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Littlejohn engineering firm opens new office in Tampa

A national engineering firm specializing in transportation, urban planning, health and safety and community development opened its first office in Tampa in October.

Littlejohn was founded in Nashville in 1989 and has since grown to a national company with nine offices, including one in Orlando. Tampa Bay-based projects have historically been handled by the Orlando office, which opened in 2011. Recent growth has caused the company to open an office in Tampa for closer proximity to its customers and to manage future growth.

Projects already completed or currently underway in Tampa Bay include: Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville and Largo Free Standing Emergency Department (FSED) in Clearwater.

The Tampa and Orlando offices specialize in civil engineering, land planning, landscape architecture, economic development and transportation and traffic planning. The transportation design and planning in particular is what started the Tampa office, seeing the area primed for growth and opportunities.

"We wanted to introduce our transportation design capabilities into Florida through the Tampa Bay area," says Lennie Arnold, Florida Regional Manager for Littlejohn.

The firm recently brought on Senior Project Manager Marty Morlan to lead the Tampa office. The goal is to increase capacity within the next two to three months and then hire additional employees to manage the work.

"The workforce seems to be well established here," says Arnold, noting that a gap in experience level has been seen across the nation, mostly attributed to the recession. The company sees more people with the experience they are looking for to fill that gap in Tampa than in other areas.

8-Count Studios adds new twist to urban dance battles

Downtown Tampa’s newest renovated theater space turned dance studio hopes to revolutionize the way dance battles are run.

Traditionally, a ballroom or swing dance studio will host a recital to allow its students to show off their work, sometimes with a competition element. In the urban and hip hop scene, their version of a recital is referred to as a battle or jam. Jamming originated as an informal show-off of dance moves in a social circle, where dancers would clear a circle and then take turns displaying their best moves. In a battle, the circle becomes more formal and individuals or pairs of dancers pair off against each other in a competition-style event.

Most battles lack an element of formality, with different dance styles competing against each other. In a desire to formalize these events, 8-Count Studios on North Franklin Street in Tampa is hosting a Layer Cake Battle on January 3.

"We want to revolutionize how battles are run," says Hope Donnelly, co-owner of 8-Count Studios.

The event is named Layer Cake Battle because of the layered judging that will be done in rounds. Using Donnelly’s sports dance background, the studio will introduce a bracket system that will list names of dancers on a board. Dance brackets include: popping and locking, wacking and voguing, breaking, and krumping. Each winner will progress to the next level with prizes awarded in each bracket until an ultimate Best of Show winner is announced.

"Dancing is a sport, so we’re treating it like a sport," says Donnelly. "Dancers are athletes; they are competitors."

Well-known choreographers and judges will be flown in from across the country. The event will also include workshops, vendors and a concert. Cash and other prizes will be given to the winners, as well as a private brunch session with the judges.

The event is open to the public. The price of admission is $20 per person.

BAMA offers scholarships to support manufacturing education

High school seniors looking into manufacturing careers have an opportunity to apply for a scholarship to continue their education.

The Bay Area Manufacturers Association (BAMA) is offering three $1,000 scholarships to students in Hillsborough, Pasco or Pinellas County. Any student planning to continue his or her education at a technical, state or community college in a program that supports manufacturing industries is encouraged to apply.

BAMA has been providing the scholarships for over 20 years to students entering into a manufacturing field, which can include machining, welding and trade jobs as well as technical and engineering fields. The organization is partnering with Hillsborough Education Foundation and Pinellas Education Foundation to administer two of the scholarships in those counties.

The goal of the scholarship program is to support the local manufacturing workforce in an effort to support the industry. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, there were 2,728 manufacturing companies in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas County in 2013. Employment in manufacturing industries increased by 1.8% in Florida that same year.

"We want to promote education, and in turn to help manufacturing grow," says Becky Burton, association executive for BAMA. "Without continuing education for people going into manufacturing, you aren’t going to bring new industry here or help them fill the jobs they need in order to keep them here."

