Spotlight On: Catherine Stempien, President, Duke Energy Florida

Spotlight On: Catherine Stempien, President, Duke Energy Florida

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read April 2020 — Duke Energy is among the largest electric power holding companies in the United States. In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused a virtual economic shutdown, Duke Energy took its own measures to alleviate the stress for customers, announcing it would not suspend customers’ power during the course of the pandemic. President Catherine Stempien discusses the region’s energy needs during the crisis and the impact from the virus, and its own transition to remote work.


How have both shelter-in-place measures and reduction of business activity impacted the region’s energy needs?


It’s too early to understand the full impact of the coronavirus on our business operations. However, there are a few things that are obvious given the current circumstances. More energy is being consumed by residential customers and less in the commercial spaces – especially hotels and the tourism industry. For our residential customers, keeping the power on is more important than ever. We know business owners are operating from home, employees are working remotely and many are teaching their children at home as well. Even a brief interruption can cause a huge disruption to what some customers may feel is an already stressful situation.

Right now, we are focused on continuing to deliver the reliable power customers and communities need while helping to protect the health and safety of those we serve and our employees.

I am proud of the work our 3,800 Duke Energy Florida employees do to make sure our customers’ lights stay on, our hospitals are powered up and important food supplies stay cooled. Now more than ever, we feel a heightened sense of urgency because our customers and communities are counting on us to deliver the reliable service they expect. That’s why you will see us out in communities, continuing to respond to power outages and completing essential work.  

Duke Energy works with local Emergency Operation Centers to develop a critical customer list that includes hospitals, emergency rooms and other medical facilities. We have proactively been checking the feeders – which are the backbone of our system – to be sure these critical lines have reduced risk of an outage impacting the critical facilities that our customers need. 

To protect the communities we serve, we’re asking our essential workers in the field or operating power plants to maintain safe distances and use enhanced protective gear. If they need to interact with a customer, they will follow strict CDC guidance, which we are closely monitoring for developments.  

We are also implementing worker screening measures (including temperature checks), enforcing social distancing, restricting certain areas of power plants, increasing CDC disinfectant cleanings between and during work shifts, staggering start times, adding physical barriers, placing some workers on-call and having others work remotely, and implementing a no-visitors policy.  

Our business continuity plans have contingencies to sequester certain employees at plant sites and other critical facilities, however we are not sequestering employees at this time.

We want our customers to know Duke Energy is working hard 24/7 to deliver this essential service during this critical time.


Duke Energy temporarily suspended disconnections for nonpayment and waived late payment fees effective March 21. How has the community since responded to this initiative? 

Many of our customers are facing economic challenges. We want to help relieve the financial burden on our communities. In mid-March, the company stopped service disconnections for unpaid bills and waived returned check and late payments fees for all customers. On April 28, The Florida Public Service Commission approved our plan to significantly reduce customers’ bills for the May 2020 billing cycle by giving the annual fuel savings in a single bill. Traditionally, these fuel savings would be refunded over the following year. A typical residential customer will see a decrease of nearly 21% on May’s bill. Commercial and industrial customers will see significant savings ranging from approximately 20% to 45%.  

However, hot weather and additional time at home, can mean more energy consumption and could result in higher bills. We strongly encourage customers to use many of the tools we provide to help them manage their usage and to pay what they can to avoid building up a large balance that may be harder to pay off later. If customers are struggling to pay bills, we have a variety of programs to help, including our Florida Energy Neighbor Fund, or please contact us at For those who are fortunate enough to be in a position to give, we would ask you to consider a donation to the Energy Neighbor Fund. The dollars go to agencies that help customers pay any utility bill.

The Duke Energy Foundation also announced $1 million in COVID-19 response and education grants. The company’s $450,000 COVID-19-related grants address immediate social service and hunger relief needs resulting from the virus pandemic. In addition, the Duke Energy Foundation recently granted $550,000 to 22 Florida-based organizations to support energy, engineering and environmental educational initiatives. Given the COVID-19 crisis, the Foundation has also provided each organization with the option to use the funds to address unforeseen operational challenges.


