Orlando-based TLC Engineering for Architecture grew a Tampa office almost primarily from its work at Tampa International Airport, scoring a number of mechanical-system engineering jobs for the airport's various build-outs since the mid-'90s. But when the recession forced the owners to downsize their Tampa office by 15% to 20%, it also made them rethink their reliance on the airport.
“The airport won't always have a billion-dollar master plan,” says Jason Heffelmire, director of TLC's Gulf Coast region.
This year the company, which provides engineering, design and consulting for everything from lighting and electricity to plumbing to HVAC systems, started to find more work in the health care industry.
Recognizing that health care was one of the company's fastest growing areas, with projects ranging from work at Tampa General Hospital to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Heffelmire decided the firm needed to pursue the industry in TLC's Gulf Coast offices in Tampa, Fort Myers and New Orleans. “When peaks and valleys come, there's always work in the health care arena,” he says.
Vincent Rea, a senior engineer at TLC who has specialized in health care engineering for the company for the last 10 years, noticed an even more interesting trend — Tampa business owners wanted to work with someone local, and Orlando didn't feel close enough. “I've never seen this anywhere else,” Rea says. “Tampa is a tight community that wants to keep the work locally.” In response to the demand, Rea relocated to Tampa last month to build out the health care division.
Rea says health care contracts are growing from a few new industry trends: relocating non-core function to offsite locations, building outpatient facilities in communities, and retrofitting existing buildings to provide technology and energy savings. As examples, TLC has worked with HCA Healthcare to build a new laboratory in Largo. The company is also working with Tampa General Hospital to build an off-campus facility on Kennedy Boulevard for services such as radiology and infusions. Finally, TLC partnered with the James A Haley VA in Tampa to make some of its existing facilities more efficient through updating its lighting, air handlers and chillers. “The existing building stock is not going away,” Rea says. “Energy efficiency is easy on a new building, but there's no reason to demolish if you can go in there and make it better.”
The Tampa office accounts for about $5 million of the company's $35 million in annual revenue. The New Orleans office, which opened earlier this year, is expected to bring in close to $1 million in revenue in 2014. Overall, the company expects revenues to increase to $40 million this year.
Now, as the company grows, its biggest challenge is recruiting and hiring more people. It is becoming more difficult to find students who know engineering consulting exists, especial for things like power systems of a building, Heffelmire says. With about 55 employees on the Gulf Coast and nearly 35 in the Tampa office, Heffelmire hopes the health care division will hire four or five new employees this year.
Heffelmire says there are three types of projects for the company: what he calls “big rock” projects, mid-range projects, and base foundational work. “This year there are a lot more bigger rocks,” Heffelmire says. This year the biggest rocks are coming from the airport, the New Orleans Convention Center, and spring training facilities for the Twins and Red Sox in Fort Myers.
Now that the company's portfolio has expanded, Heffelmire wants to continue to find places for TLC to become “the go-to guys and girls,” he says. He hopes MacDill Air Force Base, University of South Florida, Port of Tampa, Tampa General Hospital and Sarasota Memorial start to feel the same comfort level that Tampa International Airport feels with the company. The only way to get there is one step at a time, Heffelmire adds. “If we do a good job on the little pebbles, they'll come to us because we know the facility and we know them.”