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Elizabeth City SBTDC Assists Medical Doctor to Become a Small Business Owner

Shifting from a career in the field of medicine, Ellen Colodney, MD desired a new profession serving the environment.  So, in 1999, she opened Wetland Plants in Edenton, North Carolina.  Colodney’s goal was to produce wetland and aquatic plants to be used for stormwater, wastewater, salt marsh, and shoreline projects.  She also saw this opportunity as a means to establish a supply chain on the eastern United States for Native Wetland Plants.    Photo1

Beginning her new horticulture career, Colodney, signed her first a contract with the N.C. Department of Transportation.  The contract required her to produce and ship a plant species that no one else in the country was growing.  Wetland Plants went on to become well known in the local construction industry as a result of their NCDOT contract and high-quality plants.  In fact, the company’s revenue grew at a steady pace from 1999 until 2005.  With the downturn of the economy in the 2000s, Wetland Plants profit hit a slump.

"The recession greatly slowed down the sales of our plants”, said Colodney.  “That was around the time I decided I needed a resource and guidance.”

The resource she turned to was the Elizabeth City Small Business and Technology Development Center.  Working with SBTDC counselors, Colodney gained in-depth business knowledge and was exposed to new resources for training and expert assistance areas of funding, (i.e., the Northeastern Workforce Development Board Employee Training Grant and the NCGrowth Grant).

“When you’re a small business in a rural community, and in a unique field, there is not a lot of people to talk to”, said Colodney.  “It is really helpful to have someone to talk to about business in general and someone to confer with.”

More recently, Wetland Plants has seen a tremendous growth in profits; 40 percent between 2015 to 2018.  Production is also up, with more than 600,000 plants being sold per year.  Colodney credits her achievements to the advice she received from the SBTDC, her dedication to lean management training, and to all her employees who have learned to use and look to save money wherever possible.

Colodney’s dream of an environmental horticulture business not only fixed the shortage of native wetland plants in the mid-atlantic and southeastern US filled a gap for the North Carolina coastal region but created an industry leader in stormwater management and shoreline erosion control.  Looking to the future, Colodney hopes to use the lean process to reduce waste by increasing the percentage of seed sown that result in sellable plants removing seeds the do not create sellable plants (also called eradicate germination), increase sales by 20 percent without increasing capital cost, build up shoreline control species, and, of course, capture the remaining market!