Freshwater Vermont is not the place one might expect expertise in the removal of salt from seawater, and yet St. George, Vermont is the home of Industrial Services, Inc., a thriving international company focused on desalination. In fact, it’s owner and founder, Scott Shumway, chose Vermont as an ideal place from which to conduct business. In 1999, he and his wife and children moved from Bermuda to Vermont to start his global business and to enjoy the state’s beauty and outdoor activities. “No matter where you’re located,” Shumway explained, “this is a field where you’re going to be working internationally. For me, moving to Vermont was a quality of life issue.”
Industrial Services Inc. (ISI) provides both the know-how and the equipment to convert millions of gallons of seawater into drinking water for municipal water supply companies and hotels and resorts around the world. Since its founding in 2003, ISI revenues have increased from $200,000 to nearly $8 million in 2010. The company includes a varying number of subcontractors; two full-time office employees to handle accounting, export issues, personnel and payroll; and six full-time engineers with flexible work assignments around the globe.
With funding from several loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Shumway developed a unique customer tool he calls a “plant configurator,” which allows customers to design their own desalination plants and give them direct, transparent access to equipment pricing. “Our goal was to empower the little guy so he wouldn’t be stuck talking to a distributor or manufacturer who might be marking up the equipment excessively,” Shumway said.” The SBA loans were also helpful because ISI needed up-front cash to support construction costs. “International transactions are commonly based on letters of credit, so the SBA loans provided us with access to cash when needed,” he explained.
Although ISI clients are global and its manufactured products are bound for export, Shumway said distance is no obstacle. Thanks to Internet connectivity, Shumway can troubleshoot desalination plants in the Bahamas or anywhere in the world, even to the extent of turning valves or pumps on and off through computer monitors in Vermont. Additionally, close proximity to the Burlington airport and the affordability of working near and living in Hinesburg have made conducting international business from Vermont completely viable. Finding a pre-existing reservoir of Vermont desalination experts has not been a problem because Shumway prefers training employees himself.
ISI’s recent project list includes the installation of a turnkey desalination plant for the Atlantis Resort in Nassau Bahamas with a second plant due for completion mid-year; the building and refurbishing of two desalination plants for the Marriott on Abaco Island, Bahamas; design and equipment support for a plant in Pakistan; and the rehabilitation of a plant in the British Virgin Islands, to name a few.
Shumway credits his international experience as a key reason for ISI’s success. “One of our greatest successes is that we very much understand the difficulties of keeping technology functioning in regions that don’t have the infrastructure to support it,” Shumway said. “The designs we offer have to be appropriate for the locations where the equipment is going. People are smart everywhere, so it really has nothing to do with their abilities. It has to do with the resources they have. If need be, we might convert a system to a 1960’s electro-mechanical model, which is reliable and easy to troubleshoot.”
Shumway lived for many years in various countries like the Canary Islands and the British Virgin Islands, and for seven years with his wife in Bermuda, where his son, now a sophomore at CVU and his daughter, now a sixth grader at Hinesburg Community School, were born. “If people have the opportunity, I encourage them to live outside the U.S. It’s a great experience because it gives you a better appreciation for the United States and also gives you additional perspective,” he said.
Currently, ISI is building the second of two desalination plants, which will produce 1.5 million gallons a day for the Atlantis Resort in Nassau. The Resort’s water supply systems take seawater out of the ground and convert it to drinking water which is then piped to the hotel, as well as to the resort’s waterpark pools and fountains. “We prefer to take the water out of the ground because it’s pre-filtered and basically cleaner,” Shumway explained. “We don’t have to get the fish and seaweed out, so it’s a less costly and more reliable process.” Working on the Nassau project are 10 electricians, pipe fitters and mechanical personnel, some of which are ISI employees and some are subcontractors.
“The desalination industry is maturing,” Shumway said. “It used to be that desalination was regarded as a last resort, but as traditional resources are being used up, the technology is becoming more efficient and much more mainstream.” As a result, ISI is beginning to standardize more of its products. “Ten or fifteen years ago, we designed from scratch every time. Now we still have to customize somewhat because water quality varies, but that’s mainly for the pre-treatment of the water. It’s difficult when you have high pressure, corrosion, and seawater-- a toxic mix. We have to design around all these issues for safety and equipment endurance.”
Originally, ISI started as a consulting business but gradually began to supply and then manufacture products for the systems they were creating. “These systems consist of many different parts, all of which have to be purchased and shipped and installed,” Shumway said. When they couldn’t find what they needed or had issues of corrosion or faulty performance with available products, ISI designed and built its own products. ISI now manufactures its own filter housings and markets them under their spin-off company, “Micron Filter Housing.” Shumway also invented an energy-recovery device now used in some of the largest desalination plants in the world.
Shumway’s own expertise in desalination was born of a love of the ocean (he is a certified scuba diver) and a fascination with other cultures. After growing up near two oceans, first in California, then in Maryland, Shumway graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in mechanical engineering, which offered flexibility and the potential for innovation. After looking for work on the ocean in Cape Cod, he got a job at a desalination plant in Boston. From there he followed his inventive hunches. “I think a lot of entrepreneurship is learning what’s out there before you jump in. If you do that, then you know what’s missing. If you offer what’s missing, people listen to you.”
Shumway’s advice to future entrepreneurs is based on the logic he used when considering his own professional path: “Find a niche. You don’t necessarily have to try that hard to create a profitable business if you pursue work that is not just another one of many. If you can find that niche and do a good job, I’m confident you’ll be successful.”
Scott Shumway, founder and president of Industrial Services, Inc., was selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration as the 2011 Small Business Exporter of the Year. Nominated by Ian Rutherford, Partner with Technology Strategies Group, Shumway was chosen for the award based on his company’s increased sales, growth of employment, and creative overseas marketing strategies. He was honored by SBA during the Vermont Small Business Awards ceremony at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn on June 16, 2011.