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Innovating to Survive Economy’s Rough Ride

Posted: October 15th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Investor Visas, Sarasota Immigrants | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Reposted from Sarasota Herald Tribune.  This article is related to our previous post about the Whincups and Galaxy Multi-Rides.

Robin Whincup, founder of Galaxy America, sits atop a partially assembled mechanical buffalo that the Port Charlotte company built.  Courtesy photo / Galaxy America

Published: Monday, October 14, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 4:54 p.m.

PORT CHARLOTTE – There are jobs and there are businesses, and then there’s what Robin and Mike Whincup do for a living.

The father-and-son team owns and runs Galaxy America, which manufactures and sells mechanical bull rides and inflatable, multi-player games that cost from $8,000 to $20,000.

To date, the company has sold about 5,000 worldwide to festivals, boardwalks, traveling fairs, small theme parks, party supply rental companies and other businesses.

And more sales are in the offing, if the Whincups’ track record of innovation holds.

The family got into the business in 1985, when Robin Whincup, then a carpet installer in England, got into the amusements trade by buying a “bounce house” and renting it out for children’s parties.

Eventually, he invested in a new gizmo featured in the popular “Urban Cowboy” movie that starred John Travolta.

The mechanical bull simulates a rodeo-style bucking bovine that tries to throw its rider. It turned out to be a profitable investment. Mechanical bull riding became a nationwide craze.

But for all the success, the elder Whincup thought the concept needed refinement.

That’s because the old fashioned mechanical bulls were heavy — so much so that they required six people and about two hours to install and break down.

So Whincup set out to “re-invent” the mechanical bull to make it lighter, easier to assemble and safer.

Today, Whincup’s bulls can be installed by just a pair of workers, and in a fraction of the time — 20 minutes.

His re-invented bull involves securing a fiberglass body covered with an artificial hide atop a steel spin motor. A soft foam head with a polyurethane “skin” is then attached. Unlike conventional mechanical bulls, the machine resembles the beast.

Whincup also designed his mechanical bull, which sells for about $16,000, so that it could be converted into mechanical rides with dozens of other custom-made themes.

With a different fiberglass figure placed on top, the ride can become a mechanical shark, dog, jack o’ lantern, buffalo — whatever.

The rocking contraption is centered on an inflated vinyl platform, so riders are not injured if they fall.

The re-invention nearly a quarter-century ago led Whincup to open a factory in Harrogate, England.

As his invention became more popular, Galaxy provided Whincup with an opportunity to stop laying carpet and devote himself full time to his business. In time, that led to an even bigger change.

Made in America

With the U.S. as his biggest market, Whincup decided to open a factory in America.

“I found that Americans wanted to buy stuff in their own country with their own dollars,” Whincup said.

When he looked for a location, he gravitated toward the Sarasota area — a place where his family had vacationed and enjoyed themselves.

“I just wanted to live in the sunshine,” the elder Whincup said.

In 2008, he found a facility to rent in Port Charlotte that met his needs. He began small, with a single employee.

That didn’t last long, though.

“We grew very quickly,” Whincup said. “The business just exploded.”

In the past five years, annual company revenues have grown from $600,000 to $3 million.

These days, with eight employees in England, Whincup’s Port Charlotte enterprise is now the larger of the two factories.

Galaxy America employs 16 and expects to expand. Whincup predicts that, by 2016, he will need 30 on staff.

Displaying his wares at trade shows is the key to his success, Whincup said. Photographs alone do not sell a Galaxy product.

“People have to see it, touch it,” he said.

The mechanical bulls, the company’s most popular product, are bought by bars and restaurants as well as party-supply stores.

Businesses that charge customers about $250 to $350 to rent the machines can earn their money back within months, Mike Whincup said.

A mechanical bull on the boardwalk in Myrtle Beach is reportedly earning its owner about $113,000 a year, the younger Whincup said.

What also differentiates Galaxy’s machines is the ability to customize them to fit almost any specialty. Instead of a bull, a Mexican restaurant wanted a donkey. A tequila company uses a wedge of lime ride to promote its products. Various brands of beverages want customers to ride their drink containers, and a shoe store wanted, of course, a shoe.

When it promoted itself at a Texas event, British broadcaster BBC America decided that, instead of a mechanical bull, its Galaxy-designed ride would be a mechanical British bulldog.

More ideas, more fun

To keep Galaxy thriving, the Whincups are constantly innovating.

Their inventory includes a surfing simulation machine on an inflated “wave.”

The company also offers several inflatable games with moving parts for multiple players.

For example, the four players in “Log Slammer” pretend an upriver mill exploded and they are floating on tree stumps. They have to jump or duck to avoid a swinging log or out-of-control saw blade while also staying clear of the jaws of two imaginary alligators.

The inflatable games sell for $13,000 to $20,000.

The company’s next inflatable game line will be a 100-foot obstacle course, complete with movable parts that will keep players dodging, climbing and jumping to beat each other to the finish line.

Several of the games can be attached to each other to make the course even longer.

Dan Maitland, who has produced a television episode about Galaxy for a Dallas-based digital media company, learned about Galaxy through an international association that represents amusement parks.

“Some of the things they are creating are very unique and cutting edge,” Maitland said of Galaxy.

Now Galaxy also is working on interactive animated videos that will take players to a whole new level. Several people sit in a mock vehicle in front of “a green screen” and a video camera. A director tells them how to react to animation they cannot see as their vehicle sways and turns. The finished video shows the riders and the animated scene behind them.

On one such ride, children join Santa on his sleigh as it takes off from the North Pole, shoots past the moon and descends upon a Dickensian-style city, where the riders toss out wrapped gifts to imagined people below.

In yet another game, perhaps loosely based on the movie “Toy Story,” passengers in a toy car find themselves being pursued by other toys in a child’s room.

Riders atop a sea turtle go on an underwater adventure, dodging creatures of the deep as they search for pirates’ lost treasure.

The Whincups think shopping malls are likely venues for the animated ride booths. Customers will buy DVDs or e-mailed digital copies of their two-minute adventures for a price that has yet to be finalized.

For the Whincups, not knowing what they may still add to their expanding inventory of amusements is all in a day’s work — and they are definitely enjoying the ride.

“It’s a fun business,” Mike Whincup said.

Labor Shortfall Threatens Construction Boom

Posted: September 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Employer & Student Visas, Sarasota Immigrants | Tags: , , | No Comments »

This article, reposted from the Sarasota Observer, is about the skilled labor shortfall in construction and compliments our earlier repost on this subject.  We hope that immigrants and potential immigrants to the Sarasota area find this information useful.

Labor shortfall threatens construction boom

Area contractors, such as Sutter Roofing Company, contracted for the Sarasota County Courthouse roof-replacement project, report that a labor shortage in the construction industry could raise building prices and slow the pace of area growth.

When the economy derailed in 2008, Doug Sutter, vice president of Sutter Roofing Co., made a tough choice. He decided to keep as many of his workers employed as possible through the lean years of the Great Recession, sacrificing his bottom line to keep a firm grip on what he predicted would one day be a limited commodity — skilled labor.

“We really did a good job of trying to keep our core guys through the downturn,” Sutter said. “We tried to find ways to keep guys busy because we knew finding skilled labor would be a problem coming out of the recession.  We saw this coming.”

After five years of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a shortage of skilled labor threatens to take the wind out of the sails of Sarasota’s resurrected construction industry. The problem is that a lack of workers threatens to drive up construction costs and limit the amount of projects contractors are able to tackle.

“I hope we can keep the boom going, but we have to get more people into the industry,” Sutter said. “The labor shortage is a big, big concern, particularly in skilled labor.”

The construction industry in Sarasota County is considered a bellwether for the area’s economy and a driver of economic growth. According to a county report, property tax revenue is projected to increase by about $6 million next year, due to a 4.2% increase in property values countywide. And many area businesses and lawmakers point to a new round of development projects popping up around the county as an indication that Sarasota’s economy is on the mend. But the skilled-labor shortfall could limit the economic benefits of resurgent development and add uncertainty to government budgets.

Mary Slapp, executive director of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, acknowledged that an increase in building costs may affect the scale of new projects, but said the real casualty of the labor shortfall will be the pace of growth.

“I hear from the general contractors that they’re not going to bid because they don’t have the labor,” Slapp said.

Brian Jones, director of development for Core Construction, said he noticed smaller sub-contractors turning down jobs, but it wasn’t until CECO Concrete Construction, the nation’s largest concrete subcontractor, stopped taking new jobs in Florida for 2014 that the scale of the problem became apparent.

“That caught us off guard,” Jones said. “We didn’t expect a contractor as big as that to start canceling jobs.”

The problem is one of supply and demand. In 2006, prior to the downturn, the Sarasota County area construction industry employed more than 32,000 workers, according to Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO) data. But the recession hit Sarasota’s construction industry hard. By 2010, the construction workforce slimmed down by more than half, dipping below 15,000 workers. And, despite the recent development rebound, the industry workforce has been stuck at around 15,000 for the past two years and shows little to no signs of growth. The FDEO reports that Sarasota’s construction workforce was 15,600 in July 2013 — a 3.2% drop from July 2012.

“These things have a way of working themselves out,” Jones said, referring to the labor shortage. “But it means prices will have to go up.”

Slapp said that much of Sarasota County’s construction workforce uprooted to other areas of the country such as Texas and the Carolinas, where construction was less affected by the economic downturn.

“When you have to feed your family, you go where the jobs are,” Slapp said. “Now we have to find a way to lure them back.”

Sutter added that new government regulations such as E-Verify and the Affordable Health Care Act’s employer mandate are burdens for businesses seeking to hire new workers.

“It certainly thins the herd,” Sutter said, referring to E-Verify, an Internet-based program used to determine an employee’s eligibility to work in the U.S. “But, there really isn’t much of a herd, anyway.”

The labor shortage could also throw area governments a budgetary curveball.

Scott Lempe, chief operating officer for the Sarasota County School Board, said cost increases could send some projects to the chopping block.

“I anticipate the costs to tick up,” Lempe said. “If the cost of material or labor goes up dramatically, then it would force us to reevaluate the number and magnitude of projects we can take on.”

Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson said the county budget has yet to feel the labor shortage’s effects.

“In the short term, I don’t see it as huge problem,” Robinson said. “But we may have to take another look at our budget in the future.”

Robinson said an increase in construction costs would likely lead to a decrease in funds available for smaller projects that periodically pop up and are paid for out of the county’s unfunded projects list.

“We tend to budget conservatively,” Robinson said. “If costs start to go up dramatically, our unfunded project list may be unfulfilled. We’ve already seen the price of asphalt affect our road renovations.”

According to area contractors and lawmakers, luring skilled workers back to the area is not the only solution to the labor shortfall. There should also be an emphasis, they said, on locally run skilled-labor training programs.

Slapp lauded skilled-labor programs at SCTI intended to teach marketable skills.

“Folks are going to be leery about going into the construction industry after the recession,” Slapp said. “But skilled tradesmen will never be out of work. We need to emphasize the importance of learning a skill and being a good worker.”

Robinson added that programs such as a proposed local hiring initiative and the Suncoast Workforce project facilitate linking contractors to workers, allowing for a more efficient use of the existing labor force.

Sutter, whose company recently secured contracts to do the roofing renovations at the Sarasota County Courthouse and the new Macy’s being built at the Mall at University Town Center, said the labor shortage hasn’t forced him to turn down any projects — for now.

“Our biggest concern used to be securing financing and keeping our workers employed,” Sutter said. “Now it’s trying to find enough workers to get all our new projects off the ground.”

Construction jobs
By the numbers:
32,200: Sarasota construction industry workforce, July 2006
15,600: Sarasota construction industry workforce, July 2013
7%: Current estimated unemployment rate for Sarasota County
7.1%: Current estimated Florida unemployment rate
7.3%: Current national unemployment rate
320,000: Number of construction workers who dropped out of the national workforce during the Great Recession
$27,220: Median annual construction worker salary in Florida
$49,350: Median annual construction worker salary in New York

Sarasota Immigrant Learns to Live and Work Successfully in America

Posted: August 1st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Sarasota Immigrants | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Susie Correia has been successfully living and working in America for over 7 years. Originally from the small Caribbean island of Trinidad, she first moved to the UK with her British husband in order to live and work there. She and her husband managed a B&B and several investment properties in Poole, on the southern coast of England. They had a son together and lived in Poole for 10 years.

When her son was 4 years old he decided that he wanted to be a tennis player. Ms. Correia did her research and found Nick Bolliterri Tennis Academy, now known as IMG Academy, in Bradenton. She moved to the Sarasota-Bradenton area and enrolled her son in the premier tennis academy. She also had to find a way to make a good living for herself and qualify for a visa in order to live and work in the States.

Not everything went perfectly for Ms. Correia. She and her husband filed for divorce. She decided not to waste any time and went back to school in order to make herself as marketable as possible. When we spoke with her she declared her inspiring motto: “You can go back [to school] at any age. You can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it.” She completed her education with a 4.0 GPA and as a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and earned the Leadership Distinction Award. She obtained a degree as a medical assistant then became a licensed Aesthetician, Licensed Insurance Agent & long-term care agent.

Susie Correia Lives and Works Successfully in AmericaSusie Correia Lives and Works Successfully in America

Susie Correia Lives and Works Successfully in Sarasota

Ms. Correia had always worked for herself and wanted to continue to do so in both nutrition and skin care. She is an International Distributor for Nu Skin / Pharmanex and also became a registered and authorized operator of the Pharmanex Biophotonic Scanner®. This machine, featured on the Dr. Oz show, provides, in about 90 seconds and without a blood draw, a quantitative level of skin carotenoids, which correlates with systemic anti-oxidant levels. In other words, Ms. Correia can accurately measure vital nutritional biomarkers non-invasively in only minutes.

Armed with this important information, Ms. Correia can make recommendations that can positively impact her clients’ health.

Ms. Correia is now a permanent resident and lives and works in America. Her son, just as industrious as she, graduated from high school one year early, having skipped a grade, and with straight A’s. He still plays tennis and is pursuing a career on the ATP tour. Ms. Correia is currently working towards her own financial freedom by helping people be more healthy. As an anti-aging specialist she can help people stop the signs and symptoms of aging both internally and externally with visible results sometimes seen in minutes. You can contact her for a free demo.

Susie Correia Lives and Works Successfully in Sarasota

Susie Correia with her son

Susie Correia can be contacted through her email:, or her cell phone: 941-893-0996.  To learn more about the biophotonic scanner and the tools Ms. Correia has at her disposal to improve her clients’ health and skincare, visit click on United States, or transformations.  Or for the skincare click on United States and for the business opportunity visit and request the info on the password protected portion for further information.

In a final note, Susie is also involved in a charity that donates a bag of vitameal every month for $25/month.  With one bag you can feed 30 people.  To learn more visit Susie’s website: