A newly created division of Tennessee-based Sunrae Environmental, Realbright Sunrae Water is headed by Mike Schieck, who said he plans to bring profitable and environmental business ventures to locations throughout the southeastern United States.
“I don’t think people understand this is that this is a startup company,” said Walker County economic develop-ment director Larry Brooks. “He’s bringing this in to start trying to make an investment here for jobs.”
According to Brooks, no Walker County funds will be put into the new business. “They have not asked us for anything,” he said. “They have not even asked us for any tax abatements.”
The water bottling plant was not an idea that Brooks and the county pursued actively, but rather one that Schieck dreamed and suggested, though Walker County had been interested in perhaps fostering a future relation-ship with a possible Sunrae venture at some point.
“We were just talking to him about some other projects he was interested in,” said Brooks, “and we had not even heard from him for several months, and out of the blue he called us up and said he was able to get this new business and he’d like to locate in Walker County.
“He’s got relationships with folks in Mississippi or Tennessee and we’re just really lucky that he wanted to come to us,” he said. “You have somebody who could locate this thing anywhere he wants to, because he’s not even from this area.”
Green light on building site
The business, which has already begun moving into the county, will be located in a portion of the Barwick-Archer building complex, owned by Drennon Crutchfield, who visited the site Wednesday, May 9, and saw the be-ginning evidence of Sunrae’s new venture.
“He is going to put a water bottling (operation) in there,” said Crutchfield. “He’s got the equipment over there, stainless steel bottling equipment.”
Crutchfield has almost finished renovating the 40,000 square feet — “it’s one building that’s part of the complex” — that Schieck will be using.
“I’m putting in about $20,000 worth of new lighting in there, and I’m going to finish the bathrooms and clean the floors and turn it over to him,” he said.
“It’s probably going to take him a month (to prepare the equipment), because he’s got to do something to the walls.”
Crutchfield has experience leasing out part of his property to companies. Currently there are about five small industrial businesses leasing parts of the Barwick-Archer complex, and more have come and gone in past years.
Crutchfield stated that other buildings on the site have room for Schieck to expand, should he need to.
Schieck signed a three-year lease with Crutchfield for the 40,000 square feet in question, which according to Crutchfield has already been cleaned of asbestos some years ago and has undergone phases 1 and 2 of the EPA’s environmental site assessment process.
Sunrae shrugs off cloudy welcome
Dr. Robert Beeman, chief operations officer for Realbright Sunrae, is a bit displeased about how the news has been received by the Walker County blogo-sphere, but states that the company remains undeterred from the new project.
“There’s been a lot of bad press, a lot of bad press on Facebook about Sunrae, and we don’t care about that.”
“Sunrae is a green tech company,” he explained. “Right now we’re starting out in water bottling. We’re going to put a plant in to bottle water at 9146 Highway 341. Our intention is to make a profit.”
Beeman specified that Sunrae is first and foremost a business and wants to be successful in its new venture.
“A lot of green technology companies have a burden of, say, a liberal extreme progressive ideology,” said Bee-man.
“We’re a company of conservatives,” he said, noting that fiscal success comes far before activism in Sunrae’s priorities. “We’re trying to make a profit for our stockholders and we’re trying to do this to create a profit all the way down the line.”
The bottling plant will employ up to a couple of dozen or more personnel during the initial phases of construc-tion and beyond, and Beeman is adamant that only Walker County residents get the new jobs.
“We’re going to need people to help construct the plant, help with equipment and security, so it’ll be an up and down thing,” he said of the number of employees.
“We are absolutely determined to get every single one of those employees from that county,” he continued. “If we cannot find someone with the skills that we need in that county, then we’ll go outside, but we’d rather not have to do that.”
“If we could afford it, we’d rather train someone from that county than go outside because we’d like to be able to give back to and help out the community that’s welcoming us.”
Beeman sees Sunrae entering into a new area as akin to an individual moving into a new community – both need to make friendships and connections in their new base of operations.
“The way to make a profit is to make a profit at home. It’s your home, so you take care of your neighbors,” he said.
As for the process of bottling water, Beeman stated that the water used will come from a source close to the plant, but that the company has not yet decided on a precise location.
“It’ll come locally,” Beeman said. “We have many locations in mind but we’re not sure where exactly yet.”
Beeman has seen the Barwick-Archer building and is excited about its potential, tentatively hoping that the op-eration could even expand into more areas of the complex in the future.
“We’re hoping to. It’s a gigantic place.”
He does not foresee any environmental cleanup problems with the site, though it is noted for its age.
“We’re not anticipating any EPA involvement at all except for the regulatory involvement,” he said. “Frankly we don’t think there’s going to be any problems down there. We’ve looked at the site and it looks like it’ll be fine.”
Overall, Beeman and the company are excited about the potential to create a new name in bottled water, which is a very cost-effective way to be environmentally friendly while still staying in the black.
“Its one of the best ways to get started in green technology,” he said. “If you can find good clean bottled water locally, you’re a leg up on people that are selling this stuff across the country or even oversees.”
“There are a lot of people bottling water. You can make a profit at it. It tends to create more jobs than a lot of other technologies simply because you have to have somebody selling the stuff and this creates an enormous num-ber of jobs in the area for sales,” he said.
And, despite the company being green, water bottling, he said, is an all-encompassing industry without any par-tisan strings attached, which is just what Sunrae specializes in.
“There’s very little political weight to bottling water.”