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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Jun. 2, 2006 16 years ago

Coffee Talk

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Merger helps Regions: The recently announced $10 billion merger of two Alabama banks should help the new Regions Financial Corp. in Sarasota, at least on paper.Construction hammered less: Is the world truly rosier from beneath a hard hat? High fliers: The boom times are continuing at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. President Fred Piccolo reports that air traffic continues to grow: It was up 10% over last year, which comes off an 18% jump the previous year. What, me not worry: Part stock analyst, part historian and part scold, Richard X. Bove worries about the future of the American economy.Mel's Diner expanding: Retro-themed Bonita Springs-based restaurant chain Mel's Diner is expanding with two new locations it hopes to open on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. Recognizing risk takers: From a self-made man who never attended college to a Harvard grad, the seven Tampa-area chief executives among the 30 Florida finalists for Ernst & Young's 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year award are a diverse lot.'Take it to the Hill': The June 18-20 national small business summit in Washington, D.C., will include tips on running a business, as well as politicking with members of Congress and a keynote address by the president and CEO of eBay.
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Coffee Talk

+ Merger helps Regions

The recently announced $10 billion merger of two Alabama banks should help the new Regions Financial Corp. in Sarasota, at least on paper.

Regions will be the name of its proposed combination with AmSouth Bancorporation. The new institution hopes to close 150 branches in 16 Midwest and Southeast states where the two banks overlap.

One of those markets is Sarasota.

AmSouth, with $286 million on deposit at 13 offices in the Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice metropolitan area, had the bigger share of the deposit market at 1.8%, as of last June. Regions trailed at slightly more than 1%, with $162 million in deposits at six offices.

If the merger is completed, the new Regions would break into the top 10 largest deposit institutions in the Sarasota market, according to SNL Financial LC. Regions would take over eighth place with a 2.6% share.

Using the year-old but latest available deposit share data, Regions would move ahead of Bradenton's Coast Bank of Florida, on a percentage basis, and come in just behind Sarasota's Century Bank.

What often happens, however, is a combined bank not only sheds employees but also loses deposits, at least for a while. Community banks frequently take advantage when regional banks struggle to mesh.

Mike Schaller, a bank analyst with the Virginia-based research outfit SNL Financial, foresees community bankers in Sarasota and elsewhere gaining less than they normally would from the Regions-AmSouth union. "Integration shouldn't pose any problems," Schaller says in a report on the merger. "The companies deal in the same markets with similar products. I expect getting the two operations to work in unison will go smoothly and inexpensively."

+ Construction hammered less

Is the world truly rosier from beneath a hard hat?

A survey issued by the Buffalo Gove, Ill.-based International Profit Associates Small Business Research Board indicates that small businesses in the construction/contractor industry are predicting better business growth and a better economy than other sectors. The IPA Small Business Confidence Index, which measures expectations in business revenue, hiring and the economy found that construction/contractors were more positive than other businesses, with a 49.3 ranking on the overall scale, compared to 44.6 for other businesses.

Construction company executives are said to be 23% more optimistic than their business peers in other fields. And 48% of those in construction surveyed reported that the general economy would improve, compared with 44% in overall small business and 39% in non-construction industries.

Material costs were the single most important issue to construction businesses. Only 3% of construction/contracting businesses listed energy/fuel as the most important cost issue.

Forty-three percent of construction companies expect to increase hiring this year, compared to only 34% in the non-construction industries.

International Profit Associates is the largest privately held provider of management consulting and professional services to small and medium-sized businesses in North America.

+ High fliers

The boom times are continuing at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. President Fred Piccolo reports that air traffic continues to grow: It was up 10% over last year, which comes off an 18% jump the previous year.

Piccolo is awaiting more growth news, as a response is expected soon from the U.S. Department of Transportation on US Airways' application to provide non-stop service from Sarasota-Bradenton to Washington, D.C. If approved, it would be the first time the airport has ever been able to offer a straight shot to the nation's capital.

+ What, me not worry

Part stock analyst, part historian and part scold, Richard X. Bove worries about the future of the American economy.

This shouldn't be news to regular Coffee Talk readers of the widely quoted Pinellas Park bank analyst's research reports for Punk Ziegel & Co.

But perhaps more people are paying attention to him lately. Bove, who has been around Wall Street a bit longer than his fresher-faced peers, has been fretting about things like optional payment plans for adjustable-rate mortgages since lenders dreamt them up a few years back. Bove says he has been asked to reprieve some of his May commentary that drew parallels between two past financial crises and current trends.