What has the transition to remote work been like for Duke Energy?

Our IT team has taken steps to expand our bandwidth and prepare our technology systems, including adding more remote connections and conference line capacity.  Corporate-wide, we have been able to support approximately 18,000 employees working remotely, that includes 90% of our call center staff. We’ve been using new technologies to keep in touch and stay connected. 

Scammers target victims year-round but often hit hardest when people are vulnerable. So, we’ve seen an increase in phishing scams, in addition to phone scams targeting our customers. Be aware of scammers, threatening disconnection of service and asking for immediate payment over the phone. Duke Energy never asks for personal information over the phone or demands payment using money orders or gift cards. And remember, Duke Energy has stopped service disconnections for unpaid bills.

We are already evaluating the best way to transition back into our more traditional workplace, but also evaluate what we’ve learned. We do measure, for example, our customer care center call response performance. There have been some areas such as the call center, that have stood out as doing extraordinarily well during these challenging times. We have a lot to evaluate and consider as we move forward. Each situation may be different and require a different response in the future. There will be great lessons learned, both to replicate and improve, that we’ll take away from this response.


How do you see the Florida region emerging from this pandemic?

I am on the Florida Governor’s Re-Open Florida Task Force Industry Working Group Related to Administrative, Education, Information & Technology, Manufacturing, Mining, Utilities and Wholesale. We are working closely with the Governor’s Office to consider the best ways to reopen Florida and its businesses. The task force is focusing on short-, medium- and long-term plans. There are multiple groups made up of local and state elected members, as well as business representatives working on a plan. Our goal is to determine how this will be accomplished with the health and safety of Floridians as the priority.


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Florida Polytechnic University navigates through COVID-19

Florida Polytechnic University navigates through COVID-19

By: Max Crampton- Thomas

2 min read April 2020As the coronavirus reduced daily activity to only essential services, educational institutions were forced to transition at a moment’s notice into a virtual setting as shelter-in-place measures and social distancing became commonplace. Entire curriculums, testing, labs, and even physical education in some cases, transitioned into an online classroom setting as teachers and students of all grade levels resumed their education under the COVID-19 pandemic. 


These risk-management decisions stressed and challenged the infrastructure of universities, colleges, and schools throughout the nation, while at the same time creating opportunities for innovation in the educational landscape. Although fully online classes are a temporary measure to slow the spread of COVID-19, and as local, state and national governments consider what a reopened economy may look like, educational systems alike are being forced to mitigate the challenges and innovate their educational practices and offerings via learning innovation and digitalization.

In Lakeland, Florida Polytechnic University, an institution solely focused on STEM education, pivoted to online learning quickly and carefully. “We made the transition much faster than anyone could have imagined. As a new university, we did not have an infrastructure in place for online classes, but nonetheless we were able to make the transition,” President Randy Avent told Invest: Insights via a virtual interview. “The biggest challenge was getting into a flow and using the software. We had to make a number of software purchases and get them running and get the student integrated. By far and large, it is going  much better than we expected,” he said. 

Under a COVID-19 landscape, tuition-dependent institutions are among the most vulnerable as students are liable to put their education plans on pause as they grapple with loss of employment and income. Colleges and universities with strong endowments and alumni contributions will likely survive the impact of COVID-19, but declines in revenue and increases in costs will likely loom for the coming academic years. Declining revenues could stifle innovation as institutions reprioritize budgets and offerings. 

However, a life post-COVID-19 may be ripe with opportunities for innovation and further streamlining of classes. COVID-19 helped destigmatize fully online learning. Moving forward, educational leaders will likely see online education as more than a source for extra revenues. Instead, online education will likely become an integral part of institutional resilience and academic continuity. Educational institutions will have to rethink how they plan for, fund, and market online learning. More unified institutions will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, as online courses and student support functions become more centralized and integrated into existing academic structures and processes. 

