Triangle consulting businesses thrive in trillion-dollar service sector

vbridges@newsobserver.comDecember 9, 2013 

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    Industry(2013 Revenue $b)-(2013 % profit);--(2008-2013 annualized growth rate %)-(2013-2018 annualized growth rate %)

    Scientific and Economic Consulting--27.4---9.0---6.2---6.5

    Environmental Consulting-16.6—6.5—2.8---5.9

    Landscaping Services-70.6---6.0---1.3---5.9

    Pest Control Services –11.1—7.3—1.9—5.0

    Translation Services---3.2--6.8--2.4--3.9

    Document Preparation Service—4.6—15.0—1.5—3.9

    Public Relations Firms-- 12.6---7.1--3.2--3.6

    Laboratory Testing Services—16.8—9.0—2.6—5.1

    Packaging and Labeling Services—6.0---7.8---1.3--5.1

— When most people think of service workers, they think of retail jobs, fast-food workers or other positions characterized by low pay and part-time hours.

But the $13.9 trillion sector also includes scientists, environmental consultants, landscapers and exterminators. In fact, those professions are the top performing service industries, according to an October report by IBISWorld, a market research company.

Growth in the top two sectors – scientific and economic consulting and environmental consulting – is being driven by the broad range of companies that fall under those definitions and rapidly changing science and technology, said Lewis Sheats, entrepreneurship instructor at N.C. State University’s Poole College of Management.

Here is a closer look at the two areas, as well as two Triangle companies that are successfully navigating.

Science and the economy

The scientific and economic consulting industry has thrived thanks to its range of diverse markets and specializations in a variety of products and services, according to an August 2013 IBISWorld report on the sector. Mining and energy firms seeking feasibility studies also contributed to the industry’s expansion.

The industry includes more than 138,000 businesses that have brought in about $27.4 billion in revenue.

The sector’s primary activities include economic, agriculture, biological, scientific, energy, horticulture, livestock breeding, nuclear energy, safety, and security consulting services.

Advanced Cell & Gene Therapy was founded in Chapel Hill as Dr. Scott Burger sought to provide broad services to the specific niche of cell, gene and tissue therapies.

Burger, who received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, was trained in clinical pathology and did a fellowship in blood banking, which supported cell therapy.

“Blood banks needed to know how to make cellular products that could be administered to patients,” he said. “So a lot of the early history of cell therapy is in line with transfusion medicine.”

After spending most of his career working for academic medical centers, Burger decided in 2002 to start a consulting practice in the advanced therapy field that was growing into its own, Burger said.

The company’s services range from clinical development of novel cell therapies to the development of a controlled manufacturing process for its products. Clients range from startups and academic centers to large pharmaceutical businesses.

“We do this around the world,” Burger said.

The company deals with about 20 clients a year, with about five of those occupying most of Berger’s time. Projects costs range from $1,500 to $3.5 million, Burger said.

“More likely we’ll get involved in due diligence, or in technology transfer, and that turns into charting the regulatory pathway, and that turns into developing the manufacturing process,” Burger said.

Burger does the bulk of the consulting, but the company is affiliated with six people in different locations around the world.

Burger said his startup costs were minimal as he had the idea and started building from there.

“It is probably fair to say that I was too foolish about business,” he said. “It worked since I didn’t know better.”

Consulting on environment

The $16.6 billion environmental consulting sector has also grown over the past five years, fueled by the demand for sustainability and preservation, according to an August 2013 IBISWord report. Primary activities in the industry, which has more than 64,000 businesses, include consulting services on risk evaluation, air and water quality, site remediation, and sustainable development consulting.

Jason Massey and Mason Weems started Sustainable Industrial Solutions after the co-founders were approached by the Zebulon-based Noël Group, which wanted to make its manufacturing facility more energy efficient.

Instead of becoming part of the Noël Group, Massey and Weems decided to start their own firm in Durham in early 2011 with $300,000 in seed capital from the Noël Group.

“We decided rather than us just be a division of the Noël family businesses, that we would spin it out and create a separate company, that would be SIS,” Massey said. “So we started going after companies similar to the Noël companies.”

The seed money was used on software development and prototyping, along with additional hires. The company has six full-time employees, and six contractors. Massey said they are raising money to expand and bring in 20 more employees.

The company’s services include software that allows real-time energy resource monitoring; energy efficiency implementation, which is the construction side of the business with projects such as the lighting and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning upgrades; and sustainability advisory, which includes the environmental impact of energy efficiency, resource efficiency and waste reduction.

“That’s where we will say, ‘This is the environmental impact of the upgrade. This is how you need to talk about it in the marketplace to your customers, to you stake holders, to you employees,’ ” he said.

Sustainable Industrial Solutions has about 10 clients, mainly mid-tier manufacturers, such as Burt’s Bees and a Noël Group manufacturing company that makes foam insulation.

Projects range from a $15,000 audit assessment to a $1 million solar project, Massey said. On average projects take about a year and cost between $150,000 and $200,000.

Challenges include convincing companies to make the investment in sustainability and reducing environmental impacts, he said.

“Getting the language articulated in a way that the (chief financial officer) or CEO feels comfortable actually writing a check and making an investment in those types of projects,” Massey said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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