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SBA opens disaster loan process for Florida

Florida's small businesses that are adversely impacted by Covid-19 coronavirus can now apply for disaster loans, the U.S. Small Business Administration said. The SBA is offering economic injury disaster loans to help meet working capital needs. The loans offer up to $2 million to help small businesses overcome the temporary loss of revenue resulting from the pandemic. The loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. Interest rates offered are as low as 3.75 percent for businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible.  The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75 percent. Repayment terms are up to 30 years. To apply, visit the SBA Disaster website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/


PSTA goes fare-free

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority temporarily is going fare-free on all routes beginning March 19 until further advised. The closure is due to the growing threat of Covid-19 coronavirus, PSTA said in a news release. "PSTA’s top priority has always been the safety and wellbeing of our employees and our riders. By temporarily going fare-free, it will reduce crowding by the farebox and limit exposure to passengers and bus operators," the news release said. PSTA is asking that passengers who can to use the back door to get on and off the bus, allowing people with mobility devices and others will have to use the front door to continue to do so.  

Tyrone Square temporarily closes

Simon Property Group (NYSE: SPG) temporarily is closing all of its retail properties, including malls, premium outlets and mills in the United States.  That includes Tyrone Square in St. Petersburg, as well as Ellenton Premium Outlets in Manatee County and Tampa Premium Outlets in Lutz. The closure began at 7 p.m. Wednesday night and will end on March 29, a news release said. The company said it made the decision after extensive discussions with federal, state and local officials and in recognition of the need to address the spread of Covid-19. "The health and safety of our shoppers, retailers and employees is of paramount importance and we are taking this step to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities," said David Simon, chairman, CEO and president of Simon.

USF staff member tests positive for Covid-19

A staff member in the University of South Florida Counseling Center on the Tampa campus has tested positive for Covid-19. This employee is self-isolating at home, USF said. The employee, who was not identified, was on campus on Monday, March 9 and Thursday, March 12 and had direct contact with 13 students and several employees, according to USF. The Florida Department of Health is providing will be monitoring those individuals while they continue an investigation to determine if any other USF employees had direct contact with the staff member. 

Pinellas Covid-19 cases grow in number

There are now 10 diagnosed cases of Covid-19 coronavirus in Pinellas County, according to the Florida Department of Health. There are seven men and three women, all Pinellas County residents, who range in age from 23 to 67. Four of the cases are travel-related and four of the cases are "known contact" cases. An individual's case can be both a travel-related case and a known-contact case, just one of those or neither of those, or pending investigation, DOH said. As of noon Wednesday, there were a total of 314 confirmed cases in Florida —  289 confirmed cases in Florida residents and 25 cases in non-Florida residents, DOH said.  

Tampa Bay Rays set up $1 million fund for ballpark employees

The Tampa Bay Rays are establishing a fund of at least $1 million for Tropicana Field gameday staff impacted by the postponement of the Major League Baseball schedule due to the global coronavirus pandemic. "Our gameday staff are the familiar faces that our fans know and love ... They are part of the fabric of the ballpark experience at Tropicana Field, and they are an essential part of our operations," Rays President Brian Auld said in a news release. Each of the 30 Major League Baseball clubs has made a similar commitment. Details on the implementation of this initiative are forthcoming, and will be communicated directly to gameday staff, the Rays said.

Tampa healthcare IT company tops in metro area on new Inc. list

Avalon Healthcare Solutions is ranked No. 2 on Inc. magazine's new list of fastest-growing Florida-based private companies. Avalon, a Tampa healthcare information technology company focused on medical benefit management, had two-year revenue growth of 3,764 percent between 2016 and 2018. A total of 57 companies headquartered in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area are on the list, including three from St. Petersburg: SquareMouth, a travel insurance company, with 99 percent growth, ranks No. 130; Excelsior Defense, a security company with 69 percent growth, ranks No. 188; and Power Design, a construction firm with 45 percent growth, ranks No. 242. Florida's No. 1 company is NationsHearing, a healthcare firm in Plantation. See the full Inc. 5000 series: Florida ranking here.

Publix, Target cut store hours

Publix Super Markets is making more changes to its store hours, to give store teams time to conduct additional preventive sanitation for Covid-19 and to restock product on shelves. The grocery chain, which announced early closings last week, now said it will temporarily adjust daily store hours companywide to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. In-store pharmacy hours will  change to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with normal pharmacy hours on Sunday. Target also is reducing hours and will close all stores by 9 p.m. daily, effective March 18. Target said it is reserving the first hour of shopping each Wednesday to support vulnerable guests, including the elderly and those with underlying health concerns.

AquaVenture shareholders approve acquisition

Shareholders of  Tampa-based AquaVenture Holdings Limited gave the go-ahead for AquaVenture to be acquired by Culligan in an all-cash transaction valued about about $1.1 billion. About 99 percent of the shares voted at a special meeting on March 16 were in favor of the deal. AquaVenture’s shareholders will be entitled to receive $27.10 per share when the deal close. It's expected to be completed by the end of March. AquaVenture (NYSE: WAAS) is a mulltinational provider of  water-as-a-service solutions, including filtered water systems and desalination and wastewater treatment plants.

Tech Data, Apple face fines for anti-trust violations in France

The French Competition Authority has fined Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and two of its distributors — Tech Data and Ingram Micro — in a case centered on distribution of Apple products. The French agency said Apple was guilty of anti-competitive behavior towards its distribution and retail network, according to a Reuters report. Apple was fined $1.2 billion, while Clearwater-based IT distributor Tech Data (Nasdaq: TECD) was fined about $85 million, and Ingram Micro was fined about $70 million. Both Apple and Ingram Micro said they would appeal the decision. Tech Data said it was still studying how to respond to the ruling, Barron's reported.

St. Anthony’s postpones triathlon

St. Anthony's Triathlon, one of the major events in St. Petersburg every spring, has postponed this year's event as the number of Covid-19 cases increases. The triathlon was scheduled for April 24- April 26. "We are working with the city of St. Petersburg and USA Triathlon to find a date later this year. If we are unable to host the event this year, we will provide information about refunds or registration deferment to a future race. We also will work with our vendors who were scheduled to be at our three-day Sports & Fitness Expo," the organization said in a website update.

MarineMax buys digital platform for boatowners

MarineMax Inc. has acquired Boatyard, an on-demand digital platform. The Boatyard digital platform includes a range of on-demand services to streamline the boating experience by qualified service providers with only a few clicks on a smartphone, a news release said. MarineMax (NYSE: HZO), a Clearwater-based boat and yacht retailer, did not disclose a purchase price for Boatyard, which is based in Fort Lauderdale. The new MarineMax Customer Experience Platform will be led by Boatyard Founder and CEO Nathan Heber, who will become president of Boatyard at MarineMax. "We chose to join MarineMax because of their incredible leadership team and their commitment to drive innovation in the industry. I am looking forward to continuing to work on delivering remarkable experiences to our boat owners," Heber wrote in a LinkedIn post.

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