BAMA is a 100-member organization whose mission is to support manufacturing in the Tampa Bay region through growth and economic development efforts. Services include networks for idea exchange and support of local educational programs. BAMA hosts an annual awards ceremony that highlights local science fair winners and also supports the robotics team at Middleton High School in Tampa.

Special networking events for techies help make connections in the Tampa Bay area

Are you looking for a job in the tech industry? Networking with the attendees at Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay’s upcoming event could be your ticket to scoring an interview at a hot new startup or growing local company.

Likewise, businesses looking to invest in top regional talent for a freelance or full-time role might want to send a representative to The Getaway on December 4 for the Q4 Tech & Entrepreneur Peer Networking Event, hosted by CToTB.

Tech students, established entrepreneurs and those just starting out all mix, mingle and network at the quarterly events, which usually see around 300 attendees. Treats like free T-shirts, a tech-themed drink special and giveaways from Microsoft are all part of the draw. 

“We’re making great connections, especially with USF St. Pete and their Entrepreneur and tech programs,” explains CToTB founder Sylvia Martinez.

Martinez, a longtime Tampa resident, launched the staffing company in January 2014. With a background in business development, marketing and sales within the tech world, Martinez felt poised to fill a gap in Tampa Bay’s workforce: connecting skilled professionals with companies looking to make a new hire.
 
“It was a natural place for me, to help people find their dream job or find a connection that can lead them to doing great things. That’s really been my passion,” she says.

The business is largely based on a referral system from networking events within the Tampa Bay area – typically, Martinez or her contractors attend 2-3 per week. 

Too many of the events Martinez attended shared a similar theme: technical resources thought they were inundated with vendors, sales people and recruiters, and didn’t want to attend. So she started quarterly events for entrepreneurs to come together with no agenda besides networking amongst peers.

“It’s a safe zone to talk and collaborate. You meet people from all different technologies – Java, .Net, mobile – but who can all share experiences,” Martinez says.
 
Hillsborough County’s EDI2 program is helping CToTB fund some of the events. Both former Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn made appearances in support of the event, which has provided tangible results already.

“Not only have I heard about great hires taking place, but I have also heard of people working on applications or creating products together,” Martinez says. 

“If you’re hiring and you want to collaborate with people that can help your company grow and succeed, come and meet people with the skill sets to help you obtain those goals,” says Martinez. “Our main initiative is to help small startups to mid-size companies build out their technical resources and teams. We like to recruit out of our network. Our tagline is ‘Put our network to work for you.’ “

Lighthouse Guidance Systems grows, adds COO

A growth stage software company in Tampa recently added a new COO in an effort to grow its services and client base.

Lighthouse Guidance Systems, Inc. was founded in 2012 by William Farragut. A graduate of Sickles High School and the University of South Florida in Tampa, Farragut developed the concept during his community work with teenagers. While helping a student with his college application, he realized how many variances there are among college admissions criteria. For instance, some colleges place more emphasis on a weighted GPA while others look more heavily at the basic GPA. It can be difficult for students to keep track of the varying requirements and establish an academic path early.

Farragut wanted to find a fresh, user-friendly way to use technology to help schools, parents and students master this and other nuances involved with educational processes. The company’ software product, Guidmii, provides a way to enhance communication and tracking to achieve this goal. Parents can track and receive announcements about GPA via text message. Schools can closely monitor academic performance and identify at-risk students early. Students are motivated by setting realistic, attainable academic goals.

The software is currently being used in all middle and high schools in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

They recently hired Pablo Godel as COO. Godel is a PHP development expert, having founded a PHO Hosting Company and currently co-organizing user groups in South Florida.

"We’re excited about Pablo because not only is he a seasoned developer, but is business-minded because he has owned his own company," says Lisa Farragut, Relationship Manager for Lighthouse Guidance Systems, Inc.

The company currently has three full-time employees in addition to contractors and interns and plans to hire more developers once funding is secured.

They are located at USF Connect, a business incubator at the University of South Florida that provides mentors and seasoned business executives to help start-ups and growing companies with their business models.

