At the southern end of Bellevue's blighted Fort Crook corridor, one of the newest and hungriest technology contractors in the area has found a new home at the site of a notorious club once placed off limits by nearby Offutt Air Force Base.
The Garrett Group, an information security, intelligence and security consulting firm founded four years ago by Tommy Garrett and his wife, Julie, was one of four companies which won in late February 2011 a nod from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to compete for a piece of a $277 million dollar pie to be dished out over the next five years. As the agency issues smaller task orders within the contract for various missions, each of the four companies will compete to get the job. That's a big jump from the $4,000,000 or so in contracts the company had won through 2010.
And the growth in opportunities meant that the company, which had been run out of a rental house in Bellevue, needed more room.
'Are you out of your minds?'
So last summer Garrett purchased the former club and the surrounding five-acre recreation area. After retiring following a 26-year Air Force career, Garrett worked as a manager for a large defense contractor. Having seen how things were done Garrett was convinced that he could do it better…and cheaper. Garrett sat down with his wife and convinced her to sink everything they had into his dream of his own firm; and they’ve never looked back.
“But with three kids in school, "people told us, 'are you out of your minds?'" Garrett recalled with a smile.
He admits he had plenty of help.
Long before he hung out his shingle, Garrett visited the SBA Nebraska District Office and attended local SCORE workshops in Omaha. Garrett got critical help from Kathleen Piper, the District Office's 8(a) Business Development Specialist, and Mary Graff of the Procurement Technical Assistance Center. But there was a problem; like a dog chasing cars and not knowing what to do when finally catching one, Garrett lacked cash flow flexibility to perform the work.
"We'd been approached by two larger companies that wanted to team with us to go after set asides, but we were too young, we didn't have the necessary infrastructure," Garrett said. "The worst thing that can happen for a small business is to overreach/overextend and fall flat on your face…you will almost never recover.”
Garrett had to stop pursuing another contract because of concerns about funding. “On this particular contract we had written a great technical proposal and recruited a highly talented workforce but we ultimately determined that we couldn't afford to win the contract.
"When you are doing the work on a contract you can't bill the government for 30 days, and the government then has 30 days to pay after that. This particular contract called for 30 people right away with another 60 soon after that. Since we pay our people every two weeks we were going to have to meet at least four payrolls, along with taxes and benefits, before we ever received a single dollar from the contract. We simply couldn’t afford to win the contract"
Getting help from the SBA
Then, in early 2010, Garrett sat in on a seminar, "Take the Mystery out of SBA Loans," offered by the district office's Business Development Specialists.
"I was almost doing backflips when I heard about all these programs," Garrett exclaimed. "I told my banker 'we had to do this!'"
Garrett used the proceeds from a 7(a) loan approval in December 2010 for working capital, and was approved for a 504 loan for $784,000 for re-financing the existing real estate debt on the club for a lower rate, and paying for the redevelopment of the building.
Garrett also worked with Megan Lucas, the president of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, to help navigate the steps needed to obtain tax-increment financing from the city council for the purchase.
"Thank God for these SBA programs," Garrett said, waving a hand across a building in disarray with construction work, "otherwise none of this would have happened. It's all about cash flow. There were some deep dark days there, but we never doubted what we were doing."
And Piper and Graff continue to work closely with Garrett.
"The SBA and PTAC folks are always available," he added, "which is great, since I work seven days a week, and I’m often up until 3 or 4 a.m."
Looking to grow while buildng up the community around them
In addition to the contract with DIA, The Garrett Group also has teamed with another large Bellevue contractor on a contract at Offutt, and has contracts in Colorado Springs and Fort Belvoir, not far from Washington, D.C. Altogether, 70 people now work for the company in four states.
"We want to expand beyond the Defense Department to other federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, Customs and Border Patrol, and the Transportation Security Administration" Garrett added. "There's even a market for what we do in the private sector. Large companies, especially those with global business, have security and intelligence needs. We want to do it all, and we want to do it from here."
And for Garrett, it was important that his company remain in Nebraska.
“We’re not native Nebraskans but we love it here and now call Nebraska home. We lived in a lot of different places around the globe during my 26-year active duty career in the Air Force but Nebraska was the first place that truly felt like home.
Part of the firm's founding philosophy was to be a responsible corporate citizen. “We want to give back to the communities where we work and live. Our goal is to give 10% of our profit every year back to our community. We do that that through local charities and by being active in the local high schools through support of the booster clubs and organizations such as DECA,” Garrett said. “Last year we were really excited to be able to start an annual scholarship award program at five local high schools. We really want to make a difference.”
Now with the firm's brick-and-mortar location literally a quick walk from Offutt, Garrett's goal is to continue working to be a community leader and a growing player in government contracting.