Company hopes to create 500 green jobs

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009
— President Barack Obama and Gov. Jim Doyle have said they want green jobs, and they want them now.

A young Wisconsin company wants to answer the call and create hundreds of sustainable green jobs in Janesville.

In fact, the partners in RecyGrow have a handshake agreement to lease a building in Janesville that could employ up to 500 people in its first year.

"We're ready to get to work," said Dave Farb, the start-up company's strategic officer. "The potential for this company and technology is huge."

RecyGrow would use green technologies to grow plant life from processed recycled materials. In Janesville, it would grow sod and other groundcover plants indoors on racks under grow lights.

The company's four partners have met with Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, and state officials in an effort to convince the state to buy the company's products for road, restoration and reclamation projects. Sheridan said the state would work with the company to see if it can use the products.

"We want to create a sizeable company, and to do that we need to secure government contracts," said Darren Kennedy, the company's marketing officer. "Without the contracts, this would be a company that creates 10 jobs. So what?

"We want to hit the homerun and create sustainable green jobs for hundreds of people."

RecyGrow would set up its building to grow layers of grass or other plants every 12 inches, meaning the company could grow 20 layers in a building with a 20-foot ceiling.

Growing indoors offers several advantages, they said:

-- The climate is controllable, and weeds and pests are eliminated.

-- The product can be harvested at any time.

-- By using shallow trays with recycled paper as the growing medium, the company can cut weight and prevent the shock of cutting the product out of soil. The paper-based growing medium also acts as a natural filter to improve ground water.

-- By not cutting root systems, the product extends roots into the soil more quickly, improving survivability.

"This product binds in four to six hours," said Keith Clements, the company's horticulturist. "With cut roots, regular sod can take up to 14 days."

-- With a lighter weight and by using refrigeration trucks, the company can ship sod longer distances. Clements said a square yard of his material weights about 12 pounds. A yard of conventional sod that can weigh more than 100 pounds.

The partners estimate sod is a $1 billion business in the United States, but it's fragmented among regional sod farms shipping within a 200-mile radius. RecyGrow's lighter product can be shipped thousands of miles at lower costs, they said.

Growing grass would be only a sliver of RecyGrow's business. The company could grow any seed a customer wants and produce a clean product for roadway, watershed and prairie restorations. With its light weight, the product would lend itself to green roofs.

"It's really a technology that fits the environment," Farb said.

It's also a technology that's right for a nation that's launching infrastructure projects based on a federal stimulus program, he said.

And it's right for Rock County, which leads the state in unemployment, the partners said.

"The product is revolutionary," said Sheridan, who has a chunk of the company's grass growing in his office. "I've talked with people who used to lay sod, and they said they would love this. Plus, it would create a lot of great jobs in the Janesville area."

Farb grew up on a farm near Clinton, and Kennedy once worked at the Rock County Sheriff's Office. Both have moved to the Lake Tomahawk area, where Kennedy met Clements when both were in the landscaping business.

"One of the reasons we're attracted to Janesville is that we know that there are quality people here that have been laid off at all levels," Farb said. "It fits the political time perfectly green product, green jobs, Rock County."

Because it's a start-up company with major growth plans, RecyGrow would offer jobs that run the gamut.

"The stimulus package certainly makes this the right time to start this company, but the applications for our product don't depend on the stimulus," Farb said. "It is very sustainable."

In the meantime, the partners await direction from state officials, who, they said, have reacted positively to the company, its product and its likely location.

Farb said the company would like to get a commitment for state contracts this year.

Last updated: 10:10 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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