Learn about Florida Entrepreneur Jerry Comellas Jr.:
After graduating from the University of South Florida, Jerry Comellas, Jr. spent 19 years in the transportation industry before spending another 12 specializing in subsurface utility engineering and survey and mapping.
Comellas enjoyed his job and planned to work there until it was time to retire – or so he thought.
“I had planned to retire from the company I was at, but some things happened corporately, and things were just not going in the direction I thought they should,” he said. “Three of my partners and I made the decision to move on and start our own company.”
Now, Comellas is president of ECHO UES, Inc. (ECHO), a business founded by a group of partners with civil engineering, construction and utility/GIS background. Founded in 2017, the ECHO team provides Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE), Survey and Mapping professional services throughout Florida assisting owners, engineers and constructors to design better, build faster, and safely enhance engineering, design, construction and maintenance of infrastructure.
“I consider our data collection services as the foundation on which most, if not all, civil design projects require to do their job. We survey and map underground utilities and survey and map everything you can see above ground. That foundation allows for designers to design bridges, roads, power plants, water treatment facilities, etc.,” he said. “We would like to think that the value we bring to our clients is that they really can’t perform their design and construction services without our SUE, survey and mapping services. We are the first “boots on ground” activity necessary to begin a successful project.”
Keeping a Competitive Edge
For ECHO, Comellas says their competitive edge is rooted in the experience of their leadership and the technical skills of their team.
“I myself have 33 years of experience and all my partners in the company have 15 or more years’ experience. Many of our staff have worked together for 10 to 20 years. A lot of them followed us from our previous employer and so I believe those long-term relations, experience in working together for so long and the type of technical expertise our field and office staff possess in the field of utility design and construction results in a much better product for our clients. This is what sets us apart from our competitors,” he said.
Comellas explained that locating underground utilities is a challenging field because you can’t see them with the naked eye. Therefore, you need to rely on very technical equipment and highly trained field technicians, supplemented with a well establish Quality Assurance/Quality Control review process performed by our office professionals – which is where ECHO’s utility engineering and surveying background gives them competitive edge.
“Our competitors are surveyors first versus subsurface utility engineering technicians first. We pride ourselves on the fact that we understand utilities design and construction and that the survey is the tool upon which to collect the utility data that is being established in the field by our subsurface utility engineering (SUE) technicians. It’s an engineering practice and not just a data collection process.
Overcoming Challenges and Looking to the Future
Since beginning his business, the biggest challenges Comellas has faced is controlled growth, timely capital expenditures, and cash flow.
“In our business, it’s very expensive to be able to even begin a company. Cash flow is a challenge in any company especially when you’re a small company just starting out,” he said. “It’s the one thing you probably have the least control over. You can only call on your clients just so much before running the risk of hurting the business relationship.”
Comellas says for the past two years, his focus has been on controlled growth.
“It’s a continuous monitoring exercise to ensure you don’t grow too quickly by hiring a bunch of people and then having to lay them off once the project is completed. It’s a continuous machine that you have to feed that you don’t want to starve once it gets to a certain size,” he said.
Currently, ECHO has offices in Tampa and Orlando that services clients across the entire state.
“One of our goals would be to open offices in northern and southern Florida so that we can decrease the amount and cost of mobilizations, getting to and from the project sites,” he said. “ Our growth strategy for our existing offices will be to add field crews and office staff well before our growing backlog outpaces our ability to complete the work. Once those offices grow to the point where they can sufficiently service the geographic market, they are currently within, then we expand to north and south Florida. As we are coming up on 3 years of being in business and have 50 people and 18 field crews, in the next fiscal year we hope to be able to employ 60 to 65 people and grow to 24 field crews.”
What it’s Like Working at ECHO UES
ECHO’s company culture has been built on a foundation of diversity, inclusiveness and their motto Grow, Inspire, Make a Difference.
“Our culture is very hands on and transparent as far as our leadership which really contributes to a quality product by working side by side with our office technicians and our field technicians on a daily basis,” he said.
The ECHO team members are also asked to train their replacement, which Comellas says the opportunity to mentor allows for continual learning and career growth.
“For example, our current Project Surveyor started with us as a CADD Technician,” he said. “With the opportunities provided to him and his tremendous hard work he mentored and now supervises his replacement.”
What it Means to be an Honoree
This year, ECHO is one of the top 50 second stage companies selected as GrowFL’s Florida Companies to Watch. Roles are reversed as last year Comellas watched a partner company accept the award from the audience, this year, him and his team will be center stage.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
When asked what advice he would give to future entrepreneurs who are following in his footsteps, Comellas said you must have a dream and a passion for that dream in order for it to become a reality.
“Owning my own firm wasn’t something I had planned to do and I thought after retirement from my previous employer, that would be pretty much it. But things happen for a reason, plans change, and the result has been very positive. Sometimes entrepreneurship is something you don’t plan for and hits you alongside the head because it’s something you weren’t really pursuing,” he said. “But once you decide to take that leap of faith you have to love what you’re doing, work hard, and be passionate about it. Work hard and you’re going to wake up each morning to succeeding each day.”
“It’s been very exciting,” He said. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to get your firm’s name out there amongst the others and look forward to that this year. I’m really excited about being a part of this list and hopefully just having our name affiliated might bring additional business to our company given the exposure.”
Notable Community Involvement
ECHO strongly believes in giving back to the community and has done so in a variety of ways. They volunteer time, monetary donations, and services to organizations like the March of Dimes Charitable Campaign, Wild West Kingfish Rush Fishing Tournament, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Florida Engineering Society (FES), American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE), Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) and many, many more.
ECHO is also a big supporter of the community based FIRST Robotics Team, 7477 Super 7. Team Super 7 became the first team from Florida to win the Inspire Award, which is the highest award given to a team at the recently completed FTC World Championship in Houston, Texas.
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