Friday, December 28, 2007

What no circus this year because of H-2B stalemate?

Wow, this is weird. Because Congress has failed to act on extending the exemption to H-2B, circuses say they'll be unable to bring in immigrant acrobats and other performers for their U.S. tours. At least one circus is not taking to the road this summer, because of this, reports the Paris (TX) News.

I take this to mean that there's a shortage of U.S-citizen acrobats and circus performers. Who would have thought, right?

Here's the link to the article — http://web.theparisnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=f3d719bdbea5569e — or you can click on the headline if you don't take my word for it. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Christmas dinner of tamales and beans

I don't how many of you got out of bed Christmas morning thankful to get a free meal of tamales, rice and beans, but apparently there were more than a few in Bakersfield, CA. I'm guessing most of the folks that turned out for the free food were down on their luck, perhaps even homeless. I'm also guessing many of them (maybe most) were Mexicans or Mexican/Americans.

Yea, I know. Some of you don't like the fact that there are so many Hispanics (primarily Mexicans) in this country illegally. OK, that's not good.

But people are people, and if they're good people, regardless of race, color, creed or circumstance, they should be treated with charity and dignity.

This is the 13th year that landscaper Mike Vallejo and his family (six of his seven children helped) provided free meals of tamales, rice and beans to strangers on Christmas Day in Bakersfield. Good for you Mr. Vallejo.

We saw the news cast on KBAK CBS 29 (click on the headline above), and let's all be more charitable to each other in 2008. — Ron Hall

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sane solution to immigration mess?

I don’t know Michael Lesser and have never met him. But he wrote an article in the Portsmouth Herald, which I accessed via Seacoast Online, and I was struck by his thoughts concerning our nation’s immigration mess.

His suggestions would (it seems to me anyway) provide a starting point in the contentious debate separating business interests and hardliners on the issue of undocumented aliens.

First, the New Hampshire resident who lives and works in Washington D.C. makes it clear that he feels that anybody that enters the country illegally should be “punished and all of the fruits of the that illegal act are null and void.” He also advocates stronger border protection, including using the National Guard, a “zero-tolerance approach.”

He also proposes “draconian lawns” penalizing business owners who cannot document that they are hiring persons legally in this country.

OK, let’s move on to the issue of the estimated 10 million to 12 million so-called illegal immigrants already in the United States? While Lesser believes it would be possible to “create an environment” to compel or force them out of the country, he instead suggests allowing them to stay under the following conditions:

They must report to immigration where the process of complete vetting will begin. All persons not reporting by a certain date will be deported when caught. Criminals are ineligible and will be deported immediately.

Persons going through the vetting process will receive documentation (not a green card) and perform 30 hours of community service per month for three years and must maintain documented employment. They can also get a driver’s license if they can pass the written exam in English. After that 3-year period the person will be on another two years of probation after which time they will be eligible for a green card if they can prove their proficiency in English. One year later they can apply for citizenship.

During this 5-year period these people would be eligible for services currently available to green card holders, and if during this period any person is convicted of a felony, the person will not only serve the required sentence, but will be deported after serving the sentence.

Any persons joining and serving honorably in the military and their immediate dependents (spouse and children) for a period of four years are eligible to apply for, or possibly be granted, citizenship.

I'd rather have the undocumented on the road to citizenry, working legally and paying taxes, than to punish them at this point, and that is a huge change for me,” he writes.

Click on the headline for a link to Lesser’s article at Seacoast Online. — Ron Hall

Friday, December 21, 2007

Throw the rascals out

To say that I’ve become increasingly cynical of the ability of our federal government, or any of its various bureaucracies, to deliver efficient and sane service to the citizens of this nation is to grossly underestimate my growing dismay.

From the screw-ups in Iraq to Katrina and including the ongoing blatant partisanship, posturing and petty bickering that has deadlocked action on just about every major issue facing the nation, if this is the best government on this beautiful blue ball, then God help us all. In fact, it might be that only God can help us if we don't start helping ourselves. . . at the ballot box.

Let’s take a look at the mess our governmental policies have made in just one single issue — immigration. Indeed, everything
that the government has done during the past two generations — going back to the Reagan administration's so-called one-time amnesty — has only worsened the problem of illegal immigration. How else do 10 million to 12 million undocumented people get into this country?

But it gets worse.

Our government’s most recent activities — from building walls along our southern border to its enforcement-only policy to its inaction in expanding programs to allow legal and properly vetted guest workers to flow back and forth between their home countries and the United States — compound the problem.

Our government has guaranteed that illegal immigration issue will simmer on, and the undocumented workers already in the United States aren’t about to leave now, and will continue to live in the shadows of our society. They will continue to work in agriculture and hundreds of small businesses across the United States, And they will continue to look over their shoulders fearing enforcement actions.

For those of you that think that these seasonal guest workers aren’t needed in the United States, and that they take jobs and employment opportunity from U.S. citizens, in the broadest sense you’re right.

There are a lot of small businesses, in particular, landscape companies that could use your help or the help of your U.S.-born sons and daughters. Just apply and show up for work. You’ll find companies a plenty willing to train you on the safe operation of commercial mowers and the art of laying block walls and pavers. And they’ll guarantee you at least 40 hours a week, probably more in season.

(If you don’t think that our government is capable of massive screw-ups, allow me to recommend a recently published book, “Legacy of Ashes, The History of the CIA,” by Pulitzer-prize winning author Tim Weiner.) —Ron Hall

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Just more political posturing

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney fired his landscape company after reporters from the Boston Globe discovered that the company continued to maintain his property with the help of illegal immigrants. The same issue arose just over one year ago. At the time, Romney had a discussion with the company, Community Lawn Service of Chelsea, MA, giving the company a second chance to comply with the law.

The other presidential candidates, both Republican and Democrat, were just a little too happy to jump on this issue.

Fred Thompson’s campaign released a statement saying, “First Mitt Romney was for illegal immigrants working on his lawn, and then he was against it, then for it, and now I guess he’s against it again. Sounds like his position on amnesty.”

Rudy Guiliani’s staffers said Romney’s statement speaks for itself, and John McCain, as described by the New York Times, “walked out of his hotel in Bedford, N.H., yesterday with a broad grin because he knew what reporters were about to ask. He mimed a motion as if he were pushing a lawn mower and said, “I am more than pleased with the fact I live in a condominium.”

"Smooth talking Mitt Romney's lingering lawn care problem is the latest reminder of his shameless and hypocritical efforts to pander to the right wing of his Party by saying whatever he thinks the political winds dictate," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera.

While Romney’s illegal flap is embarrassing, it ultimately means nothing. Right now, Congress is sitting on a bill that will help landscape companies bring in much-needed guest workers to fill their labor needs. It’s called Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2007. The bill would extend the returning worker exemption to the H-2B cap that limits the number of guest workers to 66,000 per year. Without extending the returning worker exemption, more and more landscape companies are either going to lose business due to lack of labor, or they will turn to illegal immigrants to get the work done.

While many like Sen. Barbara Mikulski has led the charge to extend H-2B reform, too many Congress members are afraid to touch the immigration issue in the current political climate.

