Friday, November 15, 2002

George Mindling Column 11-15-2002

I'm Rapidly Turning into a Computer Potato

Yes, I'm addicted to the PC! So are a lot of other people who have found a way to express themselves or indulge themselves as never before.

I amaze myself with astonishing graphics that were impossible to predict back when I was in the U.S. Air Force and-could only afford black-and-white film for my first 35mm camera. I now write and submit articles and photographs without talking to or seeing anyone. I sit, and with a few strokes of my keyboard, upload photos and new pages to my Web site where anyone in the world can stop and take a look.

I send files to my relatives by uploading graphics files that now take the place of paper photos. I haven't had a roll of film developed for more than a year. That reminds me, I have to finish off that last roll of film before Christmas.

I do marvelous things with the PC that perhaps pleases only me; but that's OK, I didn't know I enjoyed my own talents. If I want to share my electronic compositions, it only takes a few keystrokes or a mouse click or two. I can chat with people in Germany, England, as well as a few GIs who used to be stationed there all at the same time. Do I watch television? Only a few sporting and news events, and once in a while a Star Trek rerun.

Listening to the arguing, screaming and gunshots of today's programming is hazardous to my health. TV doesn't pay me to be stressed like a piano wire, so I'll just tootle over to the PC and see what's going on. Maybe I can download the biking video my daughter put together up in Athens, Ga. The quality of the video and audio is just astounding. That is the best sounding bad music I have ever heard.

It doesn't take my daughter long to adapt to the new technology. She has already seriously begun looking at converting her old VHS tapes to DVD. Sounds, just like me about 15 years ago when I was trying to save all the family Super 8mm films by transferring them to VHS tape! I saw so many shots of birds and flowers while doing the transfer that I wondered if I had any relatives at all.

Even without any sound, except the clackety whirr of the old Bell & Howell, the old films did manage to preserve several fond family moments. Many of them took place off-camera, however. When the camera batteries died, for example. We had used up the batteries and the film shooting the birds and flowers we were so thrilled to capture on film.

I watch my daughter shoot digital photographs and videos with ease. I know that she will watch the DVDs get transferred to something else. some other new technology that saves time, weight and space, in not-too- many years. .

Only then will she know if she took too many photos of flowers.

George Mindling © 2002

Friday, October 18, 2002

George Mindling Column 10-18-2002

Too Young to Live in Port Charlotte

One of our new neighbors has been melancholy, almost morose, ever since moving to Port Charlotte from up north. Recently retired, she and her husband eagerly moved to the land of fun and sun, hoping to lead a new, energetic life. However, she has the blues.

"We're too young to live here," she confided in us. "We had no idea everything here was so old-fashioned and so backwards. Local politics is a typical small town farce, a lot of the local population lives just above the poverty level... and everyone wants to live here for free!"

We tried to console her, telling her getting through the first year is the hard part. Then it becomes hard to leave our odd little version of paradise.

“Competing with retirees who work for free is out of the question, I'm and not driving 75 miles round trip to Fort Myers to work 35 hours a week at $9 an hour!" she continued. “They keep it under 40 hours so they don't have to pay benefits!"  When I asked why she wanted to go back to work, she simply stared and said, "Obviously, your, 401 (k) is not funded by the stock market!"

The economic development of Charlotte County is the key to our future. We need to plan now for the water and sewer, roads and traffic control to support urban growth. We already know that newcomers want to build away from the old, established areas that reflect the older-style homes and retirement area atmosphere, regardless of financial consequences dictated by the county.

It appears fewer of the homes are being built by retirees and more by younger child raising families. The retirees coming into our area now are as different from the retirees who first moved here as they are from their parents.

Some of the revenue for seeding the economic development is in jeopardy. Ten percent of the state sales tax surcharge, locally called the "extension," is devoted to economic development. It is a ballot item for Nov. 5. Charlotte County has a new look this election. Economic growth is no longer the taboo subject it was only four years ago. The 1-percent sales tax extension is up for renewal.

