Over ninety percent of 1 Priority Environmental Services’ revenues are generated through asbestos abatement; the balance is duct cleaning and dealing with mold and lead-based paint. From its Fort Worth headquarters and eight locations, 1 Priority Environmental Services’ staff serves customers throughout New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. The company’s work ranges from approximately $2,500 to $5 million, with an average project size of about $100,000.
Asbestos was first used thousands of years ago to strengthen ceramic cooking pots because it was non-flammable. It was a staple of construction for decades and was a part of nearly every commercial building and public structure built in the United States. It was known that many who worked with asbestos fibers often became extremely ill. Yet, even though the fibrous material was hazardous – and acknowledged in a U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics report to be associated with an abnormally high number of deaths – its use continued in insulation, floor tiles, roof shingles, joint compounds, paint, siding, and many other building materials until the mid-1980s.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued several bans of various asbestos products in the 1970s and a more comprehensive 1989 Toxic Substances Control Act banned most all products, but asbestos can still be used in the United States today because these previous bans were overturned in the 1991 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Asbestos has been linked to a range of deadly illnesses including lung cancer and asbestosis, which is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers and often takes years to show symptoms. The widespread use of asbestos may have stopped, but the effects are still being felt years later.
1 Priority Environmental Services President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Caldwell, recognizing a need in the marketplace for asbestos abatement, created the company in 2003. Long before starting the company, he was a student at Texas A&M University, studying architecture and construction management. While doing his internship at a service company, he was asked to move from the roofing division to the pipe insulation painting division because it was getting requests to remove asbestos insulation.
After studying Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) rules, regulations, and recommendations, Caldwell soon realized many of the OSHA guidelines were not very firm at the time. As a student and aspiring entrepreneur, he knew construction was his destiny and an area to which he could relate on many levels, trades in particular.
“I liked the emerging abatement industry and the benefits it gave to the client, the health and safety for the workers, and the occupants of the building,” he says. “And it was very profitable. It was a young industry trying to find its way, and I was lucky enough to be at the forefront of it.”
While it has been in business for fifteen years, 1 Priority Environmental Services uses the tagline ‘Ownership in the industry since 1985.’ “I wanted to show that our history and expertise extends back further than just the formation date of the company,” states Caldwell. “Even though we’ve been around since 2003, it’s not my first abatement company.” This is a relatively young industry, and many competitors have far less experience than Caldwell.
The company began with a small crew in 2003 and has grown today eight locations with a full-time staff of about 250, including office staff with accounting degrees and finance backgrounds, estimators experienced in project management and construction, insurance people, restoration-related specialists, hazardous waste brokers, environmental consultants, and others with environmental disposal backgrounds.
Rob Odom, the company’s Chief Operating Officer since 2016, calls 1 Priority’s Estimators and Project Managers “the rainmakers in our business.” Most of these employees have construction and/or abatement backgrounds with many years of experience. “Collectively we have over four hundred years of experience in Estimator Project Managers in our company, and this is one key element that makes 1 Priority a great company,” says Odom.
The company started in areas including plumbing, air conditioning, mechanical, and electrical work but refined its services to focus on asbestos abatement and mold and microbial remediation. Approximately ninety-five percent of its work is in the commercial and industrial sector where it works with government, educational facilities, shopping malls, and some of America’s biggest and most well-known companies on asbestos abatement projects. Some jobs may take months, while the company’s crews will work on large-scale projects for years.
Services are often referred by environmental consultants or environmental testing firms entrusted with analyzing materials. An asbestos survey – also known as asbestos screening – is required nationwide as part of due diligence whenever anyone is going to renovate or demolish a facility. And although the use of asbestos as insulation was banned back in 1989, it is still found in many older buildings.
1 Priority Environmental Services was recently named one of the top two hundred environmental firms in Engineering News-Record (ENR). This is a respected publication with a history going back to 1874 of providing engineering and construction news, data, commentary, and more. That made this an outstanding recognition for 1 Priority. The list of environmental contractors was not limited to asbestos abatement, but also included environmental engineering firms and environmental construction businesses offering services such as spill cleanup, solid waste disposal, water remediation, water disposal, water filtration, soil remediation cleanup, and soil disposal.
The company holds numerous environmental contractor asbestos abatement licenses, along with licenses for dealing with lead, transporting asbestos, and mold remediation in Texas and Louisiana. Additionally, the company’s management, field supervisors, and technicians “are members of virtually every substantial professional industry association as well as many associations in the related industries,” and the business itself has many environmental certifications from organizations, state, and federal agencies.
Employees of the company have achieved professional training and qualifications from ASHE – a professional membership group of the American Hospital Association, the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA), the National Fire Protection Association, the Restoration Industry Association (RIA), the Associated General Contractors: Texas Building Branch, and many others.
Along with its certifications, the company has a very high bonding capacity, which helps set it above the competition. “The biggest advantage for us is that it allows us to bid on bigger, high-profile projects,” says Caldwell. “For our customers, it’s a measure of our financial stability; we can bond a $10 million project, while many of our competitors can only bond a $300,000 job.”
Among the company’s recent projects are two: one in Corpus Christi, TX, a naval air station and the other, an old aircraft facility in Dallas, TX. 1 Priority has been working on various lead paint and asbestos abatement projects on the 1940s-era Corpus Christi navy site since 2016, and it is estimated that it will take at least five years to complete. The 18-month-long Dallas aircraft project will see asbestos safely removed from 194 buildings dating back to the 1950s when use of asbestos was commonplace. And from its Gatesville location, 1 Priority works almost exclusively on Killeen, Texas-based Fort Hood, one of the largest military installations in the world.
1 Priority has grown aggressively over the last few years and plans for this to continue at an increased pace, especially since it partnered with O2 Investment Partners, LLC in May of this year.
Caldwell stated that, “1 Priority has grown into one of the largest asbestos abatement companies in the Southern United States through the process of building our reputation of premier customer service along with complete and accurate project execution. We are very excited to partner with O2 and we are confident that with O2, we’ve found the right partner to help facilitate our growth while continuing to serve our loyal customer base. O2 will help us by providing resources to management in the development and execution of the strategic plan for the business. They have extensive expertise upon which we will draw for support growth initiatives, financial modeling and analysis, add-on acquisition analysis and lender relationship management, treasury and cash management. In short, this will enable 1 Priority to focus on the execution of the plan and grow at a pace we could not without this valuable partnership.
1 Priority’s plans for growth address organic growth, acquisitions and adjacent service lines. Geographic expansion is planned from the Mid-Atlantic states to the Southern states and west to the Rocky Mountains in the near future.
Construction in Focus asked Gary what, if anything has changed since the partnering with O2 Investment Partners, LLC? He responded with, “the daily activities for Heath, Rob and myself have not changed and we continue to drive the business every day toward our current and future goals.” He further added, “we are more excited now than ever about the future and opportunities for all or our employees and clients.”