Here's the Cliffs Notes version: "This time is different, I am told...The increase in housing prices is not inflationary. The increase in energy prices does not count, so it is not inflationary...The increase in the cost of services like medical care is not that important...Gold is a joke. No one uses this commodity in the real economy. Consumers certainly do not seem to care about higher prices...The fact that the Federal Reserve has lost direction is not important."

Bove critics note that he is a so-called sell-side analyst. Indeed, Bove acknowledges he isn't urging Punk Ziegel clients to dump many of the bank stocks that he covers.

"On the [other] hand, however, I cannot stop worrying," he concludes in boldface type. "Maybe this time is not different."

+ Mel's Diner expanding

Retro-themed Bonita Springs-based restaurant chain Mel's Diner is expanding with two new locations it hopes to open on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota.

The former Sarasota Cafe near Sarasota Memorial Hospital and the former Friendly's restaurant in Gulf Gate will be converted by the end of the year, Mel's Diner CEO Chris Karakosta tells Coffee Talk.

The new spots will join 11 others throughout the Gulf Coast.

"That location's been good to us," Karakosta says. "We've been experimenting in the [Naples area] with some new concepts and we think it's time to come up north and be able to do the same thing."

The chain has refocused its menu and upgraded facilities with a sleek new look. The new Sarasota locales will be known as Mel's Gourmet Diner. Karakosta says the new locations will serve diner food with "a 21st century flare."

Both locations are waiting for permits to begin renovation. The Sarasota Cafe location could open as early as July.

+ Recognizing risk takers

From a self-made man who never attended college to a Harvard grad, the seven Tampa-area chief executives among the 30 Florida finalists for Ernst & Young's 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year award are a diverse lot. The nominees include:

Consumer products/retail - Jonathan Yob. He bought his first metals recycling plant in Tampa when he was only 20. In 1994, he founded Creative Recycling Systems Inc. to provide cost-effective, environmentally friendly electronic recycling services. His company is now one of the leading electronics recycling companies in the country.

Distribution - Jonathan Whitworth. He is CEO of publicly traded Maritrans Inc., which provides marine transportation services to the oil and petroleum industries along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. The Tampa company was founded in 1987.

Financial services - David Serlo. He is president/CEO of Tampa's PSCU Financial Services Inc., which provides financial services to 500 member-owned credit unions.

Health services - Todd Farha. Harvard MBA graduate Todd Farha is president/CEO of WellCare Health Plans Inc., which provides managed health care to more than 800,000 members in Florida, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana and Georgia.

Manufacturing - Thomas Kruse. He invented the Hoveround, a personal mobility vehicle, in 1990 in his garage. He began marketing it directly to consumers, and now Hoveround Corp. of Tampa is one of the nation's fastest-growing companies.

Real estate/construction - Stephen E. Johnston II. He founded Home Discovery Real Estate Services Corp. in the kitchen of his Temple Terrace home. It's a low-commission, technology-focused, one-stop network of real estate services.

Services - Three of the top managers at Kforce Inc. are up for the award. They are David Dunkle, president; Richard Cocchiaro, vice chairman; and Howard Sutter, vice chairman.

In addition, Ernst & Young is presenting its Lifetime Achievement Award to William J Schoen, chairman of Naples-based Health Management Associates Inc. since 1986.

Entrepreneur winners will be announced June 22 at a gala at Gaylord Palms Resort, Orlando.

+ 'Take it to the Hill'

The June 18-20 national small business summit in Washington, D.C., will include tips on running a business, as well as politicking with members of Congress and a keynote address by the president and CEO of eBay.

Hosted by the National Federation of Independent Business, the fifth biennial small business summit is open to entrepreneurs and key policy makers.

The idea is to help political leaders learn how they can support free enterprise and to teach entrepreneurs how to be more involved in the political process to benefit business.

Workshops include Cardholder Data Security and Fraud Prevention, presented by Visa; Technology Tips to Help your Business Grow, presented by Dell; Expanding Your Company's Benefits ...Without Increasing Your Costs, presented by AIG; Reducing Current Taxes and Increasing Retirement Income, presented by AIG; You Can't Succeed Yourself: How to Cut Back, Kick Up and Get Out, presented by AIG; and Where Does Your Business-owner's Policy Stop?

For more information about the summit, including online registration, go to http://www.nfib.com/page/summitHome.html.

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