Some opponents want to scare every voter into thinking this is a new tax. It isn't. We already pay it. So do 51 of the other 67 counties in Florida. There are several large counties that don't collect the surcharge, such as Brevard, Broward and Orange counties. They use the huge amounts collected by their respective bed taxes to collect non-advalorem revenues.

There are those who want to forgo all responsibilities of citizenship once they move to our area. No more taxes, no more new streets or schools, no more police or firefighters or stations. No more anything.

My neighbor is right, these people want to live here for free. If the opponents kill the sales tax extension, then my neighbor is right again: We are too young to live here.

George Mindling © 2002

Friday, September 20, 2002

George Mindling Column 9-20-2002

Pop-Up Ads on the Net are Moving Targets

Many of today's Internet users are distressed over a new form of Internet advertising that is becoming increasingly thrown at them. The newest type of Internet advertising is called "Interactive advertising." You certainly don't request it, and it is sometimes hard to remove or close when you try to move to another page. The most prominent of the current pop-up ads, although recently toned down, is the overpowering ad for the wireless X-10 video camera. At least now you can shut down the Window it opens in. Prior versions simply popped up on your screen and you had to close the window or the URL you were working in.

Now, the next generation Internet ad is popping up. the animated ad. This was really unique in the film "Moulin Rouge." A worker appeared on your screen, and posted a flyer for the movie. No matter where you scrolled, the ad stayed on your screen. It dissolved after several aggravating minutes, but no action prior to that would remove the ad. You could not see what was on your screen behind the ad unless you scrolled to a screen position the ad didn't cover!

Where is the Internet going in its increasingly difficult advertising market? The banner ads that adorn most sites simply are not pulling the "click-throughs" to increase Web traffic the way Web advertisers claimed, so the forced ads seem to be the answer. Their usefulness has yet to he determined, yet just about everyone on the Internet knows what the X-10 is.

The problem is most Web users see the Internet as a free resource. They paid for their PCs, telephone or cable lines and modems, the software, and learned how to negotiate the Web without your help, thank you! Putting up advertising to view during the trip along the Internet was at first actually enjoyable, but now it looks like Interstate 75 in Georgia. Nobody pays any attention. The banner ads and splash boxes visually overpower many sites. Some sites have become so cluttered with visual garbage that it is difficult to tell the function or even the purpose of the page!

Some of the new Web pages assume that all users have 19-inch monitors with a minimum screen size set at 1280 x 1024 pixels, Unfortunately. those very large monitors are most often found in corporate America, where someone else foots the bill. Most home users arc still set at 640 x 480. or 800 x 600 screen size to fit their 15· or 17 -inch monitors. The result is many of the new pages look terrible to the average surfer, The overcrowding becomes overpowering. and the site is ultimately removed from users "bookmarks" or "favorites" files.

Perhaps the advertisers think if you can't read the Web page, you would like to watch an animation video of a car manufacturer's latest SUV roll across your computer monitor, At least you can see it without a magnifying glass.

George Mindling © 2002

Friday, August 16, 2002

George Mindling Column 8-16-2002

Watch out for Financial Scams

Twice this week my firm has been solicited by e-mail to help two different widows, both of whom lost their husbands to "bad guys" who apparently still run the respective countries, to help "save" or "retrieve" fortunes that they can't touch without our help.

The e-mails were labeled "Business Investment" and "Immediate Response Required." "I am Mrs. Maria Vusi, wife of late Anthony Vusi who was murdered by the Zimbabwean veterans and irate black people," starts one letter. "I am MRS MARIAM ABACHA, wife of the late Nigeria Head of State, General Sanni Abacha who died on the 8th of June, 1998 while still on active duty," begins the other.  One has a fortune worth $18 million, the other has one worth $25 million, that oddly enough, only we can help save!

