Horizontal Grinder Creates Business Opportunities

By Larry Trojak | September 28, 2010

In the business world, there are those who wait for opportunity to knock and there are those, like Dennis Waters, who go out and create their own opportunities. The Allenhurst, Ga., business professional either heads up or is an investor in more than two dozen separate businesses throughout southeast Georgia and has built two of those companies — Dennis Waters Development Company and Dennis Waters Rental Properties — into local mainstays.

With a plate that full on a daily basis, few people would consider tackling still another venture. But if all goes according to plan (and given his track record, who's to doubt it will), Waters will soon be taking in area wood waste, grinding it through a new Morbark horizontal grinder, selling material to regional paper mills for boiler fuel and creating a mulch product for sale to area contractors, businesses and individuals — all this while heading up a new division of his development company that is undertaking hurricane cleanup efforts. For him, it's just another day at the office.

Building A Business

Waters' success is of a self-made nature. Having started in the early 1970s 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 10 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."

Meanwhile, as a result of another family-run venture, Waters had already been bitten by the development bug.

"Just after the Vietnam war, my father built a small mobile home park here in Hinesville," he says. "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 by 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 been 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."

Adding A Horizontal Grinder

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 approaches, 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," he says, "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."

He adds, "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 the company's operation, Waters says, the grinder "quickly become one of the key pieces of equipment we own.

"Because it is a track-mounted unit," he says, "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 Disaster 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," Waters recalls. "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 from September 2005 until the end of May of this year, providing cleanup services in New Orleans; Mobile, Ala.; Hattiesburg, Miss.; 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."

Expanding Capabilities For Continued Growth

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."