Jacksonville should be cheered by Gator Bowl’s impact
You probably read that this year's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl drew its smallest crowd since 2000.
You also may have read about the low TV ratings for this year's game.
However, I would argue that this year's Gator Bowl produced one of the strongest economic impacts in years for the Jacksonville area.
I'm a Northwestern alum, so the inclusion of my Wildcats in this year's game gave me a different point of view than I've had for previous Gator Bowls. I saw the game from the perspective of thousands of other Northwestern alums who visited Jacksonville for the first time last week, and the trip couldn't have gone any better.
What they got was Northwestern's first bowl victory in 64 years on a glorious sunny, warm afternoon. The excitement level of the fans was beyond description, unless you read the countless social media comments telling everyone "you had to be here."
These people will tell anyone who listens about what a great time they had in Jacksonville, and I'm sure they would love the opportunity to come back. Those who left 75-degree Jacksonville to return to 25-degree Chicago on Wednesday probably wanted to come back right away.
It wasn't just the football game. They also enjoyed the opportunity to find out what Jacksonville is all about.
On the morning of the game, I went with friends to Publix for our pregame tailgating supplies. My friends, who had never been to Publix before, marveled at the friendliness and efficiency of the staff.
It's sort of a cliché about rude Yankees. But I can honestly say that when I moved here 25 years ago, I also was surprised at the friendliness of supermarket employees because I wasn't used to it up North. It does make an impression.
Besides the supermarket, I also read a note on a popular Northwestern blog that was gushing after the game about how nice the employees were at EverBank Field.
Now the crowd at this year's Gator Bowl of 48,612 pales in comparison to the 84,129 who came three years ago to see Bobby Bowden coach his last game for Florida State.
But how many of those 84,129 were visiting Jacksonville for the first time? Did that game do anything to change anyone's perception of Jacksonville?
Yes, EverBank Field looked empty overall, especially with just a handful of seats occupied in the upper deck. Clearly, the game didn't appeal to locals. But the seats along the Northwestern sideline and the Mississippi State sideline were filled in the lower deck. Most of those fans stayed in local hotels and ate in local restaurants for two or three days.
Yes, Florida or Florida State will sell more tickets, but how many of those fans actually travel to Jacksonville for the game and spend money outside of the stadium?
So Jacksonville, you should be happy about this year's Gator Bowl. I think it produced a positive impact that will stay with us for years to come.
Genesee cuts 13 RailAmerica jobs
Genesee & Wyoming Inc. said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last week that it assumed full control of Jacksonville-based RailAmerica Inc. on Dec. 28 and dismissed 13 former RailAmerica employees on Dec. 31.
The company said the job cuts are part of a plan to eliminate redundant senior management positions.
Connecticut-based Genesee completed its acquisition of RailAmerica on Oct. 1 but was waiting for approval from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board before taking control of RailAmerica's operations. The merger of the two short-line railroad operators was approved by the transportation board Dec. 20.
Genesee filed a notice last month under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act saying it could cut 50 jobs from RailAmerica's headquarters operations. The SEC filing said Genesee still expects to ultimately cut that many jobs, but the final number won't be determined until an analysis is completed during the first quarter.
Stein Mart reports strong holiday sales
Despite pessimism after Christmas about the pace of holiday sales, retailers last week reported a generally strong holiday season, particularly Stein Mart Inc.
The Jacksonville-based fashion retailer said comparable-store sales rose 5.9 percent for the five weeks ended Dec. 29 and rose 6.3 percent for the entire November-December holiday period.
Comparable-store sales, which measure sales at stores open for more than one year, are a key indicator of a retailer's performance.
"I am extremely pleased with our December sales which followed a very strong November. This represents our sixth consecutive month of positive comp sales. It has been more than seven years since we have experienced comp increases like this," interim CEO Jay Stein said in a news release.
Stein Mart said total sales in December rose 6.4 percent to $176.5 million.
The company said it saw sales increases in every state, with Florida and California performing the best.
The International Council of Shopping Centers reported that comparable-store sales for all U.S. chain stores (excluding drug stores) rose 4.5 percent in December and 3.1 percent for the November-December period.