Life Prep event prepares youth for leadership, service

Rotary District 6890, which serves Hillsborough, Highlands, Hardee and Polk counties, is hosting a leadership skills and training seminar for youth in the Tampa Bay region.

The program is modeled after the Rotary’s Seminar for Tomorrow’s Leaders (S4TL) program, which provides a week-long leadership experience for high school juniors and seniors. For the last 30 years, the retreat has brought together 160 students each year to Florida Southern College in Lakeland for an intensive leadership development experience. After the success of this program, the Rotary decided to expand the concept in an effort to reach more students.

Life Prep is a half day leadership skills seminar developed in partnership with local colleges and universities. The event will take place November 15 at Keiser University in Tampa. High school juniors and seniors are invited to attend.

The free, interactive event will focus on leadership and college readiness. Students will work together in groups to learn what it takes to be a successful leader, how to achieve their dreams and how to find scholarships for college.

In an effort to further its mission of uniting leaders who then take action to help their communities, Rotary clubs host Interact clubs in local high schools, which is a high school version of Rotary. Rotarians noticed that students need leadership skills in order to be able to convince more people to become service-minded.

"We have the ability to help people learn more about being leaders," says Gary Gunter, Governor of Rotary District 6890. "It’s a natural thing once you’ve brought together all these leaders to help other people, especially young people, develop themselves so they can have a good career and a good future."

The Rotary plans to continue the Life Prep event on more college campuses after the pilot. "Hopefully this will grow into something that will help young people be better students, better leaders, and think more about their future, which helps everybody," says Gunter.

Air Animal Pet Movers helps ease stress of relocation

A Tampa-based company that built its reputation around transporting pets -- from tiny birds to giant horses -- across country when families move is adding jobs and expanding services due to growing demand.

Air Animal Pet Movers transports an average of 2,000 pets, mostly dogs and cats, each year. The company currently employs 15 staff, including two added recently. They also are outgrowing their 3,600-square-foot location on W. Cypress Street on Tampa and are looking for a new location.

Founded in 1969 by practicing veterinarian Walter Woolf and his late wife, Millie, Air Animal thrives by providing peace of mind while managing the moving process from start to finish. Moving anytime anywhere with a pet can be stressful, Woolf says, from researching the safest travel option to booking the actual accommodations. 

In the beginning, as part of his veterinary practice, Woolf worked with local airlines to provide services for pets arriving at night. In 1977, the company incorporated as a full service pet travel agency.

The company organizes pick-up of a pet at a residence or airport, handles all of the associated airline reservations and required paperwork, and ultimately delivers the pet to the final destination – whether it be a residence or an airport pick-up. They have transported pets to and from destinations across the world, from Lima, Peru to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Woolf’s experience with and knowledge about the relationship between pets and family members was the basis for getting into the business. He wanted to provide the safest, most humane way to minimize stress on families during relocation. "Today, the pet is a very, very cherished member of the family," says Woolf, Founder and Managing Director.

The company recently received the 2014 Impact Award from CARTUS, a relocation network they have been working with since 1994. The honor recognizes innovation and outstanding customer service.

Blind Tiger Cafe, CoWork Ybor open in Ybor City

The Blind Tiger Cafe has a cool factor that is part atmosphere, part architecture and part anomaly in the way that only a fusion boutique/coffee and tea bar/coworking space can be. 

Perched on the corner of 19th Street and 7th Avenue in Ybor City, the well-lit cafe invites passersby in with double doors propped open to the street. Twin, vividly orange tigers, blindfolded to represent the speakeasy tradition that inspired the cafe’s name, are painted on large glass picture windows overlooking the sidewalk.

Inside, a bigger tiger, this one in black, decorates the whitewashed brick walls across from the cafe counter.

Thick slabs of wood serve as high-top tables in the front of the room, where customers can linger after ordering lattes and cappuccinos, or a crumbly guava and cheese croissant; the back of the room is a boutique shop for Owner and Operator Roberto Torres’ apparel company, Black & Denim

Messenger bags mix with soft cotton tees, leather jackets and signature denim jeans. Soft leather wallets and iPad cases are stacked together on top of distressed Singer sewing tables or old trunks.

