Article

The Buzz

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2005

LEADING QUESTION

Is telecommuting on the uptick in light of rising gas prices? Not in any organized way that we can determine. But some area employers sympathetic to their employees' costly commutes are responding creatively.

On Sept. 1, immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Sarasota County government asked its nearly 2,300 employees to carpool whenever possible, avoid unnecessary trips and use conference calls instead of traveling to meetings.

And Sarasota County's 50 building and land development inspectors and code enforcement officers are being equipped with laptop wireless computers that will allow them to download their assignments at home, perform their inspections and upload the results without a gas-guzzling trip to the county's Cattlemen Road or Venice offices. When planning began for the new wireless computer system two years ago, gas prices weren't stratospheric, says Greg Yantorno, manager of inspection services, but the savings will be a nice plus. "We hope to gain two to three inspections per day per inspector," over the normal average of 18 inspections per inspector per day, he says.

Manufacturing jobs inherently require on-site employees, but at least one local company, Sun Hydraulics, has cut the commute by 20 percent. Four hundred of Sun Hydraulics' more than 500 employees work four 10-hour days instead of the traditional five per week. Since many live as far away as Port Charlotte, the gas savings are significant, says spokeswoman Kirsten Regal.

Interest "has grown tremendously" in the Sarasota/Manatee Commuter Assistance Program, says coordinator Dominick Locascio. The two-year-old van-pool program, funded by the Florida Department of Transportation and Sarasota and Manatee county governments, links companies and individual employees with vendors who provide 12-person vans to pool riders to and from work. Five hundred individuals are participating, and Locascio is working with Gevity, L3, the Sarasota County school system and Sarasota city government to institute companywide van pools.

And Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) has introduced the Downtown Pass, a deep-discount monthly fare card. It was rolled out initially last fall to the county's 1,800 employees and is expected to be offered to other downtown employees this month. The first week, 15 people took advantage of it. "That's pretty good in one week," says MCAT transit manager Ralph Hessler. "We want folks to use this not only because gas prices are higher, but because they'll find out public transit works for them."-Ilene Denton

BUZZ WORDS

CASHTRATION: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

DECAFALON: The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

DOPELER EFFECT: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

INTAXICATION: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

Source: The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational, which invites readers to alter any word from the dictionary by changing one letter. These are a few of the 2005 winners.

BUSINESS CALENDAR7:30 a.m. at Kerkering, Barberio & Co., 1990 Main St., Suite 801, Sarasota. Free for Greater Sarasota Chamber members, $5 for non-members. Call 955-2508 ext. 231.

JANUARY 4

"Good Morning, Greater Sarasota!"

JANUARY 5

Sarasota YPG After Hours 5:30 p.m. at The Tasting Room, 1917 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota. No cover. E-mail [email protected]

JANUARY 12

82 Degrees Tech 2006 Work Plan rollout with Dr. Barry Tuchfeld on "The New Workplace," 4 to 6 p.m. Call 870-0078 or e-mail [email protected] for more.

Greater Sarasota Chamber Business Connections 5 to 7 p.m. at Digital Technology Center, 4440 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. $5 for members, $15 for non-members. Call 955-2508 ext. 231.

JANUARY 14

Downtown After 5 outdoor festival at 5:30 p.m. on Lemon Avenue and Main Street, downtown Sarasota.

JANUARY 17

Economic Outlook 2006 presented by the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, with keynote speaker Charlie Crist, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Michael's On East, 1212 East Ave. S., Sarasota. $65 per person, corporate tables available. Call 309-1200 ext. 203.

JANUARY 27

Advanced Leadership Program featuring 9G Enterprises, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at The Community Foundation, 2635 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. The first of seven modules, all of which cost $1,395 for paid Leadership Sarasota and Manatee members; $1,595 for non-paid alumni. Call 955-2508 ext. 227.

MY FIRST JOB

The tourism bureau's Virginia Haley got her start on Capitol Hill.

Washington Insider

Virginia Haley is executive director of the Sarasota County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"I went right from college to Capitol Hill in 1973 to work for Richard Schweiker, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania. My first duties were in the mailroom, running the autopen [autograph] machine. You actually put the felt-tip pen into the machine. It had a big drum and it would write the senator's name on the letter. And quality control was involved; if you pushed the damn thing too hard, it would make the senator look like he had some kind of palsy. This was at the height of the illegal invasion of Cambodia, and we got 20,000 letters of protest in one week. So my job was sitting at that machine answering every one of those letters. There I was, 21 years old, in the glamorous world of Capitol Hill-it was not quite what I had envisioned!

