Business news from the Fredericksburg region.

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Getting to Know: Joe Wilson, owner of PermaTreat Pest Control

Where you grew up and went to school: I am a native of Buena Vista, Va., located over in the Shenandoah Valley near Lexington. I attended Washington and Lee University as a day student, and my first job was as a junior cost accountant with Reynolds Metals in Richmond.

I never liked accounting in school and was told that when I got out into the real world of accounting I would like it. Well, I got into the real world of accounting and I liked it even less! It was much too restrictive for a mountain boy.

Your career background: I got into pest control quite by accident. Call it serendipity if you will. My wife was pregnant with our first child, and my 1959 Chevrolet was dying and we could not afford to buy a car. I came up with the idea that I could solve that problem by getting a job that furnished a car.

I went to a friend that worked for an employment agency in downtown Richmond. He sent me on two interviews to companies that furnished an automobile. One was Addressograph Multigraph, which later became part of IBM. The other was Orkin Pest Control, which was interviewing for a manager trainee.

When I found out Orkin furnished a station wagon, and with a baby on the way, there was no doubt what job I would take!

How and when you ended up in Fredericksburg, and why you decided to make it your home: Orkin sent me to Fredericksburg in 1965, and I was selling pest-control services door-to-door. Orkin rented a desk and a chair for $15 per month from Johnson & Glazebrook Real Estate at William and Charles streets—where Kybecca is now located. Orrick Johnson and Ray Glazebrook were young men just starting in the soon-to-be-booming real estate business.

I distinctly recall the first time I came to Fredericksburg. I drove from Louisa through Post Oak and Snell on State Route 208. The first traffic light I hit was at Four–Mile Fork. It was the only traffic light in Spotsylvania and was blinking yellow. It was not even a full-fledged stop light! Interstate 95 had just opened its final leg.

After several months in Fredericksburg, Orkin sent me to Portsmouth as branch manager. I moved through the ranks with Orkin, living in Louisville, Dallas, Kansas City and Raleigh, and finally ended up in the Chicago area as regional vice president of Orkin’s Midwest Region overseeing 54 branches in 13 states.

How you came to own PermaTreat: The story of how I came to own PermaTreat is another case of pure serendipity—just like my need to replace my dying car brought me into the pest-control field and away from being an accountant.

I was coming back from an Orkin management meeting in Atlanta on my way back to Chicago. The year was 1982. I had planned to stop at National Airport (now Reagan), rent a car and drive over to Buena Vista to visit my elderly mother.

I came down I-95 to Fredericksburg and decided to stop in to see my old Orkin friend Alfred Hall, who had started PermaTreat Pest Control in 1967. His office was on Lafayette Boulevard where PermaTreat is still located today.

I commented to Alfred that he had built a nice business. His response was “yes, let me sell it to you.” I responded that I probably did not have enough money to purchase his company, and he replied that he would finance the deal for 15 years at 4 percent interest!

Keep in mind that Jimmy Carter was president, and that interest rates were at an all-time high at 18 percent in 1982. The bottom line is that he made me an offer that I could not refuse. We shook hands, and on Aug. 2, 1982, I became the owner of PermaTreat.

My wife and our three children were excited about coming back to Virginia and being closer to Grandmother Wilson. Unfortunately it took us almost a year to sell our house in Illinois due to high interest rates and an almost non-existent housing market.

I commuted from Fredericksburg to Waukegan once a month, taking a long weekend to soften the 15-hour drive. It really was not too bad because when I would get home my wife was glad to see me, the kids were glad to see me and my dog was ecstatic to see me. Now when I get home after work I am hardly noticed!

Your thoughts about the state of our local economy now and in the future: Returning to the Fredericksburg area in 1982 after being away for 18 years was a real eye-opening experience. People that I had known as contractors were now millionaires.

The streets in downtown Fredericksburg were now one way. The edge of the city was the Route 1 Bypass at William Street, and everything beyond that point was country except for the mall, the Sheraton and the golf course. The change was dramatic, and the climate could not be better for starting a new business venture.

Now we are told that the population of the Fredericksburg area will double in the next 30-40 years. Again a great scenario for a service business but perhaps not so great for quality of life!

When I came to the area in 1982, the population of Spotsylvania County was around 12,000 people, and the experts are telling us that it could reach 300,000 people by the middle of this century. Amazing!

Other business ventures in which you are involved: I have ventured from pest control into development and real estate over the years. I used to joke with Carl Silver, telling him that I was simply “nibbling around the edge of his cookie.”

I developed a portion of the Heritage Commerce Center on U.S. 17 in Stafford. I also developed the Shannon Business Park when I purchased land around Shannon Airport. I did several renovation projects in the area.

One of my proudest achievements was converting the old Railway Express Building next to the train station into office space for the George Washington Regional Commission using the historic tax credit program. That building had been vacant for over 35 years and had no roof. Now it is beautiful office space in the heart of the city.

When I built the Wilson Building on Caroline Street in 2007 that was the largest private project in the downtown area in three decades and perhaps the first residential/commercial condominium project in the downtown area. Now you see several of these type projects going up in Fredericksburg. People are anxious to move into the city, and that is a good thing.

Civic and political involvement you have had here: I have served on City Council and currently serve on the Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority. I am past chairman of the board of Mary Washington Healthcare, the Salvation Army, Germanna Community College and the EDA.

I currently serve on the Board of Visitors at the University of Mary Washington, as well as on the boards of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce and Mary Washington Hospital Foundation. Perhaps my most significant contribution is that I was one of the original founders of the Rappahannock Rotary Club and brought the first woman in the state into Rotary in 1988—Donna Tyson, whom many will remember.

My wife and I are both animal lovers, and PermaTreat has supported animal-welfare programs for over three decades, particularly through PermaTreat’s adopt-a-pet ads that appear in newspapers across the Commonwealth. Approximately 80 percent of the animals featured in our ads are adopted, according to shelter managers.

Family: I live in the center of the city with my wonderful wife, Mary, my youngest daughter, Amanda, and her daughter, Grace, who is 11 years old and keeps “Pop” young. Our oldest daughter, Anna, lives in Roanoke, and our middle daughter, Jeanna, lives in Peachtree City, Ga.—a suburb of Atlanta. Between the three daughters we have seven grandchildren.

Hobbies: My favorite hobby is fishing when I find the time.

Favorite local restaurant: My wife and I have several favorite restaurants, and they are all located within several blocks of our home. I would not dare to mention one without mentioning them all! I am no fool!

Favorite movie: My favorite movie is “A Christmas Story.” My favorite plays are “Cats” and “Evita.”

Something people don’t know about you: Most people don’t know that when I graduated from high school and went to Washington and Lee University I was planning to become a Presbyterian minister. Talk about a strange turn of events! I think my joining the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity may have been the turning point!

—As told to Bill Freehling