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Tampa Bay economy gut check: Business executives see people trying to put cash to work

Tampa Bay Business Journal - July 12, 2013

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 I love a good BizMix.

 The semi-quarterly, free networking events we hold around the Bay area always attract a wild stew of folks. Earlier this week, I gathered 18 business cards and asked each person, “How’s business?”

 There was exuberance from those in health care, software and tech; renewed optimism in commercial real estate; and an edgy happiness in residential real estate.

 The theme: Opportunity exists, but hard work is needed to win.

 C1 Bank’s Kim Falana was celebrating a new client that heard a pitch, left, but came back. She used the victory to remind her staff at the bank’s Tampa branch that every lead can pay off.

 It was a similar theme when we convened a panel of six executives at our office to talk about the current local economy.

 “Real estate – which is one of the strongest local drivers – is strong right now and it’s across the board, both strip classes, office buildings and then residential on a large scale,” Marshall J. Morris, managing partner at Group125 LLC in Tampa. “Subcontractors are busy. We have a site developer client with a backlog that has expanded tremendously.”

 “Nationally we consume about 1.2 million to 1.4 million homes whether that’s through new family formations or demolitions, and right now new family housing starts are at 800,000,” said Jay DeGeare, principal, Senior Investment Advisor Group, Bernstein Global Wealth Management. “Although we have had some pretty impressive growth rates, we’re coming from such a low level that the ratios look like we can’t sustain those, but in reality there’s a lot of room left.”

 “We’re not at the bottom of the cycle and it’s certainly not a ‘V,’” said Luciano L. Prida Jr., president of Prida Guida & Co. PA. Clients are making plans to move in the right direction. “Some I thought were maybe on their last legs seem to have found some balance, including some old line businesses you wouldn’t expect like printing.”

 People have a lot of capital they want to deploy and they are trying to do that in stuff that interests them, said Curt P. Creely, partner, transactional and securities at Foley & Lardner LLP in Tampa.

 “You see all sorts of ad hoc investment partnerships or special purposes entities being put together in club investments in a bunch of different things.”

 Valuation Research Corp. is mainly involved on the merger and acquisition side but over the last couple of years, has seen “a pretty slow market,” said Steven E. Schuetz, managing director at the Tampa office of the Milwaukee-based firm.

 It’s a different story for Julio C. Ramirez Jr., senior vice president and commercial middle market team leader at Fifth Third Bank. His M&A deal activity is up.

 “We’re primarily dealing with only privately-held companies that have sat around on some liquidity for a couple of years and now are making very strategic additions to diversify either a product type or geography they serve,” he said.

 TAKING IT IN is a weekly column by TBBJ Editor Alexis Muellner focused on behind-the-scenes insights about the newspaper and its stories or interactions.

Group125 is an executive services firm made up of seasoned CFO's, CIO's, and COO's who understand the strategic thinking required for ambitious growth, as well as the operational need for fiscal efficiency. For more information, contact via or visit us at

Marshall Morris