Inc. 5,000 companies grow with the flow

TRAVERSE CITY – Two Traverse City based environmental firms are among seven local businesses named in Inc. Magazine's recent list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies.

HTI, a wastewater company specializing in pre-cast systems, is 3,669 on the overall list and number 55 on the top 100 Environmental Services industry roll, coming in with 77.4 percent growth.

Rescom Environmental, specializing in assessing property, is 4,476 overall and number 80 on the environmental list with 44.1 percent growth.

The Inc. ratings are based on revenue growth from 2003 through 2006. Companies have to be based in the U.S., be privately held and not subsidiaries or divisions of other companies.

While the two companies specialize in very different environmental services, their similarities helped vault them into the ranks of the rising.

Choosing a niche and refining it are what both top companies have done to define themselves. Developing policies and procedures to keep their clients' costs down are another point they have in common, one that has contributed to their phenomenal growth. Extending their services to meet demands in geographic areas beyond our corner of Michigan is another key strategy they share.

Fifteen years ago, HTI president Roger Haag sold his wastewater business, but kept the storage compartment piece and spun off a new company in Traverse City. Using primarily pre-cast units gets his crew in and out of construction sites quickly with minimal site disturbance.

"We definitely have a niche in the industry with our packaged wastewater treatment plant. They bring in the pipe with raw sewage and the discharge pipe and we provide the package that goes in the middle," he says.

They also keep costs down for builders by billing at the construction phase rather than up front, a policy that chief compliance officer Carol Carlyle believes gives them a competitive edge. "We're also less expensive because everything is templated. And we're faster because we've done it so much."

Their tanks are used in both the public and private sector, with the bulk or about 86 percent private and, of that, a quarter commercial and the remainder residential. Their experience includes work on nuclear power plants, schools, manufacturing plants and subdivisions.

While HTI focuses on construction in the upper Midwest, recently they've expanded into the South and also have worked in New York. Black Bear Farms in Grand Traverse County and the Village of Mancelona are recent local jobs.

When Inc. interviewed HTI in late spring prior to its listing in the top 5,000, the company employed three permanent staff. Today, it has six, is adding another and expects to add two more in the coming year. The company also hires temporary workers seasonally.

Carol says of Roger, company founder and also her spouse, "He's always looking like 'If it were my plant what would I want to do to make it look good, not smell, not be noisy.' It's not rocket science but he makes it look a lot easier than it is."

When a bankrupt state fund in 1996 resulted in layoffs and re-shuffling in the environmental clean-up industry in Michigan, Rescom president Joe Lee decided to launch his own company focusing strictly on the assessment phase.

"It was small and easy for one guy to do," Lee says.

Rescom now employs 15 full time staff who form two pools that spend much of their time out on the road. One deals with clients directly, gathering information on the projects. The second group is made up of field scientists who work on site.

"We've carved out our niche-assessment-and built the company on that concept. Anytime commercial property changes hands you want to make sure you're not buying into environmental problems."

That's where Rescom comes in.

Consequently, banks are one of their biggest customers, followed by telecom companies.

In order to keep the focus of business on the assessment phase of environmental clean-up, Rescom teams travel all over the U.S.

"It's short term. We get in and out, doing it faster, better and cheaper than other environmental firms who stay local and do more clean up and asbestos projects," Lee says.

They do, however, some local work. Recent projects include assessments for Northwestern Bank, Cellere and Lakeland Tower Leasing.

Lee anticipates 60 to 70 percent growth over the next few years.

"We're pretty established in the telecom market and once that plateaued we decided to diversify into more commercial banking, to even out the flow of work. We're looking for that to explode this year." BN