So while the presidential candidates play politics and Congress sits on its hands, the landscape industry is going to suffer due to political cowardice. It’s time to stop talking and take action. — Mike Seuffert

Another take on the Congo furor

A narrow alley separated our two houses, and for years our neighbors kept a dog in their back yard. It was a cross between a beagle and a rottweiler, a 70-lb., black-and-white spotted creature that rushed to the chain link fence and barked and snarled whenever anybody in our family went into our backyard, our garden. The dog, Tyler, took the barking and snarling to an even more threatening level whenever school kids passed through the alley between our two properties. The only thing separating Tyler from what can only be imagined as an attack was the sturdy fence.

In the dog's defense, it was a happy, tail-wagging joy to our neighbors; they adored the dog. I suspect they greatly appreciated the security it provided them and their property.

Even so, and without apologies, we were happy when the neighbors, too elderly to take care of Tyler and unable to place it with their grown sons or daughter, got rid of the dog. We do not know what happened to it, but we suspect it was given to the local human society and eventually euthanized. That's not what we wanted for the dog; we would have preferred one of the children take the dog and keep it — somewhere away from us.

Our years suffering with Tyler's threatening behavior (It never subsided.) admittedly colors my opinion regarding the curious case of Congo the German shepard condemned to death for mauling a landscape worker last summer near Princeton, NJ. The injuries sustained by the worker were horrendous. Even so the outpouring of sympathy for Congo has been incredible.

Columnist Paul Mulshine, writing on nj.com, dares to wonder how the public would have reacted to Congo's death sentence had he attacked a 12-year-old Girl Scout stepping onto the property instead of a 42-year-old landscape worker, one that's since apparently been outed as being an "illegal" worker. (By the way, the worker reportedly received an insurance settlement of about $200,00 along with his medical bills.)

Not unexpectedly, daring to question the ability (and responsibility) of the owners of the dog to control Congo as it chewed up the landscape worker, drew a firestorm of controversy.

Only in America, in the land where capital punishment is legal (the victims almost always being the poor and uneducated), does a dog on death row generate such a flood of sympathy and publicity.

Click on the headline to read the column that Mulshine wrote and the resulting reader response. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"Set Congo free! Set Congo free!"

Kelly Heyboer on blog.nj shows just how strongly people feel about Congo, probably the most famous German Shepherd since Rin Tin Tin. Congo remains in death-row limbo after chewing up a landscape worker last summer. A lot of people are blogging that it's time to free Congo. Viva Congo!

If you want to see a photograph of a Congo (happily unaware of the fate that possibly awaits him), click on the headline above.

Writes Kelly Heyboer: Congo, New Jersey's most notorious German shepherd, has his own blog.
Some of the dog's online supporters started the Save Congo blog last week. They are trying to mobilize dog lovers to protest a judge's decision to sentence Congo to death after he allegedly attacked a landscaper in Princeton.

The blog creators say:
Bloggers are not connected in any way with this case or any of the individuals (including the dog, Congo) in it. We are simply concerned indiduals (attorneys, animal advocates, etc.) who, while concerned about the public's safety, are equally concerned about the harsh Dangerous Dog Acts that are sweeping the country condeming innocement dogs to death and their familes to great tragedy.
Over the last few months Congo has become one of the most-blogged-about dogs on the Web, partly because his case also has an illegal immigration angle.
The story began last summer when Congo mauled a landscaper working on his owners' property. The dog's owner said the landscaper, who is an undocumented alien, did not follow directions and inadvertently provoked the dog.
Congo was recently returned to his family after five months in an animal shelter. He is under house arrest while his death sentence is appealed.
And Gov. Jon Corzine has gotten thousands of letters, phone calls and e-mails asking him to pardon Congo. Legislation has also been introduced to make sentences for unruly animals less harsh.

From The Daily Biscuit:
Why was the judge punishing a dog for doing its job? Isn't that what German Shepherds are bred for? Guard dogs? The German Shepherd is used for military work, police work and assistance work. Few other breeds are so widely used. Had Congo been a pit or a rott he would have been put down quickly. Had this been the 80s, when the German Shepherd was the dog everyone hated, he would have been put down.
What do Americans want?

From Immigration Watchdog:
Clone Congo and give one of him to every Sheriff's Office and Police Department in the country. Also provide enough Congo's to ride K-9 with every U.S. Border Control vehicle. Give a Congo to every family whose ever had a burglary or crime committed against a family member or property.

From All American Blogger:
NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE. NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE. NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE. NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE. NO JUSTICE. NO PEACE.
Free Congo.

For the fstory on Congo's attack on the landscape worker that led up to his death sentence and the furor this created, check out the Landscape Management article, by clicking here.
— LM Staff

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Outsmarting some very clever squirrels

There are a lot of big red squirrels in my neighborhood. I don’t know how many because they all look alike to me. Actually, there could just be a couple of very active squirrels. How would I know? Like I said, one big red squirrel looks pretty much like another to me.
Generally, I don’t mind the squirrels. I sometimes get a kick out of watching them; they're so perpetually busy. My feelings toward these twitchy little devils cool each winter though.
I’m one of those guys that waits until the bulbs go on sale 75% off, which is usually just before or after Thanksgiving. I count on the ground not freezing before I can get them into the ground. I buy dozens of tulips, narcissus, daffodils, crocus and tiny colorful things that come up in February.
In late November or early December I get out a tough little spade for the big bulbs and I get down on my knees and drill holes into the ground with an old hand auger for the smallest bulbs. I plant them in groups of three, five or seven, just about anywhere I can an area in our garden that doesn’t already have perennials or bulbs. The smallest, earliest spring bloomers go in my front yard because my wife, Vicky, loves seeing color, even these thumbnail-size flowers that bloom even before the snow is off the ground. They will be spent and gone before the front yard needs mowing.
Several winters ago the foraging squirrels discovered the bulbs I had planted, the sunflower seeds I put out for the birds in our garden not being enough for them. They now can tell just where I plant bulbs regardless of how I try to disguise the sites. Through the course of the winter, they dig them up, generally a couple at a time. The empty holes in the ground give them away. Sometimes I find a bulb on the ground with several bites taken out of it. The squirrels don’t find some of the bulbs tasty enough to finish.
I've finally come up with a plan to thwart the squirrels. I feel pretty clever. I stretch sections of green wire fencing material with a ¾-in mesh that I cut it into rectangles over the areas where I had plant bulbs. You can hardly notice the screen (it's green) in my yard. This spring, after the flowers are poking up out of the soil, I will remove the screening. I think that it will discourage the squirrels from decimating the bulbs I planted. We’ll see. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Murder in Monterrey

There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way. Or, in the case of immigrant workers, there’s the legal way and the illegal way. Santiago Cruz, who spent three years working in North Carolina, was working for the legal way. It's believed it cost him his life. He was brutally murdered.
Colleagues are viewing his killing as a warning from vicious forces in Mexico not to tamper with their lucrative business. And what kind of business would prompt murder? No, we’re not talking drugs. We’re talking about the business of bilking fellow citizens out of their money on promises (rarely fulfilled) of working in the United States.
Santiago worked for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in North Carolina, and had traveled to Monterrey, Mexico, to fight corrupt recruiters who take money from people who want jobs in the United States.
This type of extortion is big business in Mexico, perhaps the darkest side of U.S. guest worker programs. Most poor Mexicans seeking work in the United States are not knowledgeable about the guest worker process. Or perhaps they’re desperate, desperate enough to pay shady recruiters exorbitant (sometimes thousands of dollars) fees on promises of working in the states.
Honest recruiters typically charge hopeful jobseekers minor administrative fees, usually just enough to cover the cost of processing their applications. Legitimate recruiters make their money from the fees that they charge U.S. business owners, not from job seekers.
Recruiting is a serious business in Mexico as Santiago’s brutal death illustrates.
He was discovered beaten to death in his Monterrey office. His hands were tied behind his back and his feet bound. FLOC represents about 7,000 guest workers that come to the Southeast each year to work in agriculture.

