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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Monday, Dec. 31, 2007 14 years ago

Coffee Talk

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WCI Communities' CFO resigns: The recent resignation of James Dietz, the chief financial officer of Bonita Springs-based WCI Communities, sparked lively discussions on the company's message boards. Network Liquidators appoints Jabil exec: Network Liquidators, a Tampa-based buyer and seller of pre-owned networking and telecommunications equipment, has appointed Steve Torres as chief financial officer.Sink says state should tighten its belt: Despite a state unemployment rate that is below the national average, expect belt tightening, streamlining of government and efforts to better protect the state financially from hurricanes as the state takes in less revenue.Sink to campaign for Democrats: And while she's tending the state's cash register, expect to see Florida CFO Alex Sink hit the campaign trail, working for fellow Democrats. At a recent CEO Council breakfast, she didn't name names.Metro acquires 8,300 home sites: Timing is everything. Although residential real estate is in the tank, there apparently are deals to be had. Some of them big.TOURISM TAXABLE SALES

Coffee Talk

+ WCI Communities' CFO resigns

The recent resignation of James Dietz, the chief financial officer of Bonita Springs-based WCI Communities, sparked lively discussions on the company's message boards.

For example, posters on the Yahoo! message boards devoted to WCI were evenly divided as to whether Dietz was responsible for the company's dismal performance of late.

One thing is clear: Dietz is just the latest in a parade of executives who have left the homebuilder as it struggles with $1.9 billion of debt in the midst of Florida's residential real estate downturn.

Ernest Scheidemann, 47, WCI's vice president and treasurer, was named interim CFO with a $375,000 annual salary.

+ Network Liquidators

appoints Jabil exec

Network Liquidators, a Tampa-based buyer and seller of pre-owned networking and telecommunications equipment, has appointed Steve Torres as chief financial officer.

Torres brings more than 10 years of strategic and financial leadership experience to Network Liquidators. Prior to joining the company, he was the director of financial reporting for Jabil Inc., where he was responsible for corporate financial reporting and SEC compliance and was involved in several domestic and international acquisitions. Prior to Jabil, he served with Syniverse Technologies and Tech Data.

Torres earned a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida and is a certified public accountant.

   

+ Sink says state should tighten its belt

Despite a state unemployment rate that is below the national average, expect belt tightening, streamlining of government and efforts to better protect the state financially from hurricanes as the state takes in less revenue.

Those were the main themes Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink touched on when recently addressing the CEO Council of Tampa Bay.

State revenues are expected to fall from $72 billion now to $71 billion next year.

"We always want to create an environment to support the growth of jobs," Sink says. "I'm big into efficiencies. Can we streamline the permitting process from nine months to three months so someone can build a new business?

The cost of property insurance for businesses has fallen by 30 percent in some cases, but the state still has much work to do to solve its insurance problems, Sink says. A primary goal should be to reduce its huge financial exposure to a catastrophic hurricane.

Despite homeowners' frustration with their insurance bills, Sink says the state is seeing some improvements. For example, businesses recently have told her that sky-high commercial insurance rates have fallen 30% to 50% in some cases.

In another good sign, Sink says workers' compensation rates will drop 18% next year, and they are down 50% since the 2003 reforms.

Still, she says the state needs to reduce some of the risk it faces from a devastating hurricane. As it stands now, private insurers would cover as much as they could afford, and then fall back on either reinsurance from the private market or reinsurance from the Catastrophe Fund.

If a hurricane did $28 billion in damage to Florida, the state might have to issue $20 billion in bonds. That would mean putting a special assessment on homeowners and business to the tune of $1.7 billion a year for 30 years, Sink says.

The state must spread some of that risk to private insurers, she says.

Sink says the real estate slowdown should continue next year and recover in 2009. "We still believe this is the land of opportunity," she says.

+ Sink to campaign

for Democrats

And while she's tending the state's cash register, expect to see Florida CFO Alex Sink hit the campaign trail, working for fellow Democrats. At a recent CEO Council breakfast, she didn't name names.

"I absolutely will campaign very actively for a change," Sink says. "We need a change in how we think of cat fund issues. We need to address the health care issue. There are big issues, environmental issues, our next president will have to be addressing."

No stranger to campaigns, Sink is married to former Democrat gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride.

+ Metro acquires

8,300 home sites

Timing is everything. Although residential real estate is in the tank, there apparently are deals to be had. Some of them big.

In the largest land purchase in company history, Tampa-based Metro Development Group has acquired 8,300 homesites in seven Florida counties from Lennar Corp., one of the nation's largest homebuilders.

The purchase price was not disclosed.

The homesites are in Pasco, Brevard, Sarasota, Polk, DeSoto, Lee and Hills-borough counties in the following communities:

•Pasco - Epperson Ranch, 1,700 acres;

•Lee - Stoneybrook North, 741 acres;

•DeSoto - Stoneybrook Oaks, 641 acres;

•Brevard - Chaparral, 246 acres;

•Hillsborough - Waterleaf, 140 acres;

•Polk - Leomas Landing, 94 acres;

•Sarasota - Hidden Palms, 41 acres.

According to Metro Development spokesman Rob Ahrens, the purchase was part of long-range acquisition strategies developed by the five-year-old company. Moreover, the Lennar deal increases by nearly 40% Metro Development's total Florida holdings, which now stand at more than 30,000 homesites under its ownership or control.

Ahrens says the purchase was triggered by Lennar's desire to convert many of its land holdings to cash, amid the nationwide slowdown in the housing market.

Founded in 2003, Metro Development has been involved in developing nearly five dozen communities throughout central Florida. Last year, the company generated sales of nearly $200 million.

TOURISM TAXABLE SALES

Area 9/2007 % Change

Fort Myers $128 ‑8.3%

Naples $96.8 ‑1.4%

Punta Gorda $22.5 ‑1.4%

Sarasota $120.8 ‑5.6%

Tampa $541.8 ‑4.1%

Florida $4,496.1 ‑1.6%

What the data shows: Taxable sales in tourism and recreation were down in September versus the same month a year ago in every area of the Gulf Coast. This category includes sales at hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, liquor stores, photo and art stores, gift shops, admissions, sporting goods and jewelry stores. Fort Myers registered the steepest decline and its neighbors to the north and south - Punta Gorda and Naples - showed the slightest dip.

What it means: September is typically a slow month for tourism in Florida. It's the time when children return to school and the threat of hurricanes keeps visitors away. Still, September's lower sales compared to the same month a year ago may indicate a decline in consumer spending as a result of a softening economy nationally.

Forecast: Airport officials are forecasting a flat year in the number of visitors they expect to Florida in 2008 and that could be the same fate for taxable sales in the category of tourism and recreation.

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