“We’re so excited to see the way it’s come together,” says Torres, “but there is still more to come.”
 
Murals and modern art from local artists will adorn the walls of both the cafe and the coworking space next door.

In the cafe, several pieces will showcase the different stages of coffee; in the coworking space, an assortment of tools, to inspire DIY creativity, will be painted across one wall.

One thing that’s conspicuously absent from the cafe, and the store as a whole: WiFi access. “Talk to each other. Call your mother!” a marquee sign reads.

Visitors who are interested in Internet access (donated by Verizon) can visit the coworking space next door, where an all-day pass is only $5. CoWork Ybor will open later in November. 

On Thursday, Nov. 13, the Blind Tiger Cafe will celebrate a grand opening, with beer from Coppertail Brewing and food from the Jerk Hut. The regular cafe menu includes Buddy Brew Coffee, TeBella Tea and Piquant pastries.

To learn more, visit the Blind Tiger Cafe Facebook page or CoWork Ybor

TEC Garage opens for business in St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay region has taken another step toward establishing itself as a thriving entrepreneurial community with the grand opening of TEC Garage in downtown St. Petersburg in late October.

Ties to the Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s well-oiled startup services allow TEC Garage to offer business incubation programs such as “coaching, mentoring, advising, and providing access to connections that have proven successful with launching and growing startups for more than a decade,” says Tonya Elmore, TBIC President and CEO.

TEC Garage’s location on the St. Petersburg College campus at 244 Second Ave. N. in the revitalized heart of downtown St. Petersburg was a strategic choice, aimed at generating a buzz among entrepreneurially minded city residents.
 
“The new location has already attracted coworkers, coders and developers, students and innovators -- all part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that helps startups succeed,” says Elmore.
  
TEC Garage houses a coworking space, complete with amenities that include 24-hour access, dedicated offices, open collaborative areas, conference rooms, a full kitchen, and the opportunity for networking with other entrepreneurs. Some tenants have already set up shop in the spacious TEC Garage quarters.

Why offer 24/7 access? 

“Flexibility is key to entrepreneurs,” Elmore explains. “They have clients all over the world, and conducting business from 8 to 5 isn't logical for a startup.” 

Entrepreneurs who take advantage of incubation services like coaching and advising have been pleased, Elmore says.

“Startups go through several stages. We provide programming and coaching at each level. The best resource is dependent on the stage of the business.” 

In addition to offering just-starting-out entrepreneurs the chance to seek advice and grow connections, TEC Garage has “garnered the attention of potential investors and a larger pool of mentors who wish to connect to the startups,” Elmore says.

More than 300 local residents attended the TEC Garage grand opening in late October.

Tampa-based Vology gets ready to grow with new financing

Technology provider Vology, Inc. expects to accelerate its growth and potentially add 100 jobs in the next two years with $40 million in capital from a newly created senior credit facility financed by SunTrust Bank, Fifth Third Bank and Hancock Bank.

The IT solutions provider is one of the Tampa Bay area's largest privately owned companies, specializing in networking, data storage and technical services. The company's services are geared to help businesses get the maximum benefit from IT budgets. Company officials anticipate searching for new acquisitions over the next two years.

In 2013 Vology merged with Bayshore Technologies, Inc., and earlier this year acquired the California-based division of  Govplace, headquartered in Reston, Va. Govplace serves state, local and education customers.

The financial deal gives Vology a $15 million revolving line of credit, $15 million for acquisitions and a $10 million term loan. There also is an "accordion" option for up to $15 million of additional revolving or term loan commitments.

Vology was able to pay off an existing $15 million senior secured revolving line negotiated with Bank of America four years ago. 

This level of new financing gives Vology flexibility to move quickly when searching for new acquisitions, says CFO Steve Torres.

It gives Vology a nimbleness lacking in the previous financial agreement with BOA.

"This facility certainly provides that," he says. "It will help us create more jobs in the Tampa Bay area."

