Leading Question

Has the weak dollar attracted foreign visitors to our shores?

Despite a small uptick in its value against foreign currencies recently, the last four years have been a slow slide downward for the almighty U.S. dollar. Are there any bright spots? Theoretically, yes. If you're in the tourism and real estate industries, the weak dollar should mean more opportunities to attract foreign business.

"You can buy our goods more cheaply now," says New College of Florida economist Rick Coe. In terms of attracting foreigners, "a weaker dollar is a boost for our tourism industry and good for the real estate industry. Barring any major world disruption, we are the most desirable investment opportunity, the safe haven."

Since 2002, the dollar has been sliding against the euro and other currencies, such as the Japanese yen, the Canadian dollar and Brazilian real. In February 2002, one euro equaled 87 U.S. cents; four years later, that same euro was worth $1.19.

Ferdinand Viteri, a real estate agent at Prudential Palms Realty, says the weak dollar has been good for him; 18 percent of his business is international. "Our properties look very cheap, and Europeans say they get more house for the money." Most of his buyers are coming from Latin America, the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe, he says. About one-third of Viteri's international buyers is looking for investment properties, another third is buying vacation properties, and the last third is approaching the purchases as a blend of investment and vacation.

"We're still the land of opportunity," he says. "We have a stable government, and interest rates and airfare are low." And there's an added benefit to working with foreign buyers: "They make their decisions much faster. They're not as emotionally attached, since it's more of an investment."

Virginia Haley, executive director of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, does not have exact figures for foreign tourists because the numbers are so small, but she paints a more cautious picture about the dollar's impact. "Nationally and in Florida, international visitors have finally climbed back to their pre-9/11 numbers-for Sarasota, the U.K. and Canada are the biggest," she says. In particular, U.K. business is stronger because of the weak dollar, but it's a double-edged sword. The cost of attracting tourists through U.K. public-relations firms or at U.K. travel trade shows is prohibitive now. "It's killing us," she says.

Larry White, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, returned in March from a six-day trip to Germany, where he attended the world's largest travel show. A weaker dollar "is always good news for inbound travel," he says, "and German tourism noticeably increased in 2004 and 2005." And even though the German economy is struggling, White says the Germans are the most active travelers per capita in the world.

"And if they're coming to the U.S., then some will come to Florida," he says. "It's snowing over there."-Susan Burns

Countries with the most tourist visits in 2004:

 

France


Spain


United States


China

Source: USA Today

BUSINESS CALENDAR

MAY 1 Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County investor update breakfast 7:45 a.m. at Marina Jack, 2 Marina Plaza, Sarasota. Speakers include New College President Gordon Michalson and Honeywell's Bill Rosencrantz. $20 for EDC investors, otherwise $25. Call 309-1200 ext. 203.

MAY 1-5 Manatee Chamber annual membership recruitment campaign Unique incentives and benefits to join all week. For details call 748-4842 ext. 121 or stop by the Chamber, 222 10th St. W., Bradenton.

MAY 3 "Good Morning, Greater Sarasota!" networking breakfast, 7:30 a.m. at Dattoli Cancer Center, 2803 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. Free for Greater Sarasota Chamber members, $5 for nonmembers. Call 955-2508 ext. 231 or RSVP at www.sarasotachamber.com.

MAY 4 Greater Sarasota Chamber partners meeting, beginning with a continental breakfast at 7:45 a.m. at the Chamber Boardroom, 1945 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. Call 955-2508 ext. 234.

27th Annual Manatee Small Business of the Year Awards Luncheon 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Manatee Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto. $35. Reservations required. Call 748-4842 ext. 123.

MAY 5 Downtown After Five live music on Lemon Avenue and Main Street in Sarasota, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Call 556-4039.

MAY 9 Business After Hours A free Manatee Chamber networking event, 5 p.m. at Keeton's Office Supply, 817 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton. Call 748-4842 ext. 122.

MAY 11 Greater Sarasota Chamber Business Connections 5 to 7 p.m. at Holiday Inn Express, 6600 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. $5 for members, $15 for nonmembers. Call 955-2508 ext. 231.

Manatee Young Professionals Networking Event 5 to 7 p.m. at the Sandbar Restaurant, 100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria. Complimentary hors d'oeuvres, cash bar. Call 748-3411.

MAY 13 Manatee Young Professionals community service project with Habitat For Humanity 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Village of the Palms Habitat development in Palmetto. Volunteers needed; call 748-4842 ext. 133.

MAY 16 Greater Sarasota Chamber new member briefing 4 to 5 p.m. at the Chamber Boardroom, 1945 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. Call 556-4034.

MAY 17 Wake Up Venice! 7:45 a.m. at Bogey's Restaurant & Sports Pub, 652 E. Venice Ave., Venice. No charge. Call 488-2236.

MAY 22 Venice Chamber Network Lunch Noon to 1 p.m. at TJ Carney's, 231 W. Venice Ave., Venice. $10. Reservations required; call 488-2236.

MAY 23 Manatee Economic Development Council's 2006 Interactive Dinner 6 to 9 p.m. at Bradenton City Auditorium, 1005 Barcarrota Blvd., Bradenton. Semi-formal dress; $100 per person, table sponsorships available. Reservations required. Call 748-4842 ext. 126.

MAY 24 Anna Maria Island Chamber Business Card Exchange 5 to 7 p.m. at Bright House Networks, 5413 S.R. 64 E. Call 778-1541.

