When the late Paul Benz Sr. announced his retirement in June 2017 — and the sale of the company he built beginning in 1975 — it was the end of an era.
It was also the beginning of Tehachapi operations for WM — also known as Waste Management, Inc. The Houston-based company is the leading waste management company in the country (and the world).
Now the company can add another accolade — Tehachapi's Large Business of the Year, recognition given jointly by the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce and Tehachapi News.
Ashley Cortes, who helps local companies handle their programs, said WM has "been a proud friend, local business and community partner to Tehachapi."
District Managers Larry Christy and Brenda Higgins oversee day-to-day operations in Tehachapi.
"WM is a big company with a small-town mentality," Higgins said. And Christy — who previously worked for Benz Sanitation — said he was happily surprised by company operations.
"We're owned by corporate, but it doesn't feel like corporate," he said.
"WM understands the value of community involvement and supports local organizations that enrich Tehachapi's high quality of life," Cortes said. "Just this past year, WM was a donor or sponsor to the city of Tehachapi's Farmers Market and Independence Day celebration."
The company also was a sponsor or donor to the Tehachapi Valley Recreation and Park District's annual calendar of wellness events, Tehachapi Apple Festival, Tehachapi Mountain Festival, Tehachapi Police Foundation, Cheers to Charity, Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley Foundation, Friends of the Tehachapi Depot, Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce, Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council and the Tehachapi Mountain Rodeo Association.
WM also partnered with the local group, #LoveTehachapi, providing in-kind services for a successful community cleanup, Cortes said.
She noted that WM also is a trusted resource for Tehachapi businesses and area residents.
“From assisting companies with their recycling programs to educating residents about properly disposing of waste at National Night Out, the Fall Business Showcase and the Tehachapi Mountain Rodeo Association 'Touch a Truck' event, WM is helping to create a more sustainable tomorrow for Tehachapi,” she said.
“WM embodies the spirit of Tehachapi,” Cortes said. “We may be a bigger business, but we have a big heart for Tehachapi.”
As an essential service, WM drivers and support staff — many living in the community — remained committed to serving Tehachapi during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cortes said.
It wasn’t easy, Higgins and Christy agreed, but it was important to the health of the community to maintain trash and recycling collection.
“It was rough,” Christy said and Higgins noted that staffing was among the challenges.
Cortes said the company took restrictions — such as social distancing — seriously.
For training, Christy noted, employees couldn’t ride together so it was necessary for trainees to follow in another vehicle. And extra time was taken to wipe down vehicles and other surfaces, he said.
“There were lots of challenges and obstacles,” Cortes added.
In February, all of Waste Management, Inc., began using the name WM. And in Tehachapi, a full range of services previously provided by Benz is still offered locally, including trash collection and hauling for the city, recycling, portable toilets, septic services, document destruction and propane.
In fact, WM in Tehachapi is the only unit of the company to offer propane.
With increased emphasis on food waste recycling in California, WM offers its expertise to businesses to ensure compliance with a new state law and will work with the city if a third can is required for home collection of food and organic waste.
And something about the pandemic — perhaps increased home delivery and resultant cardboard boxes — triggered an increase in recycling, keeping the company’s recycling center at 416 N. Dennison Road very busy.
Find out more about WM’s Tehachapi operation online at wm.com/us/local/ca/tehachapi/residential or call 661-825-2100.
Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.