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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Thursday, Sep. 13, 2007 15 years ago

Coffee Talk

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Diamonds are elected officials' best friend, too: In terms of sheer size, Gemesis, a Lakewood Ranch-based company that manufactures cultured diamonds, is more than doubling its physical location. It's adding a 31,000-square-foot building to its campus in a corporate park near the University Boulevard exit of Interstate 75.Naples Realtors may publish monthly stats again: Every month, the Florida Association of Realtors publishes existing-home sales data for every metropolitan area.Help us find the top tech companies: Technology rules. From Tampa to Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples, entrepreneurs have developed amazing technologies that wowed us with their ingenuity. For five years, the Review has highlighted their successes with our annual Technology Innovation Award issue.Shake it like a Polaroid: Part-time Naples resident Michael London is going to shake things up at Polaroid.Tampa CFOs, CIOs will be hiring: CEOs could use a little good news on the Gulf Coast economy.Fighting business comes out swinging: Andrew Neitlich is having a solid first round in his effort to build a franchise-based nationwide mixed martial arts league headquartered in Sarasota.Make traffic tickets go away with convenience and humor: Products claiming to save the "busy business executive" valuable time are as common as a 90-degree August day.Banker takes home statewide award: Charlie Murphy, the chief executive officer of Sarasota-based Bank of Co

Coffee Talk

+ Diamonds are elected

officials' best friend, too

In terms of sheer size, Gemesis, a Lakewood Ranch-based company that manufactures cultured diamonds, is more than doubling its physical location. It's adding a 31,000-square-foot building to its campus in a corporate park near the University Boulevard exit of Interstate 75.

In terms of sheer spirit though, Gemesis founder and co-chairman Carter Clarke hopes the expansion signifies the beginning of a new era for the Bradenton-Sarasota area. "Just as the citizens of California are proud of their Silicon Valley," says Clarke, "so too will the citizens of Florida be proud of their diamond valley."

While that day remains in the long-term future, Gemesis' growth is now in the more near-term.

Clarke was one of two company executives to speak Sept. 7 at a groundbreaking ceremony for the company's expansion. State Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) and Sarasota County Commissioner Shannon Staub spoke, too. The expansion, which will allow Gemesis to more than double its diamond output, was initially reported by the Review July 6 when Halfacre Construction Co., the builder behind Gemesis' current headquarters, began site work on a potential second building.

The elected officials at the ceremony praised Gemesis while also recognizing how fortunate the area is that the company decided to stay where it is. "This is the crown jewel of the county," says Staub, "literally and figuratively."

Company executives shared the love, saying how much they value the workforce and amenities of the area.

Still, there is little doubt that what was left unsaid at the groundbreaking - tax breaks and other incentives Gemesis will be up for -helped sway company executives when it came time to choose between expanding or moving.

In addition to physical growth, Gemesis also recently added some star power to its board of directors by bringing on Larry Pollock, previously the president and chief operating officer of Irving, Texas-based jewelry retailer Zale Corp. and president and CEO of the Cole National Corp., the parent company behind retail chains such as Pearle Vision and Things Remembered. Pollock is currently a managing partner of an investment firm and is the non-executive chairman of Borders Group, Inc., parent of Borders Books.

+ Naples Realtors may

publish monthly stats again

Every month, the Florida Association of Realtors publishes existing-home sales data for every metropolitan area.

All regions report this information except Naples.

The Naples Area Board of Realtors pulled out of reporting late last year after disagreeing with the statewide trade group about how the data is collected. While the data collection has its flaws and the group switched to reporting quarterly, some cynics saw the move as a ploy to avoid publishing bad news about home sales.

But Michael Hughes, vice president and general manager of the largest residential brokerage firm in Naples, Downing-Frye Realty, says he's pushing to return to publishing monthly home-sales data.

That's because he wants to remove any perception that Naples Realtors are hiding bad news about the housing market. Contrary to what most people believe, he says the Naples housing market has stabilized and argues monthly figures would show that.

In fact, home-sale transactions at Downing Frye are running slightly ahead of last year, Hughes says. What's more, he expects the market to start recovering next year and that should generate some positive headlines.

+ Help us find the

top tech companies

Technology rules.

From Tampa to Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples, entrepreneurs have developed amazing technologies that wowed us with their ingenuity. For five years, the Review has highlighted their successes with our annual Technology Innovation Award issue.

Going on its sixth year, the Review is again seeking nominations for the best innovations in technology from Tampa Bay to Naples.

We are looking for achievers who create or apply technology to a business or not-for-profit venture in a way that changes an industry, creates greater profits or efficiencies or improves quality of life in a meaningful way. It doesn't matter what industry. Past winners include technology to recycle auto tires, a manufacturer of tiny robots and a product that keeps sewage from backing up in restaurants.

Nominations should include the particulars of the company and the technology, along with contact information, including phone numbers and e-mail. Please send nominations to [email protected]. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 19.

+ Shake it like a Polaroid

Part-time Naples resident Michael London is going to shake things up at Polaroid.

London recently was named CEO of the instant-photo legend, now part of the privately held Minnesota-based Petters Group.

London, who serves on the Hodges University Foundation board in Naples, is a 35-year veteran of the retailing industry. He most recently served in top management positions at retail giant Best Buy, including executive vice president of merchandising and global sourcing.

