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The pollution solution.

Little Rock Firm Profits From Testing Pollutants

Would you classify a dead skunk as hazardous waste?

Jim Brown learned early in his career as president and chief executive officer of Environmental Services Co. that not all pollutants come from industrial neglect.

Some come out of the forest.

"This couple came asking for help," Brown recalls. "They said something was wrong with their water. We went out to their farm and discovered that somehow a skunk had gotten down their well."

Brown's simple solution?

"We told them not to drink the water," he says with a smile.

Things have changed since that early experiment in water analysis.

Brown's Little Rock-based environmental consulting and testing firm now deals with contaminants on a much larger and more hazardous scale.

Originally a mom-and-pop operation run out of Brown's garage, ESC has evolved since 1969 into one of the region's leading air, food and water testing companies.

With branch offices at Springdale, Dallas and Memphis, Tenn., ESC was conceived by Brown as a way to remain close to his family, specifically his son, David.

David, now 20, is confined to a wheelchair but graduated from Pulaski Robinson High School last year.

"I kept the company small for 15 years and selected the kind of projects I wanted to work on," Brown says. "We had numerous chances to sell the company, but the family voted not to."

"The family" includes his wife, Joyce, who plays an integral part in running the firm as executive vice president. The Browns' daughter, Debbie, and their son-in-law, Steve Woosley, joined the firm in 1985.

The family connection has paid off for Jim Brown. Content to remain small in the early years (the company had $150,000 in 1984 revenues), Brown expects ESC to produce revenues of $3.5 million this year.

"It hasn't been easy working with family, but it has been prosperous," he says.

A Morrilton native, Brown graduated from Ouachita Baptist University with degrees in chemistry and business administration. After a failed attempt at farming, he went to work at a Morrilton paper mill. Within two years, he had become the mill's assistant technical director in charge of pollution abatement.

"I analyzed wastewater and tested stacks," Brown says.

He used what now would be considered antiquated equipment. Later, while managing the Porocel Corp.'s Little Rock plant, Brown was asked to do some independent testing by Ladd Davies, then director of the state Department of Pollution Control and Ecology.

"I worked eight months at Porocel, but the work |for Davies~ took up so much time that I had to go full time," Brown says. "So I formed ESC."

The firm had between 40 and 50 original clients, allowing Brown to obtain a broad range of experience "in all facets of environmental engineering."

One of the mainstays of ESC's business in those early years was emission testing -- the analysis of industrial smokestacks.

"We were testing and enforcing on six contaminants for the first 15 years," Brown says. "Now, there are more than 200 contaminants we test for."

Expanding Business

With increasingly stringent government regulations, Brown has seen his company grow to 50 employees. ESC serves more than 2,000 clients.

ESC even has a mobile laboratory, equipped to handle on-site testing. The mobile lab can be set up quickly at hazardous waste sites.

"We do everything in the environmental field except remediation," Brown says.

In other words, the company doesn't actually clean up contaminated sites.

"We just don't have the expertise," he says. "The risks of remediation are extensive, and it requires a lot more capitalization."

When Brown formed ESC, it was the only company of its kind in the state. Now, there are two other companies handling wastewater analysis in Arkansas.

"A lot of companies are quick to jump into a business to make a buck," Brown says. "It happens in any field where the dollars happen to be."

One thing that discourages competition, however, is the number of government regulations. A lab certification program was instituted five years ago by the state "to eliminate some of these fly-by-nights," Brown says.

A Lesson About Safety

ESC's entire staff, including secretaries, recently took a 40-hour training course sponsored by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

With tough Clean Air Act amendments going into effect this month, many companies will have to make major capital investments.

"All of these industrial stacks will be operating under far more stringent regulations than in the past," Brown says.

And that means more business for ESC.

Violators will find that hiring such companies is cheaper than paying the government.

"We're writing contracts all over the nation," Brown says. "The cost of testing is insignificant when it comes to the cost of the surcharge they may have to pay."

The fact Arkansas has so many plants operated by international corporations has helped ESC grow.

"Because we have gotten into good business relationships with these plants, we are attracting a lot of national business," Brown says. "We have grown by word of mouth."

Brown hopes to have up to 20 offices by the end of the decade.

"We're operating this company to be around 100 years from now," he says. "I want to do business on the basis that we don't have to have contracts. People will know who they are dealing with."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Corporate Conservation; Environmental Services Co.
Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Feb 17, 1992
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