Raleigh's ABC11 Eyewitness News offered a full account and video of the tragedy on Nov. 16. Click on the headlne for the ABC11 report. — Ron Hall

Friday, November 09, 2007

Formula 1 mower

While landscapers now have some pretty cool-looking zero-turn mowers to zip around lawns on, when it comes time for some of the detailed work, the trusty old push mower is still pretty boring. Until now. Here's a concept mower that will have you mowing like an F1 racer. Check out the whole story from this blog.

— Mike Seuffert

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Leaders reflect on Spring Green's 30th anniversary

“All politics is local,” said the late Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, a longtime speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress.
Let it be acknowledged here (and recently verified by James Young, president of Spring Green Lawn Care Corp.) that: “All lawn care is local.”
His company turned 30 years old this past January. Spring Green, with 70 independent franchises and four company-owned locations generated revenues of $26 million in 2006, according a fine article written by Eric Krogh, generated by the prestigious Medill School of Journalism, University of Northwestern.
In the article, Tom Hofer, Spring Green’s CEO, points to location, specifically the lawn care-happy Chicago metropolitan market, as one reason for his company’s success and longevity.
“Chicago is just the best lawn care market in the world,” he was quoted in the article.
Equally important, said company president Young, is being recognized by customers as a locally run business. “The best opportunity to differentiate our brand from our competitors is to have that local presence.”
Click on the headline to read the nice article about Spring Green written by Eric Kroh. — Ron Hall

Friday, November 02, 2007

Why you must get active

You've heard us sound the rally cry for action many times. Primarily (or at least recently) we've amplified the calls of those who have been pushing for extension and permanent passage of the H-2B returning worker provision. As of this posting, much to the relief of many landscapers, it looks like that will pass. But the bigger message (and perhaps we've been too subtle in our expression of it) is that the important thing is to get involved in local government, at least make your presence known.

While it looks as if landscapers have received a temporary reprieve from the H-2B issue, it is by no means the only impediment Green Industry business owners face. Water restrictions, chemical application rule changes and now even "luxury taxes" are a concern. That's right, the same term applied to Major League Baseball's George Steinbrenner and the enormous salaries he pays out is being applied to landscapers.

Apparently, Michigan legislators are considering imposing a tax on certain services, including landscaping. The story, reported here. by Lansing, MI-based WLIX.com, suggest that a 6% sales tax will be added to these services, which landscapers say could cost them jobs. The good news, and the point of this rant, is to let you know that this is not a done deal. The most heartening news in the story is this line: "Landscapers and other small business owners voices have been heard. Lawmakers say they're open to considering alternatives to the service tax."

Be assured, however, that nothing will change if the voices of Michigan landscapers fall silent. Simply put you've got to find out what is happening at the local city council and at the state level. And then you've got to get involved.

For the complete story click here.

For more ideas on how to contact your legislative representatives click here.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Missouri Botanical Garden sets great example

The Missouri Botanical Garden set a new recycling record in 2007 with the collection of over 100,000 lbs. of horticultural plastic originally destined for landfills. The Garden’s successful Plastic Pot Recycling program in St. Louis is the most extensive public garden recycling program in the United States, collecting over 300 tons of waste in the past 10 years.
The “green” initiative is led by the Garden’s William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening, which organizes the yearly public collection of plastic garden pots, polystyrene cell packs and trays on six weekends in May and June.

In several years, satellite collections centers were established at retail garden centers in the St. Louis metro area; 2007 participants include Greenscape Gardens, For the Garden by Haefners, Crabapple Cove Nursery, Summerwinds at Timber Creek, Schmittels Nursery, Garden Heights Nursery and the City of Kirkwood Recycling Depository. Over the last four years, the program has been further expanded to include collections from green industry businesses such as landscaping contractors, public works departments, grounds management professionals and wholesale growers.

Over 100 volunteers contributed to the Garden’s recycling effort this year by donating more than 500 hours to assist in the collection and processing of horticultural plastic. Pots and trays are sorted by plastic type and granulated on-site into small chips that are easily transported for recycling. The plastic regrind is sold back to consumers as retaining wall ties and timbers for use in landscaping projects. The plastic timbers are water and pest resistant and can be cut and drilled similar to wooden lumber. They outlast traditional wooden railroad ties that have a lifespan of only ten to 15 years.

Proceeds from the sale of plastic timbers are used to fund future collections. Grants from the St. Louis – Jefferson Solid Waste District, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Environmental Improvement and Energy Resource Authority, and California-based Monrovia Growers also support the program.

“It is increasingly apparent that our disregard for the reuse of plant containers ends in millions of pounds of plastic being wasted into landfills each year,” said Dr. Steve Cline, manager of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening and Plastic Pot Recycling program founder and organizer. “Providing an alternative to pitching pots by offering a program to recycle them has sparked a sense of loyalty to doing the right thing. We continue to be impressed with the public and green industry response to this effort.”

The Garden looks forward to enhancing the program in 2008 by expanding the fleet of recycling trailers to additional nursery and garden centers, and making the satellite collections available year-round. Program organizers also hope to offer additional bins at collection centers so consumers can sort their plastic when it is deposited, making the collections more efficient by saving significantly on labor. Repositioning of recycling trailers at the Garden’s collection site will also make drive-thru deposits accessible throughout the year.

“Ultimately, our goal is to develop a workable system of collection and processing so that other communities can adopt a similar effort and evolve this into a common practice,” said Cline. “We are especially pleased that in the past three years Monrovia Growers has taken a leadership step forward on behalf of the green industry and supported the experimental phase of the program. This public/private partnership enables us to continue the growth of a fundamental recycling program such as this. We look forward to other green industry support, including the container producers, as we deal with this ongoing waste issue.”

For more information on the Garden’s Plastic Pot Recycling program, visit the Web site www.mobot.org/hort/activ/plasticpots.shtml or call (314) 577-9561. For more information on purchasing plastic landscape timbers, call the Kemper Center at (314) 577-9441.
# # #

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Can you legislate professional behavior?

