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What You Need to Know About Florida Today

Will Short Gorham | 9/12/2011

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Form + Function in Cutting Edge Design

From sweets to skyscrapers, here are four at the cutting edge of design in their respective fields, plus your "Readers Choice" selections of the more interesting structures and products that combined a distinctive aesthetic appeal with function. One example of your choices:

» Historic Shed, Brooksville — SolarisAn offshoot of Preservation Resource, a design and consulting firm, Historic Shed builds sheds, garages and other secondary structures that complement historic homes. The products, which meet all building codes, use traditional details and designs and can be customized.

More Form + Function.

Clock ticks on future of jobless benefits

For more than 240,000 Floridians getting federal unemployment benefits, the next few months will be uncomfortably familiar. Funding for the payments ends in January unless Congress reauthorizes a program that's been a financial lifeline for the long-term jobless. And it's not yet clear how that will play out. Lawmakers from Tallahassee to Washington, D.C., have discovered the political potency of fiscal restraint, and there is little stomach for more spending — in this case $45 billion for the unemployed. [Source: Orlando Sentinel]


Cuba travel set to take off as flight options expand

Vivian Mannerud has been in the business of arranging air charters to Cuba long enough to have seen it all — from the passengers who wear several hats on their heads to avoid extra baggage fees to the woman who stuffed sausages in her curlers. The grease running down her face was a giveaway. Since 1982, Mannerud, chief executive and founder of Coral Gables-based Airline Brokers Co., has transported Cuban families, as well as politicians, former political prisoners, athletes and humanitarian supplies, to and from the island. This pioneer in the Cuban charter business has seen the governments of Cuba and the United States shut down travel amid political tensions, and recalibrated her business as some U.S. presidents allowed more travel and others pared it down. Now, the policy is for more expansive travel and Airline Brokers and other charter companies are once again poised for change. [Source: Miami Herald]


A place to live ... and work and play

The Great Recession had already saddled downtown Tampa with hundreds of vacant apartments and condos when Matthew Midyett and his two brothers invested millions to open a Powerhouse Gym in late 2008. People said they were nuts; who would use the 17,000-square-foot facility? The gym opened with just 300 customers. But today, that number has grown to 4,800, a testament to a surprising boom in residential life in downtown Tampa. Despite the lackluster economy and a generally stagnant housing market, downtown finds empty-nesters, young professionals and retirees jostling for condos or apartments as soon as they hit the market. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]


More Floridians suing debt collectors for cell calls

Florida consumers aggravated by annoying "robo calls" on their cellphones from debt collectors are fighting back — suing the companies that make the calls and often collecting cash settlements from the lenders. Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott D. Owens has filed dozens of civil lawsuits against lenders and debt collection agencies. He says they have been violating the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act by using "autodialers" — services that automatically store and call phone numbers, then play a pre-recorded message that says something like "This is Debt Collector X calling for John Jones. If this is John Jones, please press 1, if not, press 2." If the companies don't play by the rules, the law says they can be forced to pay the consumer $500 in damages per call or $1,500 per call for "knowing or willful" violations. [Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel]


ALSO AROUND FLORIDA:

› Florida set for big role in GOP presidential race
Take a breather, Iowa and New Hampshire. Florida is about to get into the Republican presidential race big time, starting with a televised debate Monday in Tampa and ending with an early primary in 2012 that conceivably could wrap up the nomination. It's quite plausible that front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney could roughly divide the first four contests, in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. If that happens, Florida could prove the virtual tie-breaker, a prize so big in a state so central to presidential elections that the loser might struggle to stay afloat.

› UF's stadium security has gone high-tech
Before 9/11, the most obvious security measure at the University of Florida football stadium was officers searching for liquor. Now, 10 years after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, explosives and weapons are far more of a concern than rum or tequila. And the methods to ensure that no bomb or weapon enters the stadium have become more sophisticated.

› The 9/11 housing legacy: a boom, then bust
What would your house be worth if not for the 9/11 attacks? The question may seem crass, but it sits at the center of exploring the financial consequences of the worst act of terrorism in American history. Hijackers struck in the midst of an already weak economy, and the assault was so shocking that financial regulators moved aggressively to contain the fallout. Their main weapon: a drastic rollback in bank lending rates to lows not seen since the 1960s. The lower rates pumped cash into the lending system and within a few years, cheap mortgages helped send real estate values to unsustainable levels. When those prices collapsed, they sparked a financial crisis and pushed the country to the brink of a depression.

› Can Tampa Bay's middle class be saved?
Is the intensity of this recession putting Tampa Bay's middle class at risk? Is it, as author Don Peck suggests in a new book, "a mirage"? "Part of what the recession has illustrated is that a very large class of people in the United States is falling behind," Peck warns in Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures & What We Can Do About It.



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