The greatest need as new jobs open up, across all of Vology's locations, will be in sales and technical engineering, Torres says.

Vology's history of doubling in size every two to three years is expected to continue, Torres adds, with growth fueled both organically within the company and through acquisitions.   

Vology is headquartered in Tampa but has sales and management offices in Syracuse, NY; Denver, CO; Sacramento, CA; Irvine and Austin, TX; and Oklahoma City, OK.

City of Tampa fast tracks Minority Business Certification Program

Minority business owners in Tampa now have an easier and quicker way to become certified, opening the door for increased exposure and business opportunities.

The Women/Minority Business Enterprise (WMBE)/Small Local Business Enterprise (SLBE) certification program allows women and minority businesses in Tampa to become certified and then placed on a list to enable them to bid for contract opportunities with the City. The program is free and open to businesses that have been in operation for a minimum of one year and who fill out an application and provide the required documentation.

Noting that the certification process can be difficult for some and can take up to 60 to 90 days to complete, The City of Tampa Mayor’s African American Advisory Council (MAAAC) partnered with the City of Tampa to create a fast-track option. Businesses that complete the program can become certified within one week.

The first in a series of events was held October 30 to help qualified businesses expedite the certification or recertification process. Experts assisted with the application process and also provided tips for navigating the City’s online system.

"It allowed us to learn what people actually needed," says Chandra Lee, MAAAC Chairperson. "We’re really excited about being able to help people to become certified with the city so they can get more procurement opportunities."

A total of 24 businesses attended the event, which MAAAC plans to repeat in the near future. Attendees included a fencing company, land development firm, a DJ and several consultants.

In addition to being able to bid on city projects, certified businesses are placed on a list for referrals that are received by the city. For example, a local hair dresser might be needed for a fashion show or concert that comes to town.

"They know if you’re certified, you’re a real business that they can trust and hire," says Lee.

Ringling Museum unveils rare circus banners by Belgian artist

A newly restored blast from circus pasts will be on display at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota starting Friday, Nov. 7, through March 2015 as a series of four, rare, early 20th-century, large-scale circus banners by Belgian artist Frans de Vos will be literally unrolled before the public. 

The 9 x 9.5-foot century-old banners were stumbled upon by Circus Historian Howard Tibbals, while paging through a London auction house catalog in 1989.  Listed almost as footnote, with a tiny photograph, were “de Vos banners, good condition.” Tibbals, a collector and model-maker, was intrigued and purchased them, but when they finally arrived, “good condition” was inaccurate: the banners were torn, re-stitched together, crumbling, fragile. The damage was severe, the life of the circus and the century had taken its toll.

Though information about the artist Frans de Vos (1919-1938) is scant, Ringling Museum researchers know he came from a circus family and was a scene designer. There are hints that these banners served as advertisements and backdrops for his family’s own circus. 

“They must have been treasured objects – they kept all four, they kept them together,” says Ringling Circus Curator Debbie Walk. “Truly remarkable, you don’t often find one, and here we have four!” Walk says the banners are also noteworthy in that they show performers performing, not sideshow banners which typically portrayed the unusual or weird.  

Tibbals, primary donor and creator of the Ringling Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center, selected Barbara Ramsay of ARTEX Conservation Laboratory in Washington D.C. to restore the banners, a seven-year process now complete and ready for viewing.  Ramsay is now part of the Ringling team as Chief Conservator. 

“The whole story of conservation and restoration is a wonderful and remarkable story of survival,” says Walk. She admires Tibbals tenacity in all things circus and says he ”spends a great deal of time searching out the circus world, and goes the next step. He wants people to see it not just today, but a generation from now, two generations from now.”

The de Vos banners will be exhibited in the Ringling Museum of Art through the end of March, 2015. The exhibit includes a looped visual presentation highlighting the comprehensive seven-year collaborative restoration experience.

Digital marketing company grows in Channel District in Tampa

A new digital marketing agency in Tampa’s downtown Channel District puts its focus on helping other companies grow while giving back to the community.

