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Business Observer Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009 9 years ago

COVER UPDATE: Quiet Consulting

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The focus on big-headache public sector environmental work has helped Tampa Contracting Services stay successful. But going forward, Dan Harte will need to do more — and plans to do it quietly.

Sometimes it pays to be willing to take on the headaches — particularly bureaucratic migraines involved with environmental protection.

Dan Harte's Palmetto-based Tampa Contracting Services specializes in wetland restoration. His advantage over other competitors comes from a willingness to deal with bureaucracy, which is a huge willingness in the area of environmental regulations.

Given recent collapse in the Gulf Coast's construction economy, TCS' connection to public works has been a major help in keeping the business running.
“Because I was not in the private sector, I was able to just keep going,” Harte says of his 2009 work.

But as more and more builders saw the advantages of working with the government — “You always get paid on a government job,” Harte says — TCS saw their previously wide open market space become increasingly competitive.

To that end, Harte cites one particular job worth $1.2 million in work that attracted 28 bidders this past year. In a normal economy, he says, a job like that wouldn't attract more than six bids.

Now Harte is pursuing other interests to respond to this latest trend. His next major focus: mitigation credits.

Two years ago, Harte saw a slightly different business opportunity in his wetland restoration work. He realized he could buy land, restore it, and then sell it to other businesses in need of mitigation credits to offset their environmental impact in other jobs. These mitigation credits are established in law with the aim of protecting land while allowing development.

That business has been grouped into an entity run separately from TCS, called the South Swell Development Group.

Harte has also found consulting opportunities related to the restoration work. He can help banks and other entities that are in receivership of a bad land deal minimize their costs.

In January, Harte mentioned that the business behind South Swell was a fairly unique concept. “There isn't anybody out there that is doing this,” he said then.

Having seen what happened to public sector work, however, Harte is making a more concerted effort to keep the details of this other venture on the quieter side.
“The less I talk,” he says, “the less I attract competition.”

Even without detailing the ingredients in Harte's latest expansion, it seems as though he'll have an advantage going forward in what will likely continue to be an extremely competitive market.

— Alex Walsh

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