Related News

Home » Feature » People

In pursuit of purity and the water of life

IN many a China emergency, American Jim Ellis is there, providing clean drinking water for earthquake survivors and victims of a typhoon, a chemical spill and blue algae. Sam Riley filters the facts.

Throughout more than 40 years of doing business, American entrepreneur Jim Ellis has always based his enterprises on providing basic needs such as shelter and clean drinking water.

But it wasn't until the devastating Sichuan earthquake on May 12 last year that the former construction boss and maker of water filters was able to make a vital difference in lives of tens of thousands of vulnerable people.

Ellis and employees of his company Paragon Water Systems flew into Sichuan just three days after the earthquake to install water filters in temporary tent cities. In many cases, he provided the only clean drinking water.

One of the first foreigners allowed into the affected areas, Ellis and his team worked virtually non-stop for 15 days to install water filters and train local operators in 20 cities and towns.

The filtration system they installed is capable of supplying water to 10,000 people a day. The systems were flown in from Canada within 48 hours of the quake.

Still haunted by the devastation, Ellis says his enduring memory is of the strength and resilience of the survivors and helpers.

"I have never seen so many people come together to help each other, there was so much devastation," he says. "The army was unbelievable; these young soldiers were out there digging through rubble with their bare hands, and putting up tents 24 hours day. The strength of the people in Sichuan in the face of something so dramatic and tragic was really amazing."

It was not the first time Ellis has provided emergency water supplies in China.

Paragon provided water filters to schools and hospitals in Fujian Province when it was hit by typhoons in 2004 and 2005 and also provided clean drinking water to Harbin in Heilongjiang Province after a major spill of benzene into the Songhua River in 2005.

In 2007, Ellis and his team supplied water filters for residents in the city of Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, when water supplies were cut due to a blue algae outbreak.

"We have made it a priority to give back by responding to major disasters in the last five years and it is something we are very proud of," he says.

Ellis, who comes from Ohio, started his own home construction company, building his first home when he was 22 years old. "Everything went into that house - if it hadn't sold I would have been sweeping the streets," he says.

Ellis ran the Four Seasons construction company for 20 years, building more than 110 homes a year at its peak, first in Ohio and later in Florida.

Making the move to Florida in the early 1980s, Ellis rode the construction boom generated by the demand of many retirees, so-called "snow birds," who headed to the warm climes of the US south.

While in Florida, Ellis became familiar with water filtration systems, which he originally sold as a side business.

"A guy came to us with a water filter and we started selling them on the home shopping channel," he recalls.

Since it was started in 1988, Paragon has sold filters for homes, businesses and hospitals.

What had started as a business selling filters made by two guys in a shed quickly became the main focus for Ellis and his partner, George Lutich.

The decision to concentrate on clean water was well timed as consumers increasingly becoming aware of the importance of pure drinking water.

Home shopping in America in the 1980s was also still in its infancy; its expansion and the boom in direct sales and marketing helped propel Paragon into an international business. It now operates in 12 countries, including the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Britain and Russia.

After sourcing materials for water filters from the Chinese mainland, Paragon opened a factory in Xiamen, Fujian Province, in 2002 and a sales office in Shanghai in 2003. He spearheaded the expansion into China, moving to Shanghai in 2004. He has visited 22 provinces and almost every major city. The company operates in 32 provinces.

Ellis plans to expand this year to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

"Meeting the people in China, learning about the history of the country, its diverse cultures and seeing its natural beauty has definitely been the best experience of my business life," he says.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend