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Columns

Business Outlook: Strap in for a bumpy year ahead

If they make hurricane straps for the Tampa Bay economy, grab a few and buckle up. It could be a stormy year.

By Robert Trigaux Times Business Editor
Published February 3, 2008


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If they make hurricane straps for the Tampa Bay economy, grab a few and buckle up. It could be a stormy year.

Every January, market researchers at this newspaper poll between 130 and 200 area businesspeople about two dozen questions to get a better glimpse of economic prospects, job-hiring appetites, cost-cutting preferences and top-concern rankings for the new year. We've highlighted the key findings in the story illustrated by a snail to emphasize the clear expectation of the slower pace of commerce in 2008. And below, we show the latest rankings of top business leadership here.

With the economy wheezing, we turned to one of those leaders - Baycare Health System CEO Steve Mason - to get his diagnosis of how things are going. For the area health care industry, Mason expects tightening federal and state budgets will squeeze hospital reimbursements at the same time that more Floridians with meager or no health insurance seek medical attention.

On the broader regional economy, Mason says, "I hear more stress among my peers." His forecast? A slow rebound coming around 2010.

This year's look ahead at the Tampa Bay economy produced some unique pockets of opinion. WEDU chief Dick Lobo and Amscot Financial CEO Ian MacKechnie are among those picking "property taxes" as our key problem. Catalina Marketing CEO Dick Buell, Conmed Livatec exec Mark Snyder and Grow formerly MacDill Federal Credit Union chief Robert Fisher chose "public education" as our No. 1 problem. But most folks cited our housing woes.

And there are optimists. Stewart Title of Pinellas president Karen Price, Realtor Louis Brown Jr. of Louis Brown Realty, Arroyo Process Equipment's Frank Arroyo Jr. and Enporion CEO George Gordon all see a "better" economy in 2008.

Of the 99 area managers willing to share their thoughts in print, 13 see a "better" economy this year and 31 expect 2008 to be "about the same" as last year. That leaves the clear majority - 55 in this case - battening down the hatches for '08.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 1, 2008, 21:10:26]


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