The company was founded in 2013 with the name Two Signals by co-founders Matthew Branson and Brian Smith. After a few months of operation, Alex Miningham, founder of their largest client Discount Park and Ride, took an interest in the business. Miningham invested in the company, and the team decided to re-brand as Foundry 119 in March of this year. The re-brand has allowed them to utilize more space, bring in more employees and offer more services to clients.

The company’s unique focus is data aggregation as a service, working with e-commerce businesses and providing a research foundation to enhance branding and advertising.
 
The team has been heavily involved in the Tampa startup community, developing relationships that have helped them succeed through resources such as Tampa Bay WaVE and Channel District Urban Professionals Society (CUPS), a new grassroots community-building organization.

The team has a particular interest in growing startups and other businesses in the Channelside area and is assisting CUPS with promotions.

"We feel there is a sort of yearning for more tech-based businesses," says Branson, Co-founder VP of business development. Branson wants to take the company’s experience and give back in order to help other new businesses grow.

The company currently has nine employees and is hiring for additional Developers.

They also have a strong interest in partnering with civic organizations and students for internship programs. They’re currently working with a client to offer a $2,500 scholarship for students studying in any business program to come up with a business idea and they will help them with development.

AIA Tampa Bay gives community a choice in Design Awards

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Tampa Bay is letting the public decide part of its Design Awards program with the People’s Choice category.

AIA Tampa Bay is an association for professionals in the architecture field that provides educational programs, community service and serves as the voice of the profession.

The Annual Design Awards Competition recognizes architectural design accomplishments and service. Design entries can be built or unbuilt projects of all types and sizes. Individuals or firms must be located in the Tampa Bay region, or designs must be planned/built in the region. Categories include: Built Commercial, Built Residential, Unbuilt Instutitional/Commercial, Historic Renovation and Urban Design.

"Our ultimate goal is to reinforce good design in the community," says Carlos Molnar, Co-chair of the Design Awards and owner of Sol Design in Ybor City. "We want to demonstrate the benefit of the architect in the process of construction."

The People’s Choice voting allows the community to select their favorite from a total of 57 projects submitted by Tampa Bay-area architecture firms, teams and students. Entries include the  Westin Puntacana Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic, Ulele Restaurant in Tampa, USF St. Petersburg’s Student Center and TIA’s main terminal modernization program.

A new aspect of this year’s People’s Choice Awards is the addition of a site called Behance which allows people to share a link to projects they want to vote for. Each submission has its own page with a voting option at the bottom.

AIA also plans to allow voting at the Awards Ceremony on November 6, providing an interactive experience including slideshows of submissions.

Online voting closes November 6.

Tampa Water Taxi adds Riverwalk ferry service

Tampa Water Taxi Company, LLC plans to add a continuous loop through the Tampa Riverwalk to its transportation lineup.  

Now going into its seventh year of operation, the company was founded by Capt. Laurence (Larry) Salkin, who was shocked when he moved to Tampa and found a city with a large amount of area surrounded by water that had very little water-based activities. Salkin wanted to show off the city from a different vantage point, to residents and visitors alike.

"Our water is a diamond. It’s a gem," says Salkin. "The views of Tampa from the water are like no views you can get from anywhere on land."

The biggest compliment during his tenure with the company was from a 96-year-old seventh generation Tampa resident, stating that he never knew the city looked this beautiful.

The company offers regular public tours of the water surrounding Tampa’s downtown, including a city overview called "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Tampa," history tours, and year-round dolphin tours.There are also sunset and nightlife tours, featuring the lighted bridges.

They also provide private charters for parties and weddings, and transportation to and from Davis and Harbour Islands to Amelia Arena for Tampa Bay Lightning games and concerts. The four boats seating 30 people each have transported as many as 400 people during a single event, lightning the traffic congestion.

The company is planning a new ferry service for the Tampa Riverwalk, which is scheduled for completion by the end of November. The ferry will run a continuous loop along the Riverwalk Friday afternoon through the weekend, with the ability to get on and off at stops along the way. The goal is to charge a minimal cost for riders and obtain sponsorship to cover expenses.
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