Leading Question

Q. Has Florida's minimum-wage increase been bad for business?

The debate continues. In November 2004, Florida voters, over the objections of many small business owners and organizations, decided to amend the state constitution and raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15. Just last month, the hourly wage climbed another 25 cents because that same vote tied the minimum wage to the consumer price index. Currently, Florida's minimum wage is $6.40, exactly $1.25 more than the federal minimum wage.

So has it impacted local business? Tony Newton, Jobs ETC project manager in Sarasota/Manatee, sees employers and job applicants all day long. So far, the increase hasn't had any effect, he says.

"If you're an employer, you can't hire someone for $6.15 an hour. Even jobs at $8 to $15 an hour have a lack of people. It's simply not an issue. Housekeepers in hotels make $10 an hour, including benefits; UPS drivers make $8.50 an hour; and commercial truck drivers make $15 an hour," he says. "I had an employer today who had advertised jobs at $8.50 and up and no one was interested."

For the restaurant industry, however, the answer is "ouch!" according to Lea Crusberg of the Florida Restaurant Association. "Payroll has gone up," she says.

Ed Chiles, the CEO of The Chiles Group, which owns the Sandbar Restaurant, the BeachHouse and Mar Vista restaurants, says the increase in minimum wage has had a big effect on his business. "The first six months it cost us $68,000," he says. "Double that for a year. That's quite a big effect on our profitability."

Bob Kirscher, president of The Broken Egg on Siesta Key and the local chapter president and board member of the Florida Restaurant Association, says his payroll probably increased another $35,000 to $40,000 in the first six months since the hike went into effect, and he's raised prices between 3 to 4 percent to compensate. Most customers don't notice, he admits. Still, the automatic annual wage hike makes him cranky. "Every time we raise the minimum wage there's inflationary pressure."

The bigger picture is more complicated, says University of Florida economist David Denslow. "The Florida economy has been growing so strongly it's hard to imagine the effect of the minimum wage would be anything other than minor," he says. Still, as the minimum wage continues to be adjusted for inflation, it may have an effect in the future.

"In general," he says, "the minimum wage is poor social policy." It may draw women with children into the workplace, displacing young high school dropouts who then become disaffected. (Think France, which has a high minimum wage, and the riots last fall, Denslow says.) "Better social policy might be to require employers to offer health insurance," according to Denslow. "There, the state does have an interest because uninsured workers are likely to wind up adding to hospital costs for the rest of us because they cannot pay their bills." -Susan Burns


Now Hear This

From Charleston South Carolina Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.'s keynote speech at The Downtown Partnerhip's 2005 Annual Dinner:

"Rule No. 1: You bow to the street, you honor the street."

"There's never any excuse-in any circumstance-to build something in our cities that isn't beautiful."

"Great cities save the waterfront for the public."

"The public zone is the place where we come to reaffirm our citizenship-and everyone owns it equally."

BUSINESS CALENDAR

FEBRUARY 2

Greater Sarasota Chamber partners meeting 8 to 9 a.m. at the chamber boardroom, 1945 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. Call 955-2508 ext. 234.

FEBRUARY 3

Greater Sarasota Chamber's Annual Kick-Off Breakfast, unveiling new programs, services and benefits. 7:30 a.m. at Michael's On East, 1212 East Ave. S., Sarasota. $25 for members, $40 for non-members. Call 955-2508 ext. 239.

FEBRUARY 6

Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County investor update breakfast 7:45 a.m. at the Boca Royale Golf & Country Club in Englewood. Keynote speaker is Sarasota County Commissioner Shannon Staub. Industry speaker is Wendy Brandon, CEO of Englewood Community Hospital. $20 for EDC investors, $25 for guests. Call 309-1200 ext. #203.

FEBRUARY 8

Handling Difficult Customers: How To Turn Complaints into Compliments, part of Sarasota's Chamber U Executive Breakfast Series. 8 to 9:30 a.m. at Michael's On East, 1212 East Ave. S., Sarasota. $30 for members ($35 at the door), $35 for non-members ($40 at the door). Call 955-2508 ext. 231 or RSVP online at SarasotaChamber.org.

FEBRUARY 22

Natural Capitalism seminar on how to better satisfy customers' needs, increase profits and help solve environmental problems. 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Manatee Community College Center for Innovation and Technology in Lakewood Ranch. Conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute and presented by the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County and the Florida West Coast Resource Conservation and Development Council. $65. Call 309-1200 ext. #203.

MY FIRST JOB

Randy Corona managed the business side of a pharmacy.

Prescription for Success

Randy Corona is president of Signs Now Corporation, a leader in the sign and graphics industry.

"I worked at an operation called Ace Drug Marts in Austin, Texas. It was a family-owned business, run by pharmacists, and I came in as the young M.B.A. (Texas State University, '83) to bring business techniques to the company. Interestingly, I still see some of the same issues today in my business as I did there: people who were skilled at pharmacy but didn't know much about business. I just started overhauling everything. In a small business, it's about constant growth and reinvention. So one of the first things I did was analyze all the business files.

