LaMarr Barnes

U.S. Water Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of ALLETE, Inc., is one of the fastest growing companies in the water sector. Recently, the company announced that LaMarr Barnes, who has been with the company since 2010, would be promoted to its CEO position. Barnes, an expert in plant operations and integrated water treatment program applications, sat down with MPT to discuss his vision of keeping a growing company on the move.
MPT: With your background in marketing and business development, what are some of the growth strategies customers and partners and U.S. Water can expect now that you are CEO?
LaMarr Barnes: I’ve been a part of setting our strategy at U.S. Water since I arrived, so I don’t expect any dramatic changes. In fact, there are no opportunities I wanted to explore with the company that we haven’t done! What that means for U.S. Water and our customers is a continued focus on strong, organic growth by bringing well thought out and innovative solutions to solve their water and energy challenges.
Also, we’ll continue to look for companies that can strengthen us in key geographies, or to add capabilities to specific markets, specific industries that will bolster our offerings. We anticipate to continue our strategic acquisitions, which have been very positive for U.S. Water’s growth over the past few years.
MPT: The market for effective and innovative water treatment solutions is growing. How can U.S. Water Services best position itself to take advantage of it?
LaMarr Barnes: We don’t see ourselves as a “technology” company per se; we’re more of an integrator, who can bring a complete solution to our customers. Our strongest value proposition in the market is that we’re dedicated to finding the right set of solutions that benefit the customer. In some cases, that may be a technique or a technology that we invented, but overall I consider U.S. Water to be “technology agnostic,” meaning we want to leverage the right technology to solve the customer problem—whether that technology comes from us or from somewhere else.
That really differentiates us from other companies who have a singular focus on their one method or their one piece of technology, which may not always be the best fit. If our technology isn’t the best fit for a customer’s problem, so be it—we’ll find the answer they need. We really try to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes. Customers aren’t looking for anything other than the best possible solution at the best operating cost. If you start by thinking of each customer’s problem that way, you quickly become technology agnostic.
MPT: Strategic acquisitions have been an important component of your company’s recent growth, so what do you look for in finding the next big thing? The technology? The people? A bit of both?
LaMarr Barnes: When we look at choosing an acquisition candidate, broadly speaking, we begin by seeking out geographies or application areas we’re looking to do more work in. For example, U.S. Water has a lot of success in the water reuse market, but we have capabilities in waste treatment that have not yet been fully integrated. Does that mean areas of water reuse that also connect with biowaste and waste treatment systems are of greater interest to us? Yes, of course. Or take the food and beverage market. The combination of sanitation chemistry knowledge with water reuse capability and utility water experience can create a higher level of visibility of the trade-offs a customer might have to enact to implement reuse in a food and beverage plant, where the balance is between cost and risk. ◆
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