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Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

More than two dozen residents from Pinellas County's beach communities signed up for one-on-one meetings with Citizens Insurance staff Tuesday morning in St. Pete Beach.

The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce and Florida Sen. Jeff Brandes arranged the meetings.

“Just seeing the amount of people who are out here,” Brandes said, “We’re excited to see people get a chance to interact with their insurance company and I think we need to make Citizens much more customer friendly.”

USGS.gov

Florida’s state-run Citizens Property Insurance is coming to the Tampa Bay region for feedback on its announced rate increases.

Citizens’ policyholders have two opportunities Tuesday, August 20, 2013, to have their questions answered. The proposed rate hikes that range from two to 11 percent for hurricane coverage and increases up to 27 percent for sinkhole coverage.

Yoselis Ramos

Wheels of Success, a non-profit that keeps people employed by providing low cost cars to those in need is losing its home. They've lost their headquarters office on Florida Avenue in Tampa.

Sarasota County has a higher percentage of people over 65 than any other large county in the nation. And some business leaders now say that all those seniors - rather than a demographic drawback - could be a valuable asset.

They could actually help diversify the economy - even turn the county into what they're calling a "mecca" for those who want to learn what an aging population looks like.

Retailers Keeping Tabs on Consumers' Return Habits

Aug 12, 2013
Renjith Krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It's not just the government that might be keeping tabs on you. Many retailers are tracking you, too — or at least your merchandise returns.

The companies say it's all in the name of security and fighting fraud. They want to be able to identify chronic returners or gangs of thieves trying to make off with high-end products that are returned later for store credit.

Consumer advocates are raising transparency issues about the practice of having companies collect information on consumers and create "return profiles" of customers at big-name stores such as Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Victoria's Secret, Home Depot and Nike.

Enterprise Florida Board Approves CEO's Bonus

Aug 8, 2013
Enterprise Florida

Florida's top official in charge of bringing businesses to the state is getting a $70,000 bonus.

The board of Enterprise Florida - which includes Gov. Rick Scott - voted Thursday to grant the bonus to president and CEO Gray Swoope. The board also signed off on more than $630,000 in bonuses for other agency employees.  

Florida's Jobs Recruiter May Get Hefty Bonus for Work

Aug 7, 2013
Enterprise Florida

Florida's top official in charge of recruiting jobs to the state could be getting a $70,000 bonus.

Enterprise Florida, the organization set up to lure companies to the state, will consider the bonus for President and CEO Gray Swoope when its board meets Thursday. That board — which includes Gov. Rick Scott — will also consider more than $630,000 in bonuses for other agency employees.

Florida utility regulators are letting Duke Energy Florida, the nation's largest utility, raise rates to pay for a shuttered nuclear power plant in Crystal River.

University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research

Citing a preliminary report from the University of Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reports the state's population grew slightly in the past year, up a bit from the pace seen during the recession.

State Rep. Mike Fasano knew that Duke Energy was going to withdraw plans to build a nuclear power plant in Levy County long before the general public did.

He says his feeling after hearing the news was for the customers - himself included - who have paid more than a billion dollars of fees - money that was to go toward a nuclear power plant that will never be built.  He says Duke Energy was not honest with state leaders, the Public Service Commission and most importantly not honest with its customers.

The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that Duke Energy will not be building a nuclear plant in Levy County after all.

MiraclePlace Gives Hope to Homeless

Jul 31, 2013
Yoselis Ramos

Metropolitan Ministries is renovating and expanding its MiraclePlace campus just north of downtown Tampa. It's home to homeless children and families until they can get back on their feet.

Families previously stayed in a 200-square-foot room with a couple of bunk beds against the walls and a small bathroom to the side. Mandy Cloninger of Metropolitan Ministries said the single light overhead was an example of how this small room wasn't enough.

A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA

Jul 29, 2013

With a precipitous decline in Florida’s harvest predicted within the decade because of citrus greening, the only chance left to save it, many people believe, is one the industry has long avoided for fear of consumer rejection. They would have to alter the orange’s DNA — with a gene from a different species. Oranges are not the only crop that might benefit from genetically engineered resistance to diseases for which standard treatments have proven elusive. And advocates of the technology say it could also help provide food for a fast-growing population on a warming planet by endowing crops with more nutrients, or the ability to thrive in drought, or to resist pests.

Miami-Orlando Train Plans Gain Steam

Jul 29, 2013

Managers of the project to operate a premium Miami-Orlando passenger train service say they are close to putting out bids to design the railroad corridor stretching from downtown Miami to the Orlando International Airport. The announcement marked yet another milestone in the highly-anticipated train service that aims to lure passengers with luxury service. Project managers hope to draw passengers with high-end offers on trains and in stations where brand name shops will be featured. The service will have four stations: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. The rail infrastructure is expected to cost more than $1.5 billion. Originally announced in March 2012, All Aboard Florida is expected to launch by the end of 2015, 16 daily trains would leave from each of the two terminus stations, at Orlando International Airport and downtown Miami, between early morning and the evening with intermediate stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Trains would take about three hours to complete each one-way trip.

Obama's Economic Tour Arrives in Jacksonville

Jul 25, 2013
whitehouse.gov

It's hard to find anyone who thinks President Barack Obama's series of heavily promoted economic speeches will be the flash point that unclogs the system in Washington — including the president.

A day after he kicked off the tour in Illinois and Missouri, Obama travels today to a seaport in Jacksonville, to yet again deride the wide gulf between his vision for a new American prosperity driven by a burgeoning middle class and the intense gridlock snarling up Congress.

