When hearing the name of local business Texas Ragtime, Inc., one may think of the rhythms and sounds of early jazz music, popular in the 1920's. Much like the elaborate rhythms, the grading, sorting, and conveyor belts used in this business move to a similar beat!
Bill and Carmen Hunt are people who look for business opportunities that fit their philosophy of providing quality products that make the world a little better. Textile recycling is an industry that provides for the re-use and reclamation of certain textiles as wiper rags, diverts millions of pounds of textile waste nationwide from entering the landfill stream, and provides affordable, second-hand clothing to thousands in foreign markets.
The unassuming Bill Hunt rarely speaks of his technical and teaching background. The one-time University of Texas professor began his teaching career in Austin after several years in the defense industry. He moved to San Antonio with a core group of professors and administrators to start the University of Texas at San Antonio during the early 70's. As a business consultant, he accepted a position with the founder of the Fuddruckers Restaurant chain and, with his wife Carmen, opened several restaurant locations in San Antonio, Houston, and Austin. The couple relocated to Tennessee during the 1980's to open their franchise territory for Fuddruckers and started other independent restaurants. After about a decade in Nashville, the Hunts relocated to Dallas where Bill accepted an executive position with a local recycling company.
After a few years in Dallas, the Hunts decided to pursue a business opportunity outside the big city. A long-time friend mentioned a possible site in the town of Athens and a brief visit there started a chain of very fortunate events! A cadre of Athens Economic Development board members and some other local business persons visited Bill in Dallas and strongly encouraged the site of a former recycling operation. Bill and Carmen moved Texas Ragtime from a small space in Dallas to a 120,000 square foot warehouse in Athens.
Texas Ragtime distributes a broad line of wiping rag products, both new fabrics and reclaimed. Certainly, the oil business throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and other parts of the country provide the largest customer base for wiper and absorbent products. Other industries which demand large quantities of rags are paint contractors, ship builders, construction companies and manufacturers.
Wearable used clothing is another facet of recycling, and the demand for wearable items is strong in foreign markets where local clothing is too expensive or in short supply to meet the needs of the population. Second-hand clothing from the U.S. and Europe, says Hunt, provides thousands of jobs for women in disadvantaged areas of the globe to provide an income for their families. After a time, many open small stores and manage to grow a small business as they progress in profitability. "We visited many such tiny shops in Central America where the proprietress proudly showed her fashions properly cleaned, ironed, and hung on neat racks."
Texas Ragtime has had a lasting impact on our community and works with local thrift stores and donation centers to assist in their charitable efforts.
In 2005, long-term leasing issues at the Curtis Mathes facility forced a relocation to its current location on Hwy 19 North. Hunt gives credit to the First State Bank of Athens for its unwavering support to assist with moving expenses, and building a new building adjacent to the older existing warehouse.
Last year, the bank again supported efforts to build a new concrete parking lot, a reinforced concrete loading area, a picnic pavilion, and LED lights for the exterior lots.
In keeping with the Hunts' philosophy of growing a greener and sustainable environment, employees at Ragtime grow vegetables and herbs in their keyhole gardens located near the factory's picnic pavilion and share them with each other!
While Texas Ragtime isn't a place where one can hear early strains of jazz, their operation has impacted our city with their syncopated rhythm and their smooth operation!