For Florida Polytechnic University, there is an opportunity to use blended learning to teach a mixture of hard and soft skills, while also innovating their lab offerings. As part of their strong STEM curriculum, the university places a keen focus on teaching students a mixture of leadership skills that include communication, collaboration, and reliability that are desirable to employers, Avent said. “With this abrupt move to remote instruction, I think that we are exploring how we do all those things. One of the things that we also have as an engineering school is labs, and labs are very hard to do remotely,” he said. “It is one of those things that is forcing us to do blended models, where we do some instruction online and some instruction face to face. I think innovation is on how you do labs online and teach those leadership skills.”

Additionally, it is possible that online learning goes truly global as colleges and universities expand their student base to allow for more international students who may never see the inside of a physical campus. 

The lasting impact of COVID-19 to the educational sector remains to be seen. For the time being, it is likely that students will finish the spring semester and potentially the 2019-2020 school year from the comfort of their homes. As educators prepare for summer and fall semesters, they will have to contend with the challenges and opportunities of educating students in a post-COVID-19 world.       

To learn more about our interviewees, visit: 

To see the full interview with Florida Polytechnic University President Randy Avent, visit:

Spotlight On: Larry Thompson, President, Ringling College of Art and Design

Spotlight On: Larry Thompson, President, Ringling College of Art and Design

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read March 2020 — While all higher education institutions operate with the purpose of preparing students for future lifelong careers, Ringling College of Art and Design is also working to shatter the myth of the starving artist, school President Larry Thompson told Invest:. He also spoke about the increased student interest in offerings from the school, positioning the college for future long-term success and identifying the issues that need to be addressed in higher education. 


What was one of the major successes for the college in 2019?

In December 2019, we opened the Sarasota Art Museum, which is a part of Ringling College. It is built on the site of a historic high school from 1926 located right in the middle of Sarasota. We took it over because the school system was trying to find a use for it and we were looking for space for a museum. We were able to turn it into a contemporary art museum and a space for continuing studies and lifelong learning. This project has been a long time in the making, so we are quite pleased to have this as part of our campus.

Where are you seeing the most growth in terms of student interest? 

We have seen growth in our virtual reality major and have launched a new major in entertainment design. We are also seeing a huge increase in the number of students who are interested in the Collaboratory. The idea of the Collaboratory is to help our students get real-world experience working with real-world clients. We invite clients to the institution and put together teams of students who work to help solve some of the problems that clients might be having. It is a wonderful tool for the clients, and it’s great for the students because they are getting to work with real people. The projects they are working on also have true meaning. I like to tell people that one of the great advantages for our students is that it helps with the recent college graduate dilemma: They can’t get a job if they don’t have experience, but they can’t get experience if they don’t have a job. The Collaboratory gives them that experience.

How is the college working to change the perception of art as a career? 

As an art and design college, we are fully committed to shattering the myth of the starving artist. Too many people have this feeling that art and design are more of a hobby than a career and that there are no real careers out there. This has never been true and it is certainly not true in today’s society. We focus on making certain that our students, when they graduate, have great careers. Over 100 national and international companies recruit here. These are corporations like Apple, Google, Pixar and Disney. The world has changed so much, having become a much more visual world. This has created more opportunities than ever before for artists and designers.

How are you positioning the college for future long-term success? 

We have to look at what the future holds, especially in this age of artificial intelligence (AI). AI is just in the early stages but many different jobs are going to be eliminated once it takes off. We also need to be looking at where the economy is headed. Everyone needs to be positioned for the next stage, which we are calling the Creative Age. In history, we have had the Agricultural Age, the Industrial Age and the Technology Age. The Creative Age is next because creativity is going to become one of the most essential skill sets people are going to need for success in the future. I believe this is already starting to be recognized on a global scale.

What do you view as the most significant challenges facing higher education? 

There are numerous challenges facing higher education, especially private nonprofit institutions. The whole basis for the business model needs to be rethought and recreated in some manner because being so tuition-dependent is not sustainable over the long term. Tuition is at such a high level that it is almost out of reach for many people, which leads to a huge issue with students having the ability to attend a school like ours. We are doing many things to mitigate this, such as offering financial aid and scholarships, which are among our greatest fundraising needs. Every college is trying to solve the problem of the business model.