How would you like me, an editor, to put together licensing legislation for landscape contractors in my home state of Ohio? Not a good idea? Hey, I’ve been a part of the landscape industry for more than 20 years, albeit as a reporter and editor; cut me some slack.
OK, I don’t have 20 years “practical” experience as a landscaper, not like Tom Castronovo. Castronovo is the publisher “of New Jersey-based “Gardener News,” a nice little monthly publication that provides good information on everything from turfgrass to pumpkins. He’s also the author of legislation to license landscapers in his home state of New Jersey.
The aim of the bill, which may be considered by state legislators when they reconvene in November, is to “elevate” the profession of landscaping by weeding out low-ballers, fly-by-nighters and so forth.
If enacted it would require all owners of landscape businesses, and one in 10 employees, to be licensed. It also establishes an continuing education component.
Friends in the landscape business in New Jersey are divided on the need for yet another licensing requirement.
One told me he feels the state already has plenty of licensing requirements — for pesticide applicators, irrigation contractors and home improvers. As a certified landscape technician and a card-carrying member of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association, he isn’t looking forward to having to get another license and paying more fees, which he sees as just another complication.
Others seem to feel the legislation, if enacted and enforced, will cut down on the number of “gypsy” landscapers that undercut their prices and do sub-standard work.
The basic question is: Can you legislate professional behavior?
Proponents of licensing for landscapers say their efforts will help bring the industry’s image on a par with other professionals, such as doctors and lawyers. Hey, I know doctors and lawyers that I don’t think are professional, at all. On the other hand,I have to confess, I've never met a lawyer or doctor that low-balled another lawyer or doctor, and we've got plenty of both in my neighborhood. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Teresa Mello and Dreamscape Designs — nice job!

My wife of 38-plus years, Vicky, keeps reminding me: “If you have your hand closed tight, you can’t receive anything.” I take that to mean that you have to give before you can get.. I think the same thing applies to the human heart.
What I really want to say is that I’m always impressed when I see somebody, with little regard for their own gain, do something to make something a little bit nicer or prettier, even as simple as picking up a piece of scrap paper on an office floor or a city street.
That’s why I’m so proud of the people I meet in the Green Industry. Apart from attempting to build their businesses and provide for themselves and their families, just about every one of them opens their hands and hearts when the situation requires.
Here’s the latest incident I learned about:
Teresa Mello, Dreamscape Designs, LLC, New Britain, CT., took it upon herself recently to beautify the 15-by-20-ft. entrance to Martha Hart Park in that city. According to an article in the New Britain Herald, Mello often drives by the park. Apparently, the lack of color there got to her and she volunteered to fix it up and maintain it.
“I love things to look nice and well cared for,” Mellos said in the article. Typically, she does some work at the park before heading out for her “paying” jobs.
“It is very nice of her to do that,” said Parks Department Director Bill DeMaio. “She is going to add perennials, shrubs and mulch, and she is going to; maintain it throughout the year. She has the skills and wants to give back to the community.”
Nice going Teresa Mello. You sound like the kind of neighbor and business person that would be a credit to any community.
Click on the headline for the complete article.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Folks are drilling backyard wells to save their grass

I flew into Charlotte, NC, today after having spent a couple of days in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, VA, and the only kind of grass I’ve seen this week in the Southeast has been brown grass.
Not fescue. Not bermudagrass. Not centipedegrass. Not St. Augustinegrass.
Brown grass. Dried up grass. Ugly grass.
And things are pretty much the same all over the Southeast — in fact, worse in some parts — friends in the landscape and lawn care businesses tell me. They also tell me that it's going to be a long, unhappy winter (for them at least) if the rain doesn't start falling soon.
So, what do I see when I check into a hotel in Charlotte — a front page article in The Charlotte Observer about how homeowners there are hiring well drilling companies like crazy just so they can water the grass and plants on their properties. The region has gotten precious little rain for more than two months now.
Many property owners figure the $5,000 or so cost to have a well drilled is money spent considering the $600 and up monthly water bills they’ve paying to keep their landscapes alive using water supplied by a utility. And they were racking up those big irrigation bills even as they follow the county’s recommendation that they just water twice a week.
How long the folks in and around Charlotte will be allowed to draw groundwater from their wells for irrigation is problematical because some political jurisdictions are concerned that they’re taking too much from the region’s aquifers.
Click on the headline for a copy of the article on Charlotte.com. — Ron Hall

Monday, October 08, 2007

Lawnmower bike

The Web site Treehugger.com has pulled together a feature on lawnmower bikes. Perfect for either bike enthusiasts, environmentalists or that ever-growing population of bike enthusiast environmentalists. I honestly can't imagine that these bikes do even a half-way decent job, but I wanted to pass along the link.
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/09/the_cutting_edg.php
— Mike Seuffert

Friday, October 05, 2007

Llama love

Proving there is no end to notion that truth is stranger than fiction, we shouldn't have been surprised when we read the headline on the New Jersey Business (NJBiz) Web site.

It was the first thing to catch your eye — "Local Landscaper Finds Black Gold," but this was no "Beverly Hillbillies" story of sudden riches from hidden oil deposits. No, it was more of a Peruvian poop, kinda story. Yeah, that's right poop, as in the stuff that comes out of the nether end of llamas.

According to the story, Robert Schucker, the owner of a R&S Landscaping, was hiking in the highlands of Peru when he happened across the creatures. He has since added llama pellets fertilizer to his organic landscaping offerings.

For the complete story click here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What — turfgrass pests that oink!!?

Pigs generally aren’t considered turfgrass pests. But, at least in one recent incident in East Lyme, CT, they did more damage to a homeowner’s lawn and garden than any number of grubs or cinch bugs could do. But, what makes the story even better is what happened afterwards — several Green Industry companies (and their family members) repaired the property for free.
I came across the tale at theday.com. (Click on the headline for the complete story and an image of the volunteers making the repairs.)
According to reporter Tim Martin, 18 pigs escaped from a farm in nearby Waterford and found their way to the home of Raul and Cheryl Valdez where they tore into (and destroyed) the family’s lawn and garden.
But this past Sunday, Sept. 30, several Green Industry companies — Green Acres Inc. lawn care, Jordan Brook Lawn Care and Cranberry Meadow Farm joined with Rick Taylor, owner of Pillar to Post Home Inspections — renovated the lawn.
With so many hands at work, and using a John Deere tractor, the volunteers had given the Valdez family a new lawn before noon that same day.
How did they all celebrate?
When they finished they joined voices in singing a chorus of “Green Acres” and put down an application to kill the grubs, which apparently attracted the pigs in the first place.

The Latina perspective

Landscapers around the country (along with a number of other industries) consider their next moves now that the provision for U.S. legislators have failed to renew the H2B Cap extension. Already the cap has been reached for the first have of 2008, according to news reports. (For more about that, click here.)

Trade associations are scrambling to contact their congressmen and contractors are considering their options. Curiously absent from the debate (at least I've yet to hear much about it) is the perspective of the visiting worker. Obviously, they want to be here or there wouldn't be much of an issue, but at least one source has placed the blame squarely on our shoulders.

The article on Latina Lista, which bills itself as "A viewpoint on anything and everything from a Latina perspective," begins with the illegal immigration debate, but smoothly transitions to the guest worker program. (For the full commentary, click here.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Extreme landscaping

Put away that shovel. A California landscaper may have found a better way to take care of that patch of crab grass. According to the Roselin & Rocklin Today local newspaper, "On Thursday, September 20, 2007, at approximately 1:00 PM a landscaper working in the area of Park Dr. and Lake Tahoe Ct. found a hand grenade wrapped in an old shirt just off the Park Dr. roadway. He summoned police. Rocklin Police Department officers responded, isolated the immediate area, and identified the device as an intact Vietnam-era hand grenade. The Placer County EOD team responded within an hour and a quarter and they detonated the grenade..."

