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In the grim economic news of trade deficits and recession, stories of American businesses that successfully sell innovative energy-saving and cost-saving products and services to the rest of the world are often overlooked. One such company is Environmental Dynamics, Inc., known as EDI, of Columbia, Missouri, whose company goal is to save energy with environmentally friendly processes. Founded in 1975, more than 50% of EDI’s products and services are exported to more than 90 countries around the world. A leader in energy conservation for others, they also run a “green” plant themselves, recycling all dropped PVC in the plant and producing no toxic waste.
EDI has achieved success and has become an employer of 120 people through innovative designs, conservation of natural resources, flexibility, and adaptability. The company thinks of themselves as “solution providers”, uniquely able to evaluate the customers’ problems and recommending the right solution. They sell customized engineered aeration and biological water and wastewater treatment solutions, specializing in treating the waste stream while reducing the amount of energy that wastewater treatment uses over the life of the plant. This insures that after a few years, the customer has more than recouped the initial purchase cost. We seldom think about it, but wastewater treatment in the U.S. accounts for more than four percent of overall energy consumption with the percentage being higher in other countries. The potential 50% energy savings is a huge benefit.
The company is so successful because they lead in research of aeration solutions. They capture the synergy of being close to the University of Missouri in Columbia and the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, by training and later employing student interns and sharing some of the universities’ equipment and resources for testing and research and development
EDI specializes in equipment that produces smaller bubbles for aeration resulting in a greater surface area and less energy consumption. They use engineering technology to tailor systems to the environment; for example, traditional PVC pipe would melt in the Saudi Arabian desert so other materials are used to withstand the heat. Various system designs can be further customized to the clients’ needs. The company specializes in lagoon systems and conventional concrete wastewater treatment facilities.
EDI became a leader in wastewater technology by overcoming many challenges. Initially, EDI had entrenched competitors. Some contracts required a history of their technical expertise and product performance with some contracts required their systems be in place for more than five years to show the effectiveness. They confronted trade barriers, customs and duties, and currency trading issues. Shipping became a challenge because their systems are light and bulky. When competing in other countries, they must prove their technological capabilities beyond those of local alternatives and ultimately prove cost and energy savings. They can do this by providing a wider range of solutions for various applications. The requirement for bonding of contracts was another detriment restricting growth, a factor that is being overcome through the help of the SBA offices.
In the last few years, EDI has expanded to new offices in the United Kingdom, Beijing China, and Mumbai India. Thinking forward, they locked up the domain name “wastewater.com” early and EDI uses this powerful domain name as a portal to global marketing and communication.
The company is successful in part because of the owners’ background diversity. The company was founded by Chuck Tharp and a cousin whom he bought out after a couple of years. Now it is owned by Chuck and his wife Margaret, Randall Chann, David Capron, Glen Wylie, and Fred McCabe. Their backgrounds are in civil and environmental engineering, business administration, biological science, and accounting.
Success comes with help along the way—EDI secured a guaranteed SBA 7(a) loan of $225,000 in February of 1980, when they employed only five people. In July 1993, they received an SBA 504 loan of $382,000, enabling them to finance a move to their present facility which houses 120 employees. They have also received help from SBA’s Export Assistance Office and attended SBA workshops over the years.
EDI received the Presidential E award in 2002 and the 2007 Presidential “E Star” award, which recognizes companies which contribute significantly in the effort to increase United States exports. This is especially noteworthy in a time when you can’t turn on the evening news without hearing about the trade deficit and the loss of US manufacturing capability in the global economy.
A good corporate neighbor, EDI has partnered with the United Way, participated in the Buddy Pack program with the Central Missouri Food Bank, and they just signed up to adopt the highway outside their office.
Today, EDI is the second largest producer of wastewater aeration systems in the world—and they are nipping at the heels of the current leader. These “wastewater doctors” exemplify the best of American innovation, ingenuity, and perseverance. Companies like EDI will lead the nation in reversing the trade imbalance and bringing U.S. technology to the rest of the world.