When we last heard from Steve Bush, the CEO of Recleim, an appliance-recycling company based in tiny Graniteville, South Carolina, he and his business partner, Pete Davis, had brought industrial activity back to a crumbling old textile-mill complex and 100-some jobs back to the crumbling town around it.
Graniteville, as Inc. readers might recall from a feature article we published about Recleim in January 2016, was in even more desperate condition than most dying mill towns: In 2005, just as the town's main industry was collapsing, two freight trains collided right in the center of town and created a deadly chemical spill, one of the worst in U.S. history.
But Bush and Davis are also not ordinary entrepreneurs. Investors from Atlanta with a special knack for taking advantage of tax credits to spur development, they spotted an opportunity to bring the town back to life that most people couldn't see--an opportunity good enough that Recleim, which launched in 2012, has now landed on the Inc. 500 for the first time, as the 456th fastest-growing company in America.
One of the biggest things to spur the company's fast growth has been a new line of business. Whereas originally Bush and Davis focused only on dismantling home appliances and selling the materials, shortly after our article ran the company also got into the business of collecting old refrigerators from consumers, on behalf of utilities that want to phase out inefficient appliances that suck up too much power. Recleim now does that in Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, which has required it to build a second recycling plant to handle all of the inventory, this time in Lima, Ohio.
"It's pretty much a duplicate of what we did in South Carolina," Bush says. "Lima is a distressed old Rust Belt town, and we are creating roughly 150 jobs there"--naturally, by taking advantage of the same kind of tax credits that made the South Carolina renovation feasible. Next up: The company is eyeing a third location somewhere near Dallas. Recleim brought in about $7 million in revenue in 2016 ($5 million of it from the utilities contracts), and Bush says it's on track to grow that number to $35 million or $40 million this year.
While the expansion of Recleim into a national force is exciting, Bush admits that he feels an especially strong personal connection to Graniteville; he and Davis grew close with the community while they built the company. "We had a kind of Field of Dreams thing going," Bush says. "We built the plant, and now they are coming. We have contracts with almost every major appliance manufacturer in the country, with 10 different utilities, and with big-box retailers."
Separate from Recleim, Bush and Davis have also begun an effort to renovate more buildings in Graniteville's central mill complex in the hopes of luring other businesses to the area. Earlier this year, they unveiled a complete rehab of the former corporate headquarters of the mill, a three-story antebellum structure with four tall columns and elaborate molding. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, so they brought it back to its full glory and installed a museum of the town's history on the main floor. They're working on renovating another mill building to house an incubator for recycling-related startups. They hope to host a brewpub in another space.
The improvements--especially the renovated old headquarters building--have become a point of pride for the community. But there has been at least one downside to all the success: "We had trucks full of appliances in every alley, every flat piece of asphalt that would hold trailers," Bush says. "Pete and I had to lease a warehouse half a mile from the plant." It's a good problem to have.