on an official list of 21 programs targeted for elimination or restructuring if the economy worsened.
Columbus State may be smaller, Sanders says, but he feels good about being on a campus that has new facilities, is devoted to the arts and is growing. The pay is better, too.
The downside: "Leaving a truly incredible group of faculty colleagues at FSU," he says. "They faced adversity for two years, and they continued to really push themselves and really push their department. They did a pretty good job of keeping their morale up and looking toward the future.
"We were all looking to the future for an upturn." — Cynthia Barnett
» Ray Ferrero Jr.
Ray Ferrero Jr. oversaw the completion of a $60-million expansion of its pre-K through 12 University School and served as chairman of the Broward Alliance economic development agency. [Photo: Eileen Escarda]
Ray Ferrero Jr. is chancellor and CEO of 28,600-student Nova Southeastern University in Davie, the state's largest non-profit private university and Broward's second-largest private employer with 4,000 workers. He chaired the Broward Alliance economic development group in 2009.
Bio: A lawyer, Ferrero became Nova president 12 years ago. He turns 76 this month. "I'm still going strong."
Broward Alliance Work: Ferrero personally visited every major company in Broward and convinced 20 CEOs to join a council to market the area and lure other headquarters here. Also, he pushed for government incentives for smaller companies and saw to a competitive analysis to help market the area. All this results in the alliance identifying and this year pitching 60 out-of-state companies to move here.
Opportunity: "It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize we were in difficult times. In my judgment, that's always the time of opportunity. You need to be doing aggressive planning so when things turn around you're shovel ready."
Nova Work: Nova boosted enrollment by 1,700 last year. Its board agreed to a doubling of undergrad enrollment to 12,000 in five to seven years. The school finished a $60-million expansion of its pre-K through 12 University School; moved a Naples campus to Fort Myers in late 2008; opened a Tampa building; and agreed to build a Palm Beach Gardens building. It hopes to break ground next year on an office and residential "academical village" in Davie. — Mike Vogel
» Tim Tebow
"The one thing about Tim is his unselfishness, and his mission outside of college football is unparalleled," says Gators football coach Urban Meyer of his star quarterback, Tim Tebow. "The impact that he's made, it's almost like selflessness is now a cool thing. Kids realizing to give back and if you can brighten someone's day, you do it."
In the game on the field, Tebow has achieved two national championships along with record-book stats and the 2007 Heisman Trophy, the first won by a sophomore. After graduation this year, he'll be eligible to enter the NFL draft and turn professional.
In the game off the field, he's already a pro. He was well-prepared for what he saw as the inevitable question about whether he is still a virgin. Seizing a "teachable moment," he answered affirmatively, to the delight of many parents everywhere. Meanwhile, he cheerfully shoulders another mantle — that of a successful college student who was home-schooled during high school. "An excellent example of what home-schoolers can achieve," says Ian Slatter, director of media relations for the national Home School Legal Defense Association advocacy group. Florida law allows home-schooled students access to public school activities ranging from orchestra to football — Tebow played football at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra — and parents in other states who want their home-schoolers to enjoy similar access have introduced what many call "Tim Tebow bills" in their legislatures.
Tebow can't be talked of without addressing his faith. Together with his athleticism, it has made him the modern prototype of the "muscular Christian" so exalted by evangelizers. Like his forerunner in the category, Eric Liddell, the Scot and Olympian of "Chariots of Fire" fame, Tebow was born in Asia to missionary parents. As a fan of the Psalms, Tebow could preach to the Florida faithful on the dangers of putting faith in princes, but he's managed to remain a sports idol who hasn't disappointed with scandal.
Some who find Tebow's wearing his faith on his sleeve — or etched into his eyeblack — a bit over the top have to acknowledge that in a sport where pampered jocks prattle about adversity, Tebow sets a good example with his service. He's proved with his work in the Philippines (his birthplace) and his visits to inmates and the sick and disabled that his faith is about much more than prayer for a high pass-completion ratio — and that he knows the difference between real hardship and an untimely holding call.
"It's his sportsmanship, his personal drive, his character and his enthusiasm," says Tampa attorney Robert Stern, past president of the UF Alumni Association. "It's really his personal character, not just his Christian faith, that's made him a role model — and not just for kids. He's just a special young man. He's what's good about college football and student athletes." — Mike Vogel
» Gay Culverhouse
Gay Culverhouse [Photo: AP]
Football helmet technology has come a long way from the days when players strapped on leather headgear, but head injuries have remained a byproduct of the game. In 2009, Gay Culverhouse, a former president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led a drive toward making the game aware of the damage it can do to those who play it.
Culverhouse, 62 and suffering from cancer, no longer works for the Bucs, the team her father, Hugh Culverhouse, founded in 1974 and sold to Malcolm Glazer in 1995. But she's still in touch with many of her former players, including some suffering from the effects of injuries sustained while they were Bucs. Then, as now, players often played through pain and nausea after head injuries. Today, many are experiencing ailments ranging from recurring headaches to advanced dementia.
