As the military turned to private contractors post 9/11, a host of young Florida firms -- many in top-secret work and high-tech fields -- has been growing and hiring fast. But the privatization pendulum swings both ways.
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Even absent Gates' comments, contractors say they know defense spending will draw down as troops exit Iraq and Afghanistan. The landscape, however, isn't all bleak. Garnier was interviewed in the midst of taking celebratory calls after the firm won a new contract from the Department of Homeland Security for a border project. "It's a big win," Garnier says. A 10-year veteran of the Air Force, he began working for Cambridge from his garage in Sarasota. The company now has 45 employees in Tampa.
Most contractors predict a continuing military need for their services. "What general and what colonel are not going to want to know what the enemy is going to do?" says Roger A. Swinford, who co-founded his information technology and consulting company, Calhoun International, in 2005.
But they also plan to diversify. Celestar plans to move more into the IT field and, over the next five years, the commercial market, calling it a "natural progression for us as a company. I have long-term goals," Celestan says, "and I want the company to be around for many years."