EDITORIAL: Praise for entrepreneurs who seize the moment

December 8, 2012

Out of adversity springs opportunity.

The three real estate developers profiled in our Commercial Real Estate Focus section this week personify that maxim—wisdom that we often lose sight of in the midst of economic hardship.

Aasif Bade, Tadd Miller and Joe Whitsett either founded or saw their firms flourish in the midst of the Great Recession.

Bade had a plan and began to execute it at the end of 2008—the economy be damned—because it was the right time for him personally and professionally to start a business. He brought his experience and connections from Duke Realty Corp. to the new firm, Ambrose Property Group, but he didn’t bring baggage—like properties bought at the market peak. The company that started with $100,000 in equity and loans will end 2012 with $50 million in acquisitions and developments in a range of product types.

Tadd Miller had no plan, but he needed a job so he followed his passion: developing urban housing. Milhaus Development started on the fly in 2010, with Miller pounding the pavement to convince investors a recession was the right time to put money behind rental housing downtown. Now the company has 1,000 units under construction and is committed to slow, steady growth.

Joe Whitsett and his son started their apartment development company in modest surroundings—a log cabin—while scooping up buildings they never could have afforded in a good economy. The principals in The Whitsett Group counted on the counter-cyclical nature of affordable housing, and have made a name for themselves with numerous high-profile apartment conversion projects. Says Whitsett: “Now we have to avoid doing anything stupid, and we’ll be OK.”

Time will tell if the three upstart developers have the kind of wisdom that has translated into staying power for an earlier generation of Indianapolis developers, companies like Duke and Browning Investments.

If Ambrose, Milhaus and Whitsett find the right balance between risk and restraint, they might be around for a long time, finding development opportunities in distressed neighborhoods that rebound because of a better transit system, for example. Or doing in-fill at an old industrial site, like the GM Stamping plant on the west edge of downtown—a relic of our industrial past.

Of course, real estate isn’t the only sector in which opportunity strikes when the going gets tough. Our health care sector is rife with companies trying to develop ideas with potential to lower the costs that are hammering businesses of every stripe.

As companies continue to contend with the very real lingering effects of the recession and the uncertainty born of gridlock in Washington, it’s a good time for a reminder that opportunity surrounds us in good times and bad. You just have to find it.•


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