OK, the grenade turned out to be a dud, but I still think it could have been a terrific time saver. — Mike Seuffert

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mystery of the dying frog blog

There's been a lot of finger pointing in California environmental circles regarding declines in the populations of yellow-legged and red-legged frogs and Yosemite toads in the High Sierra. And most of the fingers have been pointing at pesticides that they claim are drifting from farmers, many of them miles from the mountains, as the cause for the frog die-off..
It now looks as if the fingers may have been pointed prematurely.
Scientists have identified one of the main frog-killing culprits, a fungus known as Batrachocytrium dendrobatidis. They say that the waterborne fungus kills frogs by damaging their skin.
There could be (and probably are) other contributing factors, scientists speculate, including an increase in the levels of solar ultraviolet radiation reaching the High Sierra. In fact, nobody is 100% certain exactly why the number of amphibians is decreasing so rapidly. It's premature to lay the blame on one factor, most scientists now recognize as they continue to study the problem. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Dream Act Could Be a Nightmare for H-2B

According to news reports, Congress is supposed to vote on an important bill that will continue to fund our troops fighting overseas. This is exactly the kind of bill that recent extensions to the H-2B program have been attached to. And even though there might be some debate and a few votes against the measure (especially from Democrats currently running for president, which by my count now reaches 174), members of Congress know enough not to vote against the troops while they are in harm's way. Good news for H-2B, right?


Not necessarily. Senator Dick Durbin, D-IL, is also planning to try to attach legislation known as the Dream Act to the defense funding. The Dream Act has good intentions. It's designed to help children of illegal immigrants stay in the United States since they're not the ones who broke the law, and hence shouln't be punished for their parents' mistakes. To qualify, they must have been in the country for at least five years, have a high school diploma and meet other requirements. Over the next six years, they would have to spend two years in college or in the military, after which they could become legal permanent residents.


While the H-2B program has been extended numerous times and has bi-partisan support, even if it is widely misunderstood by the general public, the Dream Act is precisely the kind of wedge legislation that divides Congress and the public. On the one hand are children, who nobody wants to vote against; and on the other are illegal immigrants, who just aren't popular with the general public. On top of that, opponents of the Dream Act suggest that it would become a bureaucratic nightmare to implemenl, and way too easy for illegals to forge documents proving they meet the Act's requirements.


Ideally, a 3- to 5-year H-2B extension could have been quietly passed and serve its purpose until broader immigration reform can be accomplished. But I think a proposal like the Dream Act will cause opponents to axe all immigration reform measures together, leaving the Green Industry dangerously short on workers come next spring. Hopefully I'm wrong.


Here's a few links to learn more about the Dream Act:

Democrats in Senate returning to Immigration


Student's hopes rest on federal Dream Act


The return of the American Nightmare, A.K.A. The Dream Act

Foes line up to oppose Dream Act

— Mike Seuffert

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Police to landscaper on stolen truck — Hang on tight!

San Diego landscaper Juan Jara wasn’t about to let a thief steal his truck. When he saw a man start to drive away with his truck, which he had parked on Fourth Avenue one recent morning he immediately called 911 on his cell phone . . . and then he grabbed the rack on the truck and climbed aboard.
Jara got a wild ride into downtown San Diego and onto several local freeways, apparently in the bed of his truck. Many minutes passed (or it seemed like that to Jara) before police finally acknowledged his 911 call and advised him to “hang on tight!"
Eventually police managed to corral the truck and arrest the 22-year-old truck thief and haul him away kicking and cursing. Jara got his truck back undamaged.
There is an article and a viewer video of the arrest on the local NBC afilliate's Web site. Hopefully nbcsandiego.com still has the article and a viewer video. Click on the headline. — Ron Hall

Friday, September 14, 2007

Get paid for installing fake grass

Helix Water District near San Diego is offering rebates to single-family homeowners through its Artificial Turf Rebate Program. Customers of the East County water agency can receive a rebate of $1-per-square-foot up to 1,000 square feet for the purchase and installation of artificial turf.

If you're a homeowner there, here's what you have to do to collect:

The artificial turf must replace existing grass that is currently irrigated.
The artificial turf can be self-installed or installed by a licensed contractor.
Customers must agree to a pre- and post-installation site inspection.

Other water districts in the arid Southwest are offering similar incentives to limit the amount of irrigated turfgrass on home lawns.

Click on the headline to go to the Helix Water District Web site to view its many water conservation projects. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pile of soil costs superintendent her job

A parents' uproar arising from a pile of soil containing pesticides near a school building cost a school superintendent her job this summer.
The pile of soil, which was located near West Brook Middle School, Paramus, NJ, was contaminated with long-banned chlorinated hydrocarbons at levels greatly exceeding state standards. Parents raised a huge fuss when school officials didn’t inform them of the pesticide-laden soil until months after it was tested. Responding to their concerns, officials closed the school in May. It reopened earlier this month following remediation by a contractor.
The school board has been interviewing candidates for the superintendent’s position this September.
Was it the pesticides that caused the superintendent to resign or a lack of communication and decisive action by school officials after the soil was found to be tainted? My bet is on the later. —Ron Hall

Friday, August 31, 2007

Merkle Lawn Care did the right thing

We call it doing the right thing.
When Antonio Rodriguez Ramirez was struck and killed by a driver near Cincinnati recently, the company that employed him, Merkle Lawn Care, paid $5,000 to return his remains to his family in Guanajuato, Mexico. The 54-year-old had been working with co-workers near Ft. Thomas, KY, when an uninsured driver swerved off the road and hit him
Paying to have the body returned to his family was just the beginning of what became a complicated process that the lawn care company navigated to return the body to Mexico.
The owner of Merkle Lawn Care reportedly traveled to Mexico with Antonio’s brother.
Again, our hats are off to Merkle for their compassion.
Read the WKRC-TV report of what the company did in reuniting its deceased and valued employee with his family by clicking on the headline. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Clean Air Lawn Care a new idea with promise

Maybe you haven’t heard. After all, this is one very quiet company. But its founders are banking on it making a loud noise in the professional lawn maintenance market. The company is Clean Air Lawn Care, headquartered in Fort Collins, CO. Its plan is to plant franchises all across the United States. These are pretty lofty goals for a 2-year-old company, but its owners are confident that its use of non-polluting mowers (electric) and its business model that targets neighborhoods with properties of two acres or less will give its franchise owners a unique opportunity to gain a unique and profitable toehold in the incredibly competitive lawn maintenance industry. The company’s “environmental” message is attractive to local media types, and it’s getting lots of favorable press.
Check out its Web site at www.cleanairlawncare.com or click on the headline, which will get you there pronto. — Ron Hall

Friday, August 10, 2007

State rep. nailed for H-2B scheme

The H-2B seasonal guest worker program has been one of the big reasons for the growth of the professional landscape industry this past decade. Without reliable and cheap labor the industry could not have possibly met its customers' demands.

