On Thursday, Colquitt County development officials celebrated “a textbook example of using existing industry to create new jobs.”
The event was a ribbon cutting for Georgia Linen Services, an industrial laundry serving medical facilities. It was the brainchild of Colquitt Regional Medical Center CEO and President Jim Matney.
“We were spending a half a million dollars a year sending our laundry to Savannah,” Matney said, “and some of us got together and asked if we could do this locally.”
Matney first explored putting an industrial laundry at the hospital, but CRMC really didn’t have the space for it. But working through that option brought him into contact with Mel Harrell and with James Lowe, and when Matney brought Harrell and Lowe together they saw the potential for an independent business to do that work for Colquitt Regional and to contract with other hospitals as well.
With help from the Moultrie-Colquitt County Development Authority, Harrell and Lowe partnered to form Georgia Linen Services and set up shop in a vacant building at Spence Field.
Speakers at the ribbon cutting said the development authority had built the building for a tool and die maker about seven years ago, but when that business closed the authority was left with one very empty and very dirty building. Clean-up, refurbishing and equipping the building cost about a half-million more than expected, they said.
Lowe described changes in infrastructure that the city had to put in place. The laundry’s water, gas and sewer needs were many times greater than the tool and die maker that the building had been constructed for.
“They had water like this,” he said, making an O with his thumb and forefinger. “We needed water like this.” He made a loop with his arms like he was hugging a tree. “Everything had to be expanded because our requirements are so big.”
The business employs 13 workers, a general manager and a plant manager, Lowe said, but plans call for that to grow to more than 40 employees when it reaches peak operation. Employees are hired as temporaries through Quality Employment in Moultrie, he said, and full-time employees will be hired from among the temporaries.
Currently, the company washes, dries and irons the laundry — mostly bed linens and towels — from Colquitt Regional Medical Center and Turning Point Hospital, both in Moultrie, but Harrell said they’re working on agreements with facilities in Ocilla and Douglas.
Machinery now in place could handle between 4 and 4 1/2 million pounds of laundry a year, he said. And the facility has room to expand if Georgia Linen Service gets more business than that.
Both development officials and Matney emphasized the genesis of the business was a desire to keep business in Colquitt County. Matney said when he was new to his position, he directed hospital staff to stack the accounts payable checks in two piles: providers the hospital paid in Colquitt County and those it paid who were from elsewhere. The Colquitt County pile was small and the out-of-area pile was large.
“There’s no one from Savannah or no one from Valdosta that uses my hospital,” Matney said.
If the hospital’s going to ask Colquitt Countians to use and pay for its services, he said, the hospital should also be using and paying for local services where it can.
Since laundry is one of the hospital’s largest expenses, he said, it was one of the first places the staff looked for a way to make local. With the opening of Georgia Linen Service, the hospital now spends a half million dollars in Colquitt County that it had been sending half-way across the state.
And the hospital is rewarded with better service, he said, because if pillowcases or towels or whatever are running low, a phone call can bring a new supply from across town.
It’s cheaper too, he said. The hospital’s previous contract was for 80 cents per pound. The long-term contract with Georgia Linen is for 72 cents per pound, and both Matney and Harrell said there’s a verbal agreement to lower that cost as the company gets more business from other facilities.