SumCo: Good (and Profitable) Work by Alliance

November 2014

In 2006, brothers Chad and Travis Sumner founded SumCo Eco Contracting, a Salem-based firm specializing in ecological construction. SumCo occupies a narrow niche, focused on a wide range of environmentally centered projects. "Our ecological construction services include salt marsh and freshwater wetland construction; dune nourishment and coastal resiliency; dam removal and river restoration; shoreline stabilization (rivers, lakes and seashores); fish passage (culvert removal and/or replacement); mechanical dredging to restore lakes and ponds; water quality infrastructure; park construction and renovation; low-impact development (LID) solutions; and dam rehabilitation," explains Chad. The goal of every project, he says, "is a net gain to the environment."

Chad has undergraduate degrees in Geology and Biology and a Master's Degree in Conservation Biology, and Travis has his Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering. Before launching SumCo, the Sumners worked together for seven years at a local company specializing in salt marsh construction and restoration. "Ecological contracting is a natural synergy of my ecological awareness and Travis' practical thinking," notes Chad. "This focus, and the extensive project experience we've accumulated, enables SumCo to bring unique perspectives, methodologies, and value-added improvements to the projects we construct."

Every project is a partnership

Among the many skillsets required to complete these complex, sometimes delicate projects is the ability to manage ad hoc, diverse, project-based teams. SumCo's clients represent every possible entity, including federal, state, and municipal agencies; nonprofit organizations; private and commercial landowners; corporations; and others.

"All of our projects are founded on partnership," says Chad. "From proactive restoration projects that are funded by 10 or more grants, agencies, and donated services, to municipal contracts designed by an engineer, permitted by a wetland scientist, bid by the municipality, constructed by a general contractor, and restored by us, we never work alone."

In many cases, those partners have nurtured projects on limited funds for up to 10 years before they make it to construction. "We recognize that careers have gone into advancing these projects and are committed to realizing their visions on the ground during construction," he adds.

As far as partnership is concerned, the Sumners consider the Eel River Headwaters project, in Plymouth, as a standard-bearer for the type of collaboration that leads to a successful outcome. "The Town of Plymouth has an extraordinary advocate in its environmental manager, David Gould," Chad says. "He worked with staff and future partners to apply for and win no fewer than eight grants to fund land acquisition, design, permitting, and construction of the project."

Funding and in-kind donation partners included American Rivers, The Nature Conservancy, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Town of Plymouth, Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, the Horsley Witten Group for permitting support, design consultant Inter-Fluve, and more.

"During construction, our progress meetings were attended by many of those partners as we worked through challenges and identified opportunities to improve on the project as a whole," says Chad. "It was a true collaboration throughout and the outcome has been exceptional as a result."

Finding a Financial Ally

Partnership has helped SumCo Eco Contracting move from bootstrapped growth to an organization on track to exceed $7 million in revenues for 2014, and employing 26 full-time management, administrative, and construction staffers. Yet, finding an ally on the banking side of the table hasn't been so easy. "We joined Salem Five in 2014 after severing our relationship—if you can call it that—with the bank we started with in 2006," Chad says. "During the previous eight years, we lost our account manager, as our assets were insufficient to warrant her involvement under a revised standard; went through no fewer than four branch managers; and generally felt like an account rather than a partner. The staff we encountered were pleasant, good people, but we had no relationship or confidence that they would support us with any future developments that didn't fit in one of their tidy boxes."

In stark contrast, their relationship with Salem Five has "been the partnership we envisioned," he asserts. "We worked with Bobby Hanson, vice president, commercial banking, and Erika Salvaggio, commercial business banker at Salem Five, to set up business checking and money market accounts; a working capital line of credit appropriate to our capitalization; an equipment line of credit; and an equipment term loan. We also moved our personal checking and savings accounts to Salem Five. SumCo is well positioned to grow and we look forward to taking that next 'step' with Salem Five."

Equip Your Company Your Way

When SumCo Eco Contracting joined Salem Five in 2014, it was after parting ways with an institution that was less than responsive and unable to deal with its needs. For example, SumCo required flexible funding to obtain equipment on an as-needed basis. Through Salem Five, the firm got an equipment line of credit for quick equipment purchases that are termed out periodically, and an equipment term loan that financed equipment it had paid cash for at the end of 2013. That's just one example of a partnership that has worked well for SumCo. "The entire staff at Salem Five—from the tellers and branch managers, to account and loan managers—have been proactive, responsive, and prompt with anything we've needed," says SumCo principal and co-founder Chad Sumner.

Learn more about how partnering with Salem Five can help your business grow.