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BlueGrace Logistics plans to hire up to 700 in Tampa Bay, tapping $255M equity infusion

Bobby Harris is CEO of Riverview-based BlueGrace.
Published Aug. 9, 2016

RIVERVIEW — BlueGrace Logistics is on the fast track to become a major Tampa Bay employer, feeding off a $255 million investment from New York-based private equity giant Warburg Pincus.

Riverview-based BlueGrace, a 6-year-old transportation logistics company, is using the money to hire 500 to 700 employees in the next few years and will be on the hunt for a new, larger headquarters, possibly in downtown Tampa.

From currently $200 million in revenue, "by 2020 we'd hope to be at $1 billion … with a mix of organic growth and some (acquisitions)," BlueGrace CEO and founder Bobby Harris said in an interview Monday with the Tampa Bay Times.

The equity investment will give Warburg Pincus a minority stake in the company but won't change management control of the firm. And that was a major attraction of the partnership, said Harris, who before the deal owned 100 percent of BlueGrace (named after his daughters' middle names).

The company has already far exceeded a tax incentive-tied commitment made with the state a year ago to add 100 jobs. It now has 350 employees, most of them in Riverview. The next jobs spurt isn't tied to tax incentives, but business demand and a confident equity partner.

"Over the next two years, we'll go well over 500 employees, and in the next three to five years have about 1,000 employees just here in Tampa," Harris said.

It adds up to a major jobs explosion for a company that started out, as Harris notes, "in the jaws" of the Great Recession in 2009 with 20 employees. Today, it works with more than 10,000 companies nationwide that make everything from auto parts and beauty products to pharmaceuticals and sporting goods.

BlueGrace's business model is akin to a Travelocity for shipping products.

If you own a Chicago company that makes bikes, for instance, and want to ship 20 bikes one week to Atlanta and 200 the next week, you could go on mybluegrace.com and seek bids for space on trucks headed to Atlanta. BlueGrace would handle the scheduling and tracking.

As part of its growth strategy, BlueGrace this year has bought more than two dozen of its franchise operations around the country.

It occupies about 25,000 square feet of its 55,000-square-foot headquarters and has room to absorb 150 more employees as it builds out. Then it will be scouting for a new home.

"You could see us in 2019 move to a downtown (Tampa) area," Harris said, indicating a "high interest" in Channelside. What about the Strategic Property Partners' $2 billion real estate makeover of downtown being spearheaded by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik? "We're talking to them as fast as they want to have that discussion," he said. "That's very early-stage."

A year ago, Hillsborough County and the state approved a combined $300,000 in performance-based incentives when BlueGrace promised to add 100 jobs at its headquarters.

Harris said he has not talked to public officials about the latest growth plan. "It's been very undercover," he said. He also acknowledged he is open to listening to offers from other states but prefers to stay in Tampa, touting its workforce, area universities and a natural appeal to recruiting workers to move here.

Average compensation at BlueGrace is currently about $60,000. Many of the new hires will be in information technology, along with openings in sales, customer service, financial services and human resources.

For more information about job openings, go to careers.mybluegrace.com.

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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