MAY 25 Venice Chamber Business After Five 5:30 p.m. at Snook Haven, 5000 E. Venice Ave. $4 for members, $8 for nonmembers. Call 488-2236.

Crunching Numbers

FOREIGN BUYERS

The nations and the numbers.

Percentage of Florida home sales with foreign buyers: 15%

Where the buyers are coming from:

United Kingdom, 33.3%

Western Europe, 21.2%

South America, 21.2% Central America and Caribbean, 8.1%

Canada, 7.1%

Asia, 4%

Eastern Europe, 3%

Other, 2%

Where they're buying residential:

Miami-Fort Lauderdale, 30.4%

Orlando, 22.7%

Naples-Fort Myers, 13.7%

Tampa-St. Petersburg, 9.9%

Sarasota, 9.9%

West Palm Beach, 5.8%

Other, 7.6%

Percentage of foreign-owned residential/commercial parcels in Sarasota: 2%

(based on November 2005 property-tax mailing address)

Most common foreign buyers in Sarasota: Canadian, 56%

Percentage of foreign-owned residential/commercial parcels in Manatee: 1.3%

Most common foreign buyers in Manatee: Canadian, 48%

Sarasota County property-tax mailings to foreign addresses:

2003: 9,176 of 237,758 (3.86%)

2004: 5,512 of 231,506 (2.38%)

2005: 5,070 of 235,029 (2.16%)

Sources: 2005 National Association of Realtors Profile of International Homebuyers in Florida; 2005 Sarasota and Manatee counties property-tax mailings.

FIVE QUESTIONS

FPL's Winifred Perkins advises business owners on environmentally friendly energy.

Eco-Power

As manager of environmental relations at Florida Power & Light, Winifred Perkins teaches business owners and homeowners how to manage their resources in the most eco-friendly ways possible.

What do you do as manager of environmental relations? I run a whole gamut of endangered-species programs for turtles, manatees and crocodiles, and I make literature and booklets about the environment available to the public. FPL is now considered the cleanest electric utility in the country, with 4.3 million customer accounts.

What's your corporate perspective on protecting the environment? Most businesses' primary concern is the significant increase in the cost of gas and oil. The only way to mitigate that is to reduce your use of energy. I don't think anybody believes the price of fuel is going to decrease. There are plenty of contributing factors, including unrest in the Middle East. But some of the problems are in this country. We have not built any new oil refineries for decades. We're relying primarily on refineries and oil and gas development that haven't changed a lot over the last 20 or 30 years. The biggest issue is the cost of getting fuel out of the ground. When FPL increases your bill, we're not profiting from that; it reflects that 20 percent increase in fuel.

How is the rising cost of oil affecting businesses? Oil constitutes 18 percent of the electricity we make. Thirty-seven percent of it comes from gas-not gasoline, but gas brought in from pipelines in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas that is piped into power plants. In some places like New England, they have an electrical demand for lighting, and they use oil for heating. Most businesses are 100 percent electric here, so when the rates go up, they feel it more than anybody else. People are using a lot more electricity today per capita. Your house or your business in Florida today is quite different than it was 25 years ago. You have more people using computers and many more electrical appliances. It's very energy dependent. Since 1985, the average residential use of electricity in FPL service territory has gone up 28 percent.

What about alternative sources of energy? We're pushing fuel diversity. In Florida, we have a high dependency on oil and gas, and very little coal. In most other parts of the country, coal constitutes over 50 percent of fuel used in generating electricity. Everything that comes into Florida comes from other places. The oil and gas we use comes either from Louisiana and Texas or from overseas. So what can we produce here? The problem with solar energy is, even though we think of Florida as the Sunshine State, there are many cloudy days. And wind power is pretty limited in Florida unless there's a hurricane. In Florida, we do have some plants FPL buys power from, and they burn a sugar-cane crop called bagasse.

How can business owners use energy more efficiently? Businesses can ask FPL to come out for an energy audit. We will check your lighting, window treatments and insulation and give lots of recommendations. There are even rebate programs. See www.fpl.com for more about this.-Abby Weingarten

MY FIRST JOB

Chamber of Commerce prez Gail Loefgren earned her civic stripes as mayor of Rochelle, Ill.

Madam Mayor

Gail Loefgren has been president of the 500-member Longboat/Lido/St. Armands Chamber of Commerce for 13 years.

"In the late 1980s, I was a stay-at-home mom in Rochelle, Ill., a town 75 miles west of Chicago, when I decided to run for the Flagg Township park district. I've loved politics all my life, and our community had no public swimming pool; as the mother of two children I thought that was something that needed to happen. About three years later, we had a swimming pool.

"I was the first woman elected mayor in Ogle County in 1989. It was not a full-time job, but you learn that volunteer work can be just as consuming. I campaigned on a platform for historic preservation. We had some older buildings that deserved to be saved. And I thought our growing town needed a city manager, someone who is educated in how to run a city, not a layperson. After I left office, they tried twice to change the form of government and finally did it. At least I got the conversation started.

"I served one four-year term as mayor. After that I decided that snow served no earthly purpose and I came to Florida. My father had retired to Bradenton, and that was like a second home to me.

"The experience in office helped me in all facets of my future career. It toughened me up. The biggest lesson I learned was that I don't always have to be right. Once I learned that, a huge burden lifted off my shoulders."-Ilene Denton

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