Leslie Hope Engineers a New Business of Her Own

A New HopeIn the face of recession fears, Leslie Hope engineers a new business of her own   By Tabitha Yang

When the recession hit and her company started to lay off a number of workers, Leslie Hope decided it was time to forge a new path. She opened her own business, Hydra Engineering, in March 2008. It was a smart move on her part, as many local governments require that a certain percentage of their contracts go to woman- or minority-owned businesses. As a Hispanic woman, she qualifies under both counts.

"It has been challenging," she said, "just because of all the paperwork, all the certifications, and going out and to constantly be on your A-game with everybody out there, because everybody is trying to get a competitive edge."

But with a strong track record of successful projects behind her, Hope, 37, has been landing several sizable contracts. These days, the hard work she’s put into establishing her Wakulla County-based business is paying off.

"The first couple months, I was barely breaking even," she said. "But recently, probably since January, I’m becoming profitable."

This comes as no surprise to Mark Llewellyn, president of Genesis Group, a prominent Florida engineering and consulting company. Llewellyn was one of several who urged Hope to start her own company.

"She’s very thorough and works well as a team member," he said. "(She’s) always very clear in communications and her work product is good. She has a good understanding of what’s required to get a project done."

He encouraged her to strike out on her own because he saw there was a niche locally that she could fill.

"She has talent, and also there’s a need in the community for qualified minority businesses," he observed.

Hope has been in the engineering field for 17 years now, ever since meeting a group of environmental engineers when she was in college. The experience persuaded her to change her major from pre-vet to engineering.

"It was really inspiring to meet a group of engineers working in the field and making a difference," she recalled.

Always one to go full-throttle, Hope took her first part-time engineering job at age 20, while simultaneously juggling a full load of classes. She graduated as valedictorian of her engineering class at the University of South Florida and went on to become the senior vice president of engineering for a prominent Colorado-based firm.

But she kept her ties to Northwest Florida. She had lived in Tallahassee for 14 years and even after moving out west, the family kept a boat at St. Marks, visiting yearly. She chose to relocate to Wakulla County because she liked the "small town feel" and there wasn’t much engineering competition.

Among her challenging projects was doing the civil engineering work for Tallahassee’s "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" house in February.

"(Before filming the show,) they don’t tell you where the home is, so you have to do a lot of work in a black hole," she said.

When she’s not hard at work, Hope enjoys saltwater fishing and bow hunting with her family — her husband, Joe, is an engineer also and her daughter, Brittany Morgan, is a fifth-grader and president of the student council at Medart Elementary.

"I do lots of family stuff," said Hope, proudly noting her daughter’s involvement in gymnastics and horseback riding.

Spending time with people, whether her family or her clients, is important for Hope. At work, her company’s slogan is "Engineering simplified."

"Our philosophy would be to provide the best customer service for projects, because we understand that it’s a service industry," she remarked. "Everybody pretty much can do the same job, the engineering, so what sets you apart from the rest is your customer satisfaction."