+ Tampa CFOs, CIOs

will be hiring

CEOs could use a little good news on the Gulf Coast economy. Coffee Talk has some. Four percent of chief financial officers in the Tampa Bay area expect to hire accounting and finance professionals during the fourth quarter and 4% anticipate reductions in personnel, according to the most recent Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index. The majority of respondents, 91%, foresee no change in hiring.

The local results reflect a two-quarter rolling average based on the responses of 200 CFOs from a random sample of companies in the Tampa Bay area with 20 or more employees.

The surveys were conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Robert Half International, a staffing services firm specializing in accounting and finance.

"Companies seek accounting and finance professionals who possess strong communication, information technology and decision-making skills, in addition to functional expertise," said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half. "Employers often are willing to accelerate the hiring process and offer enhanced compensation packages for these job candidates."

Meanwhile, 3% of chief information officers in the Tampa Bay area expect to hire information technology professionals in the fourth quarter, according to the most recent Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report.

Eight percent of executives surveyed plan to add staff during the quarter and 5% anticipate reductions. The majority of respondents, 84%, foresee no change in fourth-quarter hiring.

The local results reflect a two-quarter rolling average based on interviews with 200 CIOs from a random sample of companies in the Tampa Bay area with 100 or more employees; 1,400 executives were queried for the national data.

"While hiring plans appear to be more conservative, demand for IT professionals remains strong overall, particularly for individuals in hot specialty areas such as Web development and network administration," said Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology.

+ Fighting business

comes out swinging

Andrew Neitlich is having a solid first round in his effort to build a franchise-based nationwide mixed martial arts league headquartered in Sarasota. Neitlich, a marketing and business consultant with a Harvard MBA, kicked off the league last month when the inaugural fight between the Sarasota Slammers and the Miami Crazy Wolves was held at the Robarts Arena in Sarasota. (See Sept. 7, 2007 Review.)

In July, as Neitlich prepared for the league, which he calls Bonecrunch Fighting, he told the Review he'd like to have one to five additional teams competing regularly within a year. He's halfway there: Earlier this month, he announced two new teams are forming, one in Tampa and another in Lakeland. Plus, a third new team announcement, this one in Cincinnati, could be coming later this month.

+ Make traffic tickets go away with convenience and humor

Products claiming to save the "busy business executive" valuable time are as common as a 90-degree August day.

But Lawrence Gentioucci, a laid-back Californian, says he really does have something truly unique for the busy Florida business executive. At least the busy Florida business executive who finds himself with a traffic ticket: A traffic school booklet that a user can take in lieu of going to a state-mandated four-hour class or even instead of taking a timed class over the Internet.

Traffic Safety Consultants, a Northridge, Calif.-based company with an office in Winter Park, created the book. Gentioucci, director of operations for TSC, says the book has been used in California for several years and the company began researching the Florida market three years ago.

While the company will sell the book to anyone with a ticket, it has focused marketing primarily on reaching business executives. The type of people who look at giving up four consecutive hours for a non-business related activity has akin to chewing glass.

"A booklet course like this," Gentioucci tells Coffee Talk, "is a great thing for people on the go."

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles approved the book and curriculum earlier this year as another way a driver cited for a moving violation can satisfy a requirement to take a traffic school class.

The booklet is convenient and funny, Gentioucci says. Its theme is Funny in Florida, and it has numerous comic illustrations and jokes throughout the text.

Banker takes home

statewide award

Charlie Murphy, the chief executive officer of Sarasota-based Bank of Commerce, joined an exclusive list of statewide bankers earlier this summer when the Florida Bankers Association named him 'Banker of the Year.'

Murphy, well known in Gulf Coast banking circles both for his banking history and his federal and state lobbying efforts on behalf of fellow bankers, is the fifth banker to win the award. He joins 2006 winner Jay Shearouse, of Palm Beach-based Fidelity Federal Bank & Trust; 2005 winner Miller Couse, of First Bank of Clewiston in Clewiston; 2004 winner Jerry Neff, of then-Bradenton-based Gold Bank, which also had branches in Charlotte, Hillsborough and Sarasota counties; and Gwynn Cochran Virostek, of the Washington Mutual branch in Palm Beach.

As in past years, the award winner was kept secret until a video presentation at the association's annual convention, held at The Breakers in Palm Beach. "I was shocked and nearly overwhelmed when that video started rolling," Murphy said in a statement after the awards presentation. "It's just a tremendous honor and one I was glad to share with everyone in attendance."

The Bank of Commerce was formed in 2000 and has three offices in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Or your money back

Coffee Talk still gets an occasional chuckle when hearing about the incentives homebuilders and developers will unleash to sell properties.

Generators, Cadillacs, three-day golf-weekends are no longer rarities. There's also the now ubiquitous $1 move in.

Now there's this: The developers of Summer Cove on Siesta, a luxury condo project on Siesta Key, are offering a 100% money back guarantee for prospective buyers. If a buyer isn't satisfied after the purchase, the developers, Snavely Siesta Associates, will buy the residence back for the full purchase price.

"This program is for those people who want to own a residence on Siesta Key but are waiting for the market to level out before making a purchase," Snavely spokesman Bryan Nichols says. "With the guarantee, we take much of the risk out of their decision."

This isn't a Super 8-style money back guarantee, either.

Summer Cove, which opened in June, is on the bay side of the Siesta Key with Gulf-to-Bay views. Built around the historic Summerhouse building, the community has a total of 45 three- and four-bedroom condos, ranging in size from 2,100 to 3,800 square feet. Amenities include high-end fixtures and appliances, enclosed garage parking and extra-large terraces.

Prices start in the $900,000s.

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