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Clean Sweep


Local company specializes in transforming Northeast Ohio brownfields

By Ingrid Schaefer Sprague

The success of Environmental Management Specialists (EMS) can be attributed to the company’s ability to bring sustainability back to the earth for future uses. In Northeast Ohio, the removal of harmful materials from the ground has proved quite profitable for EMS, whose niche market includes environmental consulting firms and other contractors.

EMS focuses on the environmental cleanup of brownfields and hazardous waste sites. In addition to branching out into related areas, a conservative response to the company’s growth, employee loyalty, and an emphasis on safety training have been the right strategies for EMS, according to owner and president Jon Ransom.

The company, which was founded in 2000, experienced a 392 percent sales growth from 2005 to 2008. This achievement was recognized with an Upstart Award from the Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management in 2009.
Ransom says the majority of EMS’ business is brownfield cleanup to get the land development ready. “We remove the contamination and regrade the site to a healthy condition,” he says.

This particular area of the United States has great potential for brownfield clean-up projects due to its industrial history. “The environment business is very mature in America and there are set protocols about what a clean site is and how to clean up,” Ransom says. “Over nine-tenths of jobs are legacy problems before environmental regulations were in place. We’re cleaning up pollution from industries from the 1920s through the 1970s.

“Most of the issues were issues with management practices in the day. In 1980 environmental regulations became much more modern, and that’s when things changed.”

Despite some current slowing in projects and private funding in the industry, Ransom is encouraged by the recent referendum to extend the Clean Ohio fund for brownfield revitalization as well as the expansion of his business to other Ohio cities. “There is very little activity in the private sector, but if there is a commercial interest in a property — whether it’s state money or private money — if it makes economic sense, there is money available,” Ransom says. “Especially, sites with environmental issues are worth less than pristine sites. A developer can purchase a site with environmental problems for less money and budget for cleanup.”

Presently EMS is working on two large projects in Northeast Ohio. “We’re doing the Krejci dump site in Boston Heights. And we’re doing a large Third Federal Savings and Loan job on E. 71st, the Morgana East redevelopment,” Ransom says. “The Morgana site is slated for residential housing, and the Krejci dump site we’re cleaning up for national park property.”

Ransom says it’s not a quick fix for a remediation to go from initiation of clean up to final use. “We’ve only been in business for nine years and in full-scale remediation for five years,” he says. “I can’t say if we would see many finished projects in 15 to 20 years. We’re too young a company.”

In addition to site remediation and emergency spill response, EMS performs a growing amount of tank removal and installation work, which represents 10 percent to 15 percent of its projects. A fourth area of development for EMS is contaminated soil brokering, which comprises another 10 percent to 15 percent of EMS’ business. The expansion of EMS’ services was the result of a downturn in the economy.

EMS employs 23 full-time workers and 10 part-time employees. The gross revenue in 2009 was $5 million, with over $4 million in the second half of the year. “Our growth plans include adding Columbus in January and we recently opened in Cincinnati,” says Ransom.
Ransom is confident about his company’s potential for progress despite growing competition in the field. “It’s a very limited playing field because of the size of the industry,” he says.

Some of EMS’ stronger competitors have run into substantial problems due to their business models and financial structures, Ransom says. Additionally, there is new competition from larger civil contractors who are trying to enter the specialty environmental services business. “It’s much more challenging than what they thought,” Ransom says. “We’re a very surgical contractor, performing very, very intricate and delicate projects.”

EMS has a “different mentality” than its competitors with regard to owning a lot of heavy machinery or “yellow iron,” according to Ransom. His company believes in renting machinery whereas his competitors have viewed that as a negative, he says. “One of the reasons we’re getting through the financial crisis is that we’re not being as impacted because of our leverage,” Ransom says. “We don’t have a whole lot of equipment loans. When we’re not working, our costs aren’t weighing us down.”

Ransom is personable yet humble about his company’s good fortune. “I chalk it up to being fortunate enough to have a large number of very talented employees join the company,” he says. “And we’ve had some good fortune to develop relationships with excellent customers and very, very helpful vendors.”

For more information:

  • Jan 26, 2010
  • CBC Magazine
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