To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Spotlight On: Lynda Remund, President & CEO, Tampa Downtown Partnership

Spotlight On: Lynda Remund, President & CEO, Tampa Downtown Partnership

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read March 2020 — A downtown is the city’s core and ultimately the face of any given region, so it is important to ensure that it is as strong as possible, said Lynda Remund, president and CEO of the Tampa Downtown Partnership during a conversation with Invest:. Consistent reinvestment and place-making are major keys in unlocking the full potential of what the Downtown Tampa area can be, she said.


How important is a strong downtown to the economic growth of Tampa Bay? 


If you go to any city in the United States or around the world, you will see that a strong downtown is their central core and is really the face of that region. I believe it is very important that we have that strong city center. Downtown Tampa is growing by leaps and bounds and we are excited about that. A quick look around Tampa reveals that the Downtown area is not only growing but so are the outskirts and the suburbs. This is apparent when looking at areas like Midtown and projects like those in West Shore. We are proud that Downtown is such a strong center for our city, but happy to see that the region is developing as well.


What is the Tampa Downtown Partnership’s role in developing the Downtown area? 


We do a lot of place-making in Downtown Tampa, and it is really about creating a space for people to gather and make things happen. For example, our ambassador program, which is like a concierge on the street, helps with things like directions and restaurant suggestions. The participants are feel-good ambassadors who can talk to visitors, residents and workers who are Downtown and make sure they are happy and having a good experience. We also have our litter patrol out on the street to ensure our beautification efforts are being met. We advocate for transportation solutions for the Downtown, like safer streets, pedestrian crosswalks, wayfinding signage and anything else that is going to make a person’s experience better.


One of our top priorities is reinvesting into the Downtown area. We are looking at getting involved in some small-scale capital improvement projects. We will be reinvesting in a couple of small projects that will help pedestrian safety in regard to signage, lighting and aesthetics for the Downtown. Downtown is probably the safest place in the whole city and we are working to make it even safer. We are also bringing the International Downtown Association Conference here in October 2020. That is an audience of about 1,000 people from around the world, consisting of planners, elected officials, architects and business leaders. All of these experts will be here to share best practices and we are excited to receive them.


How important is smart growth to the development of Downtown Tampa?


Smart growth is vitally important to the Downtown region. Having a strong city center is the basis for any successful city. Tampa is now being recognized as a top spot not only in Florida, but in the nation. We have hundreds of new residents moving into this region everyday. Our statistics show that housing in Downtown alone has increased 219% in the last 11 years. I believe the growth that is happening now is sustainable growth, and I do not believe that is going to change. There are more cranes Downtown than ever before and new businesses are continuously moving in here. People are making the investment into Tampa and especially Downtown. 


What would you identify as the biggest challenge facing economic development in this region?


One of our biggest challenges in this region is obviously transportation, so having a commuter system in place will help to mitigate this issue. We often hear from big companies that are looking to move here or even conventions hoping to come here that they are looking for a place where people are able to move around easily. We are starting to provide more of these options, but we have so much more work to do to become a more viable option for people.


To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Spotlight On: Michael Hendricks, Office Managing Partner Tampa, Frazier & Deeter

Spotlight On: Michael Hendricks, Office Managing Partner Tampa, Frazier & Deeter

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read February 2020 — Recent advancements in technology, economic uncertainty and the constantly changing needs of businesses and individuals alike have resulted in the accounting world having to expand its offerings into a multitude of advisory services. Invest: spoke with Michael Hendricks about how Frazier and Deeter, a nationally recognized CPA and advisory firm, is adapting to these changes. He also spoke about the need to attract and retain talent in an increasingly competitive talent market, and how his firm is going the extra step to make sure this young talent feels that they can have an impact on the business regardless of their tenure. 



Why is an office in Tampa Bay conducive to the overall success of the business? 


