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  • | 10:00 a.m. April 18, 2014
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Few people have the kind of perspective on the future of construction in Southwest Florida as Jeffrey Hunt.

Hunt is president of EHC, a Naples-based construction company that clears land, moves dirt and prepares a site with underground utilities. When developers are planning a project, Hunt's company is often the first one on the job.

EHC recently was awarded several high-profile jobs, including clearing the land for the new Hertz global corporate headquarters in South Lee County and a Sam's Club on 38 acres in Cape Coral.

Since 1990, EHC has completed more than 250 projects totaling $200 million. Hunt, 59, was born and raised in Fort Myers, the son of a gladiolus farmer.

So where does Hunt think the future of large residential and commercial projects lies? You may be surprised by his answer: Charlotte County. “In terms of developable property, that's where it's at,” Hunt says, noting that the county's government is the most pro-business in the region.

But Hunt is unclear about the timing of Charlotte's growth prospects because he says the county is “locationally challenged” between Fort Myers and Sarasota. “Charlotte is a tough market to figure,” he says. “The crystal ball for this area is murky.”

For example, it could be years before the proposed 17,000-acre Babcock Ranch residential development east of Interstate 75 and just north of Lee County becomes reality. “Can they get Babcock Ranch fired up? Probably not in my lifetime,” Hunt says.

Still, Hunt takes it as a good sign that commercial projects like Hertz and Sam's Club are underway. That's a welcome change after years of recession when the only work available was from government. “If you couldn't do any public work, you didn't have any work,” says Hunt, whose business survived on projects such as the Clam Bayou environmental remediation in Pinellas County.

There have been enough existing-home and lot sales in recent years that residential development is now well underway. “The residential is leading the parade right now,” Hunt says. “It started in Collier and bled over into Lee.”

Now, Hunt says he's starting to see commercial development. “Everything follows residential,” he says. Plus, the news of Hertz corporate relocation to Estero may draw others. “You can sell it now,” says Hunt.

While he declines to cite revenues, Hunt says EHC grew 100% last year and will repeat again this year. His business is evenly split between residential, commercial and government work. Still, there's plenty of ground to catch up. “We're not even back to 2003,” he says.

In any case, Hunt worries about Florida's wild economic swings. “I'm hopeful it's not another boom,” he says. “The problem with the boom is it becomes easy.”

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss


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