WILLMAR — Don Williamson graduated from Mankato State University in 1979 with a business degree, dreams of entrepreneurship and glamorous business success.
But when he returned to his hometown of Willmar, the job offers weren't rolling in and he worked odd jobs, including driving a garbage truck on a Saturday route. A friend talked him into buying the one-truck garbage business.
"I wasn't excited about getting into a small trash business to be honest. But I feel like God told me, 'What's wrong with trash instead of bellyaching about not getting jobs,' so I did it."
Fast forward 35 years and Williamson's company, West Central Sanitation, has grown to a large family firm serving 15 counties in west central Minnesota. This week, his company became the new waste and recycling hauler for the city of Mankato for the next five years, beginning in 2015.
West Central offered a five-year rate of $3.12 million, compared with $3.42 million from Mankato's long-time hauler Waste Management. West Central also has the low bid in North Mankato, which hasn't yet acted on a new contract.
Williamson said a close eye on overhead, maximizing efficiency, embracing new technology and close ties with customers and communities has allowed the company to flourish and to offer competitive bids. Don and his wife, Carol, have about 90 employees.
A couple of years ago West Central started converting its fleet, buying new trucks that run on compressed natural gas. While adding about 10 percent to the truck cost — which are in the $300,000 range — they have a number of advantages.
"Natural gas prices are more stable than diesel and natural gas is produced in North America. There's a payback in about seven years."
The trucks are also better for the environment and the engines make half the noise of their diesel counterparts. The company has nine of the trucks so far and continues to add more.