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Family drives growth of Rochester recycling firm

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Hard iron is organized into piles Monday, April 3, 2017, at Watson Recycling in Oronoco.

In recognition of how Watson Recycling has been "crushing it," the Oronoco-Rochester firm recently was named the state's family-owned business of the year.

Small Business Administration announced its annual awards last week, and Watson Recycling was the only southeastern company to make the list.

"It's quite the compliment, " said CEO Jeremiah Watson.

Watson said the SBA has been a key supporter of the third-generation business as it ramped up growth and added new revenue streams.

In 2011, the family more than tripled the size of Watson Recycling by building a $3.5 million facility on 12 acres at 81st Street, just beyond Rochester's northern border. The firm had maxed out its former Rochester facility on North Broadway. They added whole car recycling and began accepting ferrous metals at the new site.

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Watson Recycling then purchased an auto business in Austin to sell recovered parts and refurbished vehicles in 2015. They also recently began dealing in auto parts at the Rochester location.

The SBA helped the Watson family with loans for both the expansion and the Austin acquisition.

"We are so grateful. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, without the SBA," said Jeremiah Watson. "SBA fueled our growth."

Both projects ramped up Watson Recycling to another level. Prior to the expansion, Watson handled 3 million pounds of metal per year. In 2016, it handled 51 million pounds of metal and that number is expected to climb to 55 million for 2017.

The workforce expanded from a handful of employees, many from the family, to 25 to 28 today.

Watson Recycling now processes about 2,500 vehicles per year. It went from needing one truck to handle transport to now running 11 green Watson trucks on area roads.

In addition to the large commercial contracts, the facility also sees about 75 to 100 people drop off recyclables daily. In 2016, the recyclers handled 14 million to 15 million aluminum cans.

"It has been tough the last few years in our industry, but we've had consistent double-digit growth since the expansion," said the CEO.

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A key factor everyone cites as spurring that growth also is what triggered the SBA award — family.

The company dates back more than 30 years, when Rodney Watson started handling recycling. His son, Glen Watson, took up the mantle in 1987 and worked with the city of Rochester to collect residential recycling and then focused on high-grade paper.

As the father of 16, Glen Watson then handed the reins of the company over to his children in 2006. The company is led by Glen Watson and his sons, Jeremiah and John. A total of eight family members work at the business.

The next generation shifted the core of the business to commercial recycling and reselling the metal to mills and other clients, both in the U.S. and internationally.

"I wish Rodney could have seen it. He would have loved to see where the business he started went," Glen Watson said of his father. "He would have popped a button."

Glen Watson admits he has been a bit nervous about the company's major moves, but he is very proud of how his children have managed it all.

"Everything is done on a bigger scale now. They are good working with people," he said. "The key is that they respect people and each other."

Each family member that works at the business has their own area of expertise. Jeremiah Watson said the best thing is that they can rely on each other.

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"With family, you always know that the job will get done," he said.

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