Firm hopes to clean up
By AISSATOU SIDIME of The Tampa Tribune
Originally published Jan. 25, 1999

VALRICO – Until last April, Kevin D. Simmons was the day-to-day point person at Westinghouse’s environmental cleanup division in Tampa.

As Florida operations manager, Simmons built Westinghouse Remediation Services from $200,000 and 10 employees in 1990 to a multimillion dollar company with 215 employees in three cities.

The St. Petersburg native and his boss tried unsuccessfully to buy WRS in 1995. Then Westinghouse began looking seriously to divest its nonentertainment companies and sold WRS to a group of managers last year.

In the subsequent restructuring, Simmons left and sought investors to form his own environmental cleanup company, REA Remedial Solutions.

Neal Smith, who had been Southeast division manager at Westinghouse, pledged the profits from his Atlanta-based Real Estate Advisory that conducts structural assessments of buildings in exchange for 49 percent of Simmons’ company. Smith also agreed to give REA Remedial Solutions 10 percent of the construction or remediation business that it generates.

Kevin D. Simmons, president of REA Remedial Solutions, an environmental cleanup company, is learning the ropes of running his own business. VICTOR JUNCO/Tribune photo

In six months, Simmons’ Valrico-based company has completed 15 projects with a total value of $300,000.

“Growing up in St. Pete we were downright poor, but I had always expected to own my own business,” said Simmons, 37. “In the last five years, I’ve always had the confidence to run my own business.”

Simmons earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Florida in 1983 and, fresh out of college, was hired as a staff chemist at OHM Corp. in Claremont. There he progressed to project manager and operations manager in charge of marketing before going to Westinghouse.

The large company provided the personnel and contract management skills that he’s using in his own company.

“I got to build a company from the ground up and to make all my mistakes there,” Simmons said. “This is do or die. But even though we are a new company, we know our skill sets and can build on them rather than trying to acquire skills.”

Westinghouse chemist Joseph Scech and professional engineer Kathleen Kastner also left to become his vice presidents. Scech previously followed Simmons from OHM to Westinghouse.

The three-person team can handle lead-based paints, groundwater control, drum and tank removal, soil grading, and demolition work. They have bid on business with petroleum and gas, chemical, and paper companies, dry cleaners, utilities, and real estate and government agencies.

In the last months, Simmons has learned it takes more than skills to run a start up.

“At Westinghouse, if I needed to get a bid bond [insurance that the job would be completed], there was no problem with a major company,” Simmons said. “Right now, we have the skill set for a $1 million project but not the bonding capacity.”

He expects it will take a year of consistent business before an insurer will allow REA Remedial to purchase unlimited bonding insurance. So now, Simmons is focused on retaining skilled employees to avoid having to train new recruits, which could delay projects, and on keeping costs to bare bones.

“Real Estate Advisory is helping by giving advice because they have been through a start up,” Simmons said. “I’ve learned that as a new company you don’t go after anything remotely risky because you don’t have deep pockets.

“You go after what you have experience doing.”

REA Remedial faces stiff competition for storage tank removal. That’s because, until two years ago, the state was very aggressive in cleaning up underground storage sites, said Steve Tsangaris of CH2M Hill that was Simmons’ client at Westinghouse.

REA also may face higher costs because it doesn’t own some equipment that larger companies might and subcontracts lab work and drilling services.

But “Kevin has got a good reputation,” Tsangaris said. “I worked with him personally to get a bid [for CH2M Hill] together.

“I would trust the work he would do, but he’s got to be the lowest bidder.”

To help get those costs down, Real Estate Advisory will design and manage a Web site to market the Valrico company. It also will handle administrative and legal paperwork for REA Remedial.

“We’re now $90,000 in and have to cover the payroll when he can’t make it,” Smith said. “And we’ll probably be $200,000 in before they turn the corner. So it’s scary because he has 51 percent of the company.

“No venture capital firm would allow him to have that much of the company.”

But, Smith said, the investment is worthwhile because REA Remedial Solutions is registered as one of a handful of Florida-based, minority-owned companies doing remediation work. So it should be at the top of the lists for environmental firms seeking partners to meet government minority contracting requirements, Smith figures.

“A lot of times, people get off the hook by saying they can’t find a legitimate MBE [Minority Business Enterprise],” Smith said. “Well, Kevin is the real McCoy and one with experience. Now if company and the state start enforcing MBE requirements … it will be Christmas.”

Staff writer Aissatou Sidime covers retail and tourism and can be reached at (813) 259-7919 or by e-mail at [email protected]