Bacardi Shines a Spotlight on its Latin Roots

By staff writer

April 2019

The longstanding battle between Bacardi and Pernod Ricard over the hearts and minds of Havana Club rum lovers has extended to a new front — the theatrical stage. “The Amparo Experience,” depicting the saga of pre-revolutionary Cuba and the story of the Arechabala family, Havana Club’s founders, is intriguing audiences across South Florida.

The company is hoping the immersive theatrical production, which tells the story of its Havana Club Rum, will blaze a path to Broadway after its two-month debut run.

It has an intriguing and colorful story to tell. At the start of the 1960s, the Arechabalas watched as their thriving rum business was seized at gunpoint and without compensation by the government of Fidel Castro. Some of the family was thrown into jail, while others escaped to Miami. Included in the loot: the Havana Club recipe.

In the 1990s, the Cuban government partnered with French company Pernod Ricard to sell their Havana Club across the world, while the Arechabala Family fought back by joining forces with another Cuban family in exile, Bacardi, which began producing rum that was also based on the original recipe.

With the play, Bacardi aims to tell that story while strengthening its grip over the Havana Club name and driving interest in the product’s Cuban heritage. Although the company hopes to eventually take the play to other sites around the nation, it is proud to introduce it in Miami, company executives said.

“Miami keeps us connected to our Latin roots,” said Pete Carr, regional president, North America.It has been a part of our history since 1964,” he explained, adding that Bacardi’s story really began in Santiago de Cuba in 1862.

“As a Latin company, Miami keeps us connected to our Latin roots. The city is also a short flight to our global headquarters in Bermuda and to our rum distillery in Puerto Rico.”

Bacardi became interested in putting on a play after considering different options to publicize the product’s interesting tale. The production also fits well into Bacardi’s “Forever Cuban” campaign, which focuses on the company’s history and tradition.

Of course, they hope it will spur further interest in Havana Club and the company’s other products. “We’re seeing more people having cocktails at home, so their interest in the mixology, provenance and ingredients is growing,” said Carr. “When you have 157 years of stories to share, and are the world’s most-awarded rum, this trend allows us to connect even more with consumers.”

“Amparo” will run in South Florida through June 1.

What, Where and When:

What: “The Amparo Experience” by Vanessa Garcia.

Where: 221 NE 17th St., Miami.

When: Thursday-Saturday (7 and 10 p.m.). Sunday (3:30 & 6:30 PM).

Through May 31 st.

Cost: $79 (21 or older).

Information: 877-542-8262 or

To learn more, please visit:


Tampa Bay’s Strong Female Leaders are Changing the Area’s Future

By staff writer

April 2019

Within the Tampa Bay market lies a strong cohort of female leaders looking to enhance their community. Whether it be local government, law offices, performing arts centers, or tech-based companies, these women are taking steps to ensure Tampa Bay’s steady growth.

Take Trenam Law, for instance, which has offices in Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg and is led by managing shareholder Marie Tomassi. “We have seen some growth over the past year or so that we’re very excited about,” Tomassi said. “We acquired five lawyers and two paralegals from another firm in the area that have been a great fit for Trenam.”

As the firm continues to grow, Tomassi sees Trenam Law expanding its reach into fields that have recently fallen into higher demand — such as cybersecurity and solar energy. The firm recently bolstered its land-use practice by adding lawyers who are well-versed in representing alternative energy sources as a means to better the community.

“This group of top-notch professionals has helped us develop our solar practice, which is something that’s fairly unique,” Tomassi said. “As the Tampa-area market grows, our practice groups strengthen. Tampa has seen an increase in tech and a booming real estate market. Our technology and cybersecurity practice groups have been seeing a lot of demand because of the action in the market.”

And as Trenam Law moves into more tech-focused fields, so does the workforce in Tampa Bay.

