Jim Spencer was quite clear with his father in 1979 when, as a University of Kansas sophomore struggling to find a summer job, his dad suggested he work for a friend who had just started a trash service.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to be a trash man.’ ”
The $10 an hour convinced him otherwise, and not only was a career born, but a passion, too.
That’s why Spencer has now started Air Capital Waste, a residential and commercial trash and recycling company.
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“I have been in the trash business in Wichita for 35 years,” Spencer says.
He was working for a company that Waste Connections purchased, and then in late 2015, Spencer says Waste Connections “decided it was time for me to retire.”
“I tried that for a couple of years and quite frankly was bored.”
He says he “just had a passion to get back into the trash business.”
For someone outside the business, it might be a challenge to find the passion in trash, but not for Spencer.
“That’s virtually all I’ve ever done.”
He started on the back of a truck and quickly worked his way up.
“Some people think, oooh, gross,” Spencer says. “I enjoyed it. I thought it was fun.”
He still has a license to drive a trash truck and may sometimes still do that. Spencer has started his business with only three employees, although they’re all ones who have been with him for many years or decades.
“The four of us combined have 99 years of Wichita trash experience,” he says. “It’s not like we’re jumping into something we don’t know anything about.”
Air Capital Waste is operating out of an 8,000-square-foot building at 3515 N. Topeka that sits on a five-acre lot. Spencer says it’s big enough to hold up to 20 trucks and service a big part of south-central Kansas.
“I’d like to grow it as big as I can,” he says. “I think this market is right for an independent hauler that is local. … Everything we do is going to be all about Wichita.”
Spencer says a lot of start-up trash services try to save money by starting with used equipment.
“I’ve never been a mechanic, so we decided to go the route of buying all new equipment.”
Fortunately, he says, “We actually started having people calling us before we even had trucks on the ground.”
He launched his website and Facebook page on Friday and has been deluged with requests.
“It just went crazy with people contacting us and wanting to start service,” he says.
The only issue with that is that on Jan. 8, Spencer had to report for jury duty. After waiting the better part of the week during jury selection, he was picked, and the judge informed the jury the trial was likely to be three weeks.
“Bad timing, but I truly believe in doing the civic duty that we all have,” Spencer says. “Luckily, I have a very experienced team.”
He’s also spending breaks and lunches talking to his office and answering calls and e-mails “trying to keep everything going.”
For years, he says he thought about starting his own business but “never had the guts to try it.”
“It’s a huge financial investment,” Spencer says. “When you’re in a job making good money, you’re not apt to go out and take that kind of risk.”
Today, the 57-year-old has a different motivation for the career that, while he didn’t want in the beginning, he’d “absolutely” do over again.
“Something about the trash business, once you get it in your blood, it doesn’t go away. The passion doesn’t diminish.”