Spokane Journal of Business

Specialty Environmental: Insulated by a strong market

Conversion of old buildings into apartments fuels work

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-—Kevin Blocker
Ray Skelton acquired separate environmental and insulation companies in 2015 and since has been benefiting from strong demand in an expanding economy.

After a 26-year career as a manager for a large construction company in Hawaii, Ray Skelton moved to Spokane and acquired the assets of two separate environmental and insulation companies, both of which are now reaping the benefits of the current construction market.

The Lewiston, Idaho, native is owner and president of Specialty Environmental Group LLC and Specialty Northwest LLC, which does business as Specialty Insulation, and previously operated under the name Specialty Contractors Insulation Inc.

Specialty Environmental specializes in the removal of asbestos, lead, and mold in buildings. It also performs “soft” interior demolitions. Meanwhile, Specialty Insulation bids on commercial and residential insulation projects intended to make buildings more energy efficient, Skelton says.

Skelton bought the assets of Specialty Environmental from Norm Thomson, who established Specialty Contractors Insulation in 1972. Then Skelton purchased Specialty Northwest from Mike Yochum, who previously had acquired it from Thomson.

Prior to the acquisitions in 2015, Skelton, 51, worked for Goodfellows Corp., a company he called a “heavy civil contractor” in Maui. From 2005 until leaving Hawaii, he served as the company’s regional and operations manager in Maui County.

Specialty Environmental either is currently working on or has completed projects at the Cooper-George Building, a high-rise apartment structure on the lower South Hill; the Ridpath Club Apartments, in downtown Spokane; and at the Benton County Courthouse in Prosser, Wash., he says.

As for Specialty Insulation, the company is either working on or has completed insulation and insulation-related work at Ponderosa Elementary School in Spokane Valley, the former Macy’s building—now called the M—in downtown Spokane, Pullman-based Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, and at a number of buildings on the Spokane Community College campus, in East Spokane.

The two companies each have 40 employees and are housed in a 7,000-square-foot, single-story building at 2626 E. Trent. About 2,500 square feet of space is dedicated to offices, and the rest is warehouse space.

Specialty Insulation carries Knauf Insulation, a global insulation company based in Germany. Founded in 1932, the Knauf Group has manufacturing operations in Europe, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S. Knauf Group says it’s the fastest growing insulation manufacturer in the world with annual sales revenue in excess of $1.5 billion.

Specialty Insulation also carries Knauf EcoBatt-brand insulation, a brand of insulation that includes a combination of sand and recycled bottle glass.

Specialty Insulation also provides do-it-yourself kits and instruction for individual homeowners interested in installing their own insulation, Skelton says.

Though he declines to disclose annual revenues, Skelton says, “Business has been very, very consistent,” since he acquired the assets of the two companies from Skelton.

“It’s the ideal environment for what we do as a company,” Skelton says. “You’ve got new construction coming on line and lots of older buildings are becoming re-purposed. We’re happily busy.”

“It’s the nature of the construction business; you’re either eating chicken or feathers,” he says.

Skelton says strong residential housing starts and a flurry of private and public projects are fueling new construction. Meanwhile, there is a push, here and nationwide, by business owners and other residents to leave the suburbs and relocate to urban areas, he contends. 

“People want to come back into the (urban) communities, and the infrastructure for a lot of these existing buildings is at the end of their useful life cycle and need to be brought up to today’s environmental codes,” Skelton says.

He points to the company’s projects at the Ridpath and Cooper-George as evidence of that trend.

And as environmental regulations continuously increase at federal, state, and local levels, Skelton says he foresees strong growth opportunities for Specialty Environmental.

“The trend is more toward environmental needs. We’re potentially looking to bring someone who has a strong environmental background behind them,” he says.

Skelton gives high praise to the employees at both companies for effectively transitioning to new ownership and responding favorably to his leadership.

“We’re a service-driven business fueled by our employees. So you have to ask, ‘are you meeting your customers’ expectations? Are you being a good corporate leader?,’’ he says. “Safety, quality, and production … they’re all so critically important to our success. They’ve done an admirable job working together as a cohesive team.”

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