The recession was especially painful for Baxter Troutman.
When it hit in 2008, he had to close seven branches of his employee recruitment company, Labor Solutions. He let go of 41 employees — more than 80% of the company's payroll. “It was an economic drive-by shooting,” he says. “There were a lot of victims of the recession.”
But his company was not a casualty of the recession. It took four years to make a full recovery, says Troutman, 50, but the Winter Haven-based company survived, and is now 20 years old. How did Troutman do it? He went back to the fundamentals of business, from being more nimble to eyeing expenses more closely to diversifying revenue streams.
Labor Solutions helps place people in light industrial, construction, service and agriculture jobs. The company has placed more than 50,000 people in jobs in the past two decades.
“We take great pride in helping people get gainful employment,” says Troutman, a Polk County native and grandson of Florida citrus magnate and Florida icon Ben Hill Griffin Jr. (Troutman's been in the spotlight before, too: A Republican, he served in the Florida House from 2002-2010 and recently announced plans to run for Florida Agricultural Commissioner.)
Bartow's Peace River Citrus has used Labor Solutions since it opened 15 years ago. “They've helped from the beginning,” says Manuel Suco, Peace River's human resources manager. “They have good rates and find the employees we need. They have good customer service.”
What sets Labor Solutions apart? Troutman says it's the company's ability to be flexible and put together custom packages for clients.
At the height of the company's growth, Labor Solutions had 10 offices and 47 employees. It now has four locations and 20 employees. Troutman says revenues are up 20% this year over 2016, though he declines to share specific sales figures.
In addition to getting back to business basics internally, Troutman says the nature of how business owners find employees has changed with the use of more technology. Labor Solutions also recently realized it needed to diversify its customer base. In 2016, for example, it opened a location in Georgia to help meet the employment needs of the peanut, cotton and orange processing industries.
Troutman left the family agriculture business at 30 years old in the summer of 1997 to launch Labor Solutions. He seized an opportunity to help a developer find workers to build a large corrections facility. He quickly gained traction and placed 40 people in jobs. “People were interested in the project and we could cast a wide net for workers,” he says.
Troutman built a good rapport with the developer and continued to help the company find labor. Within the first year, Labor Solutions opened offices in Sebring and Frostproof. Then came the population boom of the early 2000s, and by 2007 Labor Solutions had 10 offices in Central Florida and went as far north and west as Tallahassee and Panama City.
Post-recession, the firm continued to survive, Troutman says, with a “cream of the crop” small crew. Previous clients eventually started calling with work — another big step that aided the company's recovery. “We came full circle back to where we started,” Troutman says.
Labor Solution's growth strategy is now regional. The company recently acquired a local competitor, AJ O'Neal & Associates, and Troutman would like to grow to 12-15 locations in Central Florida within 10 years. Troutman will also grow with the memories, and lessons of the downturn, fresh. Says Troutman: “The tenacity of an individual is measured in difficult times.”
AT A GLANCE
Hometown: Lake Wales
Businesses: Labor Solutions. Also is general manager of Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch and President of Chop-N-Block Custom Meat Processing. Onetime shareholder in Fort Myers agribusiness Alico.
Politics: Troutman, a Republican, served four terms in Florida House, District 66 in Polk County. Recently announced he will run for Florida agriculture commissioner.
Family: Grandfather is Florida citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin Jr., namesake for the University of Florida's football stadium. Cousins with former Republican Florida State Sen. J.D. Alexander and former Florida Secretary of State and U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, who lives in Sarasota.