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Getting a Lift: Mears turns to private equity investors to take on ride-sharing companies.

In 1939, Paul Mears Jr. bought three cars and started a taxi business. Over the next 80 years, he and his family built Orlando based Mears Transportation into one of the largest taxi and shuttle companies in the Southeast, with a fleet of nearly 1,200 cabs, motor coaches, luxury vehicles and shuttle vans.

The company, whose vehicles are ubiquitous in Orlando, became the primary shuttle concessionaire at Orlando International Airport and won the contract to operate Disney’s Magical Express service. The family became some of the region’s most generous philanthropists, supporting everything from hospitals to Valencia College.

But Mears, like the rest of the taxi industry, has seen its business rocked in recent years by the emergence of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. So it is now turning to outside investors in hopes of building a more sophisticated technology platform.

In April, Mears announced that it had sold a combined majority stake in the company to a pair of private-equity companies: West Palm Beach-based Palm Beach Capital and New York-based Tri- Artisan Capital Advisors. The deals will mean significant leadership changes for the once family- owned company. Palm Beach Capital will hold a 48% stake, and TriArtisan will take a 32% stake. The Mears family will retain 10%, with the rest held by smaller investors or reserved for executive compensation. Only one family member will retain a board seat — Paul Mears III, the grandson of the company founder, though he will step down as president. Charles Carns will remain CEO.

After market-testing its new app in Central Florida, Mears plans a broader launch around the country.

“With the changing landscape in the transportation business, we are fortunate to have a partnership with Palm Beach Capital that will allow us to grow our business,” Carns said in a statement following the deal. “With Palm Beach Capital’s financial strength and expertise, we look forward to growing our long and successful track record into markets outside Central Florida.”

BUSINESS Briefs

CENTRAL FLORIDA

  • Family Physicians Group, which operates 22 offi ces around the region, was acquired by Humana.

DELAND

  • Hyatt Brown, the Daytona Beach insurance executive and former House Speaker, and his wife, Cici will donate $18 million to Stetson University to build a science building and expand science programs. It is the largest gift in the university’s history. Meanwhile, the university has begun a $30-million renovation and expansion of its Carlton Union Building.

LAKE COUNTY

  • Voters will be asked this fall to approve a 5-centper- gallon gas tax increase to pay for road improvements.

MOUNT DORA

  • The city began running eight-seat golf cart shuttles to ease parking shortages in its downtown.

ORANGE COUNTY

  • Investigators at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have made a preliminary fi nding to recommend taking civil or administrative action against SeaWorld over allegedly misleading statements made by the company and its executives in 2014 concerning the impact of the anti- captivity documentary Blackfish.
  • Hotel operator Wyndham Worldwide is considering moving its headquarters from New Jersey to Orange County in exchange for an incentive package. The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case over whether the county’s constitutional offi ces can be made non-partisan.
  • County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who is term-limited out of offi ce after eight years, launched a campaign for chairman of the Orange County School Board. The school board will ask county voters to extend an incremental property tax increase to fund school operations.

ORLANDO

  • Universal Orlando acquired more land near the Orange County Convention Center amid speculation that the resort is speeding up plans for a new theme park. The resort released details involving two new hotels it’s building on the site of the former Wet ’n Wild water park. One hotel will be called the Surfside Inn and Suites, which will have 750 rooms and open in summer 2019; the other will be called the Dockside Inn and Suites, which will have 2,050 rooms and open in sometime in 2020.
  • A consortium of public and private groups led by the Central Florida Foundation launched a trust to provide land for affordable housing, beginning in the city’s downtown Parramore neighborhood, where the construction of a new UCF and Valencia College campus is driving up land values.
  • UCF graduated the inaugural class from a new master’s of science program in data analytics.

PORT CANAVERAL

  • The port will build a new $150-million cruise terminal.

PLAYERS

  • Seminole State College chose Georgia Lorenz as its next president, succeeding Ann McGee, who will retire Aug. 1. Lorenz is currently vice president of academic affairs at Santa Monica College in California.
  • Gaby Ortigoni, most recently a regional vice president of economic development agency Prospera, was hired as president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando.
  • Bryan Nelson, an insurance agent and former state legislator and Orange County commissioner, defeated Joe Kilsheimer to become mayor of Apopka, Orange County’s second-largest city.

INNOVATION: A Better Fertilizer

Anuvia Plant Nutrients, which makes fertilizer at a small factory in Zellwood, northwest of Orlando, has struck a deal with Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, to make a new fertilizer using manure from Smithfield’s hog farms. Smithfield will collect remnant solids from its manure-treatment systems at company-owned and contract hog farms in North Carolina, which Anuvia will then convert into a commercial-grade fertilizer that the company says will have a higher nutrient concentration than original organic materials — and a more controlled nutrient release that emits fewer greenhouse gases.

Anuvia says it will sell the fertilizer to farmers nationwide.

 

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