On the surface it seems to be a happy marriage — the landscape services industry and the annual flow of willing, hard-working seasonal immigrants.

But this is a government program with more than a few blemishes — from unscrupulous recruiters in Latin America (mostly Mexico) that charge fellow countrymen exorbitant fees in the hopes (usually unfounded) of working legally in the United States to middlemen in the United States who invent false companies and fraudently inflate the number of workers companies need in order to snap up more H-2B visas than they would be entitled to otherwise.

SInce the number of workers gaining H-2B visas is limited, every visa that's obtained illegally denies another company a legal immigrant worker.

It's with some satisfaction that I alert you to the guilty plea entered by Missouri Representative Nathan Cooper, Cape Girardeau. He plead guilty to fraud charges of obtaining worker visas for clients in the trucking business. The 33-year-old immigration attorney had a nice little racket going on and reportedly pocketed thousands of dollars in the process.

Cooper is likely to spend some hard time in the joint and pay a pretty hefty fine.

This thing is getting a lot of press in Missouri, more news reports are coming in and they say that Cooper has resigned from the Missouri House and he's losing his law license, too.

Here's one interesting report: http://www.semissourian.com/story/1245545.html

And Land Line, a magazine for professional truckers kicked in with a news story of its own, which you can access at:

http://www.landlinemag.com/Special_Reports/2007/Aug07/081007_Visa_fraud.htm

Click on the headline to read yet another newspaper article about how this state rep let his greed get the better of him. — Ron Hall

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bikini lawn care — great franchise idea?

The media around the world has run articles about the Memphis, TN, lawn care company that uses young ladies in bikinis to mow customers' lawns.

We've never seen so many articles devoted to a single lawn care company before ever. Every day a couple more come to our attention. Just when you think the media's fascination with the service has cooled, along comes another article.

But the latest article really caught our attention. It said the Tiger Time Lawn Care, the company that became notorious for the stunt was franchising bikini lawn care, and that it was selling 53 franchises every hour . . . .WHAT!!!!!

As I read further I learned that the company was charging $100 for one of its lovely young employees to mow a lawn, which includes cutting, bagging, edginig and weed whacking. . .The price doubles if you stay outside to watch.

OK, enough's enouogh, right?

The article telling about Tiger Time's new franchise venture appeared on "The Spoof," which kind of reminds me of "The Onion," another source of outlandish (and often funny) material. In other words, Tiger Time Lawn Care is NOT franchising bikini lawn carre services.

If you don't believe me, click on the headline and read the article for yourself.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Feds charge Chicago-area landscape company owner

Aidan E. Monahan, president of Monhan's Landscaping Inc., Arlington Heights, IL, is being charged with cheating the Chicago Pulbic Schools out of $1.5 million. Prosecutors say he used a city-certified minority-owned business as a front to contract with the school district from 2003 to 2006. The feds say the minority-owned business provided a way to funnel money back to the landscape company in a pass-through scheme.

Hey, these kind of schemes (or variations thereof) have been going on in Cleveland for years. . .So, what's the big deal?

In any event, click on the headline to view the article that appeared in the Chicago Daily Herald about the landscape company president.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bikini maintenance

Oh where do we begin? There are so many problems with this story.

First the background. A Memphis, TN landscaper has hired a number of shapely women to cut grass while wearing bikinis. According to reports not only is he getting business, he's able to charge a higher price then local competitors.

Let's start with the safety issue. Bikinis aren't well known for their ability to protect the body against flying debris, not to mention the exposure to sun.

Clearly the owner of the company, which bills itself as Tiger Time Lawn Care knows a little something about marketing. People will pay to see attractive women in skimpy clothing. Not that we don't appreciate the feminine form, but there is a time and a place, neither of which are when you're around landscaping equipment. It also takes away from the professionalism most companies try to project.

We could make an argument for sexism (since there are no men in Speedo bathing suits), but we won't go there.

Nowhere could we find a comment on the quality of their work, and we suspect that will ultimately decide fate of this company. There are probably a lot of things companies can do to capture your attention, but if the quality of your work is substandard, you can't expect the flash to sustain you.

For more information on the story and to see Memphis, TN's WMC-TV video report, please
click here.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Elderly woman roughed up because of untidy lawn

Orem, UT, means business when it comes to its lawns. And I mean business.

A couple of weeks ago I reported on the city hiring TruGreen ChemLawn to treat some of the city because Japanese beetles had been discovered in one of its neighborhoods. Apparently, they had never been seen there before, and the city didn't want them to get established.

Now comes news reports that a policeman there cuffed and jailed a 70-year-old woman there because she hadn't been watering or tending her lawn. According to the report by the Associated Press, the officer knocked on the door of Betty Perry to inform her of the city's nuisance ordinance. The woman refused to give her name, saying later that she wasn't going to say anything until she had talked to her son or a lawyer.

Anyway, the situation went from bad to worse. The officer arrested her and slapped handcuffs on her. As she was being led down her stairs she reportedly fell and got skinned up pretty good, her nose and elbows.

The 70-year-old woman ended up in jail, but for just an hour, according to reports. When the higher ups in the department heard what had happened they released her from jail and dropped the charges — maintaining a nuisance property and resisting arrest.

The arresting officer? Last word was that he was sent on for the rest of the day and was put on paid administrative leave. — LM Staff

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My lawn looks like shredded wheat

Talked to Matt of Matt's Fast Lawn Care this morning. "We need rain," says Matt, who only gets paid when he's out there mowing. Don't think he has many seasonal contracts. Good thing Matt's got a second job. The guy loves to work. But he'd rather be mowing than retreiving carts at the local Kroger where he's worked for years.

The neighborhood's been strangely silent these past few weeks. The mowers are silent. The grass in my back yard looks like shredded wheat. Who can afford to water? Water is expensive here. Hey, somebody has to pay for the new water plant and the upgrades to our sewage treatment plant, right?

This isn't the picture I had in my mind of my property this spring, not after II practically emptied the big box stores in a 50- mile radius of pavers and wall blocks (both were on sale) this past winter. Yes, the plan was to design and build an incredible patio behind our home. (Ahhh, starry summer evenings and me and the mrs. relaxing on comfy chairs, foo-foo drinks in hand, soft rock in the background.)

Instead, the yard's a disaster. The aging, sagging deck that graced the rear of our home has been reduced (finally) to a huge pile of weathered lumber. It's a toss up if that mess looks worse than the mess of the nearby huge stack of wall blocks and pavers, and all the other crap that accumulates around an abandoned work site — wheelbarrows, shovels, garden hoses.

All I need now to complete the picture of a landscape from hell is a sun-faded Pontiac Firebird on blocks and a clawfoot bathtub planted with petunias and marigolds.


I'm going to have to suck it up and get back to this project one of these days. — Ron Hall

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Robots among us

I wouldn't worry -- yet.

Last year, Popular Science magazine ran an article entitled "Where's My Flying Car?" It focused on a lot of the technology science fiction writers and movie makers implied we'd be enjoying right about now, including the ever desired flying vehicle.

