Hancock County — Craig Harvey planned to teach high school science.
It wasn’t until he got a part-time job in college with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)/WRD in Iowa City, Iowa, that he stumbled onto his lifelong passion.
“The attraction to geospatial was purely accidental,” said Harvey, CIO for NVision Solutions at the Mississippi Stennis Space Center, who was recently named the Small Business Administration’s Mississippi Small Business Person of the Year. “At that time, there really wasn’t any such thing as GIS as we didn’t have graphing computers yet. I was on the truly cutting edge as the technology was introduced to the USGS, an early adopter of GIS and remote sensing technologies. I was instantly enamored with the nearly instant gratification of the visualization of my work. I changed my major to geography with an emphasis in environmental science and the road ended up here.”
A native of Muscatine, Iowa, and graduate of the University of Iowa, Harvey worked with the USGS for nearly 15 years, most recently as a senior Geographic Information Systems (GIS) staff member and a national instructor teaching GIS to water resources scientists. While at USGS, he specialized in automated processing procedures and GIS model development, and commercialized the watershed model BasinSoft.
In 1999, Harvey joined a startup company at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi, where he grew a nonexistent GIS program into a nearly million-dollar one.
On March 14, 2002, Harvey and partners established NVision Solutions Inc., a minority-owned firm specializing in advanced geospatial solutions. Remarkably, the team grew the business with virtually no capital other than $50,000 in personal money.
“We started this company by cashing out 401(k)s and stock incentives earned in typical jobs,” he explained. “But the founders went without salaries for over a year. Eventually we needed a line of credit to solve cash flow problems faced by every small company, and didn’t think a second when we were asked to put up our homes to guarantee our debt. We lived on less money than we thought possible, but every minute invested was well spent building a solid foundation from which we continue to build even today.”
Since then, Harvey has been instrumental in growing the company from a two-person, 100-square-foot office to three regional offices with a staff of 16. In 2004, NVision expanded marketing nationwide and negotiated with municipal communities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Louisiana to deploy company-developed technology from its Mississippi headquarters.
“This type of closely managed, slow and steady growth contains no shortcuts,” said Lisa Stone, acting director of the Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions. “Because Craig helped found the business, his first loyalty is to NVision’s staff and customer as evidenced by his excellent customer and employee retention rate. In addition to competitive compensation packages — salaries and bonuses average more than $50,000 a year — Craig has instituted several employee benefit programs at NVision including full medical and dental benefits at no cost to staff and their families, yearly profit—sharing, and a company—matched 401(k) retirement portfolio for each employee.”
Among the host of products NVision has released since its inception:
• Under a NASA dual-use contract, the company developed a premier flagship product, the Real-time Emergency Action Coordination Tool (REACT), a real-time decision support system for various types of geographic impact models. The company implemented REACT in St. Tammany Parish to predict flood stages and to assist in giving residents early warnings.
• NVision developed a Precision Ag tutorial application and distributed it for free to raise the awareness of the high-tech endeavors within the geospatial industry cluster in Mississippi. The application has been distributed to more than 10,000 students in 30 states and seven countries.
• The company released two consumer-level products, GeoJournal and BirdVision, an application with a target market in the bird watching community.
• NVision has released several real-time tracking applications that track boats, people, packages, and transmits data to a centrally available server with reports, maps and graphs available via a Web-based interface.
As a result of prudent spending, NVision began 2006 debt-free.
“In a great or good year, debt is no problem,” he said. “In a bad year, you have to yield the direction of the company to satisfying collectors and remaining solvent. Remaining debt free means in a poor technology year we can focus on improving our ability to meet new and growing needs of customers or even change directions completely if need be, even allowing us to temporarily reinvent ourselves into an emergency services company to support Katrina relief.”
Harvey has gained a reputation as the go-to guy for geospatial technology issues in national trade journals. He has garnered project subcontracts and direct IT support retainer contracts from nine organizations at the NASA Stennis Space Center. In 2004, he won the Technology Innovator Award for Louisiana, and in 2005, he took home the Mississippi Small Business Innovation Award. Most recently, the company was selected Environmental Systems Research Institute’s (ESRI) New Partner of the Year.
On the national level, Harvey has secured federal contracts, including a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract with NASA, and provides services and products to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Navy. He has received the ESRI Special Achievement in GIS Award, one of the geospatial industry’s highest honors, and NASA’s Tech Briefs Award.
“We didn’t get our first competitive contract until about August 2002,” recalled Harvey. “In our first year, we made a little over $200,000 and have more than doubled in revenue each year. This year, we were a tad under $2 million. We feel that in our current direction at least for the next year, we have every opportunity to double one more time. Our favorite statistic, however, is that we’ve had 100% staff retention over our first four years.”
Fortunately, NVision Solutions’ operations in Hancock County and Slidell, La., emerged relatively unscathed from the massive devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. The company, using its own resources, is helping rebuild the Mississippi Gulf Coast through services to local government agencies. “There is no way we could have made it without our maps,” Brian Adam, director of the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), told The Dallas Morning News last December.
“Brian … was unaware of our company and really of what geospatial technology could and would do for the county,” explained Harvey. “He gave me permission to develop GIS capabilities for Hancock County in support of Katrina mitigation, and I immediately recalled my staff from around the state and overnight moved NVision Solutions in its entirety — people, computers, printers, plotters, etc. — into the EOC. We began producing maps eight hours later. On the first day, we produced and distributed eight maps. On day two: 50 or so maps. On day three: 1,200 maps were produced and distributed. Today, more than five months after deploying to the Hancock County EOC voluntarily, NVision Solutions has, under contract to Hancock County, and subsequently to FEMA, produced and distributed more than 100,000 hard copy maps and 5,000 digital products … to relief works and organization across the state.”
Harvey, one of the project directors for the restoration of the Bay St. Louis City Park, has encouraged staff participation in community rebuilding programs. Kaboom, a playground equipment charity, donated $50,000 of playground equipment on the condition that local community volunteers build the playground. NVision will help restore the city playground. Harvey, who has also been involved in a campaign to allow a local volunteer radio station to keep its FCC license, said community involvement and work collaboration go hand in hand.
Earlier this year, NVision acquired its first company, PixSell Inc., to provide an outlet for its tracking technologies. The company will be adding a manufacturing facility in South Mississippi as this technology emerges. NVision has also launched a limited release of two easy-to-use version 1 software products for commercial use by consumers, both in the $20 range.
“It’s not very often that you see a single large tree growing on a wind-swept hill,” said Harvey. “The best way to grow large is to grow a forest. Small companies simply cannot compete with larger, more mature companies, and unless you exist on handout contracts, the only way to compete effectively is to build a team — not a good team, but a great team. It’s taken years to develop the types of trust relationships within the geospatial cluster that allow us to team effectively and work together efficiently. Not all companies subscribe to this mentality, but those of us that do are enjoying growth and prosperity in south Mississippi’s technology sectors. We compete vigorously for smaller contracts that can be handled by one or two companies, but we partner in groups of three, four or five companies to compete for national and international contracts.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.