This is quite evident in regulatory software company Global Safety Management, which is led by their founder & CEO Julia MacGreggor-Peralta who is working to ensure that as the tech space in Tampa continues to grow, so does the number of women working in it.

“More than 60 percent of our employees are women, which is unusual in our space as a regulatory software company. It’s traditionally considered a man’s business,” Julia MacGreggor-Peralta told Invest. “As female business leaders, we’re working to change this.”

The growth in tech is also being stimulated by women like Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, who felt extremely bullish in relation to the growth in Tampa. “It’s the right time to be in Tampa Bay if you want to be a part of our growth story. I believe the growth of the entrepreneurial community and increase in startup businesses will attract people that maybe weren’t previously interested in Tampa Bay or Florida that want to help grow and build something here.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who was re-elected to a third term in 2016, sees the Tampa Bay area as an up-and-coming destination for tech workers and is intent on making that goal a reality.

Here in Tampa, we’re intent on acquiring higher-wage tech jobs to keep graduates local after they move on from our colleges and universities. We want to be seen as a Charlotte, Chicago, or New York — an attractive city that young professionals want to call home.”

Murman knows that in addition to providing job opportunities, the city also needs to provide an affordable place for said very tech workers and young professionals to live, and the city is putting forth the resources to do just that.

“We just made a large investment in our general revenue budget — an extra $5.2 million for affordable housing,” Murman said. “The plan is to leverage that money with private developers to maximize our impact. Most affordable housing projects cost somewhere between $15 to $25 million, so we have to creatively figure out ways to make our dollars stretch.”

The city also benefits greatly from the economic impact of the Straz Center, one of the country’s largest performing arts centers. President & CEO Judith Lisi is keen on the center remaining a mainstay of a booming community.

“The Straz Center is the largest performing arts center south of the Kennedy Center and the largest cultural organization in Florida with $100 million annual economic impact,” she said. “We are the first performing arts conservatory attached to a major performing arts center in the country. There are a lot of other performing arts centers from around the country looking at us as a model.”

And Lisi intends to capitalize on the prime location of the Straz Center, right along the Tampa Riverwalk, as a means for attracting an even larger and diverse crowd to the center.

“We have a great opportunity in light of the transformation of the Riverwalk,” Lisi said. “Our whole masterplan for the renovation of the Straz Center is being developed to address everything that’s happening on the river.”

With a strong group of female leaders within its business and arts communities and a local government investing in its community, Tampa Bay is establishing itself as the next hot spot in South Florida. Thanks to the efforts of women like Tomassi, Murman,Lisi, MacGreggor-Peralta, and Shenoy, the city is making that dream a reality.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit their websites:

Marie Tomassi with Trenam Law:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman:

Judith Lisi with Straz Center:

Lakshmi Shenoy with Embarc Collective:

Julia MacGreggor-Peralta with Global Safety Management:

Opportunities Abound for Women and Minorities in Orlando

By staff writer

April 2019

Orlando has a diverse economy and demographics, and with this diversity comes the need to create opportunities for women and minorities. The city’s population has grown by 51 percent over the past 19 years — almost three times the national average  — so catering to the accompanying surge in minority and female residents has become a priority.

The Census Bureau’s 2016 survey showed that minorities now make up nearly 40 percent of Orlando’s 280,000 residents, and that Hispanics represent about 30 percent of that total. Florida boasts the fourth-highest percentage of jobs generated by immigrant-owned businesses, and the city of Orlando recently received the top score in the government leadership category in the New American Economy Cities Index, which measures municipalities’ effectiveness in integrating immigrants.

The city also received a near-perfect score in socio-economic livability, which measures immigrants’ quality of life fin areas such as housing, healthcare and education. “When the local government actively supports immigrant integration into economic and civic life, other local organizations follow. It starts with representation, and the city of Orlando employs many of our foreign-born residents,” Buddy Dyer, the mayor of Orlando, wrote recently in a column for the Orlando Sentinel.

