Jay Selby Sr., left, brought his son Jay Selby Jr. on as a partner in the Newcastle-based Selby’s Soil Erosion Control in 1995. The son now runs the flagship company, which was rebranded as SSEC. (Photo by Hector Amezcua)

Filling a Niche

Family business close-up

Back Article Oct 4, 2021 By Graham Womack

This story is part of our October 2021 Family Business issue. To subscribe, click here.

Jay Selby Jr. was finishing high school and gearing up for college when his father, Jay Selby Sr., came to him with an opportunity. It was 1995 and Jay Jr. was 18, his father in his early 60s. Jay Sr. had run his Newcastle-based company, Selby’s Soil Erosion Control since 1968, doing business with customers such as the California Department of Transportation. “He was ready and so I took him in as a partner,” Jay Sr. says. His son is now president of the company.

Family business can mean different things to different families. In some, it’s a coterie of relatives across generations coming together, with ever-shifting roles and responsibilities. In the Selby family, the term has largely been about two men staking out a long-term spot in a niche industry for more than 50 years. SSEC, the flagship company of the family business with about 50-60 employees, sprays hydroseed on hillsides to prevent erosion, among various endeavors such as environmental protection and sediment control.

Today, other parts of the family business include the original Selby’s Soil, which handles equipment rentals and the Idado-based SSEC APEX, which was created out of a merger in February 2020 between SSEC and a Washington state company, Apex Curb & Turf. SSEC APEX also provides erosion control.

Jay Sr. says the idea for his original business started with a law in Los Angeles County in the 1960s mandating that slopes of land larger than four feet had to be seeded or revegetated. Jay Sr., who grew up around agriculture near Watsonville and Salinas and worked in sales for companies like Caterpillar, International Harvester Company and John Deere, decided to take the plunge.

“I always tease him, ‘If you would have just patented two or three things’ that he came up with over the years ‘I wouldn’t even need to have a job.’”

Jay Selby Jr., partner, Selby’s Soil Erosion Control

Work was plentiful even early on, with the Reno Gazette-Journal noting in 1969 that Jay Sr., then living in Ventura, “has seeded some 2,000 acres of cuts and fills for the California Division of Highways during the last five years.” Today, while the industry is not particularly competitive, it remains vital, with the company responding to disasters such as the Camp Fire in Paradise in 2018.

Jay Sr. established himself as an innovator in his industry, pioneering the concept of making hydroseed for hills green in color, which allows it to look more natural and less obtrusive. “I always tease him, ‘If you would have just patented two or three things’ that he came up with over the years ‘I wouldn’t even need to have a job,’” Jay Jr. says.

SSEC sprays hydroseed on hillsides to prevent erosion, among various endeavors such as environmental protection and sediment control.

Not long after the founding of his company, Jay Sr. relocated his wife and children to Northern California, where Jay Jr. was born in 1977. After Jay Jr. joined the business, his father remained actively involved for another five years or so, before winding down his involvement around his 70th birthday. 

Now 89, Jay Sr. goes into the Newcastle office a handful of hours a week and retains minority ownership in the family’s California companies. Jay Jr. owns 51 percent, with other minority partners Brandon Coppedge and Trevor Robertson. 

“I’d say the last 10 years, really, he’s fully retired,” Jay Jr. says of his father. “He loves hearing the stories. He loves coming in and bantering with everybody in the office.”

Jay Jr., who lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, also oversees SSEC APEX. Whether it all remains a family business for another generation remains to be seen, though Jay Jr. is optimistic for the enterprise’s future.

“The fact that I have no children and have no plans for it, I don’t think it’s going to stay a family business,” says Jay Jr., who plans to let the company’s younger generation take a more active role over time. “But I do think it will continue on.” 

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