I sent both c-mails to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs to see what the official stand is on these solicitations. According to Susan Counts at DOACS, financial scams are thought to be between the third and fifth largest industries in Nigeria!

There are many legitimate businesses in Nigeria, but we are talking about scams here. According to Counts, “The scam operates as follows: the target receives an unsolicited fax, e-mail, or letter concerning Nigeria containing either a money laundering or other illegal proposal. Common variations on the scam include: 'over invoiced' or 'double invoiced' oil or other supply and service contracts where your Bad Guys want to get the overage out of Nigeria; crude oil and other commodity that needs to be 'chemically cleaned' before it can be used and he needs the cost of the chemicals.

"Or the victim will just be stiffed on a legitimate goods or services contract. The variations are very creative and virtually endless. At some point. the victim is asked to pay up front an advance fee of some sort. be it an 'advance fee, 'transfer tax, performance bond: or to extend credit, grant COD privileges, whatever. “

If the victim pays the fee, there arc many 'complications' which require still more advance payments until the victim either quits, runs out of money, or both. If the victim extends credit etc. he may also pay such fees ('nerfund,' etc.), and then he is stiffed with no effective recourse."
This information is from the 419 Coalition. a group based in Harrisonburg. Va. Its home page is at

According to the group. there are five rules for dealing with any Nigerian company:
1. Never pay anything up front for any reason.
2. Never extend credit for any reason.
3. Never do anything until the check clears.
4. Never expect any help from the Nigerian government.
5. Never rely on your government to bail you out.

Oddly, both letters offered us 20 percent of the "held" funds, with 5 percent to be used for expenses if we "helped" free the "frozen' funds. Some industry!

George Mindling © 2002

Friday, July 19, 2002

George Mindling Column 7-19-2002

Implementing a Drug-Free Workplace

When Governor Jeb Bush signed Senate Bill 264 back on April 11, he signed into law a new requirement for everyone doing business with the state of Florida. Being certified as a Drug Free Workplace is no longer just a way to get a 5-percent discount on a company's worker's compensation insurance. Being certified will be mandatory, as of Oct. 1, if a company, even a subcontractor, wants to work on property or projects from the state of Florida.

The new law stipulates that an employer must implement drug testing for employees and job applicants in order to qualify as having a drug-free workplace program. In addition, construction, electrical, and alarm system contractors must implement a drug-free program to qualify to do business with the state.

For the small business owner who does business with the state, this may seem to he an burdensome and costly new process to be added to the task of running a small business. There is help, however, and it comes from the Small Business Administration.
During the recent Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan presentation at the Charlotte County Airport. Todd Shoulberg gave an unexpected, but very welcome, overview of the upcoming changes in Florida's drug- free workplace program. Shoulder's firm, Florida Drug Screening Inc., of Palm Bay, offering assistance in setting up a company's Drug Free Workplace Program under a grant from the Small Business Administration.

Currently, Florida Drug Screening is offering a turnkey program/policy in compliance with the code, including Drug Free Workplace Notice, written Drug Free Workplace policy, 60 day notification to employees, set up of collection site, lab and Medical Review Officer who reviews the test results, customized pre-printed chain of custody forms, drug testing of applicants. Also included are annual drug and alcohol education as required, supervisor training materials, post-accident and reasonable-suspicion requirements, and access to an employee assistance program.

The one-time fee for the above services is currently waived and the $38 individual testing fee for employees/applicants is waived until Dec. 31, under the SBA grant program. To be qualified as a drug-free workplace, five conditions must he satisfied. First, there must he a written drug policy in place and available for employee access. There should be no surprises to an employee about a company's drug policy. Secondly. there must he an employee drug education program. and thirdly, there must be training for supervisors.

There must he employee assistance, as determined by the drug policy. Lastly. there must he a drug test. Existing or current employees are "grandfathered” for 60 days without action, then are subject to testing. The testing may be at random, but must he stipulated in the company's drug policy.

