Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Former star quarterback, youth minister and four-term Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts Jr. has a new credential to add to his resume: John Deere dealer.

Mr. Watts, through the J.C. Watts Cos. — an umbrella company that he formed upon leaving Congress in 2002 — last month acquired Mustang Equipment, an independent dealer of John Deere products with locations in San Antonio and Marble Falls, Texas.

“I’ve kind of grown up around the cattle business and hay hauling and farming, so the equipment business is not totally foreign to me,” said Mr. Watts, whose hometown is Eufaula, Okla. “John Deere is a brand we all know.”

Since his return to private life, Mr. Watts has assembled a team of Capitol Hill veterans and business executives to staff his parent company and his flagship business, the Watts Consulting Group, which lobbies on behalf of small businesses, Fortune 500 companies, trade groups, nonprofits and historically black colleges and universities.

The J.C. Watts Cos. also owns CLS Group, a construction, project-management and engineering company based in Oklahoma. Another subsidiary, HR Empowerment, provides work force diversity training.

“When you acquire a business, you want it to have three things,” said Mr. Watts, 48, who lives in Fairfax with his wife, Frankie, son, Trey, 15, and daughters Julie, 16, and Jennifer, 21. “Good management, cash flow [and] you want there to be opportunity to grow.”

Mr. Watts said Mustang Equipment, located in “great growth areas” of San Antonio and more rural Marble Falls, possessed these qualities.

“I think people are getting to where they are a little more inclined to kind of get out of the high-traffic areas, the suburban areas, and go outside of town, where they’ve got five to 10 acres of land, and so they need those smaller tractors, the zero-turn mowers and things like that,” he said.

J.C. Watts Cos. employs just over than a dozen people with about 50 other people employed through its subsidiaries. Last year, the company posted $25 million in revenue.

The former member of the House fits the profile of a John Deere dealer, Deere & Co. spokesman Ken Golden said.

“We have found J.C. to be a thorough and a strong business leader,” Mr. Golden said. “He has experienced tremendous success in the past, and we anticipate his drive to excellence will make him a strong independent dealer of John Deere equipment.”

Mr. Watts describes much of his post-congressional career as an extension of his efforts as a lawmaker from 1994 to 2002. An outspoken black conservative and later chairman of the House Republican Conference, he sponsored legislation providing various tax incentives for businesses in low-income areas and authored President Bush’s faith-based initiative, which expanded the federally subsidized savings accounts that qualified people can use to open a business, pay for college or buy a house.

“One of the best ways to grow the underserved community is through business start-ups,” said Mr. Watts, who ruffled some feathers during his tenure on Capitol Hill by refusing to join the solidly Democratic Congressional Black Caucus. “We don’t need more taxes; we need more taxpayers. And the way you get more taxpayers is you encourage businesses to start and grow.”

Mr. Watts said he wants his company to be a model for minority-owned firms but said small businesses face a challenge when competing for government contracts against large incumbents.

“I know how hard it is to get access and build relationships with decision-makers, and usually, quality and experience won’t trump access,” said Mr. Watts, who plans to form a private-equity company to help minority-owned small businesses get off the ground. “A company that’s doing $20,000 a year has just as much right to grow their business as a company doing $20 billion a year. But again, the company with $20 billion can hire lobbyists.”

Despite a full schedule — Mr. Watts is an analyst for CNN and serves on the boards of Clear Channel Communications, Boy Scouts of America, the U.S. Military Academy and the charitable J.C. and Frankie Watts Foundation — Mr. Watts said he has accomplished one of his most important goals.

“I really have gotten a chance to do more Friday night football games and done a few more parent-teacher conferences,” he said.

“I stay busy, but I’ve managed to do much of what I said I wanted to do when I left Congress — get more quality time with the family. It’s been a good transition.”

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