February 23, 2024
ATS SW July 2019
Wishnatzki is working on developing a robotic strawberry picker.
ATS SW July 2019
Sarasota's Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary has started hosting "Yoga with Tigers" classes.

Southwest Florida Roundup

Florida's Wish Farms and automation innovation

Art Levy | 6/24/2019

Growing Business

Innovation is a key component of Wish Farms success.

By the time Gary Wishnatzki took over the Florida operations of his family’s strawberry business in 2001, the company had already undergone big changes.

Founded in the 1920s by Wishnatzki’s grandfather, who started out selling produce from a pushcart in New York City, the company eventually became one of Florida’s top berry growers and suppliers.

Gary Wishnatzki kept the changes coming. First, he shortened the company’s name to Wish Farms — from Wishnatzki Farms — then he began expanding the business, including growing organic berries.

These days, Wishnatzki also is overseeing Harvest Croo Robotics of Tampa, a company he founded that’s working on a robot strawberry picker. The robot picker, which has received more than $9 million in investments, is projected to start picking strawberries commercially by the end of this year.

“Everything that requires human labor right now is going to have to move toward automation,” he says. “If that doesn't occur, crops like strawberries are going to become less affordable and less available because growers won’t be able to find the labor to pick them.”

Wishnatzki is also working on a $20-million headquarters, which will consolidate Wish Farm’s four locations in Plant City. The warehouse at the new facility includes innovative berry-cooling equipment that features reverse air flow to cool berries quicker and more evenly throughout a pallet — important because every hour that a berry is not cooled after it’s picked reduces the fruit’s shelf life by one day.

The headquarters, projected to open by late summer 2020, will have plenty of amenities for the company’s 100 full-time employees, ranging from a gym, test kitchens, and a tree-house to be used as a meeting room to an on-site organic blueberry farm, where visitors will be invited to pick fruit. The main office will also have a sliding board stretching from the building’s second floor to the lobby.

“That way,” he says, “we’ll be able to greet visitors in style.”


Downward-Facing Cat?

Sarasota’s Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary has started hosting “Yoga with Tigers” classes, enabling participants to practice yoga amid caged cats.

“We think this will be a truly unique experience for participants who will enjoy the yoga sequences surrounded by the sounds of nature and up close with our tigers, lions and ligers,” says Kay Rosaire, the Big Cat Habitat’s founder. “Big cats are curious and come up close to check out what is happening.”


  • The Kolter Group plans to develop a 35-story condominium tower called Saltaire near downtown St. Petersburg.


  • The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art has appointed Marissa S. Hershon curator of the Ca’ d’Zan mansion and the museum’s decorative arts collection.


  • The Naples Children & Education Foundation, the founding organization of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, has started construction on a $6.5-million, 15,000-sq.- ft. headquarters. Since 2001, the wine festival has raised more than $191 million for children’s causes.


  • Arnie Bellini, who co-founded ConnectWise and then sold the Tampa-based software firm earlier this year to a private equity investment firm, has donated $7 million to Tampa Catholic High School, his alma mater.
  • Nova Southeastern University’s Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine and Dr. Pallavi Patel College of Health Care Sciences, under construction in Clearwater, will admit its first class of 150 medical students in the fall.
  • Florida Southern College in Lakeland has appointed Brad E. Hollingshead provost and vice president for academic affairs. Hollingshead had been dean of the college of arts and sciences. He replaces Kyle Fedler, who will teach religion and philosophy at FSC.
  • Retired University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft is donating $23 million to the school toward a new honors college that will bear her name.


  • Jane Castor easily defeated businessman David Straz, earning nearly three-quarters of the vote, to become Tampa’s new mayor. Castor, a 59-year-old former Tampa police chief, is the city’s first openly gay mayor. The city of Palmetto has spent $1 million to purchase land downtown to spur redevelopment.


  • The Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa plans to shift its focus to outpatient care rather than in-hospital care. As part of the move the hospital will lay off 60 workers.
  • Tampa health care technology company MHK has opened a 30,000-sq.-ft. headquarters. The company, which manages patient data for health care and managed care providers, employs 250.


  • Door manufacturer Masonite has named Howard C. Heckes president and CEO. Outgoing CEO Fred Lynch is retiring. Heckes was previously CEO at Energy Management Collaborative in Minnesota.


  • Charlotte County visitors attending Tampa Bay Rays spring training games combined for a $13.9-million economic impact during the 2019 spring season, according to the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau.
  • CrossHarbor Capital Partners sold its 520-room Hilton Downtown Tampa for $112 million to Walton Street Capital.
  • Taylor Gray is the new vice president of business development and projects at Tampa’s Mainsail Lodging & Development, which manages properties in the United States and the Caribbean.


  • Lakeland Electric plans to shut down its coal-generated C.D. McIntosh Unit 3 plant by late 2024. The utility estimates that it costs an additional $20 more per megawatt hour to produce power at the aging plant than at a comparable natural gas-powered plant.


    • Iron Bow Technologies’ call center in Tampa will close, eliminating 178 jobs. FairWarning, a data security company in Clearwater, plans to hire 50 as the company expands. Humana will add 100 phone sales positions in Tampa.


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