University of Central Florida

It's a mostly sunny economic forecast for Florida for the next three years, boosted by a strong housing market recovery. That's according to a quarterly report released Tuesday by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness.

The institute’s three-year financial forecast says more homes are being built and sold, and housing prices are going up. UCF economist Sean Snaith points out that’s good news even for homeowners who aren’t planning to sell. 

Upward Mobility Not Easy in Tampa Bay

Jul 23, 2013

A poor child's chance of climbing into the upper class as an adult depends on where he or she lives. That's according to a new study by economists at Harvard and the University of California-Berkeley. Among 30 big metro areas, Tampa Bay ranks 22nd, with just 7 percent of children raised in a household in the lowest fifth level of income likely to end up in the top fifth level.

Internships: A Personal View

Jul 10, 2013
Courtesy TheExaminer.com

Call it the 'Revenge of the Interns.' Since two interns won a case against Fox Searchlight last month, more and more interns are coming out of the woodwork to sue their employers for unfair labor practices. While some say these court cases could end unpaid internships, WUSF's Jean Henry finds that others don't mind paying their dues.
 

Marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Buying fresh fruits and vegetables can be a real problem for lower income people. A lot of neighborhoods don't have stores that carry them, and for many people the price is too high. Farmer's markets could be a solution, but very few of them accept food stamps.

It’s happening slowly -- but Central Florida farmer’s markets are opening the door to SNAP. That’s the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that used to be known as food stamps. These days, recipients largely use an electronic benefits transfer, or EBT card that’s like a debit card.

Fla. Lottery Sales Top $5 Billion for First Time

Jul 8, 2013
Florida Lottery

The Florida Lottery says it topped $5 billion in sales for the first time during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The department made the announcement Monday. It also said that a record $1.41 billion is expected to go into the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.

Both amounts top the previous highs reached the year before, when sales were $4.45 billion and education transfers were $1.31 billion.

Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So you want to start a business in Florida? You're not alone.

Floridians are more entrepreneurial than the United States as a whole, according to the 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor U.S. Report from Babson College in Massachusetts and Baruch College in New York.

Among the key findings:

Amie Blodgett / USF News

Local businessman and philanthropist Olin Mott has died at the age of 92.

Mott, who dropped out of school after sixth grade to sell peanuts to help support his family during the Great Depression, created the Bay area tire store chain that bears his name after serving in World War II. 

Mott had been wounded during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and received a Purple Heart. He later served in Army-Navy Intelligence and was the last survivor of his 80-man unit.

Mott also co-founded Joshua House, a shelter for abused or abandoned children, and was instrumental in securing the location of USF's Tampa campus as well as in bringing football to the university.

City of Tampa

We've all been there: an appointment downtown lasts longer than you were expecting. Your only options are to duck out early to feed the parking meter, or stay and pay the price in the form of a ticket. 

Starting this month, there's a third option. Drivers can use the City of Tampa's new pay-by-phone system to pay for parking from anywhere.

No more digging for change in your car's cupholder. No more urging restaurant servers to hurry up with that check so you can dash back to your car. With the new Parkmobile system, you can pay for parking via smart phone, cell phone or website using a credit card or PayPal account. Drivers can also opt to receive an alert 15 minutes before their parking session expires, and then add more time remotely.

While Florida's unemployment dropped 0.1 percent to 7.1 percent in May, the actual number of jobs in the state also fell last month by 6,200. At the same time, state economists have released a report that show a key reason for the drop has been people leaving the workforce or not actively looking for a job.

Hillsborough County Approves Amazon Incentive

Jun 19, 2013

The huge Internet retailer Amazon is one step closer to building a fulfillment center in Ruskin. Hillsborough County Commissioners approved Wednesday a set of tax incentives to bring the company here.

Amazon is promising 1,000 jobs for Hillsborough County, with 375 of those being higher wage positions making an average of more than $47,000.

Hillsborough County Commissioners decided the new jobs will be worth the incentive of $225,000. 

Reversing his earlier decision, Governor Scott has reached an agreement with Amazon. While the arrangement will see the Internet shopping titan create 3,000 new jobs, it also includes a 6 percent state sales tax on Amazon purchases for Florida residents.

Startup Weekend Tampa Bay

For 54 hours starting Friday night, local entrepreneurs, developers and designers will match wits to see who can create the best new business at Startup Weekend Tampa Bay.

It's the fourth local version of an international event that's been held in over 200 cities around the world, but the first time it's taking place in St. Petersburg.

Yoselis Ramos

The Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa is getting a facelift. Mayor Bob Buckhorn is attending the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the new Stingray Beach exhibit tonight. .

Sand, shore birds, a boardwalk, and stingrays. It's the closest you can get to actually being on a beach. Stringray Beach is the latest expansion to the Florida Aquarium.

New Exotic Car Rental Company Revving Up in Sarasota

May 30, 2013
AutoXotic

When South Beach comes to mind, you probably picture hot convertible cars going up and down Miami Beach roads in the warm Florida sun. But when you think about Sarasota, does the same picture come to mind? If one new business has its way, it soon will.

Sarasota is now home to AutoXotic-- a luxury car rental company that's launching Saturday. Its owners say Tampa’s southern neighbor is turning into the new hotspot for these high-priced ‘hot wheels.’

The Sweetbay Supermarket chain, along with two additional chains, has been sold to Bi-Lo Holdings, parent of Winn-Dixie, for $265 million in cash. Bi-Lo will buy a total of 165 stores: 72 Sweetbay stores, leases for 10 prior Sweetbay locations, 72 Harveys stores and 11 Reid's stores.

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