I did the spreadsheets all by hand on a ledger pad. This was before Excel. I had to add every column twice to make sure I did it correctly. Just preparing the data was a tremendous job. No one had ever even looked at that; they just looked at the bank account and not the business end of things. I'm 48, and in my lifetime, what computers have done to the workplace is mind-boggling. There's not one aspect of business that hasn't been affected.

I knew eventually I wanted to get into franchising, though. I worked at Fast Signs in Dallas for a while, then came here in 1998 and was promoted to president in 2004. You talk about how, in America, you can be anything you want to be. Well, you can. That's what makes this county great. I grew up a redneck kid in a small town, to be honest. But you're not limited as to what you can be. You just have to have a plan and go for it."-Interviewed by Abby Weingarten

FIVE QUESTIONS

Architect Michael Carlson encourages sustainable development.

It's Not Easy Being Green

Michael Carlson of Carlson Studio Architecture studied sustainable architecture at Ball State University in Indiana, but couldn't find much demand for green building design when he moved to Sarasota in 1986. Times have changed. Partly because of the U.S. Green Building Council's marketing and incentive efforts-Carlson now chairs the council's Gulf Coast Technology/Education Committee-awareness is growing, and so is Carlson's business.

Why is sustainable architecture important? Fossil fuels are coming to the end of their existence; we need to use less energy. Global warming is becoming a problem. We need buildings to use less water. We need to keep interiors cleaner and safer. There are lots of things we put inside our buildings, volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde and cancer-causing compounds. We need natural daylight. Studies show that increased exposure to sunlight increases retail sales, shortens hospital stays and reduces office absenteeism.

Is it expensive to build sustainable buildings? No more than it is to build a regular quality building. But if you are looking to build the cheapest possible thing you can build, it does cost more because, by their nature, green materials are more durable and long lasting. If your electricity bill is 45 percent less than in a nongreen building, in the next 50 years, the savings are significant. And the cost of oil today is not going to be the cost of oil in the next 10 years.

Pick a recent green project and describe its sustainable features. The Twin Lakes Park office complex [which Carlson designed] is the highest-scoring Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) building in Florida. The building uses 45 percent less electricity than a regular code-compliant building. Photovoltaics convert light into electricity and generate 5 percent of the building's electrical needs. The building uses 58 percent less water than a normal code-compliant building. It's got a 28,000-gallon cistern for rainwater harvesting that is used for flushing toilets and irrigation. The only water from the county water system is for washing hands at the sink. It has a daylight harvesting system that monitors how much sunlight comes in and automatically dims fluorescent lights.

What incentives are used to get people more interested in building green? A lot of places in the country have adopted resolutions to make buildings green, but it's not widespread. Some communities share the cost of putting photovoltaics on a project, for example. Some communities will have projects for simple stuff, like converting everyone to low-flow toilets. Sarasota County has expedited permitting, where the process takes a week instead of a month, and there's a cash rebate also.

How good a job have Sarasota and Manatee counties done in the field of green building? Sarasota County is doing a great job. I have not seen much out of Manatee. Sarasota County has two gold LEED buildings and a silver one. Some states don't have three. County government has recognized the importance of sustainable architecture and has been promoting it, not just with sustainability in the built world, but in everything-pest management, housekeeping, purchasing and transportation.

CRUNCHING NUMBERS

Visitor numbers in Sarasota and Manatee are up.

TOURIST TALLY

No. of hits at the Sarasota Convention and Visitor's Bureau Web site January-November 2005: 915,551

The top visitors' market outside of Florida for Sarasota and Manatee: Chicago, Ill.

Sarasota County hotel occupancy 87.9 percent

August 2004: 78.3 percent

March 2005: 91 percent

August 2005: 50.1 percent

March 2004:

Manatee County hotel occupancy 93.6 percent

August 2004: 62 percent

March 2005: 93.1 percent

August 2005: 47.5 percent

March 2004:

Average daily room rate in Sarasota County $175.97

August 2004: $134.32

March 2005: $190.52

August 2005: $101.05

March 2004:

Average daily room rate in Manatee County $139.98

August 2004: $103.53

March 2005: $150.19

August 2005: $115.50

March 2004:

Gross bed tax collected in Sarasota $1.15 million

August 2004: $422,715

March 2005: $1.26 million

August 2005: $305,745

March 2004:

Gross bed tax collected in Manatee $649,121

August 2004: $266,165

March 2005: $733,118

August 2005: $265,426

March 2004:

Annual visitors to Mote Aquarium 312,628

January-November 2005: 335,754

January-November 2004:

Annual visitors to Myakka State Park 250,954

July 2004-June 2005: 259,996

July 2003-June 2004:

Annual visitors to South Florida Museum 42,597

2005: 60,000

2004:

Annual visitors to John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art 279,212

July 2004-June 2005: 283,122

July 2003-June 2004:

Cincinnati Reds spring season attendance 81,586

2005: 90,012

2004:

SOURCES: Sarasota Convention and Visitor's Bureau, Manatee Convention and Visitor's Bureau, Manatee County Tax Collector, and as reported by individual institutions. Compiled by Hannah Wallace.

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