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The laboratory area at RMB Environmental opened in March, added in a recent expansion of the business. BRIAN BASHAM | TRIBUNE

RMB Environmental Labs sees big expansion

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business Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

There must be something in the water out there on County Road 6 west of Detroit Lakes that breeds successful entrepreneurs.

First it was SJE Rhombus, which started tiny and grew into a much larger business.

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Now it’s RMB Environmental Laboratories Inc., which started out in a garage on the original SJE Rhombus site and has since grown to fill the entire 32,000-square-foot complex.

RMB Environmental Laboratories Inc. owner Robert Borash is an energetic, hands-on entrepreneur who believes in the community.

He knows every aspect of the business, and when a reporter visited recently, he was up on the roof, helping with a re-roofing project.

So it’s not too surprising that staff at RMB Environmental Laboratories served as the main contractor on the expansion project, which was done in stages as funds allowed.

Subcontractors were all hired from the Detroit Lakes area, and all were owner-operators, not franchisees.

All supplies were also purchased in the area: Borash believes strongly in doing business locally.

“It cost us more, but it was my commitment to the community,” he said.

With 20-22 full-time employees and six to eight seasonal interns,  RMB Environmental Laboratories does a lot more than just test drinking water — although that may be how the business is perceived by most people in the area.

In fact, Borash said, it’s a statewide enterprise, with about 98 percent of its business coming from outside Becker County.

The company is “the largest supplier of analytical data for lakes and streams to the state, that’s our niche,” he said.

“A lot of people think we just test drinking water — that’s about 2 percent of our volume,” he added.

The company competes on its pricing and fast-turnaround. Bacteria tests come in from all across Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, and “bacteria tests have to be done in 24 hours,” to ensure accuracy, he said.

That means the company depends heavily on delivery services like Speedy Delivery, Fed-Ex, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service. And morning delivery is essential.

In a happy coincidence, he added, “this stretch right here (of County Road 6) is the only place in Becker County where all deliveries (from all sources) come before 11 a.m.,” he said. “All the routes have early drop-off here.”

In other words, the business was already located in the perfect place.

With an environmental science degree from Bemidji State University, Borash launched RMB Environmental Laboratories Inc. in 1995.

From 1995 until 2009 the company rented 4,400 square feet in the SJE Rhombus building, then bought the whole 32,000-square-foot complex in 2009, after SJE Rhombus moved to a larger building nearby.

The move by RMB Environmental Laboratories into the larger building has been done in stages, with the latest taking place in March, when the laboratory area was finished.

The roomy lab area includes two large walk-in coolers for water samples, and state-of-the-art testing equipment that allows  faster testing at far greater volumes.

“We have invested a lot in technology, which allows us to be a high-volume facility,” Borash said.

RMB Environmental Labora-tories has seen strong growth, Borash said.

“In the first 15 years we had an exceptional growth rate, exceeding the industry average threefold every year,” he said.

“We could not have stayed where we were with that growth rate — we were there for too long as it was.”

The growth rate has been stable the past three years or so as expansion work was ongoing, but the company is again poised for growth: It has hired its first salesperson.

“We were growing too fast for our capabilities, now we have the capacity to get back to growing at that rate,” Borash said.

But he doesn’t just seek new customers: Borash is proud of his company’s client retention rate: “Over 19 years we have a 99.9 percent continued patronage rate — we’ve only lost three clients,” he said.

That comes from his philosophy of treating all customers, no matter how small, with great respect.

That has paid off, as many of the company’s small customers have since grown considerably, especially with Minnesota’s embrace of clean water through its Legacy Act.

Although RMB Environmental Laboratories could locate anywhere in the state, Borash said he has no intention of leaving.

“We’re very committed to servicing the entire state of Minnesota from the Detroit Lakes location,” he said. “We continue to grow and grow and grow based on word of mouth and our reputation … we can say with honesty and pride we are well respected throughout Minnesota.”

Clients are “anybody with an interest in in water quality or liquid analysis,” Borash said. Those clients range from cities to industrial companies to lake associations to private property owners, and many more.

The company’s labs provide “full-service analytical testing specializing in nutrient, inorganic and microbiological methodologies.  Committed to quality control, we provide highly accurate results through the use of state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation and certified methodologies,” the company says on its website: RMBEL.info.

The company is certified by the Minnesota Department of Health and the North Dakota Department of Health.Consulting services are also offered: “Our Client Services Department has over 20 years’ experience working with lake associations, conducting lake monitoring programs and assessing lake water quality data,” according to the website.

RMB staff has completed 194 lake and lakeshed assessment reports for 15 counties and numerous lake summaries for lake associations.

In addition, RMB staff trains over 500 volunteers annually through the RMB Environmental Laboratories Lakes Monitoring Program.

Field work is also part of the mix. The company provides a wide variety of on-site monitoring services.

“Our highly skilled technicians can monitor surface water, drinking water, ground water and waste water,” the website says. “In addition, our biological monitoring services include aquatic plant surveys, Zebra mussel veliger collection and macroinvertebrate collection.”

Borash moved to Detroit Lakes in 1992. His wife, Tracy Borash, is chief financial officer for RMB Environmental Laboratories. They have four children.

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