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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 17, 2022 1 week ago

Software firm finds successful new direction

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Geographic Solutions, with 450 employees, has enough work to support 100 more staffers. The rub? Finding those people.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Geographic Solutions, a Palm Harbor company that’s become a leading provider of job search and training software used by state governments, colleges and universities and correctional facilities nationwide, could be a business school case study in how best-laid plans can drastically change over time.

The firm’s somewhat misleading name comes from founder and CEO Paul Toomey’s background in computer mapping and geographic information systems. Originally from the United Kingdom, Toomey, 59, came to Florida in 1986 to work for a company that created computer maps for cruise-missile systems.

“At that time,” Toomey says, “there was no GPS.” So missile guidance systems relied on a navigational process known as dead reckoning.

A few years later, in 1992, he launched Geographic Solutions as a computer mapping and consulting business.

“As part of doing geographic information systems,” Toomey says, “I ended up on a project for the state of North Carolina, which essentially turned into the first labor market information system. That was the beginning of this company getting into what today we would call the workforce development space.”

Today, Geographic Solutions is growing like wildfire, with 450 employees and contracts with public sector entities in 40 U.S. states and territories. But just like countless businesses in other industries, it has its own staffing challenges: Toomey says the company has nearly 100 vacant positions, most of which are highly coveted software development and engineering roles.

“We've been blessed with the fact that we’ve had relatively low turnover during this ‘Great Resignation’ period, but it’s challenging to find good talent in a lot of areas we hire for. I think we have the biggest software development shop in the area, and we don't outsource anything. We do everything here. So we're always looking for good lead developers.”

Transitioning to a mostly hybrid and remote workforce should help Geographic Solutions rack up some wins in the war for talent, Toomey says. But the growing acceptance and popularity of work-from-home arrangements is a double-edged sword that helps heavyweight competitors slice through barriers.

“It allows your Amazons, your Googles to come into the Tampa Bay area and hire people who are going to work remotely,” he says, “and with the growth of the Tampa Bay tech industry, that just creates more and more demand.”

Despite being understaffed, Geographic Solutions did a lot with less during the COVID-19 crisis, when government-run job search and unemployment benefits websites were under siege because of overwhelming demand. The company built pandemic relief websites for 10 states in less than 12 weeks. Up until that point, Geographic Solutions handled unemployment systems for just three states: Louisiana, Tennessee and Nebraska.

“In some cases, (the websites) were getting well over 300,000 visits per day,” Toomey says. “We had to shore up infrastructure, which means we were Cisco’s best friend for quite a while. Then we had to modify our system to handle the new unemployment programs. Louisiana was the first state to pay people under the CARES Act — we're proud that we were able to do that. It was an extraordinary time.”

Geographic Solutions’ success in Louisiana led to a flurry of new business — West Virginia and Arizona came calling, as did Guam and American Samoa — proving, once again, that with the right approach, opportunity can arise from crisis.

“We stood up 10 new unemployment systems in two and half months,” Toomey says. “To put that in perspective, it usually takes 18 months to two years to launch one unemployment system.”

More than 1,200 job centers nationwide are Geographic Solutions clients, and the company estimates 181 million people have used its software. During the first year and half of the pandemic, its systems processed some $62 billion in unemployment claims. The company makes money via a Software-as-a-Service business model, which provides a recurring revenue stream that varies according to the population of the state or organization using Geographic Solutions software and how many modules they’ve selected for their system buildout.

Monthly fees, Toomey says, can range from a few thousand to millions of dollars (he declines to disclose the firm’s specific revenue figures, but says sales grew by 20% from 2020 to 2021).

Even with the craziness of the pandemic at least partially behind us, Toomey and his team haven’t relented on innovation. They recently revamped NEworks, Nebraska’s workforce and unemployment insurance benefits system, so it includes tax functionality. The result is a one-stop shop for both jobseekers and employers.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, in a news release, praises the project for making the state’s government more efficient. "Our state's job creators will benefit from having one primary platform where they interact with the Department of Labor,” he says, “rather than navigating multiple websites and systems."

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