Local universities and colleges also offer a variety of programs for minorities and foreign-born residents. For example, the University of Central Florida has a Diversity in Contracts program that aims to create an equitable purchasing environment for all businesses by working to remove opportunity barriers.

Entities such as the Minority Business Development Agency, the Office of Supplier Diversity, the Hispanic Office for Local Assistance and the Office of Multicultural Affairs are some of the organizations committed to helping minorities move up in the city.

In addition, public and private organizations have developed efforts to create opportunities for women throughout the area. For example, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce recently launched a pilot program to identify talented professionals — mostly women with degrees who have stayed home to raise a family and wish to re-enter the workforce. The program aims to help chamber members meet the challenge of attracting and retaining talent, while giving support to women returning to the workplace.

“Through this pilot return-to-work program we placed 83 percent of the participating women within six months in local and global companies,” Betsy Gardner Eckbert, President and CEO of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce told Invest:. “We’re very excited to have the ability to furnish our members with a talent base of people who are reliable and have the skills and talents they’re looking for.”

Florida is doing better than most in fulfilling its mission to provide opportunities for women. Today, the state boasts 1.4 percent more self-employed females than the average state, according to the State of Small Business Report. Moreover, between 2002 and 2016, Florida was ranked No. 1 in the growth of women-owned businesses, reported the South Florida Business Journal.

To learn more about our interviewees, please visit:

Winter Park Chamber of Commerce:

Palm Beach’s Boat Show Boosts Tourism, Growth

By staff writer

April 2019

This weekend, Palm Beach County residents and tourists were treated to the 34th annual Palm Beach International Boat Show, billed as one of the nation’s top 5 boat shows in the country. This year’s show featured more than $1.2 billion worth of yachts and accessories, including hundreds of boats, ranging from 10-foot inflatables to super yachts hundreds of feet long.

“Fifty-one percent of the people who visit Palm Beach County come to West Palm Beach,” West Palm Beach Mayor Geraldine Muoio told Invest: Palm Beach. “And this event’s just another great reason for individuals to check out everything the city has to offer.”

The public was also treated to four days of luxury watercrafts, exhibitions and seminars, as well as the enticing fare of of more than 100 food vendors. And for those with a little extra to spend, a luxurious VIP experience included access to a premium open bar and exclusive access to events throughout the weekend.

Those events included seminars taught by the world-class International Game Fish Association School of Sportfishing and an “AquaZone” sponsored by Nautical Ventures which showcased products ranging from kayaks to a self-propelled, stand-up paddleboards. For younger anglers, there were fishing clinics presented by Hook the Future, providing hands-on fishing instruction to kids of all ages.

Maybe the biggest attraction of the show, though, was once more its beautiful setting in a world-famous, luxurious location. In places such as Palm Beach, where tourism is the major driver of the economy, events such as this one help boost that tourism further, while attracting many others to town, too.

As Palm Beach’s tourism industry grows, events such as the Palm Beach International Boat Show will continue to play a vital role in that growth.

For more information on our interviewee and the event, visit:


A Light at the End of the Labor Shortage Tunnel

By Binta Dixon

March 2019

Many of today’s high school graduates feel obligated to enroll in college directly after high school, regardless of whether they have a clear career path in mind. However, many of these same students never graduate.

This is where educational ideals meet the reality of oversaturated job markets and low entry-level salaries.

Students are inundated with messages about what jobs hold prestige and how to get them. Becoming a lawyer, biologist or economist sounds great — but studies show that not all higher-education degrees are financially lucrative. And, as student loan debt accumulates, more and more are taking a hard left off the log-jammed highway of higher education and going to trade school.

It’s a trend the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce actually would like to encourage.

Unlike the four-year degree route, studying a trade such as mechanical work and construction allows students to begin learning and earning directly out of high school. This means that, in less time than it would take to earn a bachelor degree, a worker can get several years of solid working experience, qualifying them for better wages and more senior roles.  