OK, you can actually find a flying car, but these are the toys of those people whose bank portfolios use eight or nine digits, the people featured on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." For most of us the flying car remains a bit out of reach.

But time marches on. Technology advances and they have invented something to give pause — a robot that can pull weeds. That doesn't mean you should polishing your resume or heading back to finish that economics degree just yet. They've had robotic lawn mowers for awhile and not too many people have been put out of business.

Right now the robot only identifies 23 kinds of weeds. And if my yard is any indication, I'm still going to have to get out there and work even if I did have a mechanical weed pulling robot. If it ever becomes a viable, commercial product, we'll have to deal with it like everything else. Homeowners have their own mowers and still the market grows for our services. Like every other item that comes along, it's simply another tool to embrace to make us all more effective.

For more on the device please, click here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The 'Kings' digs come under attack

For some reason I find the following new product pitch amusing. Flashback to a Monty Python skit? The part about the Elvis home in Palm Springs being such a tourist attraction . . . still? (Or ever, for that matter. Folks, maybe it's time to get over this, right?

Or maybe it's the idea of sprinkling squirrels and rabbits every time they show up to take breakfast on the property's landscape plants. Hey, I don't doubt that it works; I just get this image of Mr.Rabbit and Mr. Squirrel in an animated discussion trading thoughts about why every time they hop into Elvis's yard they get doused with water.

Or maybe, it's me; I watched too many Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. Should I seek help? — Ron Hall

Victoria, BC (June 28, 2007).  Elvis Presley’s Palm Springs, California estate has found an effective high-tech solution to protect the historic property from some unwanted, four-legged tourists.  The first home purchased by newlyweds Elvis and Priscilla Presley, the estate is now the number one tourist attraction in Palm Springs with hundreds of visitors each week.  It was at this house that Elvis planned his ‘Aloha from Hawaii’ concert, recorded eight songs for RCA in the living room in 1973, and where he spent his last birthday.

Purchased in 2003 by Reno and Laura Fontana, the new owners and caretakers quickly set to work revitalizing the grounds of the estate with almost $9000 worth of new plants and landscaping.  However, soon after they were finished they noticed a large number of squirrels and rabbits had appeared on the property.  At first they were thrilled to have some new four-legged tourists, but the novelty soon wore off when their hard work and plants started disappearing by the mouthful.  The cute critters they had enjoyed the first couple of days soon became their furry adversaries.  While they didn’t want to harm the animals, they also didn’t want their hard work to become a daily dining spot for local wildlife.

After calling nurseries around the United States in search of a humane solution to control the problem, they discovered the ScareCrow® motion-activated sprinkler.  Used extensively by gardeners to protect their plants and ponds from deer, heron, dogs, cats and raccoons, the ScareCrow is manufactured by Contech Electronics (www.contech-inc.com). The Fontanas noticed results immediately, “The ScareCrow is a landscape lifesaver!  It’s done a great job of keeping out the critters.  And not just the little ones; it also keeps out the larger animals that are out for a daily walk with their owners.” Now, after two months of use, the gardens of the estate are free of rabbits, squirrels and other wandering animals. Laura added, “Elvis would have loved it.”

For more information and to view photos of Elvis Presley’s Palm Springs Estate visit www.pselvis.com. For more on safe and effective animal deterrents, visit www.contech-inc.com.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fidel Castro nabbed with stolen lawn care booty in car

“It gets worse in America everyday. We can’t even deport Fidel Castro.” That’s what one reader wrote on the Naple News Web site in response to an article about Fidel Castro getting a judicial hand slap after being discovered with a load of stolen lawn care booty in his car.
OK, this is not THE Fidel Castro, and he’s not knocking on death’s door like the Cuban dictator. But this Fidel, a 23-year-old American citizen was born in Cuba, information that prompted another reader to comment: “Fidel Castro? Sounds like his mother was doing some really, REALLY good drugs when he was born and needed a name.”
The article in the Naples, FL, newspaper, said that police stopped Fidel the evening of March 21 because he was driving without his headlights on. When they looked into the car they saw a bunch of lawn care stuff that had been stolen from Wizzard Lake Nursery, Crawford Landscaping and Davey Tree.
The court cut a deal with Fidel and put him on three years probation after he claimed that he was just helping out his brother-in-law and was unaware that the equipment had been burglarized. And, also, that he would testify against his brother-in-law. (Uh oh, If he thought he had in-law problems before . . .;.)
Click on the headline to read the article in the Naples News. — Ron Hall

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tractor ejects, lands on NY grounds worker

Henry Williams, 63, died Tuesday, June 19, when the tractor he was operating fell down a 70-ft. hill and eventually landed on top of him. Williams was towing a mower behind the tractor on the grounds of Farmingdale State University when he apparently lost control of the tractor on a dirt road adjacent to a large field he was preparing to mow, reported the Wednesday edition of the Long Island (NY) Press. — Ron Hall

Here are 10 tractor safety commandments, courtesy of Kubota Tractor:

1. Know your tractor, its implements and how they work. Please read and understand the operator’s manual(s) before operating the equipment. Also, keep our equipment in good condition.
2. Use ROPS and seat belt whenever and wherever applicable. If your tractor has a foldable ROPs, fold it down only when absolutely necessary and fold it back up and lock it again as soon as possible. Do not wear the seat belt when the ROPS is folded. Most tractor fatalities are caused by overturns.
3. Be familiar with your terrain and work area. Walk the area first to be sure and drive safely. Use special caution on slopes, slow down for all t urns and stay off the highway whenever possible.
4. Never start an engine in a closed shed or garage. Exhaust gas contains carbon monoxide, which is colorless, odorless — and deadly.
5. Always keep your PTO properly shield. Make it a habit to walk about your tractor and PTO-driven implement — never over, through or between the tractor and implement, particularly if either is running. The PTO rotates with enough speed and strength to kill you.
6. Keep your hitches low and always on the drawbar. Otherwise, your tractor might flip over backwards.
7. Never get off a moving tractor or leave it with its engine running. Shut it down before leaving the seat. A runaway tractor can be extremely dangerous.
8. Never refuel while the engine is running or hot. Additionally, do not add coolant to the radiator while the engine is hot; hot coolant can erupt and scald.
9. Keep all children off and away from your tractor and its implements at all times.
10. Never be in a hurry or take chances about anything you do with your tractor. Think safety first, then take your time and do it right.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Read about Arlington National Cemetery in National Geographic

If you want to know why members of the Professional Landcare Network keep going back to Arlington National and Old Congressional cemeteries in Washington D.C. summer after summer, please read the article about Arlington National Cemetery in the June 2007 issue of the National Geographic.

This wonderfully written article by Rick Atkinson (the photography is stunning) tells it all.

PLANET's Arlington event had its genesis 11 years ago. Cleveland-area lawn care pro Phil Fogarty did most of the legwork for that first event sponsored by the then Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA). A tiny group of lawn care pros spent most of that day applying fertilizer to turfgrass at the cemetery.

The event grew, the idea fueled mostly by Fogarty's enthusiasm. By the time that PLCAA merged with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) several years ago to form PLANET, more than a hundred lawn care pros were participating, most of them coming back year after yea.

