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Commercial construction startup makes its home in St. Petersburg

Margie Manning

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Ribbon-cutting at Cotton Construction. From left Chris Steinocher, St. Petersburg Chamber president and CEO; Jonathan Russell, president and CEO, Cotton; MattWeidenheft, vice president and director of operations, Cotton; Mayor Rick Kriseman

Jonathan Russell took a beach vacation to the west coast of Florida about three years ago and fell in love with the area.

When he returned to his job at Turner Construction in Texas, a national construction firm, he knew he would be back.

He did return, this time as an entrepreneur to launch Cotton Construction Co., a commercial construction firm headquartered in St. Petersburg.

Cotton opened a few months ago, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The company, with a team of seven employees and three job openings, already has several projects underway and an active pipeline of potential work, and is on track to do $6 million to $10 million in revenue this year, Russell said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated Cotton’s opening with a virtual ribbon-cutting. It was the first ribbon-cutting done “The St. Pete Way” — broadcast on Facebook Live instead of an in-person gathering and with everyone wearing masks — said Chris Steinocher, the Chamber’s president and CEO.

After several months without ribbon cuttings, Mayor Rick Kriseman said he was glad to resume the practice.

“It’s one of the best things I get to do because of what it signifies. It represents a celebration of someone who is living their dream and is living their dream here in St. Petersburg,” Kriseman said.

Russell said he chose to open in St. Petersburg because when he looked at a list of local builders, he didn’t see any other commercial construction firms headquartered in the city. It also was a good fit for Cotton Construction, he said.

“I love St. Pete. I love the energy. I love the people. It’s young. It’s growing. We’re young. We wanting to grow, so we’re going to make our home in St. Pete,” Russell said.

The company is currently working on several interior projects. Cotton will build a new day care center for Calvary Chapel. The company also is working with a developer on a 40,000-square foot retail facility in Clearwater, and is in conversation with the same developer for high-end condos in Clearwater Beach.

Opening during a pandemic has underscored the importance of being diversified, both in type of projects and locations.

“We’re not shy about going to Largo, Ocala, Lakeland, Sarasota right now, simply because of this COVID and the opportunities that are out there,” Russell said. “We’re not focusing on one specific industry. We’ve talked to a lot of contractors and if they are only building hotels or restaurants, then they are hurting pretty bad right now. So it’s important for us to focus on industrial, office buildings, as well as healthcare, retail and other markets.”

The company has adjusted operationally as well. Cotton goes beyond the normal safety requirements, and supplies masks, hand sanitizer and wash stations, while emphasizing staying six feet apart.

Russell said he’s excited to be in St. Petersburg, and expects to call the area home for a long time.

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