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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Steve Smith, Transplanted to North Carolina With Roots in Jackson County

Marianna Graduate Owns and Operates a booming Wood Pellet plant in North Carolina. By Bo McMullian

Former Marianna archery businessman Steve Smith has gone into the wood pellet fuel business big time in Franklin, N.C. He’s now in his first winter season of operating a $6 million wood pellet plant and already estimates annual sales in the $11 million range.

He got the idea to make and sell the pellets from observing how much of the raw materials for production he was producing in his log cabin business--sawdust.

In fact, Smith operates three businesses on 28 acres five hours north of Atlanta on U.S. 441, the same highway that turns into the Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando. He operates Carolina Wood Pellets, Smith’s Trading Company and the Archery Barn. He builds and sells log homes, he makes and sells “rustic” furniture, he cuts lumber and sells pellet-burning stoves at a retail store.

How did Smith, 51, a 1976 MHS grad, son of the late John and Evelyn Smith of Marianna, and former manual labor worker at a tractor company get to be a super-entrepreneur? There’s a lot of that spirit in Jackson County and Smith had two excellent mentors, he said: J.D. Swearingen and Bob Pforte. J.D. is his uncle, so he started working at the farm equipment company early, very early. Pforte was a friend of the family “and always there,” Steve said, “to give me an encouraging pat on the back and offer a helping hand.”

Smith successfully ran S&J Archery from 1979 to 1995, when Marianna could no longer hold him. A big hunter, he wanted to try the cold country so he moved to Michigan and sold bows and arrows for Pro-Line Bows. He turned out to have a flair for building log homes in unique ways. He was a success at that business. But after nine years in the Wolverine State, he left in part, he said, because of Michiganeers’ practices of working several months out of the year, then going hunting and taking unemployment compensation. “I’m just not like that,” he said. “I have no respect for it.”

But while in Michigan, he and his family (wife Janice and four children) began using wood pellet stoves for home heating. They liked the safe, clean-burning stoves and found them to be economical in the harsh climate.

So years later, when Steve was operating the saw mill in North Carolina and seeing the wood waste go to waste, naturally he decided to open another business. This one would be bigger than them all.

Steve completed Carolina Wood Pellets LLC and began selling the product late last year. The compression equipment produces an estimated 10 tons of pellets per hour and that’s enough to eventually heat 30,000 households through an average winter. These pellets are for home heating in the region, not for export. Smith sells appliances by Lennox and other manufacturers that cost about $1,600 plus about $200 in piping. Smith will finance purchases for his customers and says income tax breaks of 30 percent are available because the stoves are considered green energy appliances.

No chimney is needed, Smith says, and steam, not smoke, comes out of the stovepipe. It’s so safe, he added, that you can put your hand on the stove while the pellets are burning.

A recent article in Smith’s hometown newspaper, the Franklin Press, written by Barbara McRae, explained the plant operation well: “The plant produces super-premium hardwood pellets for home-heating applications. The pellets are made from scrap wood obtained chiefly from manufacturing, logging and construction sources.”

A final note: Steve is settled in to his North Carolina home and says he’ll probably never move back here. But his legacy continues in Marianna, in a very special way. His stepson Robin, whom he raised with Janice, his wife of 25 years, is now Dr. Robin Albritton. Robin, a graduate of medical schools at UF and FSU, will start this year as a general practitioner-- at Jackson Hospital in Marianna.

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