I have had dealings with the CEO of American Tire & Recycling,Kerry Ecklund. He is also the owner of Keweenaw Scrap Tire & Metal. He means well, however, is looking for hand-outs. He knows how to dodge bullets, and manipulate the public relations machine. The cities of Racine and Niagara need to consult with the Michigan D.E.Q., Calumet (MI)Township, Houghton (MI) County. Ask about revolving loans, development block grants and loans. How many were paid back? Why did Kerry pack-up his shredder operation in MI and move to WI?and
American Tire & Recycling doesn't seem to be an efficient operation,refering to the plan to ship tire parts to/from Niagara/Racine.Anyone in the recycling industry can tell yopu that the more you move products/by-products around,the more costs accrue.If all they plan to do is make T.D.F. (tire derived fuel), they'll not last very long.T.D.F. is a low-grade product that sells for $20 to $50 per ton. Real tire recyclers furthur refine tire shred to such products that command a premium on the recycled rubber market (crumb rubber,playground surfacing). As one who is heavily involved in the tire recycling industry, I think American Tire Recycling is a company looking to operate with other peoples money to benefit company shareholders. This has happened before.We've done some background research on American Tire, and there's a shred of truth to the comments. Keary Ecklund, head of American Tire, is tied to a large scrap metal company in northern Michigan. (We actually reached Ecklund at Keweenaw Scrap Metal in Hancock, Mich.) His family also owns Ecklund Carriers, a national trucking company.
The interview with Ecklund went well. He talked openly about his company's plans for Racine and how it will tie into their operations in Niagara, which is about three hours north on the Wisconsin-Michigan border.
Ecklund said the plan is to setup a simple tire collection point on Memorial Drive in Racine. Truck drivers will collect used tired from a radius of 100 miles and bring them to Racine, where workers will cut the treads from the sidewalls and then put them on another truck, which will drive the cut tires to Niagara for recycling.
Ecklund said he's planning to hire about 90 employees to work two shifts. The employees will work four 10-hour days in a row and then get four days off. The jobs will be low-skill jobs at the site and truck drivers to collect materials. There will be no scrap material on site.
We discovered a few new specifics about the company, including how it makes business sense to collect tires in Racine and ship them all the way to Niagara for recycling. The reason: biomass fuel.
Ecklund said his company is recycling tires to sell to paper plants, which use the material to burn with biomass, mostly wood, to run their plants. The rubber helps the biomass burn more efficiently. Recycled tires burn consistently at 16,000 BTUs, while biomass burns at between 6,000 and 9,000 BTUs. Combining the two ingredients helps raise the temperature of the biomass and even out the temperature.
It's a good market for American Tire because several major paper plants are switching to biomass as a more reliable fuel than coal, which has fluctuated in price in recent years, Ecklund said. Biomass is also a renewable resource. Paper company harvest forests every 20 years, which is a lot quicker than coal is produced.
He added We Energies and other companies are also planning to build biomass plants in the coming years, which gives American Tire additional customers for its materials. (Read a 2008 story about his plans, which says he can get $50 a ton for tire-derived fuels.)
Ecklund said American Tire originally setup its recycling operation in northern Michigan, but had to shut down because it was drawing too much power from the region. "We were making lights flicker in people's homes," Ecklund said.
His company is planning to move into a former power plant in Niagara, which offers plenty of energy infrastructure to run the recycling business.
Ecklund said he learned about the terminal on Memorial Drive in Racine because his family has run a trucking company for many years. He said he knew every "nook and cranny" for trucking companies in the state.
"We're excited to get in there," Ecklund said.
What was interesting about the interview with Ecklund was the number of minor differences he shared with the information provided to city officials at last week's RDA meeting. RCEDC and city officials suggested the business was up and running, but it's not. Ecklund only received approval to move into its Niagara site last week.
Officials also suggested a similar operation to the one in Racine was running in the La Crosse area, but Ecklund said they had no other sites running in the state. If the Racine operation goes well, he said, they're looking at two other tire collection sites in Wisconsin.
Officials also made no mention of the use of recycled tires for power plants - they only said uses would include shredding tires for playground surfaces - and didn't tell the RDA about Ecklund's significant ties to scrap and recycling companies. While not critical information, it was very difficult to track down information about a company named "American Tire and Recycling" in Wisconsin. It was significantly easier to find information about Ecklund's scrap business.
While we seem to have an answer to the first commenter's question - Why did Kerry leave Michigan? - we haven't researched Ecklund's track record in other communities. It probably makes sense to look further into his companies before the city approves just under $40,000 in free rent for the operation.
That said, jobs are jobs. If American Tire is going to put 80-90 people to work in Racine, it's hard to blame officials for taking a leap-before-you-look approach to welcoming the business to the city.