Testing the Waters
Unlike many in business today, Waters' success is of a self-made nature. Having started in the early '70s with a single business serving nearby Fort Stewart, he grew that business, diversified and never looked back.
'I had just graduated from Georgia Southern University and returned home to Hinesville when a contract for handling trash pickup at Fort Stewart came about,' he says. 'I won the bid and secured a loan through a local businessman to buy a truck, then hired a couple of men and we started picking up garbage. I did that for about ten years, and in that time, expanded the business to include grounds maintenance.'
Unfortunately, adds Waters, the bid process for government work became so competitive that contract prices started falling - as costs kept rising - so he began to back off on that part of the business.'
Things Start Developing
While this was transpiring, as a result of another family-run venture, Waters had already been bitten by the development bug.
'Just after the Viet Nam war, my father built a small mobile home park here in Hinesville. Because of our proximity to Fort Stewart, one of the army's largest posts, I saw a growing need in the area for temporary housing. So I expanded on my father's idea, first developing that park, then by acquiring additional properties in and around Liberty County, to build other mobile home parks. That was essentially the birth of our two main companies: those dealing with rental properties and development, and we've blessed with our successes in both.'
In the course of developing the mobile home sites, Waters' company built a versatile fleet of equipment, allowing the company to tackle development projects in other areas as well.
'It wasn't long before we were doing site work for apartment complexes, restaurants and motels, as well as city contracting jobs such as roads, storm drains, water and sewer, curb and gutter, base and paving. Then, as now, we subcontracted out the curb and gutter and the actual paving, but did everything else.'
Curtains on the Curtains
With its development work in full swing, Waters' company was generating substantial volumes of wood waste and other related debris. For years, the company disposed of that material by either paying someone to grind it, taking it to an area landfill, or burning it. The first two, he found, ate into the bottom line; the last one was being legislated out of the picture.
'We purchased a couple of air curtain units to minimize the effect of burning, but even with those in place, a combination of the abnormally dry weather conditions and the growing negative view of the practice, left us little choice. We had to rethink the whole wood waste disposal issue. So we did a fair amount of research, spoke to others in the area who do work like ours and decided to purchase a track-mounted Morbark 6600 horizontal grinder.'
Waters says that his research often took him to owners of grinders from other manufacturers, but those owners' comments with regard to performance and support, ultimately helped steer him toward the Morbark unit.
'You need a product that performs backed by a company that's going to be there for you and Morbark got high grades on both counts,' he says. 'In addition, we felt Morbark's horizontal grinder could best meet our needs for our current projects as well as some new things we had in the works, and we were right. Despite it being a fairly new addition to our operation, it's quickly become one of the key pieces of equipment we own. Because it is a track-mounted unit, it is an excellent fit for work in both the development and land clearing parts of the business and it has also become an important component of our latest venture: a division dedicated to storm recovery work.'
Getting Into Recovery
Given Waters' geographic location, he and his company have firsthand knowledge of the devastation a hurricane can wreak upon an area. However, a call from someone involved in the 2004 Hurricane Ivan cleanup helped steer him toward direct cleanup action.
'A friend of mine was subcontracting to one of the largest disaster recovery firms heading up the Ivan cleanup effort and called needing some help. At the time, I had several men who were skilled in the tree business and storm work, so I bought some used bucket trucks and helped him out. When Katrina hit last year, and he called again, we realized that our skills, coupled with solid performing equipment could take us in a totally new direction. So I added seven new bucket trucks, five new self loaders, 15 new skid steers, and eight campers to house the personnel, and the Disaster Relief Division of our company was born.'
In light of the 2005 hurricane season, that birth could not have been more timely. In fact, Waters' crew was busy since from September, 2005 until the end of May of this year, providing cleanup services in New Orleans; Mobile, AL; Hattiesburg, MS; Lafayette, LA and ending up once again in St. Bernard Parish outside New Orleans. With the scope of the cleanup so massive, contracts for additional projects are already in the works.
'This is another reason why the addition of the Morbark grinder fits so well,' says Waters. 'Since starting this division, we've had the bucket trucks to trim the trees, and loaders and skid steers to move and load the debris, but no real tool to minimize that debris for transport. Now we definitely have one. The sizes of material we can put into that grinder, its mobility and the volumes it can process have made it a great addition to our overall effort. In a sense, it really completed our storm company.'
Getting Better All the Time
It's worth noting that the success of the Disaster Relief Division has not slowed the progress being made with the development business back in Hinesville. In fact, says Waters, the growth of the area and the increasing presence of burn bans throughout the southeast, have combined to solidify his grinding effort, and his outlets for the processed wood product he's creating are growing as well.
'The high price of oil has really forced some of the local paper mills to look for alternative fuel sources,' he says. 'So, right now all the chips we can generate are going to mills where they are being used for boiler fuel. However, I've also been talking with Liberty County officials about setting up sites to take in debris from other contractors and individuals, grind it and sell the mulch. And we've already been contacted by several businesses in Savannah about doing some contract grinding work. Having a grinding capability has really broadened our capabilities. It helped us take the good thing we had and make it just that much better.'