ESC Lab Science is Taking Wilson County Into Tomorrow

Bon Highway 70 in Mt. Juliet stands a white sign with a green maple leaf bearing the name, Environmental Science Corporation.  If you are like many in the area, you have noticed it in passing and wondered exactly what they do there…

Bon Highway 70 in Mt. Juliet stands a white sign with a green maple leaf bearing the name, Environmental Science Corporation.  If you are like many in the area, you have noticed it in passing and wondered exactly what they do there.  While the answer to that question may have been relatively simple when the business began, it has become more complex as the company has evolved into a sophisticated and multidimensional corporation.  This evolution has recently led them to  adopt a  name change, ESC Lab Sciences, to more accurately describe the many facets of the industry they are capable of performing.  So how did this lab grow from the dream of one man to a company with over $28 million in annual revenue?  Oh yes, and just what is it that they do there?

According to the founder’s son and current CEO, Peter Schulert, “The company began as a dream for a Vanderbilt University research scientist and professor in 1970, who wanted to try his hand in the private sector of his industry.”  Dr. Arthur Schulert originally located the business near Vanderbilt and focused the business on research.  Its existence at this location was short-lived as the building was eventually condemned.  This gave Dr. Schulert the incentive to look at the areas surrounding Nashville.  Wilson County drew Dr. Schulert’s attention because of its agricultural setting, which he felt would be an asset for a research facility.  Soon thereafter the company was settled on top of a hill on Mays Chapel Road just off of Benders Ferry in Mt. Juliet. 

Unfortunately the research business did not lead to the level of success that Dr. Schulert had hoped to achieve.  Roberto Celia, a Technical Service Representative who has been with the company for 25 years states, “[In the beginning they were] doing everything to get their name out there.”  It was during one of these searches for additional business, that Dr. Schulert stumbled upon the testing market. The work focused on testing drinking water for the municipalities in the state, which was quickly followed by the addition of testing wastewater.  The timing could not have been better for the business.  In 1973 the state regulations for these tests were increased, creating a more regular flow of business for the company.  This work helped to create a stronger foundation on which to build the business.  As the business began specializing in these tests, it became apparent that ESC had found its niche in the environmental industry.  This growth also enabled Dr. Schulert, who was still employed at Vanderbilt, to resign and dedicate his full time and energy to ESC.

Peter Schulert showed an interest in the business early on, working at the lab during his high school years.  The father/son team reunited in the business in 1987 when Peter returned from the Navy with his chemistry degree.  With his return, the number of employees increased to six, but that number would not hold for long.  Whether it was the son’s return with a new youthful energy, the cycle of business spinning around, or just fate, ESC was positioned for another growth spurt.  New federal regulations were created mandating the replacement of underground storage tanks and the testing of the soil surrounding them. These regulations brought a new opportunity to the company and ESC was ready. They expanded into the testing of soil, which opened up other markets and a whole new area of the industry to pursue.

The next five years brought rapid growth and need for a new facility.  In 1993 the search brought them to the first building at their present day location on Lebanon Road in the heart of Mt. Juliet.  This building was just the beginning of an ever growing campus which has propelled ESC to the largest single location environmental laboratory in the United States and eighth largest environmental laboratory in the industry.  Many large laboratories in the industry have multiple testing facilities.  According to Mr. Schulert, ESC strongly believes that keeping production in one location and growing internally gives them a competitive advantage and allows them to produce better quality results.  Being in one location also allows the company to run more efficiently, producing accurate results in a timely manner.  As they state on their web site www.esclabscience.com, “One phone call, one point of contact, one laboratory.”

The company’s constant growth has kept the need for expansion ever present.  The buildings at Mays Chapel Road were a mere combined 6,000 square feet, compared to the current campus consisting of eight buildings at a combined 80,000+ square feet, with a ninth building to be added in the next year. 

The company’s growth is also apparent in their increased ability to provide services for clients throughout the nation.  Mr. Schulert says, “[ESC] is the most certified facility in the United States.”  There have earned accreditations in 48 states.  Due to this great increase in service area, they have added staff and service centers in twenty-four states across the nation.

So what has allowed the company to achieve this level of growth?  One of the contributing factors is their location.  Mr. Schulert believes that Wilson County has continued to be a great location for their business in many ways.  The business friendly practices of the state coupled with the advantages of being removed from the more-congested downtown area have helped in their success.  Another advantage of the Mt. Juliet area is its proximity to the Nashville airport and FedEx hub, since the samples they test are shipped in from all over the country. 

Mr. Schulert also notes that the area includes numerous colleges and universities that serve as a good source of degreed individuals looking to enter the workplace.  Existing staff development is also encouraged due to the convenience of the local institutions.  The company also goes one step further in this encouragement by offering a generous educational reimbursement program to staff interested in furthering their education. 

The foundation on which Dr. Schulert built the company continues to guide ESC in its approach to developing policies for staff and in its dealings with the surrounding communities.  Before his passing in 1993, Dr. Schulert and the executive management team discussed ways to draw top people into the company and keep them there.  The company’s philosophy was to be very supportive of staff members and to make ESC a great place to work.  The company adopted an open book management approach and shared financial information with all staff members, but they wanted to do more. They began profit sharing and discussing the possibility of an Employee Stock Ownership Program (E.S.O.P.), thus making each staff member an owner of the company.

According to Carla Hennesy, the company’s CFO, E.S.O.P. was patterned after The Great Game of Business, by Jack Stack.  The program is part of staff member’s 401K for retirement.  Each year the employees are given a percentage of the profits through company stock.  At this present date, the staff of ESC own 26 percent of the company. The stock is valued annually by an independent company and has increased by nearly 700% over the past 20 years

ESC also strives to be a good corporate citizen and to have a positive impact on the surrounding communities.  With more than 40 percent of their employees living in the county, it is helping to make Mt. Juliet a stand-alone community verses the “bedroom” community it once was.  The company is also very supportive of many local causes, including matching employee’s donations to charitable organizations.  Mr. Schulert acknowledges that education is a key to our future, and they have shown their support by providing support to local schools and youth organizations. The company hosts school tours and events and have staff members that work with local schools and organizations promoting science education.  ESC has also supported schools in Mt. Juliet and Lebanon by donating science equipment. 

So how does the future look for this unique company during these challenging economic times?  According to Mr. Schulert, “We are having a modest growth, while we hear that many competitors are struggling.”  ESC keeps their formula very competitive, constantly looking for ways to provide the best possible services to their clients.  So, although there has been a decline in construction related testing, there are government mandated tests that will always have to be done.  Also, as EPA regulations become more wide reaching and people’s awareness of what is best for the environment continues to rise, there will always be a need for their work.

Wilson Living Contributor, Tina Anderson, lives here in Lebanon with her husband Jeff and two children.  Tina can be reached at tandewrites@charter.net

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