Contact Todd Shoulberg at (888) 441-4599 for more information about the SBA program and the application form for small businesses. This is a great opportunity for a small businesses to become certified without cost, and is smart business to boot. Even the 5-percent discount on worker's compensation insurance carrier filing is included in the package.

George Mindling © 2002

Friday, June 21, 2002

George Mindling Column 6-21-2002

Funding the Future of Charlotte County

How much would you, as a business owner, or even as a private citizen, contribute to attract new business to Charlotte County? The Enterprise Charlotte Foundation organizing committee is addressing that question even as it passes its recommendations to the Enterprise Charlotte Board on June 26.

The Enterprise Charlotte Foundation, a nonprofit corporation is essentially an operating fund to support the economic growth of Charlotte County to pay costs chat can't be funded with tax dollars. The foundation will financially support Enterprise Charlotte with funds that can't be spent from the Economic Development Office. Contributions to the Enterprise Charlotte Foundation will be tax deductible. The question is what kind of support will the businesses of Charlotte County, and the community itself, give the foundation?

The foundation's function is to engage in economic development activities, including accepting donations, providing hospitality for potential prospects, sponsoring events, as well as engaging consultants and independent contractors.

The foundation's sole source of revenue will be private donations. It will try to utilize Charlotte County vendors if at all possible. "Why our money?" is always the first question. Because tax dollars can't be used to pay for many of the items needed to successfully show or present what we have to offer potential businesses or companies. Other communities offer opportunities for potential businesses to visit and assess their areas with similar, non-tax funded programs. Charlotte County cannot be competitive without the funding.

How much money?” usually follows. The operating budget for 2002 is tentatively set at $14,000 and grows to $20.600 by 2004, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The foundation hopes to meet those goals by setting two contributor levels, one, a business or individual level at $250 and the other a corporate level at $1,000. Of course, no donation will he refused, and the benefits to the contributors are still in discussion.

One item being considered is an Internet link to contributor's web sites on the Enterprise Charlotte Web page for the corporate level. There will be an annual function to recognize those who contributed and to encourage others to support the community.

"Why do I want economic growth'!" usually comes from those satisfied that they are paying the tax burden for the county. Diversifying the tax burden is but one positive aspect of economic growth. Employment opportunities and a more stable economy are also factors. With a broader employment base, local businesses won't be forced to suffer the severe summer economic doldrums we now contend with. The last meeting of the Enterprise Charlotte Foundation organizing committee was this past Tuesday. The recommendations will go to the Enterprise Charlotte Committee on June 26. Hopefully the organizing committee's recommendations reflect the mood and desires of the business community.

We will soon see.

George Mindling © 2002

Friday, May 17, 2002

George Mindling Column 5-17-2002

Stopping Unwanted Faxes

Tired of having unwanted faxes littering the floor .when you open your business in the morning? Out of fax paper due to the unwanted and unsolicited faxes using up your paper? Anyone who receives junk faxes can complain, not just businesses. The fix is easy, and you don't have to worry about calling different 800 numbers to remove your number from every one of those unwanted faxes.

Unsolicited faxes are not only against Florida law. but are also in violation of the 1991 Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Federal Communications Commission regulations also prohibit sending unsolicited advertisements, also known as "junk faxes," to fax machines. This prohibition applies to both businesses and residences. Stopping the unwanted faxes is a fairly straightforward procedure, but it is a responsibility of the state Attorney General's office.

A fax machine is able to send and receive data, either text or images over a telephone line. According to the FCC. an "unsolicited advertisement" is defined as “any material advertising the commercial availability or quality of any property, goods, or services which is transmitted to any person without that person's prior express invitation or permission," Just because your fax number is published or distributed does not mean anyone has permission to send you unsolicited advertisements.