Since 80 percent of contractors are finding it labor-intensive to find qualified trade workers, the pay and opportunities for those who are skilled are increasing. In the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, for example, wages for construction workers are on the rise. Currently, construction workers in and around Fort Lauderdale make an average of $20.40 per hour — slightly higher than wages for the same jobs in Orlando and Miami.

“Right now, we’re building a county-wide program to engage more young people to enter the trades,” Dan Lindblade, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, told Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale. “It’ll be a multifaceted partnership with Broward College, our technical colleges, CareerSource, the county government and the Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and his team.

Lindblade said the program offers mentoring programs, internships and externships, “but now we really need to build a viable structure that can convey a powerful message to families.”

Toward that end, the GFL Chamber is partnering with public school officials, local businesses and trade schools to help break the stigma around skilled labor and entice more students to invest in a future with less starting debt and better starting wages.

Building South Florida’s skilled labor force is imperative if Broward and surrounding counties are to keep pace with the demand for trade labor that accompanies development, supporters say. And of course, Broward County’s technical schools are as excited to welcome eager learners as local businesses are to find more qualified candidates.

If county officials and schools can spread the news about this option, perhaps many recent high school grads can avoid heavy debt loads while finding rewarding, well-paying jobs within a very hungry labor market.  

For more information about our interviewee, visit the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce website:

Lake County Focuses On Small Sports Niches

By staff writer

March 2019

Credit: Stephen M. Dowell / Orlando Sentinel

The state of Florida has excellent natural geography for outside activities, whether you enjoy going to the beach, theme parks, kayaking or practicing your favorite sports. Lake County is no exception: It’s an ideal place to enjoy outdoor activities, from trail adventures in the surrounding hills to myriad water sports.

To take advantage of their geographic perks, the county’s Agency for Economic Prosperity is focusing on promoting several activities. “There are numerous sports such as cycling and triathlons, which people can enjoy that they wouldn’t be able to experience in the same way in other parts of the state,” Bandon Matulka, executive director of Lake County’s Agency for Economic Prosperity told Invest:.

As part of the county’s efforts to build these sports niches that align with their slogan (Real Florida, Real Close), the agency is in the process of developing several professional-level disc golf courses.

“Disc golf is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, and it takes advantage of our natural beauty without being too invasive,” Matulka said. “Through those efforts, we’re hoping to bring large championship-level disc golf events to Lake County,” he added.

There are already three disc golf courses in the Lake County Disc Golf Trail, and they plan to build three new championship courses with two tee pads and two baskets per hole, all of them designed by Disc Golf Hall-of-Famer Gregg Hosfeld of World Championship Disc Golf Design.

In addition, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners, Visit Lake and The Florida Region of USA Volleyball recently hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the Athletic Center at Hickory Point Park.

“Hickory Point has become the sporting destination we envisioned four years ago,” said Lake County Commissioner and Tourist Development Council Chairman Tim Sullivan. “This athletic center will pay for itself many times over, attracting athletes and their families to Lake County and encouraging them to discover why we are Real Florida, Real Close.”

The 4,000-square-foot athletic center has a CORA training room, locker rooms, meeting spaces, a concession stand, an officials locker room and public restrooms.

“The 21-court facility is the largest permanent sand volleyball complex in the state, and the Athletic Center will help to further set it apart from other facilities,” Matulka told Invest:. “We have a great partnership with USA Volleyball, and we’re looking to bring championship-level events to that unique facility,” he said.

Lake County has numerous facilities that cater to a wide variety of outdoor sporting events. This year, the county is hosting the 2019 NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championships and the  2019 AVCA Small College Beach Championship.

To learn more about our interviewees, please visit:

Agency for Economic Prosperity – Lake County:


Votes Matter in Palm Beach County!

By staff writer

March 2019

Credit: Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post

Residents of Palm Beach County turned out by the thousands to recent municipal elections, which resulted in re-elections, new faces, and even a couple runoffs for the mayors of Palm Beach County.

