They try to go with the flow

Runner-up

NORTH STATE ENVIRONMENTAL INC.
Headquarters: Winston-Salem President: Stephanie Westmoreland Vice President: Darrell Westmoreland Employees: 60 Founded: 1994 Projected 2008 revenue: $8 million Business: Stream restoration

Growing up in Winston-Salem, Darrell Westmoreland spent a lot of time working on his grandfather’s farm. As an Eagle Scout, he built hiking trails and went on frequent camping trips. “I was taught the importance of the environment and that you should take care of the land.”

Those notions stayed with him as he earned a bachelor’s in agricultural and biological engineering from N.C. State University in 1991 and went to work for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, where he reviewed erosion-control plans and dams. “I saw a real need for someone who knew how to do erosion control and storm-water management for developers. They just didn’t understand what they needed to do.” So in 1994, he and wife Stephanie started North State Environmental in their basement with a $5,000 bank loan. He had the technical know-how; she had gotten her bachelor’s in business administration from UNC Greensboro a year earlier. She became its president and owner so the company could compete for contracts set aside for woman-owned businesses.

They started out doing small jobs, installing silt fences and other erosion-control measures for private construction and state transportation projects. That first year, they turned a $20,000 profit; the following spring, they were able to hire a few employees. He had observed stream-restoration projects and heard about them at conferences. In 1997, a speaker at one in Reno, Nev., mentioned that she was working on a project in Winston-Salem. Seeking her out, he snagged a $240,000 subcontract to rehabilitate Tanners Run, eroded by water pouring out of drainpipes downtown.

The business grew, and in 2001, they moved it out of the basement and into a 6,000-square-foot building. Customers typically are government agencies, nonprofits and companies that need to comply with state and federal environmental laws. One of its biggest is Winston-Salem-based Pilot View Inc., one of 375 local resource-conservation councils created by the federal government to help with projects that mix environmental protection and economic development.

One was restoration of Salem Creek next to Winston-Salem State University. By 2006, trash and fallen trees had changed its natural flow and eroded its banks. City and university leaders approached Pilot View for help, and it awarded North State a $1.2 million contract. Over six months, North State cleared out the trash and vegetation choking water flow. Working with project engineers, it created slopes and meanders to improve flow and create greater stability. It also installed rock and wooden structures for fish habitats. Finally, it planted grass, flowers, shrubs and trees along the banks.

The project has become a model for restoring urban waterways and helped North State garner national recognition as Equipment World magazine’s contractor of the year. During the past five years, revenue has doubled, and in just 12 months, employment jumped from 39 to 60. Stream restoration contributes 80% of the gross.

The couple frequents industry conferences to showcase the company’s work. In recent years, largely through word of mouth, it has expanded its services to several neighboring states — despite a slumping economy and gyrating gasoline prices. “With the region booming like it is, the industry is really growing,” she says. “Thankfully, we’re in a position to grow right along with it.”

— Sam Boykin