We have been in the marketplace now for five years. When identifying new opportunities, we look for areas where middle-market companies may be under-served. What attracted us to Tampa Bay was really the growth that the region has been experiencing over the past decade. We love the demographics of the region and the industries this area focuses on. We really look to get involved with the real estate, technology, distribution and manufacturing marketplaces. 


How have you seen the accounting industry evolve with recent advancements in technology?


I believe our industry is evolving quite a bit, to the point where we are going to see many tax and audit services going the way of artificial intelligence. Everything is going to be a little bit more competitive when it comes to pricing, so new ventures like consulting, back office, cybersecurity, data analytics and other consultative services is where I believe we will see our industry grow. We have been investing a lot of time into this.


What efforts have been put forth to help retain young professionals in your business? 


We have tried to keep the younger generation engaged in the business by setting up roundtable discussions and giving them a voice to present concerns to management. Every year, we pick out 10-15 individuals from our senior and supervisor levels and give them a chance to voice concerns and present ideas that they think can help resolve these issues. This activity offers an opportunity for them to grow. They are able to come to the board of partners and talk to them as a united voice. This is an ongoing process and every year we have a new group assembled. We think it is a great way to have the younger generations engage with the firm’s leadership group in a comfortable setting. The conversation can sound negative on the surface, but really it’s a great way for people to talk about what we could do better as a company. I find if you give employees at all levels a voice, they feel more invested and more ingrained in the culture, rather than just being another number in an organization.


What would you identify as the most daunting issue for your industry? 


The one issue that we consistently hear in our industry relates to talent acquisition and retention. I believe this is changing. We see a lot of students from Florida universities deciding to move to the Tampa Bay region after graduation. One of our most successful recruiting tactics has been finding people who want to live in a place like Tampa Bay but who aren’t already here. Of our last 10 hires, four have come from out of market. We offer a lifestyle in this region that is still not on everyone’s radar, and as more people find out about it, they love what it has to offer.


How can a firm like yours remain on a sustainable growth path in the case of another economic downturn? 


Planning in advance and smart decision-making is the best way to handle another economic downturn. We always look to hire good people and we will never turn down a good person if we think there is a fit. We also know our business. We are able to adapt with the range of services that we offer to our clients. We become engaged with our clients, we know the services we are offering and how they help our clients. We have to convey the value that we offer, and as long as we are doing that we should be able to withstand any downturn.


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Spotlight On: Catherine Stempien, President, Duke Energy Florida

Spotlight On: Catherine Stempien, President, Duke Energy Florida

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read February 2020 — Duke Energy Florida is not just increasing the amount of renewable power it is offering customers, with several solar plants coming online, it is also looking to harden its grid to protect it from increasingly harsh storms in the southern United States, as well as in cutting-edge “self healing” technology to reduce the impact of outages, according to Catherine Stempien, the company’s president.



 What advances have been made regarding the company’s clean energy projects in the region?


We are still in the process of building 700 megawatts of solar in our system and that will be completed by 2022. We are making significant progress on that. We are either operating or in the construction phase for about half of those megawatts. We brought two new solar plants online in December, at Lake Placid and Trenton, and we have two being completed in the first half of this year in Fort White and DeBary, with two others just announced in North Florida.


The other area where we have really made progress is in battery storage. We have said that we are going to build 50 megawatts worth of battery projects, and we have made announcements for three of these projects located in Trenton, Cape San Blas and Jennings. The battery charges when the sun is up and when the sun is down the battery discharges that energy. But batteries can do much more for our system. We have been testing a lot of cases for battery use, and the projects that we are going to be doing will help improve reliability for our customers, giving them more reliable power.


How is the company ensuring customers get the energy they need?


Our customers want power, and they want that power to stay on 24/7. We are midway through deploying our self-healing grid technology. About 50% of Pinellas County is covered by this technology now. If you think about the electric grid as a highway system, when you have a traffic jam somewhere in that system you want Waze or Google Maps to redirect you around that traffic jam. The grid works the same way: if we have an outage, or a tree falls down on a line, you want to be able to redirect the power around that problem to make sure that people get their energy. This technology does that automatically. We have sensors and communications devices all over our grid that automatically reroute the power and minimizes the problem, reducing the number of customers impacted. People might see a one-minute outage and then it will go back up again. In 2019, 150,000 outages did not happen because our system was able to reroute power, and that prevented 10 million minutes of customer interruptions. 