It was quite the day for the mayoral incumbents of Palm Beach County, as three of them were reelected. Boynton Beach’s mayor Steven B. Grant won quite convincingly, garnering more than 62% of the vote within his city. “My vision for Boynton Beach is a family-friendly farming and fishing city. When Henry Flagler built the train station back in the 1920s, that’s what this city was. We’re trying to adopt a version of that designed for the 21st century,” Mayor Grant told Invest: Palm Beach when he sat down with us late last year to discuss his vision for Boynton. Now he has a second term to see it fulfilled.

Another landslide victory belonged to Pahokee’s returning mayor, Keith W. Babb, Jr., who managed to grab more than 50% of his city’s vote. Mayor Babb, Jr., will be serving his second term as the city’s mayor, and he has been in loyal service to the city of Pahokee for almost 30 years, serving in myriad government positions.

Not all of the mayoral incumbents won by large margins, however. The race for Jupiter’s mayor came down a mere 400 votes that swung in the favor of incumbent mayor Todd Wodraska. “With some of the land that we set aside for bioscience, we’re ready to have a large employer locate its headquarters here or else establish a second headquarters,” Mayor Wodraska explained to Invest: Palm Beach earlier this year.

While there are quite a few returning faces, West Palm Beach will be swearing in their new mayor, Keith A. James, on April 4. Mr. James is a Harvard graduate who was recently the president of West Palm Beach’s City Commission. The new mayor will be hoping to use all of his experience to keep guiding West Palm Beach in the right economic direction.

Perhaps the most intriguing outcome from the election is the upcoming runoff for the mayoral position in Riviera Beach. Neither the five-time incumbent Thomas Masters nor the newcomer Ronnie Felder were able to attract more than 50% of the vote, and thus a runoff will held on March 26th. Invest: Palm Beach will be keeping a close watch on this race, as it’s sure to be a big topic of conversation throughout Palm Beach County in coming weeks.

For more information on our interviewees and mayoral candidates, visit:


Growing Up Lakeland: A City on the Cusp

By staff writer

March 2019

Often known as the city sandwiched between Orlando and Tampa or as the host of one of America’s largest aviation shows, the City of Lakeland has been working diligently to accelerate its prominence not only in Polk County but also throughout the state of Florida. With the combination of an expanding economy, growing population and multiple initiatives from local government, Lakeland is primed to be Florida’s next rising star.

It hasn’t even been 10 years since Lakeland’s population crossed into the 100,000 residents range, yet there is a spark of excitement throughout the community that is felt in both the private and public sectors. Invest: Tampa Bay recently sat down with Lakeland’s mayor, Bill Mutz, to discuss the growth and major economic drivers for the city.

“Two of the major drivers are our location between Tampa and Orlando,” Mayor Mutz told Invest:. “We have the DNA of a city that’s geographically been born in a good spot and is on the cusp of a large acceleration of growth.” The mayor went on to speak about the impact of supermarket giant Publix having its headquarters in the city. “Publix is also headquartered here, and they have 1,237 stores and over 210,000 employees, making them a huge influence throughout the region.”

The mayor revealed to Invest: that the strategy for continued growth in the region is “an effective long-term game plan” that is reliant on involving residents of the city in all aspects of the community.

This idea of long-term success was clearly evident when we spoke with Steve Scruggs, president of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, who made it clear that the focus is not only on growth for the city but also for its residents.

“This year we are focusing on entrepreneurship and major groundbreaking work in the downtown area through our catalyst sites project,” Scruggs told Invest:. “We identified areas for redevelopment within our downtown that would embody new commercial, retail and office high-rises, parking garages, a soccer stadium, a promenade and an elevated pedestrian walkway. These plans are getting more traction and are part of a big project happening in downtown.”

