Denali Water Solutions: Because We All Want Clean Water

Dr. Julie Mikles-Schluterman and Andy McNeil stand in front of the Denali Water Solutions office

VISION: The ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom. {Merriam Webster}


Vision is the reason Andy McNeill, chief executive officer of Denali Water Solutions, is always searching for creative partnerships to advance his business.

Denali Water Solutions is the largest business headquartered in Russellville. The company employees hundreds of people around the United States. As a specialty wastewater and environmental services company, Denali takes the waste from water purification and tries to beneficially reuse the leftover products in a variety of ways such as for composting and fertilizer.

With varied clients, Denali has numerous opportunities to impact the world.

“We service various end markets,” said McNeill. “For example, we work with municipalities, industries and also industrial facilities. Our goal with all this effort is to reuse the waste in a way that makes the world better.”

McNeill holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Auburn and his MBA from Notre Dame. After graduating from college, he took a management training position with Cargill. He moved to Northwest Arkansas for the job, and while there, he met and married a Russellville native, which is how he ended up working in the River Valley years later.

“My wife’s mother became ill, and we decided to come back here to help care for her,” said McNeill. “I was looking for work in the area and had the opportunity to join Terra Renewal as the chief executive officer.”

McNeill took the company reins and helped grow the business. Under his leadership, the company grew from a small residuals company to one of the top 25 largest waste companies in the United States.

“When I had the opportunity, I bought part of the Terra Renewal portfolio and am ultimately redoing what I had done before,” explained McNeill.

So how does Arkansas Tech fit in?

Students discuss a project in a classroom
Students stand in front of a trade show display

To McNeill, it is the epitome of the town and gown relationship. He wanted to find and build a unique partnership that provided positive experiences for ATU students and Denali Water Solutions.

“Arkansas is a small place, and I am excited to invest in these things,” he added. “I know someone everywhere I go, and I can make a difference in the community. We also have several alumni who work for us, so we really do have a passion for Arkansas Tech.”

His vision was creating a relationship that allowed ATU students to spend the semester working on a project that would benefit Denali.

“My idea was to partner with ATU to assign professors who could use their skills to become quality control for the work the students did,” said McNeill. “My hope was the professors will eventually know the business, which will allow the projects to build upon each other.”

McNeill hoped this would help him identify a pipeline of future employees who might be a good fit and have a better knowledge of the varied aspects of the water industry.

A field notes book was given to students in the class
Two students are seen sitting on a rock during an outing

Dr. Julie Mikles-Schluterman, professor of sociology, serves as the program coordinator for interdisciplinary courses at Arkansas Tech and said this type of project provides a unique experience for students.

“These courses are about re-imagining how we educate and how we prepare for the future,” said Mikles-Schluterman. “In higher education, we find that problem-solving skills, the ability to work in teams and verbal communication skills are among the most important skills graduates need outside of their major-specific knowledge. These courses provide the perfect opportunity for that learning.”

Over the past several years, ATU students have taken on several projects, including a water communication and a social media strategy project. However, McNeill hopes this is just the beginning.

“We want ATU students to do well, and we want to put them in our network,” said McNeill. “Many of our facilities are in rural areas, and the ATU student is someone who could succeed in that environment. We also like employees [who] have some level of ‘figure it out’ that comes from having to work hard in life. That is something we see from many ATU students.”

McNeill is planning to take the semester to make the program even more effective. He hopes to bring in a team of faculty to help guide the students in taking on larger, more substantial projects with Denali.

“Over time, I want to build this as a model. It is something I saw in college, and I think it could work here,” said McNeill. “It could be several companies taking part, and the students would be competing among each other for the opportunity to have this immersive experience.”

The program may take time to be fully implemented, but McNeill is excited about the prospect because of his passion for the area.

“Providing an opportunity like this is the right thing to do for Russellville,” he said. “Our town is dependent on what people do, and this is a way to create growth and do things in an interesting and big way.”

Students and faculty are seen at a class outing
A presenter is seen at a class outing

Mikles-Schluterman agreed that ATU wants to find new innovative partnerships that provide unique opportunities for students.

“We are looking to collaborate with more industries, more non-profits, and other interested individuals to create a wide range of innovative courses and experiences,” she explained.

For McNeill, the decision to partner with Arkansas Tech comes down to making smart choices.

“I’m trying to build a large business in the United States that links to the core of the U.S. economy,” he added. “We exist because we all want clean water. That will never stop, but we win by doing things right and also creating cost-effective solutions that drive growth.”

To McNeill, partnering with Arkansas Tech is just one way to do that.

“My job as the CEO is to never be satisfied. Instead, I am always going to be the one to push to make things better,” said McNeill. “By pushing ATU, its faculty and the students to take this partnership to the next level, we can all win. I have the vision for it, and now, all we have to do is collaborate to make it the best it can be. It is a great formula, and I am excited to see it become even more valuable over time.”