Home-Grown Success: Witt Turns Expertise Into $40 Million Business

by Mark Carter  on Monday, May. 16, 2011 12:00 am  

James Lee Witt has successfully transitioned his model from FEMA to the private sector.

"They've helped us for several years acquire funding through federal earmarks and grants," Day said. "They also helped us work through the federal government. About two years ago, the river trail collapsed behind City Hall due to heavy flooding. It took months to get FEMA to help with the repairs. Witt made that process easier."

Witt's success comes as no surprise to those who know him in Arkansas.

"When he's back home, he's just James Lee," said Arkansas Tech University's Mary Ann Rollans, dean of the ATU College of Professional Studies and Community Outreach. Witt worked with Rollans in 1997 to help the Russellville university start and grow what has become the country's largest emergency management curriculum. Rollans credits Witt with taking FEMA "out of the ashes."

Founded in 1997, Tech's program was the second of its kind in the country. It's grown to become the largest and pulls students from all over the world.

"Had it not been for James Lee's assistance, we wouldn't have enjoyed the success we've had," said ATU President Robert Brown. "He's a native son, and we're proud of that connection."

It didn't take long after leaving the Clinton administration for Witt to realize his business model would work. Six months after founding the firm, he was offered a $5 million buyout. Nine months in, he was offered $10 million in venture capital funding, and "we just started building it," he said.

The original focus was creating a niche business with state and local governments and businesses.

"That's how we started," he said. "It's much more broad and diverse now. I didn't think we'd make a profit our first year. But we did."



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