Why is Duke Energy pushing forward with sustainable power solutions?


Duke Energy Corp, of which we are a part, decided it was going to push itself and target climate goals that we are going to hold ourselves to. By 2030, we want to reduce our carbon footprint by 50% from 2005, and by 2050 we want to be at net zero. Duke Energy Florida is going to be an important part of the enterprise goal. We have a line of sight on how we are going to meet the 2030 goal, but we don’t have an exact line of sight into how we are going to do it by 2050. We need certain technologies to advance faster, and we need the regulators to come along with us. We believe you have to set yourself aspirational goals.


How much should companies involve themselves in sustainability efforts?


Over the last number of years, we have seen an increase in the intensity and the characteristics of storms hitting the United States. Florida is at a higher risk of getting hit by those storms. We believe we need to plan for storm events. In 2018, two major storms hit our service territory, one in Florida and one in North Carolina. Hurricane Michael was a Category 5 storm that devastated the areas it hit. We had to completely rebuild the distribution system and 34 miles of transmission lines. But it left pretty quickly. 


Another storm, Hurricane Florence, hit the Carolinas. It was a water storm that stalled over the eastern part of North Carolina and dumped rain for days, causing extreme flooding, which makes it difficult to access substations and lines. It is hard to predict these kinds of events, so we are looking to constantly improve our response, making sure we have the right crews, with the right equipment, available to restore power.


The Florida legislature recognized these challenges and passed legislation in 2019 to encourage utilities to invest in hardening their grids for storms. It cleared the regulatory path for us to work on storm hardening, from making poles stronger, undergrounding certain parts of the grid, and replacing lattice towers with monopole towers. All of this work is part of a 10-year plan to harden our system so we are prepared.


To learn more about our interviewee, visit:



Spotlight On: Bill Cronin, President & CEO, Pasco EDC

Spotlight On: Bill Cronin, President & CEO, Pasco EDC

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read February 2020 — Successful economic development is a product of consistent improvement of the current situation of a region and consideration of what the long-term future could hold for that same region. In Florida’s Pasco County, economic developers are thinking about what is to come and how to create a sustainable economic growth environment by helping startups get off the ground while training a competitive workforce, taking advantage of the state’s first-rate education system. In a conversation with Invest:, President and CEO for the Pasco EDC Bill Cronin discussed these initiatives and actions at length. 



 How is Pasco County working to push forward economic development?


We want to make sure we have a good mix of both office and industrial investments in the county since large industry has a different multiplier because it attracts suppliers and others that the office investments do not. We are one of the only Economic Development Organizations to own and operate our own business incubators. These two incubators offer countywide programming, where you don’t necessarily have to be in that co-working space to take advantage of the curriculum that we offer for startups, and even for companies that are going into their second phase.


We offer micro loans through that program, and we have a regional license for CO.STARTERS, which is a curriculum that we use for startups and next-generation companies. We also use those incubators as a soft-landing place for our international FDI prospects. While many of our competitors in economic development are going after these large, established companies that have 100-200 employees, we work with them, but also with the company that says, “Hey, I just want to start sales with one or two people,” and we let them use our incubators as a landing place to get them started.


All areas, whether it is entrepreneurship, land development and making sure we have enough product, our buildings and sites, workforce development in the county as a whole — all of those are now part of the strategic plan, but also with a sense of innovation and smart growth that is interwoven through those protocols. They are verticals in our strategic plan, such as innovation and technology. When we look at a collision between areas, such as logistics and IT, or life sciences or agriculture and IT, life sciences and distribution, all of these can be tied together through innovation and smart growth.


How are you ensuring that your workforce is being trained to survive the changing economic environment?