Jacksonville Bancorp closes on stock sale
Jacksonville Bancorp Inc. closed 2012 by announcing that it closed on the sale of $50 million in preferred stock to a group of investors led by its largest shareholder, CapGen Capital Group IV LP.
The preferred shares are expected to be converted into common shares of stock, but shareholders of the company will have to approve the conversion at a special meeting that will take place in early 2013, the company said.
The parent company of The Jacksonville Bank also said that it sold about $25.1 million in bad loans and real estate it acquired through foreclosure for about $11.7 million to an unnamed real estate investment firm. That investment firm was part of the group that bought the preferred stock from Jacksonville Bancorp.
Fortegra announced two acquisitions
Jacksonville Bancorp wasn't the only company closing deals on New Year's Eve. Fortegra Financial Corp. announced two acquisitions Dec. 31.
The Jacksonville-based insurance services company acquired 4Warranty Corp., an administrator of warranty and extended service contracts.
Fortegra also purchased a majority stake in Digital Leash LLC, a company that provides protection plans for mobile wireless devices under the name ProtectCELL.
Fortegra did not announce financial details for either transaction.
Fidelity buys employee benefits technology firm
Also Dec. 31, Fidelity National Financial Inc. announced the acquisition of Digital Insurance Inc., which provides a technology platform for businesses to manage employee benefits.
Jacksonville-based Fidelity said the company produced $50 million in revenue last year and is expected to grow to $70 million this year.
Speaking of companies controlled by Fidelity, auto parts company Remy International Inc. began trading in the Nasdaq market last month after completing a sale of a small amount of stock only to employees.
The company is trading under the ticker symbol "REMY."
Fidelity, which is mainly a title insurance company, owns stakes in a variety of other businesses. The company owned 51 percent of Remy before it began publicly trading.
Remy did not say how many shares are available for trading in the market.
Regency buys more shopping centers
Regency Centers Corp. announced after New Year's Day that it acquired shopping centers in California and Georgia and bought interests, with partners, in two others in North Carolina in late 2012. Regency said its share of the total purchase price of the four properties was $147.4 million.
Jacksonville-based Regency also said it disposed of three non-strategic properties in the fourth quarter, taking in $49.7 million.
Landstar settles lawsuit with truck owner-operator group
Landstar System Inc. last week announced the end of a 10-year legal fight with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association over the relationship between Landstar and truck drivers.
Jacksonville-based Landstar uses trucks to ship goods all over the country but it does not own the trucks or employ the drivers. Instead, it contracts with drivers who own their own trucks, which it calls business capacity owners, to transport the freight.
Landstar Vice President and General Counsel Michael Kneller said in a news release that "after a decade of proceedings, including two trials and extensive appeals, this litigation comes to an end after affirming the validity of Landstar's current leases in place with all of its BCOs and with no award of injunctive or monetary relief of any kind to the plaintiffs."
The drivers association said in a separate news release that it brought the lawsuit against Landstar "in an effort to obtain court rulings that would provide further clarity with respect to the legal obligations of motor carriers under the leasing regulations. As a result of the lawsuit, the meaning of the regulations was further developed by the court."
Association President Jim Johnston said in the organization's release that he is satisfied.
"We're pleased to put this litigation behind us. Landstar is a reputable motor carrier with a history of retaining owner-operators who are among the most highly skilled and professional individuals in the trucking industry. We are optimistic that we can work together in the future in advancing the goals of owner-operators," he said.
Warburg now owns 9.4 percent of FIS
After Fidelity National Information Services Inc., known as FIS, bought $200 million in stock back from Warburg Pincus Private Equity IX L.P., its largest shareholder, Warburg now owns 9.4 percent of FIS.
Jacksonville-based FIS announced last month that it bought the shares from Warburg as part of its ongoing stock repurchase plan.
Warburg said in a follow-up filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it now controls 27.1 million shares of FIS after the sale, or 9.4 percent.
Warburg last spring had 41.1 million shares, or 14.2 percent, according to FIS' annual proxy statement.