Even though a major hurricane hasn't pounded the Gulf Coast since 2004, weather prognosticators and emergency management experts are fond of saying “it only takes one.”
Bob Stobaugh, a former Gulf Coast mortgage-banking executive, is probably uttering those words in his sleep these days. That's because Stobaugh, past president of the Gulf Coast Mortgage Bankers Association, recently left mortgages for a new business, hurricane fortification products.
Specifically, Stobaugh's firm, Bradenton-based Building Performance Americas USA, developed a pair of patented products for roofs of commercial and residential buildings designed to mitigate water damage. Both the Miami-Dade Product Control and the Florida Building Commission, top-tier Sunshine State building standards, approved the parts.
One product is essentially a claw and a strap that ties the truss of the roof to the wall. “The unique part,” says Stobaugh, “is you don't have to take the roof off to install.”
Another product, the BPA Safety Vent, automatically closes during hurricanes or big storms, which keeps out wind and wind-borne rain. The system, says Stobaugh, alters the direction of the pressure that comes from the wind.
John Harvey and Robert Platts, Cayman Islands engineers, initially invented the vents and roof systems in 1999. They have since tested the products in places from Hawaii to Australia. Stobaugh joined the firm last year to lead a Florida and ultimately, he hopes, a nationwide expansion.
Stobaugh's overarching challenge in his effort is a hurricane entrepreneur's paradox: The more Florida goes without a big hurricane hit, the fewer people are interested in hurricane products.
“Floridians have been lulled into a false sense of security,” says Stobaugh. “Our memories are short. The challenge has been to get people's attention.”
Another challenge is price. Purchase and installation costs between $15,000 and $30,000, depending on the size of the building. Stobaugh says that price is minuscule compared to the costs of roof damage, although that could be a tough sell to cost-conscious consumers.
Stobaugh, though, hasn't only pitched the products to homeowners and commercial building owners. He spent time in Tallahassee during the past Legislative session, where he met with insurance lobbyists and legislators. Stobaugh introduced the products and promoted plans to subsidize hurricane products purchases statewide.
Manatee County-based Gator Stamping International manufactures the BPA claw-strap and safety vents. BPA then uses local contractors to install the products in homes and buildings. Installation takes about a week.
One of those contractors, Alvin Singleton of Sarasota-based Singleton Roofing, says the products have potential. “There really is nothing else like this available anywhere,” says Singleton, whose firm recently installed a BPA system in a Manatee County home.
Stobaugh, meanwhile, didn't have to go too far career-wise to get into in his new line of work. In his mortgage career he worked for homebuilders, including WCI Communities, and lenders, including CNL Bank. He specialized in mortgages for foreign citizens, which is how he met Harvey with Building Performance Americas.
But Stobaugh, who has an M.B.A. from USF, says the mortgage industry never fulfilled him. “I always wanted to use my M.B.A. to run a business,” he says. “This is a significant opportunity for what we can do for the state of Florida.”