There is a lot of confusion right now with some of these rapid changes in technology and business models. That also applies to the industries we focus on. Probably 80% to 90% of our workforce is being trained for jobs that do not yet exist. How do we make sure we are prepared for that? We started to hear this theme about competitiveness and we are making sure we have fertile conditions for that type of growth in the future. We may not know everything but what we do know is that we’ve got to be ready and have the right conditions for these things to be deployed.


How are you looking at sustainability regarding the county’s economic growth?


We need to make sure that when it comes to jobs and recruitment, we are creating jobs for everybody. If you put too much emphasis on high-impact jobs alone, they won’t trickle down by themselves. You still need to make sure that every single layer of the economy and socio-economic strata has the right jobs for the right people. That is important because if you don’t do that then people will have to move away, and we will have to import talent to some extent.


In the last couple of years, Florida has been among the leading destination states for migration. We are looking at around 180 people a day coming into this region, and the state sees around 1,300 people a day. With that many people moving in, our business community has been able to take their pick of all the people coming in, and in times of low unemployment it is usually hard to find talent. You have to steal it from someone else or grow it internally. But because of interstate migration, we have been at full employment for a long time now and we still have access to talent. That’s because all these people are moving here everyday. The reason they are moving here is because things are not as good somewhere else, or they prefer it here. We have to make sure that our environment continues to be better than that of our competitors, and that we provide a good tax environment, which we have. We are also the fastest-growing region in the United States and the largest consumer market in the Southeast. You see a lot of that migration because of things like that, and because of quality of life and education. Our state university system is now No. 1 in the nation.


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Spotlight On: Silvana Capaldi, Founding Chair, Alliance of Merger & Acquisition Advisors of Tampa Bay

Spotlight On: Silvana Capaldi, Founding Chair, Alliance of Merger & Acquisition Advisors of Tampa Bay

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read January 2020 — The long-term success of any economy is predicated on both organic growth and consistent M&A activity within the business community. Founding Chair of the Tampa Bay Chapter of the Alliance of Merger & Acquisition Advisors Silvana Capaldi believes the Tampa Bay Region is booming with new opportunities for business deals and the business experts she represents are there to help business owners and investors make the most of their businesses.




What is happening in the Tampa Bay Region market that makes it attractive for an advisory body such as the Alliance to decide to set up shop here?


According to the Census Bureau, Tampa Bay is one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States, which is great for our local businesses, businesses relocating here and startups. We have an enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirit and a very strong, engaged business community. Our support system and services for our young, innovative business startup space continues to grow. We want to see businesses thrive and our goal is to provide education and resources to business owners and business professionals.  Business owners are reluctant to attend events for fear of being bombarded with people selling to them. It is our mission to provide a venue where they can hear local business owners share their lessons learned and showcase the talent pool of experts in our community: investors, business leaders, organizations and mentors who are invested in Tampa Bay.  


Have you seen a significant uptick in M&A activity in the region?


With our favorable economic condition, availability of bank loans and private equity accessibility, we have seen an increase in M&A activity. For example, ConnectWise acquired companies and then sold to a private equity group, while PGT Innovations acquired NewSouth Window Solutions.  

We see companies looking for strategic growth through M&A. They may be looking to gain market share, expand talent pool, gain resources or eliminate competition.   

In addition, the benefactors of the M&A deal now have capital to reinvest. These business owners are experienced people feeding back into the entrepreneurial ecosystem, building companies that will one day sell again.


Where are you seeing the most demand for the services the Alliance provides?


The Alliance is both an educational and resource platform for business owners. We want business owners to have an understanding of the options they have, whether they are selling their business, passing the business to family or employees, or growing their business with an investor. So often we hear from business owners stating that they were unaware of options available to them when deciding to exit. We engage speakers with the business owner in mind. 


What is the value added by the professional services you offer in facilitating business deals?


There are so many moving parts in a business deal. We provide valuable resources and have a network of professional experts to work with the business owner to maximize valuation and expose them to the right opportunities.


Companies that have approached a transaction intermediary, hoping to sell their businesses, are often turned away for not being “market ready.” Those that go to market sell for a lower value. Then there are deals that fall apart when they get to the due diligence. I worked as a consultant for an insurance agency and the owner claimed he was 100% owner. Through the due diligence process, the client neglected to share that there were two family members who had ownership in the company.


