Storm steers contractor to new location, new vocation

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Given their destructive nature and potential for tragedy, there's no denying the devastating effect hurricanes can have a on peoples' lives. Every now and then, however, a person's life is positively impacted as a result of hurricane-related circumstances. When George Barr came to South Carolina immediately after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, he did so thinking he'd be playing a role in the cleanup, collecting his paycheck and heading back to his native Florida. Today, he is a permanent resident of Mt. Pleasant, SC, heads up Barr Construction,. Inc., a 20-person company that specializes in land clearing and construction projects and, as a result of starting a grinding operation, is one of the area's largest suppliers of mulch to area paper mills to fuel their boilers. It was one of the few silver linings in Hugo's vast cloud - but a lining nevertheless.

Will Work for Gas
While many contractors cite their beginnings as being limited in scope, George Barr makes no qualms about describing the genesis of Barr Construction as being very humble.

'I came to this area with only a pickup truck and a skid steer loader, intending to do a couple cleanup projects and head back to Florida,' he says. 'After doing some initial work loading trucks with storm debris headed for the landfill, I found that I didn't even have enough money for gas to get back to Ocala, so I decided to stay on for a bit longer. That led to some FEMA contracts for cleanups on several of the area's islands, a few county cleanups, and so on - suddenly it was 1992.'

About that same time, says Barr, he made a connection with southeast homebuilding giant, John Wieland which, over time, allowed him to change the scope of his business.

'Up until that point, I was fairly content to keep things just as they were,' he says. 'The work I started doing for Wieland Homes for some of his large Charleston-area developments, though, allowed me to tackle new projects and build my own business. First I bought a dump truck to haul material, then a loader for moving dirt, then equipment for grading and backfilling. All along I was adding people to the payroll. If there is one time which, for me, was a turning point, beginning to do work for Wieland was probably it. In fact, we still have a crew that does almost all Wieland-related work in this area.'

Delayed Entry
Barr's growth, while broad in scope, focused heavily on land clearing projects - work which generated large volumes of clearing debris. Realizing that his options for disposing of that debris were limited: pay another contractor to grind and remove it; haul it to a landfill; or grind it himself; he chose the latter.

'I bought an off-brand tub grinder that was really not built to take the punishment that kind of equipment takes on a daily basis; production was terrible and it was a maintenance nightmare. We kept it for about a year, sold it outright, and purchased a used Morbark Model 1300 tub grinder with low hours. Even though we'd already been grinding for about a year, I prefer to think we actually got into grinding when we got the Morbark.'

Feeding the Fires
For Barr, finding a market for its ground up material was easy - the Charleston area is rife with paper plants in need of material for fueling their boilers. He established a relationship with first one mill, then others, to take its product and they were off and running. As their business matured, it became more clearing-intensive, and, after about five years, the company chose to revisit its method of grinding. Although still impressed with the power and performance the Model 1300 provided, Barr felt a change was needed.

'The 1300 is an incredible tub grinder and we still can't get over the size of stumps it was able to process. But we really felt a horizontal grinder was better suited to the material we were generating from our projects and we liked the fact that, by switching, we could also give production a boost. So we started looking.'

Minimizing Capital Costs
Actually, according to Barr, finding the ideal unit to meet his needs was as simple as contacting his local Morbark sales representative. Because he was so satisfied both with the performance he had gotten from his Model 1300 and the level of support he got from Morbark, he saw no reason to look elsewhere. In addition, he says, the company knew his purchase preferences very well.

'Rather than purchasing new iron, in applications in which the machines are not running continuously, I prefer to purchase used equipment with relatively low hours. Morbark was able to locate a Model 6600 Wood Hog with about 2,000 hours on it. Their equipment is backed by a 6,000 hour warranty, so I'm still covered very well, yet I'm able to keep the capital costs down. Such an approach might not be right for everyone but it works for me.'

Dealing With Growth
Barr says bringing in the Model 6600 has allowed him to really grow the recycling facet of their business. In addition to material from all of its own projects, the site in Mt. Pleasant takes in wood waste from other area contractors, the general public and several area municipalities. While that may seem an ideal situation, it does present its own challenges, he says.

'We are regulated by the Dept. of Health & Environmental Control (DHEC) which sets the parameters by which we can operate. They are very strict about not letting debris build up past a certain point and back that up with spot inspections. So being able to quickly process our material and get it shipped to the mills is a very nice benefit which the Model 6600 brings to the yard.'

Barr says his firm currently processes about 1,500 tons a month, a rate that has grown steadily over the years and shows no sign of slowing down.

'Money magazine just named Mt. Pleasant as the best place to live in South Carolina,' he says. 'It's obvious we're going to be seeing some real growth for some time - and I feel with what we have in place now, we're ready for it.'

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