Bill Culpepper’s company, SePRO Corp., is known nationwide for researching and producing products that are cleaning up lakes and helping ornamental plants grow.
The Nash County native who grew up on a tobacco farm and graduated from N.C. State University, chose Whitakers for the primary research and production facilities for the aquatics and ornamental horticulture company he has built in Indiana, one devoted to fighting aquatic weeds. He’s also opened the primary warehouse and distribution center for the company at 1259 Atlantic Ave. Rocky Mount.
“I was raised in the Oak Level community out between Rocky Mount and Nashville, and my dad was a farmer,” he said. “Right out of school, I sort of figured on coming home and farming, but the Vietnam War kind of got in the way with that, so I took a job with one of the agrichemical companies. I found that to be rewarding and had a number of different jobs with (Eli) Lilly. They later merger their business with Dow Chemical.”
He founded SePRO in 1994 and has enlarged the company by purchasing or licensing the chemical products of larger companies.
“I was in a position to purchase some products and start a new company,” Culpepper said. “I was not a researcher. I was working here in sales and marketing, and basically we opened the company here in Indiana. It was later we were able to add the components of research and manufacturing.”
SePRO makes a leading brand of aquatic herbicide for selective treatment of invasive and nuisance plants. In addition to that, it makes products for turf, nursery and greenhouse growers.
According to the company’s website, its major products include Sonar, Aquatic Herbicide, A-Rest, Renovate Aquatic Herbicide, Plant Growth Regulator, Cutless, Turf Growth Regulator, Talus, Insect Growth Regulator, Decree Fungicide, and Profile Tree Growth Regulator.
“You won’t find much (of the products) in the stores,” Culpepper said. “We sell our products to professional users. In the aquatic business, you have a group of applicators around the country who specialize in treating lakes and ponds. You can buy some of our products as consumers if you have a backyard pond that is an acre or two and you wanted to purchase our lead product, Sonar.”
Sonar, an aquatic herbicide, is used around the world.
In August 2004, Culpepper’s company announced it had purchased the former Zeneca research facilities in Whitakers, a 410-acre site that now is named the SePRO Research & Technology Campus. The site includes a six-building aquatic research and technology complex with laboratories and 11 acres of specialized aquatic research ponds.
“It was a very unique property in that it had a number of ponds to do research in, which were of course ideally suited for our needs,” Culpepper said. “It just happened to be in Nash County where I’m from. That obviously was a coincidence, but a pleasant coincidence.”
Q: What products or services do you provide?
A: Our company of course is located in Carmel, Ind., and we have two facilities there in Nash and Edgecombe counties. We have a research farm and analytical laboratories, and do some manufacturing out of the Whitakers facility.
We focus in two primarily market sectors. Our main business, we refer to it as “aquatics.” We work in basically aquatic weed and algae control, and then we also work in water quality, water clarification, removal of phosphorus from water.
For example, one of the more important jobs there in the North Carolina area we are involved in would be Lake Gaston. We’ve worked with Lake Gaston for a number of years relative to the removal of hydrilla, which is a problematic weed they deal with on annual basis, and then just recently this year Lake Waccamaw, which is down in the southeastern part of the state. There has been a fairly high-profile treatment that our people have planned and been involved with. We are a basic manufacturer. We are a registrant.
We develop chemistry, register the products with the EPA. We do a reasonable amount of manufacturing in Whitakers, and our products are pretty much sold all over the country.
Q: Who are your key leaders?
A: Manufacturing leader Bill Whitford and laboratory and research group manager Michael Shaner.
Q: How many people do you employ?
A: A total of 30 full-time employees at the distribution center and research park.
Q: What is your business philosophy?
A: Basically, in the agricultural chemical industry we focus in aquatics and in the turf and ornamental markets, which is more niche markets within that overall industry. Our competitors are Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, but we operate within niches in the overall industry. We are developing some products in agriculture for cotton specifically.
Q: What makes your business unique?
A: As a small company, we are kind of unique in that we’re actively involved in research, and we also do a lot of our own manufacturing, which is something a lot of the larger companies are farming out or getting away from, but we’re pretty involved in that. That is what the facility in Whitakers is (doing). It’s where our research, our analytical labs, our formulation chemists, are located. We are considered to be the No. 1 company in the country in the aquatic business, and we are the lead company there in doing research and developing new products for the control of aquatic weeds and algae and products that do water quality restoration.
Q: How has your business grown?
A: We have had growth that is on par with the industry we compete in. We started the company with three products. Today, we probably have 40 to 45.
Q: What kind of growth do you expect in the coming years?
A: We’d like to grow 10 to 15 percent per year. I’d expect growth would be on that same magnitude.