This approach has proven to be quite effective in stopping unwanted faxes. The state Attorney General's office first contacts the offender with copies of the illegal faxes, attached to copies of the Florida Statutes, and sends you a courtesy copy of the complaint to show who the offender really is.
That is usually enough to stop the fax "spam," but if the offender persists, it is a $500 penalty per offense, and the state will take action. The Economic Crimes Division of the Attorney General's Office investigates more than 100 cases a year.

Mail the offending faxes, along with a cover letter explaining who you are and that the faxes are unsolicited. Include your fax num­ber in the letter. If the sender puts your fax number on top of each page twice to blank theirs out, point out in your cover letter that the sender's number is unknown.
Mail the complaint and the faxes to: Economic Crimes Division, Office of the Attorney General, 110 S.E. Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. FL 33301-5000.

Now, if we could find a way to stop unwanted e-mails.

George Mindling © 2002

Friday, April 19, 2002

George Mindling Column 4-19-2002

Beautification Plan under Discussion

The beautification of Tamiami Trail has been an issue in Port Charlotte for years. Several projects have had partial success, but most of the road and almost all of the other thoroughfares remain sodded.

The areas that have been successfully planted stand apart from the barren stretches of median and roadway to show what can be accomplished if the community at large wants it to happen. The reasons for not beautifying the right-of-way range from financial shortcomings to incredible shortsightedness.

Several merchants complained during one campaign to beautify the median that growth in the center of the median would block the view of their establishments from the traffic on the other side of the roadway. The argument that it is considered safe to drive 45 mph, the legal speed limit, while rubbernecking across three lanes of oncoming traffic, and a two-lane access road to boot, to look at businesses on the driver's left side, is seriously flawed.

There is another way. Let businesses announce they support the median beautification fronting their areas of roadway with signs announcing their participation in the program.

John Milone of the Committee of 100, is spearheading the group's proposal to adapt the successful program used by the city of Gainesville. The Landscape Island Sponsor Program used by Gainesville is a joint venture between the city and the business community.

Charlotte County would be the official sponsor responsible for the engineering and landscape plans. while the business participants remove weeds, litter, debris and dead foliage on an agreed upon schedule.

The county and the business community need to find the balance that encourages not only business participation, but support from the community as a whole. The plan is currently under discussion with Charlotte County officials. John met recently with Commissioner Sara Devos to discuss the beautification proposal. and found Devos enthusiastic about the project. The Landscape Island Plan is very important to the success of Gainesville's traffic calming, street scape and pedestrian safety goals.

Port Charlotte can expect similar results from a successful beautification program. The county is currently reviewing the plan and recommendation is expected shortly. To minimize costs, the plants and trees used should be xeriscape-type plants. especially those indigenous to our area. They won't require watering or irrigation and they don't need to form a barrier wall down the middle of U.S. 41.

Beautification is the goal. The sponsorship signs will not be a distraction if done properly and with a general concept of uniformity. If you arc new to the area and need to look at each building as you drive. for safety's sake, simply make a trip down the other side to take it all in! Traffic will flow better and safer. and we'll have a better looking community for all of us to enjoy.

George Mindling © 2002

Friday, February 15, 2002

George Mindling Column 2-15-2002

Annual Northern Migration

The recent warm weather has been a blessing to businesses that benefit from our visitors enjoying the beaches and the water, but a caution signal to others. While everyone enjoys the outdoors and the activities associated with a nice winter vacation, the unseasonable national temperatures have many of our winter residents planning on returning to their summer homes up north sooner than usual.

The annual northern migration is usually in full swing by Easter, which falls on March 31 this year. We would normally expect to have about six more weeks of "season," but this year may be "shorter" and result in lower sales volumes for the stores and restaurants that depend on the winter season to carry them through the lean summer months. As our community moves toward a more balanced economy, the effects of the summer hiatus will be lessened. It will never be the same as elsewhere in the country simply because of where we are, but it will change.

