Jeff Charlotte sometimes quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, so he's not the typical construction firm executive.
Another way Charlotte stands out: The firm he founded, Venice-based J.E. Charlotte Construction Corp., is one of few small construction firms in the region to survive the carnage of the recession. While the firm isn't yet fully back to 2008 sales levels, it's close. With a focus on three specific sectors — retail, health care and country clubs — the firm had $8.8 million in revenues in 2014, up slightly from 2013 and up 87.2% over 2012.
The key, in addition to the rebound in the economy, says Charlotte, is the company now thinks bigger, goes after larger contracts and is in a position to turn down smaller jobs. “Instead of being everything for everyone, we want to be more specific in what we do,” Charlotte says. “I see the markets we are in being really healthy moving forward.”
Charlotte's grandfather was a mason and his father was a construction executive who built condos and medical complexes in Venice. The younger Charlotte founded his company in 2007 after he worked for other firms, including St. Petersburg-based Hennessy Construction. In 2008 the firm had nine employees and $10.6 million in sales.
But work soon dried up. In 2010 and 2011 annual sales were stuck at $2.7 million. The only significant client with repeat work was Lafayette, La.-based IberiaBank, which, in a recession-based move to buy struggling lenders, was growing statewide. J.E. Charlotte handled renovations and related work for IberiaBank in branches on both Florida coasts.
Charlotte remembers driving across the state in his Honda CR-V to check on projects.
Charlotte says he and his wife, Virginia, took out a second mortgage on their home and dipped into savings to make payroll. Charlotte was determined to keep going. “I never considered closing the company,” he says.
The turnaround, he says, started in 2012 when the firm won a $2.7 million contract for renovation and upgrades at the Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice. “That project was the catalyst,” Charlotte says.
This year the firm has nine employees, and Charlotte projects at least $10 million in sales.
A notable current project is a facility in south Sarasota County for Bayside Pet Resort, which offers overnight lodging, grooming and climate-controlled play rooms for dogs and cats. The $2.9 million complex is the second full-service resort J.E. Charlotte is doing for Bayside.
“Building a facility for pets might sound simple,” says Charlotte, “but there are a ton of variables that don't come up when you're creating a space for humans.”
Other current projects include a new social center for the Players Club Longboat Key, a $1.3 million project; a new resident center in Country Club East at Lakewood Ranch, a $970,000 project; and a rehabilitation project of a 10,000-square-foot building for the Humane Society of Manatee County. The company won the Humane Society project partly because officials there were impressed with how Charlotte and his team turned an old bowling alley into the first Bayside Pet Resort.
One final sign of the firm's resurgence comes from new hires. That includes Alan Miller, recently named vice president of operations. The hiring of Miller, who has been in construction since 1983, will allow Charlotte to focus more on long-term vision and business development.
— Mark Gordon