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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 21, 2012 9 years ago

Small Markets, Big Plans

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A Bonita Springs business-telecommunications company is exploring Charlotte and Sarasota counties. It hopes to replicate its successful business model.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

When US Metropolitan Telecom started in late 2006 in Bonita Springs, you might think it was a case of bad timing.

After all, the economy started its long and devastating downturn the following year.

But the local telecommunications firm benefited from companies looking for better value when times got tough, an alternative to the established phone and cable companies. “The downturn didn't really impact us,” says Frank Mambuca, the company's president and CEO.

While the privately held company declines to share revenues, sales grew 35% on average each year. Some of its clients include the largest companies in the region, including ASG Software Solutions, Arthrex, Health Management Associates and Barron Collier Cos. US Metro focuses exclusively on commercial customers; it doesn't provide residential service. Besides corporate customers, the company also provides telecom services to county and city governments.

Now, US Metro is eyeing other markets, including Charlotte and Sarasota counties. “They look a lot like Lee and Collier did five years ago,” Mambuca says. “I'd love to replicate US Metro in other markets.”

Mambuca is also scouting smaller counties on the east coast of Florida. “I have a ton of data on places like Martin and St. Lucie counties.”

Mambuca waves aside concerns that there aren't many large commercial customers in smaller counties. Instead, he says there are many smaller prospective customers in clusters in such areas as the U.S. 41 corridor. He uses a baseball analogy: “We're looking for singles.”

Recently, US Metro was named one of the 50 companies to watch by the Florida Economic Gardening Institute at the University of Central Florida. The program honors “second-stage” companies, and US Metropolitan was one of those selected from 425 nominees. It was the only company to win from Lee or Collier.

Unlike many other local telecom companies in the area that lease lines from established phone and cable companies and resell service, US Metro has installed 200 miles of fiber cable in a network loop that extends from Fort Myers to Naples, Immokalee and LaBelle. Mambuca says the company has spent $20 million to build its infrastructure, which he says helps control quality and cost. “They realize our connection is more reliable,” he says. “We're winning customers.”

So far this year, Mambuca says he's seen growth in health care and financial services. “I've seen growth in information technology,” he adds. The executive suite and co-working spaces are filling up, he notes. “Companies need a place to start up,” Mambuca says.

Mambuca says it took about two years for US Metro to build its network and it started full operations in 2009. He says the company is now reporting positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Mambuca, who at 6-foot-5 jokes that he's a geek trapped in a jock's body, was in charge a $350 million annual budget and 2,000 employees for Level 3, a giant telecom company that built the Internet backbone that carries North American and European Web traffic. He oversaw the laying of Level 3's giant fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic Ocean in the 1990s.

Mambuca now recruits others with the same promise that lured him to Bonita Springs: “How would you like to live and work in paradise?” he says.

US Metro currently has 22 employees and another 75 who are subcontractors that the company hires as needed. One of the good sources of new recruits is from schools such as High Tech North in Cape Coral. “They've already given us two employees,” Mambuca says.

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