No sooner had Melvin Kelly left his engineering job 20 years ago to try to salvage the investment he had made in his older brother's trash-hauling business than the two had a falling out.
They broke up the company, then known as Kelly's Trash Removal, with Melvin getting one of the trucks and his brother, Robert, taking the other two.
Now, the younger Mr. Kelly, who doesn't want to talk about those days, has parlayed that single truck into K&K; Trash Removal, a company based in Severn with 13 trucks, contracts in Baltimore and six counties and reported annual revenues of about $1.5 million.
K&K;, founded in 1972, was one of two minority businesses last month to receive approval for direct loans from the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation's incentive fund.
Mr. Kelly said he plans to use the $100,000 loan to build a facility in Severn to consolidate his office and truck operations.
He also plans to add to his staff of 24.
The company is one of two minority businesses in the industry in the Baltimore-Washington area that is certified for minority set-aside programs, according to the state Department of Transportation.
But Mr. Kelly, 56, said he does not use that status to bid on business because he feels he needs "to be able to survive in the open competitive market."
"I decided if I wasn't going to survive there, I wasn't going to survive," he said.
The certification is just something he got early on because he thought it might be useful, Mr. Kelly said.
His clients praised the dependability of his company, which hauls residential, commercial and industrial refuse, and does a small amount of recycling subcontracting for two larger trash companies.
"He's been successful in keeping his county contract, and he's been successful in providing good service," said Alan Jones, chief of the solid-waste management division for the Department of Environmental Resources in Prince George's County. Mr. Kelly, who has worked with Prince George's county for 15 years is "a consummate professional," he said.
Originally, K&K; focused on the residential market. But in the last five years the company has begun putting a heavier emphasis on commercial and industrial work, Mr. Kelly said.
He said he won't drop his residential customers, but he complained that large, national trash haulers have driven down the residential rates by 40 percent over the last 10 years, making it difficult for companies such as his to compete.
"It's less profitable now than it used to be," said Mr. Kelly, who is president of the Maryland/Delaware Solid Waste Association. "With their competitive bidding, they tend to drive prices down."
The $30 billion-a-year waste hauling industry "is very competitive," said Allen Blakey, spokesman for the National Solid Waste Management Association in Washington. Mr. Blakey said members have been reporting small profits for a number of reasons, including the economy.
Mr. Kelly, whose daughter, Kimberly, works his business, said he is optimistic about the continued growth of his company, now that it is more entrenched among commercial customers.
"It puts us in a bigger league," Mr. Kelly said. "There aren't very many small companies in commercial and industrial."