PORT BANKRUPTCY ALARM: The Port of Miami is headed for bankruptcy due to $19 million in mandated security expenses, says Director Bill Johnson, who used last weekend's Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Goals Conference to warn businesses leaders of trouble ahead. "Our partners are also putting in extra money," he said, referring to cruise and cargo lines at the port. "Our operating costs are way out of line," and the port's security costs are highest in the nation, he said. "It's going to bankrupt the port. This is not the-sky-is-falling."
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STATE BLAMED: A principal cause of Mr. Johnson's grief is Florida Department of Law Enforcement interpretation of state port-security laws — especially the insistence that sworn police officers provide security at the port. The port must pay officers, who are working overtime hours, $60 to $90 an hour, he said. "It's asinine what the state is doing. They are making me do things that are not in Florida law." Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Kristen Perezluha declined to comment other than to say the agency is responsible for port security "as set forth under Chapter 311 of Florida statutes."
CALL TO BATTLE STATIONS: Raising costs to shipping lines to offset high expenses related to port security could be risky, says Mr. Johnson. He said port users are reaching into their pockets to help meet the security rules but aren't happy about it. "My partners have made it clear to me that Mobile (AL) is just a short distance from you. So is Savannah (GA)," he said. In fact, he said, Savannah is doing more than twice the freight business of Miami's port while spending about $6 million on security, compared with about $19 million here. He urged chamber members to help persuade state officials to either ease up on security rules or fund compliance. "It's a battle that must be waged," he said. "It's a battle that must be won."
SETTING GOALS: Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Chairman Hank Klein of Cushman & Wakefield took office Saturday morning with a pledge to focus chamber efforts on substantive improvements in insurance costs, education, transportation and housing with a renewed focus on creating a master plan for downtown Miami and a vow to work more closely with Greater Miami's two key economic engines, Miami International Airport and the Port of Miami. He asked Chairman-elect Carlos Fernandez-Gusman of Bank United and First Vice Chairman Bruce Colan of Holland & Knight to oversee contacts with the ports.
DEBATE IS GREAT: How tough was the recent session of the Florida Legislature? "It's been a much more difficult year in Baghdad," House Speaker Marco Rubio told a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce committee Friday. At least, he said, we're lucky in that we have a peaceful forum in which to argue.
FLYING HIGH: Peter J. Dolara, senior vice president of American Airlines for Miami, the Caribbean and Latin America, received the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Henry M. Flagler award Saturday at the Salute to Miami Leaders dinner. The new honor is being presented at each annual gathering of the 100-year-old chamber in the name of the founder of the Florida East Coast Railway as a symbol of vision and leadership. The award was presented by outgoing chamber chairman Adolfo Henriques, chairman and CEO of Florida East Coast Industries.
TOP GRAD: Neisen Kasdin, attorney with Akerman Senterfitt, received the Greater Miami chamber's 22nd annual Bill Colson award Saturday, honoring an outstanding Leadership Miami graduate.
TOP PERFORMERS: Software publisher Aplicor Inc., General Stair Corp. and Birks and Mayors jewelers won the annual South Florida Good to Great Awards at a Friday lunch during the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Goals Conference at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The companies competed to match the principles outlined in the Jim Collins book "Good to Great," which illustrates how a company can achieve top-rung performance.
ARTS CENTER SHIFTS: Ronald Esserman, president and CEO of Esserman Automotive Group, has been appointed chairman of the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts Foundation board of directors. The foundation is responsible for raising annual and endowment funds for the ongoing operation of the Carnival Center. Mr. Esserman, a member of the board for nearly 15 years, replaces Sherwood "Woody" Weiser, who remains a board member and chairman emeritus.
KNIGHT HIRES: Lorenzo Lebrija has been named Miami program director of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which promotes worldwide journalistic excellence and the betterment of 26 communities nationwide. He'll target opportunities for investing in programs and lead foundation efforts to bring change to Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He previously was senior director of marketing at the New World Symphony.
SINGING A NEW TUNE: The Florida Grand Opera saw a $2 million hike in ticket sales for 2006-07, setting attendance and revenue records. Ticket sales generated $7.2 million, up $2 million from last season. More than 117,300 seats were filled, with more than half of the Grand Opera's 53 performances selling out, catapulting season sales to more than 90% of capacity.
NAME ACCLAIM: In celebration of Perry Ellis International's 40th anniversary, Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez and County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz honored George Feldenkreis, the apparel, accessories and fragrance company's founder, by naming a street after him May 31. A proclamation co-designated the area on 107th Avenue between Northwest 25th and 41st streets as George Feldenkreis Way.
OUT OF THE LOOP? Mayor Carlos Alvarez' appointment of C. Douglas Bass as Miami-Dade emergency management and homeland security director left some commissioners feeling blindsided Tuesday. Mr. Alvarez can make such hires on his own, but the commission can reject his choice with a two-thirds vote. Joe Martinez was particularly vocal, saying that at least informal commission vetting could help. "Can you imagine the embarrassment" Mr. Martinez said, if somebody quits a job, is introduced to the public and the media, and the commission rejects him? Barbara Jordan and Natacha Seijas agreed, saying they would at least like an opportunity to question the nominee. "If the person is not here to answer my questions … I'm going to vote against them," Ms. Seijas said. Mr. Bass is emergency management coordinator in Fairfax County, VA.
STORM SMARTS: Coral Gables and Florida Atlantic University's Small Business Development Center are to offer Gables small-business owners a free seminar on preparing for hurricane season. The event is set for 6:30-8:30 p.m. June 21 at the Coral Gables War Memorial Youth Center, 405 University Dr., Room 222. Details (305) 460-5314 or email@example.com.
WE'RE (CO-)NO. 1: AméricaEconomía Magazine, a Latin American business publication, ranked Miami co-No. 1 city to do business in, tied with Santiago, according to the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County's economic arm. The annual rankings are based on economic strength and potential growth, opportunities to establish and grow businesses, infrastructure, connectivity and transportation.
AIR ADDRESS: Susan McDermott, assistant secretary of aviation and international affairs for the US Department of Transportation, is to give the keynote address at the Foundation for Democracy in Africa's USAfrica Air Transportation Summit, hosted by Miami International Airport, at 8:30 a.m. today (6/7) at the Westin Colonnade Hotel, 180 Aragon Ave. The summit continues through June 8.