In October, Culverhouse spoke before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, testifying that professional football's emphasis on "a positive financial bottom line" threatens the health of its players. Too often, she says, a win-at-any-cost mentality means team doctors allow players to return to the field even when they shouldn't. She believes there should be an independent neurologist on every sideline and mandatory guidelines for how long a player should sit out after a concussion.
"My cause is the health and well-being of all football players, whether they are 8-year-olds or 22-year-olds," she told the committee. "Safety must come first. Business must come second." — Art Levy
The most notable philanthropists aren't always the biggest givers or those who end up with their names on buildings. In 2009, two low-key Florida residents exemplified the best motives and displayed the most generosity relative to their means. Both men lived simple lives but displayed extraordinary generosity as they neared death.
» Lawrence E. Ruf
Lawrence E. Ruf [Photo: AP]
The money began arriving in the latter half of 2009 — at a time when it was particularly needed. "All the non-profits are hurting," Howard says. "Contributions are down. Needs are up."
Ruf's money, which will be doled out in annual increments to each charity, came as a "pleasant surprise" because many of the non-profits had already set their budgets, Howard says. For Bradenton's Hope Family Services, the money meant an endowment fund that the domestic violence shelter didn't have the money to start otherwise. At State College of Florida, the money enabled students in the dental hygiene program to clean the teeth of needy children for free. Other groups that benefited include Manatee County Habitat for Humanity and the Manasota Lighthouse for the Blind.
"He was a caring man," Howard says. "It was important to him to do good."
Jack Wilkinson [Photo: Gainesville Sun]
In June, Jack Wilkinson, a 96-year-old former math teacher and peanut farmer, announced he would leave $2.5 million to Central Florida Community College to build a permanent campus in Levy County. Wilkinson died three months later. In announcing his gift, he explained that he didn't have a wife or children and didn't need the money that he had so carefully saved over the years. "It was a pleasure," he said, "to be able to give it for education."
Wilkinson, who earned his teaching certificate from the University of Florida, taught for 45 years in Levy County. He told the Gainesville Sun that in addition to his teaching salary and farm income, his frugal lifestyle allowed him to amass his fortune. "I lived a simple life," Wilkinson told the Sun. — Art Levy
» St. Petersburg Times / Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau
The St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau: Back — Lee Logan, Mary Ellen Klas, John Frank; front — Shannon Colavecchio, Marc Caputo, Steve Bousquet [Photo: Ray Stanyard]
In 2000, says Mary Ellen Klas, there were 92 reporters in the Tallahassee press corps. During the 2009 session of the state Legislature there were exactly half that number, she says. This past year, Klas, Tallahassee bureau chief for the Miami Herald, became part of an experiment that reflects both the grim reality at Florida newspapers and a response to it. At the close of 2008, the Herald's bureau — Klas and colleague Marc Caputo — merged with that of the St. Petersburg Times, staffed at the time by bureau chief Steve Bousquet, Alex Leary, Jennifer Liberto and occasionally by the not-entirely-retired Lucy Morgan.
The partnership was conceived amid the papers' plummeting financial fortunes and staff cuts that have more than decimated the reporting staffs in St. Petersburg and Miami. Both newsrooms are at least a third smaller than they were barely three years ago, and each had already cut its Tallahassee operations by a reporter before they struck the combo-bureau deal.
By almost any account, the Times-Herald bureau acquitted itself well in its first year — offering hope that newspapers, even in their diminished state, can continue to provide strong, enterprising coverage of the state's public officials. The bureau's discovery and coverage of now-former House Speaker Ray Sansom's largesse toward Northwest Florida State College has provided a crystalline case study both of how legislators dispense favors and how dysfunctional the funding system is for the state's system of higher education. More recently, the bureau has provided solid coverage of upheaval at the Florida Public Service Commission, including too-close-for-comfort ties between PSC staffers and executives at regulated companies.
Klas says the combined bureau has been effective at producing a stream of daily stories while keeping several enterprise efforts percolating in the background. Gone are the days of duplicating the other papers' efforts. "It's enabling us to continue the strong kind of journalism both these papers are known for," she says.
The reduction in the Tallahassee press corps is not free of journalistic impact in other places in the state, however. Klas says many other papers no longer have a full-time staffer in Tallahassee or have only one staffer. And the buyouts that have accompanied the newspaper doldrums have robbed the press corps of many experienced hands, she says. The Associated Press, meanwhile, has dropped a TV-video reporting team it had in Tallahassee.
"When you consider the whittling-down of our competitors," says Klas, "it's made for a press presence that's just not that strong." — Mark Howard
Editor's note: The St. Petersburg Times is a sister publication of Florida Trend, and Mary Ellen Klas is a former Trend correspondent.