Enter the production floor of Southern Pine Company of Georgia, and you’ll be greeted by the heady scent of pine. While it may resemble the commercially produced stuff used to clean floors, the smell is from actual wood being milled into planks.
And while that probably doesn’t seem unusual in a state known for its pine forests, the fact that the wood is probably decades or even centuries old should. At this shop, reclaimed resources are the backbone of the business.
“We’re not just one business, we’re actually three that feed on each other,” said Ramsey Khalidi, owner of Southern Pine, RK Construction & Development Co. and Khalidi Properties. “We have a niche in the building field. By reclaiming materials instead of throwing them out, we’re big in historic preservation.”
In today’s vernacular, that’s called “green economy,” but to Khalidi, it’s a practical way of doing things.
“We could come in with a wrecking ball and tear down an entire building, scoop it up and put it in a landfill,” he said. “But there’s so much that’s going to waste that way.”
He’d rather see the wood repurposed into highly sought-after aged flooring, and the fixtures, windows and other materials put to use in another building.
While it takes more time and expense to “deconstruct” instead of demolish, the rewards are much more satisfying. And there’s still a profit to be made.
“Doing business today is different from years past, and doing business tomorrow will increasingly involve sustainable methods and technology,” said Allynne Tosca Owens, program coordinator for the city of Savannah’s Business Attraction and Retention Program. “The savvy business owner is integrating green technology in their business systems.”
Owens advises business owners such as Khalidi as part of her job in the Department of Economic Development. In his other endeavors, Khalidi is working to bring like-minded businesses into a community where sustainability is a common theme.
“There will be professionals on the front line figuring how to adapt resources for reuse,” he said.
“Green is more than eco-friendly, green is local, green is growing what you need.”
He touts two other nearby businesses as examples of how “green economy is doable and profitable.”
AWOL, an acronym for All Walks of Life, trains youth to be productive citizens.
“They’re teaching kids to take computers apart and make new ones from the old parts,” said Khalidi. “What’s greener than that?”
And Labor Ready, a job placement agency, will use a part of the building, which itself is reclaimed. Condemned and destined for the landfill, the Star Laundry building was purchased and restored by Khalidi. It now houses the corporate offices and antique wood mill of the Southern Pine Company of Georgia.
“We believe in preservation of our history,” said Khalidi. “For 25 years, we have been reclaiming, preserving, restoring and supplying vintage old growth wood for renovation and new construction.”
It’s that type of vision that grows communities, said Martin Melaver, a principal at Melaver McIntosh, a development-consulting firm.
“Even if you just focus on supply and demand, you’ve provided a whole wave of secondary and tertiary job opportunities,” he said.
“There’s a chain of value there.”
And a comeback of craft-based work and attention to detail, added Patty McIntosh, Melaver’s partner.
“Businesses that are built on green principles open themselves for other quality opportunities,” she said.
Dilated Spectrum, another business in the Khalidi commune, specializes in screen printing, branding, image consulting, vinyl stickers and signage. And like its neighbors, the business focuses on low-toxicity chemicals and organic fibers.
“Savannah is becoming more in tune with traditions and its culture and heritage,” said owner Ben Waring. “We’re fortunate to be here at this time.”
Khalidi agreed the movement has found its followers.
“This is the time and Savannah is the right place for this,” he said.
“I’m excited that the pieces are coming together.”
THE BASICS OF GREEN ECONOMICS
“The first question any business should ask itself is, 'How long do I plan to be around?’” said Martin Melaver, a principal at Melaver McIntosh, a development-consulting firm.
He suggested that anyone who’s in it for the long haul — more than 10 years — should take a serious account of several things, including its carbon footprint, water consumption and energy consumption.
That’s why the planned parking lot for Khalidi’s commercial complex will have a porous surface that allows water to be absorbed instead of run off into the sewer system.
“We have to be a model for other decaying neighborhoods,” he said. “Getting back to basics is the basis of green economics.”
Melaver agreed profitability and sustainability don’t have to counteract one another.
“Any new business should from the start figure its future effect,” said Melaver. “Business development and cost structure should have nothing to do with a green agenda. ... Think deeply about your competitive advantage — what’s new and different about you.”
“Small but Strong” is a monthly series that spotlights established small businesses in the Savannah area and includes hands-on tips from owners and area business development professionals.