Business owners often think that their business is worth more, only to be disappointed at the number after the valuation. That’s when a professional can come in and suggest adjustments that would increase the value. For example, the buyer may want to know what prospects are in the pipeline, projected future sales, reports or what CRM they are using.  Not having that information or tools can decrease the value of the company.


What is your view of the Tampa Bay Area market in the near term?


This is an exciting time for Tampa Bay. We will continue to attract businesses that want to relocate here,  and companies that are being formed. Business owners that have exited their businesses are reinvesting into companies. Our entrepreneurial ecosystem will continue to draw young innovators. The University of Tampa’s John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center, a partner of the Alliance, is committed to helping innovative startups gain traction, which equates to continually drawing and retaining entrepreneurs. Tampa Bay communities will continue to invest in an already exceptional entrepreneurial ecosystem, allowing Tampa Bay to become recognized as the place to invest.


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Spotlight On: Stan Lifsey, Co-Owner, The Current Hotel

Spotlight On: Stan Lifsey, Co-Owner, The Current Hotel

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read January 2020 — In 2020, creating experiences and innovation are two of the main keys to success in the hospitality industry. Stan Lifsey, the co-owner of The Current Hotel, recognized this and used it to help develop one of the newest hotel offerings in the Tampa Bay region. After receiving an initial positive reception, Lifsey is looking to continue capitalizing on the momentum while also pushing the hotel’s innovative approach to hospitality as customer demands continue to change. 



 How are visitors and residents in the Tampa Bay community reacting to the newest addition to the hotel scene? 


We wanted to take advantage of our strategic location on the water, so all 180 rooms have a waterfront view. We also wanted to partner with the best local brands in Tampa Bay and feature them, along with other local artists, in our hotel. This hotel is a one of a kind product and in a one of a kind location. We have been open for a short while, but so far we are very happy with how we have been received by the local community and the visitor turnout to the hotel. The customer feedback from both locals and visitors has been extremely positive, especially regarding the unique brand and design we have brought to Tampa Bay. We built this hotel with the idea to break the mold and cookie-cutter box that the hospitality sector in this region seemed to be stuck in with regards to architecture, interior design and concept.


Do you believe the demand curve will support the multiple new hotels coming online this year in the region? 


I believe the demand curve will be able to support all the new hotel inventory coming online, but that is with a caveat. I’d be interested to see how many of the current deals actually end up being built because of rising construction costs. Construction costs are at an all-time high, construction labor is incredibly tight and land is expensive. We were fortunate enough to have built when we did, but this market is becoming increasingly challenging. It requires a lot of equity to get these deals done and built.


Having all this new supply of rooms in the market is providing positive momentum and growth to the Tampa Bay Region and certainly makes entities like Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission’s jobs a little easier. Being able to offer this type of innovative product that is coming online really speaks to the evolution of the Tampa Bay hospitality market. We have been an undervalued market for quite a while, but with all the free press that Tampa Bay is receiving thanks to massive development’s like Water Street Tampa, it is driving more people into the region, which increases the demand for more hotels. All of which is ultimately great for the economy of the entire region.


How have you seen the hospitality industry adapt to changing customer demands? 


The overall hospitality market is moving more toward unique guest experiences. Guests want a different vibe and experience whenever they visit a new hotel. This is where the hospitality market is going not only for leisure travelers but also for corporate travelers. The upfront cost may be more to developers and owners but on the back end, your rate and the desire of people wanting to frequent your hotel is much greater.


The idea when building this hotel was that we didn’t want to adapt to anything. We wanted to be  contrarian and blaze our own path. When we started this whole process, we had to engage a branding company and we went through about nine months of branding. Current was not just something that we landed on. The Current name is to do with the fact that we are on the water. It is also a nod to our wave ceiling inside the hotel lobby rotating art gallery and that we want to always be current and innovative in our approach. We always want our brand to shine through in everything we do, which ultimately benefits the customer experience.


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