Photo: Sam Owens/Tampa Bay Times
gr8code founders: CEO Virginia Barnett (from left), Phuong Nguyen Cotey and Deborah Neff. Barnett says it's "easier to connect with resources in Tampa."
Southwest Florida Roundup
Growing presence: A women-friendly market
The number of women-owned businesses increased 50% between 2002 and 2014.
Last spring, Virginia Barnett left her job at a Tampa non-profit that promotes entrepreneurship to launch a business with two other women. Their company, called gr8code, teaches computer-coding skills in intensive, nine-week courses costing $10,000.
In November, gr8code snagged a four-year, $5.4-million investment from Nevada-based OmniElite Financial Group — said to be the largest venture capital investment for a women-owned tech startup in Florida history.
Barnett's company is part of a vibrant community of female entrepreneurs in the Tampa Bay area. According to a report commissioned by American Express, Tampa Bay ranks seventh among the 25 largest U.S. metros for the economic clout of women-owned businesses. Miami, the only other Florida metro on the list, ranks 21st.
From 2002 to 2014, the number of women-owned businesses in the Tampa Bay region increased 50% to 81,700, and the number of people they employ rose 38%. Nationally, growth in the number and employment of women-owned businesses was 40% and 10%, respectively.
Report author Julie Weeks says a region's strength in female entrepreneurship generally comes down to three factors: Population growth, local economic trends and a hospitable environment, including government contracting opportunities and a peer support network.
Most women-owned businesses in Tampa remain small. Collectively, they employ 6% of the work force and generate 5% of business revenue. But Weeks says women's economic clout would be greater if not for the fact that many entrepreneurs relinquish majority ownership to investors so they can grow.
Indeed, OmniElite's multimillion- dollar investment meant that while Barnett and her female cofounders still run gr8code, the company no longer is women-owned.
St. Petersburg-based retailer HSN named Jeffrey Kuster president of its Cornerstone unit, a direct-to-consumer business that includes catalogs, eight e-commerce sites and 11 retail stores. Kuster was executive vice president and chief marketing and strategy officer at Fruit of the Loom.
Steve Mason, CEO at Clearwater-based BayCare Health System, will retire in mid-2016. COO Tommy Inzina assumed Mason's duties as president and will become CEO next year.
Depository Trust & Clearing named Marie Chinnici-Everitt regional administrative manager in Tampa, adding to her current duties as managing director and chief marketing officer.
Vology, an IT and technology refurbishing company based in Oldsmar, promoted John O'Shea to president from senior vice president of sales.
Big Plans for Downtown Tampa
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik unveiled a billion-dollar plan to remake part of downtown Tampa. The plan includes 1.1 million square feet of office space, 660,000 square feet of residential space, 575,000 square feet of hotel and meeting space, 250,000 square feet of retail and up to five garages. It also calls for a building to house the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Heart Health Institute. Enterprise Florida and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. will offer public incentives to try to persuade companies to move to Vinik's development.
CLEARWATER - Tech Data's board of directors approved a share buyback program worth up to $100 million. The company has repurchased $1.1 billion of stock since 2005.
ESTERO - Jeffrey Zimmerman stepped down as Hertz's executive vice president, general counsel and secretary. His resignation follows the September departure of then-CEO Mark Frissora, who has since been replaced by John Tague, former president and COO of United Airlines.
FORT MYERS - Alico bought three central Florida citrus operations for $363 million, expanding its agricultural footprint to more than 30,000 acres. The Fort Myers company says it's now the nation's largest citrus producer.
MADEIRA BEACH - The city passed a resolution officially embracing the digital currency Bitcoin before the BitPay-sponsored Bitcoin Bowl in St. Petersburg last December.
NAPLES - Privately held Momentum Aviation Holdings of Naples bought Nashville-based Carpenter Avionics, which sells, installs and maintains avionics systems for general aviation aircraft.
SARASOTA - A subsidiary of Jacksonville-based Green- Pointe Holdings bought the former Quay property for $27 million. GreenPointe plans to transform the 15-acre tract into a mix of residential, commercial and hospitality developments along downtown's waterfront. > New York-based New Media Investment Group paid $280 million for Halifax Media Group, publisher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and 35 other newspapers. Halifax had owned the Herald-Tribune since buying it from the New York Times Regional Media Group in late 2011. > Ringling College has begun renovating an historic high school building for its new Sarasota Museum of Art and initiated a nationwide search for an executive director. The museum's board expects to finish the renovation in time for an early 2016 opening. Doctors Hospital completed a renovation of its Orthopedic and Spine Institute, the first phase of a $17-million hospital makeover.
ST. PETERSBURG - First Central Tower, a 17-story office building anchored by BB&T downtown, was bought by a joint venture of Feldman Equities, Tower Realty Partners and Second City Real Estate of Vancouver. A $10-million upgrade is planned. > Simon Property Group's Tyrone Square Mall will add a 10-screen Cobb Luxury theater, featuring a fullservice restaurant and bar and D-Box motion chairs, which move in tandem with a movie's action. Opening is set for early next year. > The University of South Florida System is buying 3.7 acres next to USF St. Petersburg for $6.2 million. The city council approved $6 million in equipment contracts to launch a curbside recycling program this summer. Homeowners will be charged $2.95 a month to have their recyclables picked up every other week. > Technology company iQor, which bought Jabil Circuit's aftermarket services business last year, relocated its headquarters from New York to St. Petersburg, moving more than 100 employees into Tower at One Progress Plaza downtown.
TAMPA - Tampa International Airport began a $943-million expansion and renovation that will be completed in 2017. Changes include a 55,000-sq.-ft. expansion of the main terminal and a 2 million-sq.-ft. consolidated rental car facility connected by a 1.4-mile automated people mover. Cognizant, an IT company based in Teaneck, N.J., is adding more than 400 new jobs and investing $5.7 million in its Tampa operations over the next four years. > The Big Brothers Big Sister organization is moving its headquarters from Texas to Tampa. Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio is the organization's president.
TAMPA BAY - Movie director Tim Burton will film scenes for a film called Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in Tampa Bay. Burton filmed Edward Scissorhands in Pasco County in 1990.