Their Lincoln area neighbors can breathe easier, drink cleaner water and enjoy savings on their energy bills thanks to their hard work.
But Midlands Recycling is too busy to take credit for a cleaner capital city in the Cornhusker State. In 2011 alone, the company sorted and bailed 14,400 tons of paper material, recycling efforts which saved more than 100,000 trees and enough water to supply almost 700 families for a year. They also saved more than 47,000 cubic yards of landfill, which has helped the city extend the capacity of its current landfill beyond its 25-year lifespan.
Midlands Recycling, just south of Lincoln’s historic Haymarket District, was purchased by Palmer and Sons, a family-owned firm in the refuse business for more than a quarter-century. Palmer had rented the operation over the previous year or so before they used the proceeds from an SBA 504 loan approved Sept. 2010 with the help of the Nebraska Economic Development Corp. (NEDCO) and Farmers & Merchants Bank to purchase outright the 45,000-square foot facility; since they took over in May 2009 in the teeth of the recession they've doubled the company's revenues. Another SBA loan approved December 2011 offered the business a line of credit.
“When we got into the market, the business went through a crash and only slowly rebounded,” said Executive Vice President Micah Palmer (pictured above with stacked bales of shredded paper).
But that’s wasn’t the worst part. As Palmer and his family first took over the recycling facility, they found “a disaster,” he said. More than 3,000 tons of trash was stacked five bales high all over the property, and 32 semi-trucks were left loaded with even more bales. So for the first four months, they spent long days, often from 3 a.m. to 8 p.m., just cleaning out the stuff left behind.
The family overcame that early start and the business since has grown from seven to 19 employees. Micah’s brother Kelsey runs Midlands Recycling, while another brother, Colby, runs the family’s Palmer and Sons Refuse business. Their mother also works for the company.
“I pretty much work 50-60 hours a week and even though I’ve been running the plant for three years now, and I’m still learning. But with two young kids and wife, I’m always looking for that balance,” Palmer added. “We strive to keep our guys to 40 hours a week, because we’ve found any more than that and productivity suffers.”
Workers at Midlands Recycling sort trash on a conveyor belt.
And make no mistake, it’s tough work, especially for the employees standing long hours at a conveyor belt wearing thick gloves up to their forearms sorting out glass, cans and plastic from cardboard and paper to be bailed and trucked to an area processing plant. Those bales of plastic can be interesting; a dramatic change in temperature, such as the Lincoln area saw this spring, and they can expand and burst, creating a fresh mess.
The company has provided their small business customers across Lincoln and nearby Omaha with 200 recycling bins, collecting more than 30 tons of cardboard per week, much of which eventually becomes manila folders, new boxes, insulation and product packaging.
"If you've bought a case of Corona or Dos Equis beer, the cardboard came from here in Lincoln," Palmer said with a smile.
Palmer added the glass bottles they collect are turned into countertops, and plastic becomes playground slides and castles for kids; cans go off to Anheuser-Busch to be re-used. They even recycle the heavy wooden pallets used to move bales on to the trucks; Midlands Recycling sends those over to another Lincoln small business, Arbor Industries, to be made into new pallets.
He said the company also collects grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste stuffed in 96-gallon toters from about 500 residential curbside customers, which the company turns over to an organic farmer in the area for use as a natural fertilizer. Recycling this yard waste alone has saved 21 percent of landfill space.
That’s important for a city and surrounding Lancaster County which went through a battle in the 1980s to put a landfill at its present site, “something nobody wants to go through again,” said Mike Palmer, the family patriarch and owner of Palmer and Sons. There hasn’t been another landfill site in the area since, so extending the expected 25-year life of the present fill through recycling efforts has been crucial.
“Our customers wanted that service from us, and wanted an opportunity to slow the flow to the landfill,” the older Palmer added.
Another service their customers needed was solved when Palmer and Sons started Shredding Solutions in 2001 to handle the fast-growing demand to shred important documents, thwarting identity thieves, and recycling the remaining detritus.
“But shredders make paper messy and difficult to recycle,” Palmer said, pointing to the concrete floor of the Midlands Recycling facility, covered in tiny bits of trash.
Palmer shows the hands-on display in the Education Trailer.
Then there's the company’s effort to reach out to a younger generation, encouraging recycling by city school kids. Along with the Midlands Recycling business, Palmer and Sons got in their purchase a huge semi-trailer originally outfitted with a grant by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality stuffed with hands-on exhibits, video monitors and displays designed to teach kids the impact their actions have on the environment and the importance of recycling.
Students not only are educated to recycle, but the hope for Midlands Recycling “is that they'll grow up to be future customers.”
Midlands Recycling also invites local Boy Scout troops to tour the plant and learn the next step in their own community recycling efforts. They also work with Lincoln public schools to collect donated aluminum cans to purchase text books, and teamed with area recyclers on an effort to raise money for the school's general fund. The business also has sponsored a golfing event to help raise money for veteran scholarships.
