Finding Success During Economic Dips


The dozens of small cities in Southwest Florida served by Crawford Landscaping Group collectively comprise one of the country’s most dynamic and fascinating markets.

North to south, Crawford’s service market is concentrated on the most developed (and still rapidly developing) region of the area extending about 60 miles long, from pretty little Everglades-hugging Marco Island, located 18 miles south of the landscape company’s 15-acre headquarters, north to Fort Myers (population 62,200), the region’s largest city.

Because much of this part of Florida was primarily Everglades and more suitable for gators, mosquitoes and panthers than it was for people, it was the last within the state to be settled and developed. (Note: Indigenous tribes, in particular the Calusa people, had adapted to and lived in the region centuries prior to the arrival of people of European descent.)

In 1885, when Thomas Edison purchased property along the Caloosahatchee River for his winter retreat, Fort Myers was little more than a sleepy village and numbered just 349 people. Edison had to take a steamboat to his property until 1904 when the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad connected the region to the rest of Florida.

The railroad’s arrival sparked the beginning of a fishing industry in the region. In 1928, the completion of the Tamiami Trail, a narrow road linking Tampa to Miami via Fort Myers, also helped to fuel the first invasion of tourists to the region. This initial burst of growth and development came to a halt as the stock market imploded in the late 1920s.

This boom-to-bust phenomenon repeated itself when the region’s real estate prices skyrocketed in 2004-2006 before the sub-prime housing debacle and recession rocked it, setting off an explosion of home foreclosures, which peaked at more than 20,000 in 2009 alone. At the height of the recession, Southwest Florida led the nation in foreclosures.

The pain suffered by homeowners spread to home- and construction-related industries, and many landscape companies — particularly those heavily invested in design/build and installations — failed.

But not Crawford Landscaping Group. Blake Crawford, its CEO and founder, says his company actually had several of its most profitable years during and just after the recession.

“From day one, our model was to build the best maintenance company in Southwest Florida and grow a stable base of recurring revenue,” says Crawford. “As we built strong relationships with our maintenance clients, we worked on developing and offering other services to enhance their properties.”

Today, the Southwest Florida economy is in a recovery phase as home and property prices are rising again and developers and builders are back in business, planning and executing sizable new residential and commercial projects.

Few people are happier about the recent direction of the region’s economy than Crawford, whose company this past April landed a $400,000-plus contract to provide a full-range of landscape services to a five community, 49-acre residential project in Naples.

As Crawford says, “The Southwest Florida market is an exciting place to be in business these days as construction is booming.”