USC Price School of Public Policy

Brett Ellsworth MRED’92

by Kimberly Ueyama

Brett Ellsworth

As a resort developer, Brett Ellsworth’s work entails identifying potential building sites, working on the construction of projects and managing them after they are completed. As president of Contact Development Company, LLC (CDC), one of Mexico’s premiere development companies, his job includes overseeing the entirety of this process and working with clients and residents to ensure that all parties are satisfied.

Ellsworth’s interest in resort development was stimulated by his father’s career in this field.

“Spending a significant amount of time in great resort projects between the ages of 5 and 18, the ‘resort bug’ rubbed off,” he said, “and by the time I finished high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”

Desiring to learn the necessary skills to be successful in resort development, Ellsworth followed his father’s example by also attending USC. Immediately after receiving his Bachelor of Science degree from the Marshall School of Business, he enrolled in SPPD’s Master of Real Estate Program.

Just as the guidance and support of his father stimulated his interest in resort development, the familial spirit of the SPPD community helped nurture Ellsworth’s career.

“USC in general is one of the best universities in the country in many aspects, but one aspect that outshines the rest and that is very important to me is that you truly never leave USC,” he said. “SPPD is a very tight-knit family within a family.”

Because resort development necessitates working with one’s own company, investors and the local community, interacting with a variety of students proved a valuable aspect of the MRED program.

“To be in a classroom, with my financial and business background, sitting between an architect, an engineer and an attorney, all classmates, analyzing the same material from many different angles, is truly what happens in the ‘real world,’ ” he shared. “It fosters a sense of team work that you simply can’t teach.”

As president of CDC, Ellsworth employs the teamwork skills he learned at SPPD to work with land planners, architects, engineers, marketing people, general contractors and operators, among others. His responsibilities include managing everything from site identification and raising capital to planning and constructing these projects.

“Our company has three principal roles — developer, marketer and operator,” Ellsworth noted.

CDC is committed to not only the construction of resort and residential properties, but also the management and operation of these developments, according to Ellsworth. This ensures that their original vision comes to fruition in the “enjoyment phase” — the final product visitors and residents see.

Ellsworth explained that the array of issues that must be taken into account when planning a resort property make it an ideal example of “mixed-use development,” construction that requires a commitment to the project itself, as well as an awareness of its impact on the community.

CDC’s work demands an understanding of hotel amenities including clubs, golf courses, and marinas and residential structures and the coinciding use and exchange rights. Dealing with these factors, among others, makes resort development a unique and complex branch of the real estate arena.

It is clear that for Ellsworth and CDC, resort development entails much more than just the construction of vacation destination and residences. The field also demands knowledge about the local area in which they are building, a responsibility the company takes to heart.

“Our projects in Mexico are located nearby or adjacent to small oceanfront towns and villages that have been around a lot longer than I have, and we enter every project studying what the impact of our arrival may have on the local community,” Ellsworth said. “We work hard and strive to make sure that our presence and impact is a positive one that doesn’t change the very essence that brought us to invest and develop in the first place.”

Improving education, healthcare, infrastructure and services in the areas in which they work are also priorities of CDC. In Sayulita, Mexico, where the company is developing the Punta Sayulita resort, CDC is participating in efforts to refurbish a local private school by making it the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified institution in the country. The school has become not only an educational resource to its students, but also a valuable center to the entire community. It offers both English and Spanish classes, while its facility serves as a pioneer in sustainability efforts.

CDC has also partnered with the Mexican government to promote green living.

Because irresponsible development can lead to deforestation and destruction of natural lands, the company is working with the environmental protection authority to mandate that developers reforest the same amount of land equivalent to the amount they damage.

“While the impact we will have as one developer may be minimal, the impact of everyone participating, including the government, will be substantial over the years.” Ellsworth noted.

Under Ellsworth’s leadership, environmentally-sustainable development is becoming a reality in areas across Mexico.

Such efforts make CDC a valuable asset to both the direct beneficiaries of its projects and the local communities. These strong partnerships are a crucial component of the company’s work, as well as Ellsworth’s personal endeavors.

“You not only learn from others, but you rely on others so that you all cross the finish line successfully, together,” he said.

It is this philosophy that has helped Ellsworth achieve his goal of becoming a successful and prominent member of the international resort development community.