The season in the '50s in Miami began with the opening of Tropical Park race track in November, reached it's peak with Hialeah six weeks later, then ended with the annual closing of Gulfstream Park in April. Horse racing, dog racing and Jai Alai were the big draws to South Florida then, along with the marvelous weather, before Mickey put up the vacation sidetrack in Orlando and the cruise ships at Dodge Island began carrying the winter visitors to the Caribbean. Florida's Gold Coast has found the winter season has changed drastically in the last 30 or 40 years. Southwest Florida's Sun Coast's winter season will change too, but for different reasons.

Southwest Florida's big draw has been value. The cost of maintaining a vacation home here was considerably lower than most other places in the country. The beaches were clean and the groceries were cheap. Florida still doesn't tax groceries or medicine. Those who move here as residents find there is no state income tax. If you live here, you get a $25,000 property tax break called "homestead exemption." There is no need for heating oil and rarely do you have to replace a winter coat or jacket. 

Electricity was cheap by national standards, and back then. so was water.  However, the price of single family homes is now skyrocketing. helped along with quick and painless low interest financing. The homes that were on the market five years ago in the low $110,000 to $115,000 range are now in the $165,000 to $170,000 range. Land on usable waterfront property is going up even faster. One home on Cabaret had it's property appraisal shoot from $138,000 last year to $182,000 this year based on sales in the area!

The worldwide marketing campaign once waged by General Development Corp. for Florida property has now been replaced. Instead, local Realtors have accepted the marketing of Southwest Florida as a great place to live. As more people call the Sun Coast home year round, the effects of our seasonal residents will be less and less.

George Mindling © 2002

Friday, January 18, 2002

George Mindling Column 1-18-2002

The Future of the Community

Aren't you a cracker?" I was asked at a Christmas party in Cape Coral last month. I was raised in Miami and the only crackers I ever met were at Monroe Station out on Loop Road. I was being asked this by a fellow who had moved here from Pennsylvania who raised cows on a farm. I hated to tell him what I thought a cracker was.

I'm not sure if the majority of northerners share this same misplaced definition of Cracker, but I assume it is fairly prevalent. No, we grew up in neighborhoods that look exactly like Port Charlotte. I went to elementary school in Westwood Lake in Miami, one of many Deltona or Mackle Brothers developments that populate the state. Most of those communities, however. have changed and moved forward. Port Charlotte has not. We have an opportunity now to help change that image. and the business community should take the initiative.

The economic development process is taking a new, definitive shape. Charlotte County has expanded its economic development with a department of four full-time employees. These people arc actively meeting with business groups to ask for planning input.

With the involvement of local organizations such as the Committee of 100, business input is finally being fed into the economic development process. The economic alignment with Lee and Collier counties is misplaced. especially Collier County, and the vacuum of not associating with Sarasota County will hopefully he corrected.

Business organizations that are basically social or quasi-independent from government may have good intentions when it comes to networking their products locally, but they don't have the foresight to drive the economic foundation that is required for 10, or 20, or even 50 years from now. One of the most naive approaches suggested is to ask a small business to assist its future competitors. How about a reality check here?

The fact we need business input now is evident in the new proposal for commercial building design standardization. The new Charlotte County proposal doesn't appear to be well thought out. It is simply a cookie-cutter approach used somewhere else. and it doesn't necessarily solve the problem of aesthetics, nor does it offer inducement to new firms to relocate here.

Literally, under the new guidelines. there will be no more supermarkets such as Publix or Winn-Dixie. simply because of the parking requirement in which no more than 40 percent of parking can be in front of the building. The County Administration Building at 18500 Murdock Circle doesn't even comply with the new facade and roof guidelines!

The business community knows we will suffer from terminal stagnation if the current approach dominates our future political and economic thinking. The segment of retirees who vocalize their opposition to any kind of growth won't be around to suffer the inadequate infrastructure they will leave as a legacy. Neither will their children. They take one look at the houses they inherit and turn them into rentals. Then they move to Cape Coral.

George Mindling © 2002