Scruggs emphasized the point that supporting entrepreneurs and local business in the area is an essential part of the growth initiatives. “We are building a new facility for entrepreneurs in downtown Lakeland that will open up this year,” he said. “The project is part of our Catapult 2.0 initiative and will host a commercial kitchen, a makerspace with wood and metal working shops, CNC machining, 3D printers and co-working spaces. It is privately funded and a place for entrepreneurs to test out their concepts in a low-risk financial space. It is a nonprofit project to give back to the community and increase the viability of startups through education, collaborative workspace and funding.”

From an outsider perspective, it might seem that these initiatives and ideas for internal growth in Lakeland are far-reaching, but this growth from within is exactly what Mayor Mutz is hoping will push Lakeland to the next level.

“We’re a city that has an unusual heart and the capability of communicating trust across sectors within the community,” he said. “This is increasingly important in today’s society. In a decisive world with much polarization, to model inclusiveness is going to be extremely attractive to future residents.”

Invest: Tampa Bay can’t wait to see what’s in store for Lakeland in 2019 and beyond!

To learn more about our interviewees, visit their websites:
Lakeland Economic Development Council:
City of Lakeland:


Orlando Businesses Are Benefiting from Tax Reform Changes

By staff writer

March 2019

As the 2019 tax season approaches its end, tax filers will see the effects of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) for the first time. While some say it has had a mixed effect, most of the experts who spoke with our team at Invest: Orlando affirm that the legislation has been overwhelmingly positive for businesses in the Greater Orlando area.

The TCJA changed deductions, depreciation, expensing, tax credits and other tax items that affect businesses. This has been the most significant federal tax reform enacted in the United States in decades. The TJCA had four goals: tax relief for middle-income families, simplification for individuals, economic growth and repatriation of overseas income.

“The 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has made people consider the type of entity they want to be,” Jed Grennan, founding partner of Grennan Fender CPA & Advisors, told Invest:. “Pass-through entities like S-corporations and partnerships in many cases now enjoy a 20 percent business income deduction.”

There has also been a reduction in overall tax liabilities across the firm’s client base, and most individuals and businesses are benefiting from the lower tax rates, the higher standard deduction and the higher child credit. “A lot of people don’t know how the new law benefits them until they sit down with us,” Gennan said. “In most cases, it is well received, and I think it has been a boost in the economy.”

Although one of the objectives of the TJCA was simplification, most people are not finding the changes to be simple. “On the business side, the big thing is the new qualified business income (QBI) tax deduction,” Charles Marcussen, managing partner of Newman, Seland & Oppenheimer, LLC, told Invest:. “There are other open-ended questions because they’re still writing the regulations on how that will be implemented. There are certain segments, like the service industry, that are still awaiting final regulations.”

The new tax law also includes complex provisions related to the QBI deduction, like limitations for special service organizations that will affect professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants. Dalia Cantor, CEO of CPA Solutions, explained that the tax reform — particularly where it concerns changes in business taxation — will benefit the majority of organizations.

“C-corporations will see a decrease in income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, and pass-through entities such as S-corporations and partnerships will be able to take advantage of the 20 percent QBI deduction,” Cantor told Invest:.

On the other side, some firms such as Holland & Knight saw strong demand in mergers and acquisitions transactions in 2018, which Glenn Adams, the firm’s executive partner in Orlando, believes is a result of the tax reform. “It was a good time for organizations that had been on the sidelines in earlier years with respect to M&A activity to make investments in target companies,” Adams said.

As a result of these changes in tax legislation, Cantor told Invest: that tax planning will have to be proactive and more precise to make sure every business optimizes tax savings to its maximum potential. As this year’s tax season comes to a close, Invest: Orlando will be keeping an eye on the impact of these new tax regulations for local corporations and small businesses.

For more information on our interviewees, visit their websites:

Grennan Fender & CPA Advisors:

Newman, Seland & Oppenheimer, LLC:

CPA Solutions:

Holland & Knight: