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Business Observer Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009 12 years ago

Building Connections

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Many companies are spending at least some of their efforts positioning their business to take advantage of an eventual recovery. For Neil Hammack, that task is his sole focus.
by: Alex Walsh Web Editor

Neil Hammack has moved dozens of times since graduating from the University of Florida's School of Building Construction.

“You go where the work is,” he says. In this case, however, Hammack has ended up where the work isn't.

With the Tampa Bay construction marketplace still largely moribund, waiting for that tangible recovery. Many firms simply aren't finding jobs to do.

Hammack's company, Moss & Associates, is one of those having difficulty getting going on Florida's Gulf Coast. But he's confident that continued hard work will pay off, and insists that Moss will stay in Tampa.

A general contractor, Moss' bottom line is being upheld by the southeastern part of the state. Their most noteworthy project might be their involvement with the construction of the Miami Marlins' new stadium.

That work has driven Moss' revenues, which average $400 million over the past five years.

But given their established status in Southeast Florida, the company is looking for new means for growth. Hammack says the company considers Tampa to be “a strategic long term investment,” and a “logical growth” for the business.

Hammack's comments about breaking into the Tampa Bay market echo the sentiments of other businesses in the construction industry: they are avoiding the hard bidding process, looking for repeat business — and find themselves in the middle of a crowded market.

Like so many other construction industry veterans, Hammack has his own story about how competitive the market is today. He cites a design-and-build job involving Tampa International Airport worth between $7 and $8 million that attracted 70 bidders.

“I didn't know there were that many architecture firms based in Florida,” he says.

In dealing with that crowded space, Hammack says his company is being extremely selective about the work they take on. “We're more of a boutique firm than a volume shop,” he says.

For example, while many other construction firms are relying on public works to keep cash flows going, Moss will avoid those projects. Hammack cites slow payment, regulatory complexity, and low margins as the drawbacks for government work.

Even when the specifics of the job appear like a good match for the company, it's not the work that most attracts Hammack. He says, “We pursue clients, not projects.”

To attract clients, Hammack says Moss is getting creative with the type of service they provide. In some cases, they're helping connect developers with cash to building opportunities.

By getting involved at the financing stage, “We're going further back in the continuum,” Hammack explains.

Considering his own former experience and Moss' expertise, Hammack says his efforts to find his company work are focused on three niches of the building market: hospital construction, corrections facilities, and one highly-sought after Florida favorite: Publix grocery stores.

Given his recent experiences in pursuing those niches thus far, Hammack admits Moss may have been better off waiting a bit longer before entering the Tampa Bay market (Moss started their entry efforts in June of 2008).

But he says the work he has been able to accomplish does have significant positive value. In his words, “I'm laying down the tracks.”

His confidence in Moss' efforts is bolstered by his own comments about his status as a now-permanent Gulf Coast resident. After those dozens of moves, Hammack is happy living in Clearwater, and ties Moss' investment in the area to his own personal interests.
Simpy put, he says, “I'm not moving anymore.”

— Alex Walsh

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