The partnership Midlands Recycling has with Lincoln-based Journal Star Recycling, the first curbside program ever operated by a newspaper, improved collections by 25 percent and no small amount of landfill space alone. Thanks to a little help from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the company replaced 18-gallon containers with bigger 65- and 95-gallon carts to homeowners. The curbside carts are dumped into a truck using a machine arm, which can handle then hauled back to Midlands Recycling for bailing and processing.
"It's not that we feel we're saving the Earth here, what we do is beneficial, obviously," Palmer said. "People get wrapped up that recycling is a necessity, but there are some things that don't make sense economically to recycle. Styrofoam for example costs more and takes up more in resources to recycle than to manufacture because it's so easy and cheap to make. So recycling has to make sense as a business and it has to make sense for society.”
The National Restaurant Association reported in 2011 that 65 percent of restaurant operators have recycling programs in place, and that 60 percent of consumers prefer restaurants that recycle. In fact, more than half of diners say they would even pay more to eat at place with a recycling effort.
“There’s definitely a market for recycling,” Palmer added. “And it's a profitable business for us, too."
At the southern end of Bellevue's blighted Fort Crook corridor, one of the newest and hungriest technology contractors in the area has found a new home at the site of a notorious club once placed off limits by nearby Offutt Air Force Base.
'Are you out of your minds?'
Getting help from the SBA
Looking to grow while buildng up the community around them
The Plattsmouth Chamber of Commerce organized a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 24, 2010, for the Brian P. Harvey Funeral Home’s location on Main Street. Lender relations specialists from the Nebraska District Office worked with the lender at Murray State Bank to solve some tough problems and ensure the business got SBA-backed financing, and that families in rural Nebraska would continue to receive quality care and attention.
They had worked their way up from employees to potential owners of the business, but before they could take the keys to the front door, they’d need help from a Murray, Neb., banker and a couple of lender relations specialists at the SBA’s Nebraska District Office.
The Fusselman-Wymore Funeral Home, an institution in the eastern part of the Cornhusker State for the past 50 years, offered full bereavement services, including grief support, to five rural Nebraska towns in two counties. The employees, Doug Allen and Brian Harvey, along with their wives, Linda and Christina, respectively, saw an opportunity to purchase the corporation for $1.35 million, but there would be some obstacles in their way.
Russ Henning, a lender with Murray State Bank in Murray, said the current owners of Fusselman-Wymore had problems documenting their cash flow, holding up the sale going forward. Then there were the unconventional problems: Somebody was living in the residence of a shared building at one funeral home location. Normally, proceeds from an SBA loan can’t go to any part of a residence; in small-town Nebraska, though, the funeral director has to live in the funeral home to be on call 24/7. In another location in Syracuse, the business owner lived in house right next to funeral home. “We had to confront the issue that none of the money could go to the house,” Henning said, “so we’re turning the house into office space, transforming it into a place where you can meet with family, display an assortment of caskets and other merchandise.”
Worse, the entire deal was under a cloud: All the Fusselman-Wymore properties were in foreclosure.
“We’d done very few SBA loans,” Henning said. “We’d done a couple low-doc things, but this was very big.” So he turned to Deborah Wilson and Suzanne Stearman at the Nebraska District Office for help.
Starting in late December 2009, Stearman worked with Henning over the phone, outlining the eligibility and basic parameters of a standard 7(a) loan for a possible funeral home start-up. Over the next couple of months, Stearman answered several questions from the banker involving appraisals and valuations of the business, including how properly to value the goodwill of a funeral home business that’s served small-town families for half a century. She even helped the borrowers decide that buying the existing business was a better move than starting up a new one.
In March 2010, Stearman drove south from Omaha to Murray to meet in person with Henning to offer help in completing the painstaking work of the loan application.
Wilson offered a complete review of the application package with Stearman during a 2-1/2-hour marathon session late one Thursday afternoon, and caught some discrepancies with financial statements.
“There was one form where you have to do a balance sheet before and after the sale,” Henning explained. Wilson “basically did that for me, which was really helpful.” She also worked with Henning to find an acceptable solution for the processing center to permit the funeral director to continue residing in that funeral home building. After a few phone calls and e-mails later, the deal was submitted and approved by the processing center March 26, 2010 – on the first try.
The foreclosure process had slapped on a deadline, but being in a small town, the banker said, did help: at least all parties to the foreclosure “are on board, doing everything in a rapid fashion to get everything done in time.”
The mountains Henning climbed – with the help of his SBA Nebraska District Office guides – resulted in a payoff for Allen and Harvey with a $1.35 million 7(a) loan under Recovery Act provisions. And the tradition of serving rural Nebraska families in their time of greatest need with the greatest care should continue.