"When I had the chance, I moved into a very low-level position in his press office. It was during the Watergate hearings, and it was very exciting.

"When Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president in January 1981, he tapped Schweiker to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and I went with him as his confidential assistant. Later, when he left for a position in the private sector and Margaret Heckler took his place, I stayed on and moved into the scheduling office. I'm a detail person, and it was the perfect thing for me. The president would be coming to the department, for example, to announce a new Medicare initiative, and I had to handle the huge fights about who gets to be on the stage. At the same time I was dealing with that, I was dealing with the policy implications. I miss it."-Interviewed by Ilene Denton

FIVE QUESTIONS

Commercial mortgage broker N.J. Olivieri on closing the deal.

Deal Maker

N.J. Olivieri has been instrumental in some of the region's landmark real estate deals, including buying some of the rundown bungalows in Towles Court years ago and then securing special zoning provisions from the city to turn it into the trendy-and now pricey-artists' colony. He also put together the tricky financing for hotel/condo combination at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. His company, Horizon Mortgage Corporation, consistently ranks as one of the top 10 commercial real estate and mortgage brokers in Florida and among the 50 largest nationwide. One of a very few local brokers to do business outside of the Sunshine State, Olivieri makes large-scale development deals all over the country, including Chicago, Phoenix, Seattle and New York City.

What do you like most about the commercial mortgage business? Working with people and putting together the numbers. That's the fun part, bringing in all of the components: the equity, the construction financing and, in many cases, the permanent financing. Trying to get to the closing table is like scoring 15 points in a racquetball game. You're out there to win. You work hard, play hard, pray hard.

What has been your most enjoyable deal? We did research for Starwood Capital Group when it wanted to invest in commercial real estate and get decent yields. We came up with a prototype: If you acquired a 50,000-square-foot or larger health club that was family oriented, not one of those meat markets that just sells memberships, you could get 18 percent cash on cash return. The clients liked it, but needed permanent financing, which is unheard of in the health-club industry. We talked J.P. Morgan into doing rate financing-10-year terms, 25-year amortization schedules-which gave returns of well over 33 percent on the investment.

What got you into equity financing for developers in the past few years? Ten years ago, a developer would come in and say, "I'm going to do a $10 million construction loan to build condominiums." Today, the same units cost $100 million. A construction lender is going to require the developer to put up 20 to 25 percent of the transaction in equity, so the developer needs partners. We have raised close to $300 million in equity for various projects over the last three to four years. It will be an ongoing business for us. I don't see costs coming down. Prices of units will stabilize, but where?

Any major differences between our region and the rest of the country? This is a more tourist-oriented marketplace than Philadelphia, Charlotte or Tucson, where there are more year-round residences. Because our community was a slow-growth market until recently, we haven't seen the kind of overbuilding or overdevelopment as on the east coast of Florida, [where] it took two to four years to catch up in the condo market. We haven't seen that here.

What future do you foresee for commercial development here? It is easy to analyze the demographics in the suburbs: where Publix is going, where your retail center should go. It is a bit more difficult for the office marketplace. Cattlemen Road has taken off very nicely as far as office spaces go. With the community growing as fast it is now and with the concurrency laws in this area, I don't foresee an overbuilding of commercial space on the west coast of Florida.-Interviewed by Chris Angermann

CRUNCHING NUMBERS

Job growth and mortgage ratios keep the Sarasota/Bradenton/Venice housing market relatively healthy.

Job and Housing Snapshot

Median home price in Sarasota/Bradenton/Venice in October 2005: $367,800

Percentage above national average: 80

Net number of new residents in Sarasota/Bradenton/Venice in the previous 12-month period: 19,000

Current appreciation of homes in Sarasota/Bradenton/Venice: 34 percent

Current appreciation in top 20 metro markets: 25 percent

Current appreciation nationally: 13 percent

Three-year appreciation rate in Sarasota/Bradenton/Venice: 92 percent

Three-year appreciation in top 20 metro markets: 79 percent

Three-year appreciation nationally: 32 percent

Three-year job growth in Sarasota/Bradenton/Venice: 13.3 percent

Three-year job growth in top 20 metro markets: 7.2 percent

Three-year job growth nationally: 2.4 percent

Home price to income ratio in Sarasota/Bradenton/Venice: 3.3 percent

Home price to income ratio in top 20 metro markets: 3.8 percent

Home price to income ratio nationally: 2.3 percent

Source: Research Division of the National Association of Realtors.

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