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Business Observer Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011 11 years ago

Winners and Losers

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The trends that shaped the economic landscape of Gulf Coast companies mirrored those affecting the nation.
by: Alex Walsh Web Editor

Reviewing the revenues of the largest 500 companies on the Gulf Coast (See Gulf Coast 500 insert), a few themes emerged. Unsurprisingly, the winners and losers among companies headquartered on Florida's Gulf Coast represent larger trends impacting the economy of an entire nation. Below are a few trends we noted in the list.

1.) Hiring is slow.
Companies are hesitant to add full-time staff before demand rises. In the meantime, however, those firms are bringing on part-time help to fill gaps. All six of the staffing firms on our list — including¬†KForce, A-1 Contract, and Veredus Corp. — saw revenues increase in 2010. KForce's 9% gain pushed the company's revenues to the verge of $1 billion in business for the year.

Dan Rodriguez, CEO at IT staffing company Veredus (No. 141 with $43 million in 2010 revenues), is hesitant to celebrate his industry's success. He recognizes that many capable employees are struggling to find work. Still, companies' reluctance to hire full-time staff has been a boon to companies like Veredus, which expects to generate $60 million in revenues in 2011.

In fact, providing a flexible staffing option can help firms get to a stronger growth position in the short term. By providing short-term IT assistance to small- and mid-sized firms, Rodriguez says Veredus is helping small businesses “get over the hump,” and get closer to solid growth.

Rodriguez says markets had been improving since 2009, even in Tampa, where strong demand for IT staff exists, until very recently, when Washington cast another layer of uncertainty over a struggling national economy. Even Veredus, a successful company with rapidly increasing revenues, is being forced to reconsider its growth strategy, which currently includes expanding to three new markets a year. (Rodriguez has his eyes on Dallas and Minneapolis for 2012.)

2.) Government projects pay.
Even as new assessments of the United States' fiscal disarray shock markets, government clients have still been able to pay the bills. Two of our top five fastest-growing companies are government contractors: FedTech Services Inc., which saw revenues increase 471%, and Crystal Clear Technologies, which enjoyed 230% growth.

Crystal Clear (No. 248 with $16.38 million in 2010 revenues) is owned and operated by Crystal Culbertson, a former contract specialist at Kendall Air Force Base who started her company in 2002.

Now she's working with the Department of Defense to provide staffing, communications equipment and engineering services on a number of projects. She says what's driving her business's growth is simple: “the war.”

But don't assume that Crystal Clear will be out of business once operations in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down. In fact, Culbertson says as deficit negotiations put more pressure on the nation's defense spending, Crystal Clear's services will become more important as project managers search to identify places where cuts can be made while maintaining functionality.

Plus, even if the solutions to the nation's deficit problems aren't clear, Culbertson is confident that there will always be work for defense contractors. As she puts it: “The U.S. government's going to be a business as long as we're a country.”

As for the industries hurt most over the course of 2010, the results are clear.

3.) Real estate is still hurting.
Each of the five firms that saw the largest percentage losses in revenues does business in the real estate industry, whether it specializes in brokering (Fred M. Starling Inc.), building (Hammer Construction), or contracting (Merit Electric Co.).

Furthermore, some of the largest companies on the Gulf Coast in the real estate industry saw the largest losses. Stock Development, No. 56, lost more than $150 million in 2010. W.G. Mills, No. 60, lost more than $110 million.

Although some real estate-related businesses fared well, like No. 371 Extreme Remodelers, which posted 100% growth to $6 million in revenues in 2010, it's clear that industries involved in Florida's boom-and-bust construction economy are still waiting for the upswing.

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