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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Nov. 7, 2003 18 years ago

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

This week's items: Three Gulf Coast markets results mixed on Entrepreneur magazine's survey of "Best Cities for Entrepreneurs."An update on the British luxury car scheduled to be manufactured in SarasotaNorth Port considers incubator

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

Up and coming

Three of our Gulf Coast metropolitan markets scored mixed results on Entrepreneur magazine's survey of "Best Cities for Entrepreneurs."

Good news: Florida was the only state with four cities (Fort Lauderdale, West Palm, Miami and Orlando) in Entrepreneur's top 10 annual list. But the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Sarasota-Bradenton and Fort Myers-Cape Coral markets trailed several other Florida cities on the annual survey.

The Tampa Bay market, 25th on the national list, jumped ahead of 15 other markets this year. Last year, the area ranked 40th on the list that evaluates cities for entrepreneurial activity and small-business growth (new business starts), job growth and risk (bankruptcies).

In mid-sized southern cities, Fort Myers-Cape Coral was fifth and Sarasota-Bradenton was 10th.

Fort Myers-Cape Coral scored 94 points out a possible 100 in entrepreneurial activity and 99 points for job growth. However, it scored only 43 in terms of small-business growth and posted a risk factor of 14.

Sarasota-Bradenton scored 82 out of a possible 100 points in terms of entrepreneurial activity and 80 points for job growth. Yet, it received a score of only 31 for small-business growth and a risk of 12.

Florida has right work force

So, about that British luxury car that might be manufactured in Sarasota or somewhere in Florida¦

As reported Oct. 24 in the Review in advance of the New Horizons TransAtlantic Business Forum, the promoters and developers of Project Zircon - a code name, not the name of the car - made the point repeatedly their intent was to invent a new luxury car that only the wealthiest and most discriminate car buyers could afford and would buy. Price tag: somewhere around $400,000. But what the Floridians and Sarasotans attending the Nov. 4 conference at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota waited to hear were the promoters' comments about manufacturing this lux-mobile in Florida.

"It's up for grabs," says John Richards, chairman of U.K.-based Relf-Richards Ltd., and lead spokesman for Project Zircon. "It's whoever gives us the best deal. We've already had inquiries from two other states."

In other words, whichever state provides the most subsidies may become the site of what may become a 100-employee assembly plant that would piece together pre-manufactured parts and install the fits and finishes in this still-to-be-designed car.

John C. Heffernan, a British car designer and member of the Project Zircon team, says his group would like to end up in Florida, to a large degree, because of the experienced craftsmen in state's boat manufacturing business. They're hard to find.

The Project Zircon team also likes Florida as its potential U.S. home because of its image back home. "The British identify with Florida much more than someplace like New Jersey," says Heffernan.

North Port considers incubator

North Port officials are trying mightily to stay ahead of its explosive growth - the city is expected to become the most populated city in Sarasota County within the next few years. Construction permits have hit record highs, with people attracted to the affordable cost of living compared to Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples. The county school board is building a new school in the North Port area every two years to keep up with the growth.

So it should surprise no one that the city may start its own business incubator, to foster successful entrepreneurial development among its growing population.

Dan Miller, a managing partner of the Sarasota business incubator, Startup Florida, spoke with North Port's Economic Development Advisory Board about the logistics of starting a south county incubator. Miller and officials say the only public investment would be assistance in locating a physical space for the incubator; the rest of the funding for most incubators comes from private investors and incubated businesses.

Bob Tunis, North Port's economic development manager, told Coffee Talk that Miller "made a pretty convincing presentation." Before the city commits to the idea, Tunis is doing due diligence on Startup Florida's operation.

Follow-up on the city attorney analysis

Last week, the Review ran an analysis comparing the current cost of Sarasota's outside city attorneys with the potential cost of hiring an in-house attorney staff. ("Aberrant Attorney Fees," Oct. 31).

Since that story ran, Sarasota's city attorney, Dick Taylor, lead partner in Taylor Lawless and Singer, made a surprising concession. On Nov. 4, he submitted to the city commissioners a recommendation that the city put together a panel of experts to study the cost and logistics of creating an in-house city attorney staff. Apparently assuming the panel would determine it fiscally responsible to create in-house counsel, Taylor stated his intention to relinquish the title of city attorney when the office is staffed and operational.

In the meantime, Grant Alley, the Fort Myers city attorney told Coffee Talk there is "no question" that in-house counsel is less expensive than outside counsel.

First Priority Bank changes priorities

It's the classic case of answering the door when opportunity knocks. The organizers of Manatee County's First Priority Bank have been focused on building their bank in east Manatee County, the heart of the county's fastest growth. After establishing the bank in the eastern county, First Priority intended to get a foothold in the western portion of the county as well. But positive circumstances have caused the plans to flip.

The Bank's organizers, led by construction company owner Alan Zirkelbach as chairman and George Najmy as president, raised about $2 million more capital than required to open the bank. In fact, they brought in close to $8.5 million, the maximum for which they had applied. With the capital and regulatory approvals in place, they wanted to get the bank open. However, they planned to build first the headquarters at 4730 S.R. 64 E., and it would take time to construct that building.

That's when the knock came. A former American Bank building at 4702 Cortez Road became available - a turnkey opportunity. First Priority is taking it, even though it's in the western part of the county.

"When you raise that kind of extra capital, you can do a second branch faster," Najmy said.

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