Volcano heats up local tourism woes
Mayor Buddy Dyer, meet Eyjafjallajokull.
United Kingdom and will again limit air travel today following six straight days of halted or severely restricted flights.
It's the latest setback to Orlando's tourist-centric economy where taxes collected on each night spent in a hotel room are pledged by Dyer and other politicians to pay for big projects, such as a new arena for the Orlando Magic, a performing arts center and renovations to the Citrus Bowl.
Those tax collections, which the recession melted away like lava on ice, are still declining — off by 5 percent so far during the first five months of the county's fiscal year compared with the same period a year ago. Only time will tell how many room cancellations blow across the Atlantic from the cloud of ash.
Earlier this month, Fitch Ratings downgraded the bonds sold by the city of Orlando to finance the new arena to "junk" status and warned that the city could default on its payments as early as 2012.
And that was before Eyjafjallajokull's tantrum, which has cost the area a big chunk of the estimated $3.8 million Western Europeans spend here each day.
Thankfully, more flights are expected to take off and land in the United Kingdom in the coming days.
The volcano's real impact on Central Florida will probably fall somewhere between the short-lived panic caused by swine flu and the more significant aftermath of a hurricane.
Dyer's team at City Hall has forecast tourism to improve when Universal Orlando's much-anticipated Harry Potter attraction opens this summer.
The hope is that Potter will be a blockbuster and that an overall improved economic outlook across the country will boost domestic and international travel.
The success of Universal's play to wizard wannabes will undoubtedly be driven in large part by the United Kingdom, where the Potter phenomenon began.
So it could be worse. Imagine if the volcanic cinders grounded British tourists during Harry's theme park debut.
Publix, Darden, Harris still kings
In 2008 I wrote about how hardly anyone, including the economic development chiefs for Orange and Seminole counties, had heard of a little company in Altamonte Springs called International Assets Holding Corp. that appeared out of nowhere on the Fortune 500.
Two years later the company has continued to scale the list, this year beating the Walt Disney Co. and PepsiCo as No. 49 — the highest-ranked company in Florida — but its local profile hasn't changed.
If anything, the company's small local presence (now in Winter Park) is more anonymous than ever. International Asset's CEO lives in New York, which is now the company's headquarters, though its address with the Securities and Exchange Commission is listed as Altamonte Springs.
The commodities trading firm's galactic rise through the 500 is a result of an accounting quirk in how it reports revenue from trading precious metals. Its profit and number of employees pale compared to its neighbors on the list.
So, for all practical purposes, Publix Super Markets Inc.(No. 99) , Darden Restaurants (No. 311) and Harris (No. 371) remain the region's corporate kings.
Beth Kassab can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5448. Read her blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/thebottomline.