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Fostering an Environment of Innovation

Customer-focused problem solving is the key to two decades of success for this CT environmental services firm

by Cheryl RiceKim Ewalt
Photos by Shana Sureck

“I’ve always loved being innovative,” says Kimberly Ewalt, CEO of Charter Oak Environmental Services. “I like looking at all aspects of a business and figuring out what I can bring that can make a positive impact.”

That kind of thinking is vital both for her business and for her individual customers. Charter Oak tackles a wide range of environmental projects such as assessment, investigation and remediation, and non-hazardous and hazardous material transportation and disposal. It’s a field that is constantly changing and implementing new technologies, and with Ewalt at the helm, Charter Oak is establishing itself as a leader in the ever-evolving world of environmental consulting services. The company just celebrated its twentieth anniversary in business.

Ewalt started her career in public accounting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although she minored in Environmental Studies, she hadn’t considered a career in the field until her colleague Mark Franson approached her about starting an environmental consulting and engineering firm in Connecticut. “It was a great opportunity. From my experience in public accounting, I was familiar with working with municipalities and quasi-governmental entities, so that was a good fit,” she said. They started the firm in 1997, and in 2012, Ewalt became the sole owner. Franson, an environmental engineer and LEP (Licensed Environmental Professional), is still with the company and heads up the technical side.

Kim EwaltEwalt credits the Entrepreneurial Center and Women’s Business Center (EC/WBC) with helping her over the years, from the first business workshops she took to the integral role it plays today. She is quick to recognize several programs that played a part in her success—particularly the Small Contractor Development Program that the Center runs in conjunction with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC). “Shelli McMillen (EC/WBC Marketing & Technical Assistance Program Manager) and Michael Jefferson (MDC Supplier Diversity Manager) are hands-on advocates for women-owned and minority-owned businesses,” Ewalt said. “It’s through their efforts that Charter Oak has met some of the prime contractors that we perform work for today. It’s an invaluable resource.”

She also found the Center’s TD Bank Business Leadership Series to be both personally and professionally rewarding. “It’s a fantastic program, with great speakers and resources,” she recalled. “It was a great forum for me. It made me think about how I want to lead and what is important for my business. I learned to focus on becoming a more effective leader while holding true to my core business values.”

Kim EwaltEwalt says that the Center’s Leadership series helped her to develop a major initiative within her company. The “Charter Oak Friday” program gives each employee one day off in any month that doesn’t already have a scheduled holiday. These days are intended to allow the employees to focus on personal fulfillment, growth, and rejuvenation, which positions them to contribute at a higher level as team members and develop as individuals as well.

Other Center programs have played a part in Ewalt’s success, too. “The annual CT Business Matchmaker event has been a great opportunity to meet people in both the capacity of working for them and utilizing their skills and abilities on Charter Oak projects,” she said. “And the Diverse Supplier Development Academy (DSDA) challenged me to assess ways in which I can strategically position the company for growth. That was the launch point for me—taking a fresh look at the business and where it can go in the next twenty years.” She specifically credits the DSDA with giving her a new perspective on her business, allowing her to step outside the day-to-day and focus on Charter Oak as opposed to working in it.

As they reach their twentieth anniversary, Charter Oak Environmental Services is booming. They just opened an office in Boston and they are expanding their market to cover the entire New England geographical area as well as New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The addition of transportation and disposal services in the fall of 2016 added value for many of their customers by simplifying the whole process of environmental management.

“It’s a pretty exciting time,” Ewalt observed. “Adding transportation and disposal opened up a whole new opportunity for us in this region. And we are working with an innovative new technology that is allowing us to streamline workflow both internally and for our stakeholders.” While she can’t get into details right now, she says that the company is also actively pursuing the addition of another business sector that should be finalized by the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018.

Ewalt anticipates that the growth and expansion at Charter Oak will result in new job creation, as well. In the coming months, she expects they will be looking for additional transporters, hydrogeologists, engineers, field staff, and project managers. “We intend to become a leader in the innovation side of environmental services,” she said. “We will always look for ways in which we can develop innovative solutions to grow our business.”