Now the event is under PLANET's umbrella and more landscapers, irrigation experts and tree care folks are participating. Many owners work elbow-to-elbow with their families (spouses and children) or they bring their crews to help them out. The annual REnewal and Remembrance event has gotten to be one helluva big event, too big actually for Fogarty to do on his own anymore, and some of his friends are now taking the lead now.

Many of the industry's supplier companies help out with product, too. Everything is donated — labor, materials, a desire to make a difference.

This year's Renewal and Remembrance Day is July 17. Several hundred Green Industry professionals will work from early morning into the afternoon beautifying Arlington National Cemetery and Old Congressional Cemetery.

I don't know if it's too late to register or not, but you can get the details by going to the PLANET Web site at www.landcarenetwork.org.

And please pick up a copy of the June issue of National Geographic whether you are going or not. You'll gain a deeper appreciation for Arlington National Cemetery. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Who says young folks lack drive ...

Jaskaran Heir has been mowing lawns for the past six years and has done quite well at it, according to an article in the online site Indystar.com. He gets customers the old fashion way, going door to door fliers in hand — and doing what he promises to do.

This week he is receiving the 2007 Ernst & Young Youth Entrepreneur of the Year for the Lake Michigan region. In the fall he will be attending the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. His goal is become a mutual or hedge fund manager.

He says the most important thing he's learned while running his lawn maintenance is time management.

"Mowing grass is only one aspect of my life. I need time to do schoolwork, hang out with my friends and play sports. Mowing grass has taught me how to manage my time effectively so that I can get everything done," he says.

Jaskaran, 19, graduated from high school this week. Sounds like he's already got a pretty darn good handle on what it takes to succeed in the business world.

To read the online interview at Indystar.com, just click on the headline. — Ron Hall

Monday, June 18, 2007

Right (Write) on, Mark Kramer

Mark Kramer, president of JBK Landscape in Aurora, CO, perfectly described the employment issues so many companies are having — not being able to find decent workers — in an editorial in the Rocky Mountain News:

"Thirty years ago, hippies like Jim and me wanted to get dirty in the sun, grass and weeds. Americans don't today. When JBK Landscape advertises for laborers like Ricardo, we get just a trickle of applicants. It's not the money. We pay $14 an hour for skilled foremen and $25 an hour for snow removal. But these are outdoor jobs, in the sun, snow and sleet. My college-graduate son would rather work for $7 an hour as an assistant radio and television producer in Los Angeles.

So every year, JBK Landscape hires 45 of its 100 employees through the H-2B guest worker program. Without this program, we couldn't run our $5.2 million business."

Mark is absolutely right. Comprehensive immigration reform is a national priority, but both parties would rather bicker about the issue until it dies rather than actually making some tough decisions. If only half of Congress weren’t busy running for president right now, maybe we’d be able to get something actually done.

Read the rest of Mark’s editorial here. — Mike Seuffert

Get back inside

In Landscape Management, we’ve written a lot about the trend of outdoor rooms being a huge component of landscape design/build. But according to this article from the Providence (RI) Journal, some people are finding the extra work associated with the outdoor areas not worth the effort.



“The backyard misery has been a boon for exterminators and repair shops. Fire ants nest in speakers and televisions. (They’re attracted to the hum and vibration.) Squirrels chew on the arms of teak furniture and on speaker wires. When expensive electronics come into contact with water, dust, pollen and heat, burnouts and other problems can occur.”



Worse yet, even after spending in the six digits to create an outdoor paradise, some of the areas are going unused.



“A study published in the March edition of the Journal of Family and Economic Issues suggests it isn’t uncommon for families to abandon their decked-out yards. Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles tracked the activities of 24 middle-class L.A. households. They found that though the backyards were equipped with pools, patios, grills and, in one case, a skateboard ramp, children spent little time playing in them and adults rarely used them.” 



So are outdoor rooms dying. Hardly. But this article maybe makes me feel a little better about the fact that I couldn’t afford to even clean one of these outdoor areas, let alone build one.

— Mike Seuffert

Friday, June 01, 2007

Add-on Biz?

East Cleveland, OH Mayor Eric Brewer has asked city firefighters to start cutting grass and perform other jobs during their down time. The firefighters, naturally, are concerned about their ability to respond to emergencies if they're sitting on a mower in the middle of a field.

Brewer enacted a provision from World War II, when many of the men that did this work were busy overseas. The law gve the mayor the power to order workers to handle duties outside their regular job description. It may save the city money in the short run. We just wonder what's going to happen the first time someone is injured because it took a few extra minutes for the fire fighters to respond.

For the full story from The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer please
click here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Good samaritans

Too often when tales of crime and landscape are put together it is the contractor who comes out smelling like fertilizer. But in this case a Kansas City, MO crew, came out looking like roses. While on their lunch break one of the crew memebers noticed a couple of teenagers running past carrying a purse.
He took off, running after the suspects and the rest of the crew quickly followed. They were able to stop the pair and detain them until police arrived. And this isn't the first time the crew stopped a crime. A few weeks earlier, they helped police stop some armed robbery suspects.
Stopping armed robbers isn't something we recommend, but it's nice to know these guys are on our side.

For the complete story, please
click here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Handy fuel cost guide from G.W. Bush and friends

It's a tough row to hoe, this $3.50-plus per gallon of gasoline. Don't see how people making less than $10 an hour can afford to drive to work, especially if the commute is more than, say, 20 miles or so. Hell, at $10 an hour, I can't see how they can afford to eat. But we're talking energy today.

Don't know exactly how these record-high fuel costs are going to play out for companies that have a lot of fleet vehicles on the road either — but it's a good bet these extra costs are going to be passed on to U.S. consumers. In other words . . . hello, inflation, which is a given anyway in light of the billions we're pouring into that murderous sinkhole we've created in Iraq. Those billions have to come from somewhere, right? But, back to the topic at hand, gasoline and diesel fuel.

Check out the Web site www.fueleconomy.gov. (Click on the headline.)

It gives some good tips on saving money at the pump and provides a complete list of motor vehicles (cars, SUVs, vans and trucks), their estimated mpg per transmission/engine configuration, plus annual estimated fuel costs to operate each of these vehicles.

You can download the information in a PDF. Pretty neat. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Misery loves company?

KSWO Channel 7 News broadcast the plight of Kevin Williams, a landscaper in Lawton, OK. His company maintains about 85 lawns. On the broadcast he says that his average monthly bill for fuel for his truck, mowers, etc. was about $1,800. His latest bill was $3,200. He says that if the price of gasoline doesn’t come down he will have to reduce the size of his workforce and the number of lawns he can maintain. He’s caught in a squeeze because he says that about 90% of his clients signed contracts before gasoline started climbing.

Wonder how many owners of route-based service businesses are caught in similar squeezes? My guess is just about all of them.

If you want to see a video of Williams, click on the headline, which will take you to the KSWO Web page with his story. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sky's the limit — it's a gas, gas, gas

Today is gas boycott day. Since I filled up last night when the price was a mere $3.19 a gallon . . . no problemo.

Today, the price of gasoline jumped to $3.29 a gallon here in my neighborhood. It's now more expensive than it was immediately post Katrina.

OK, let's play the blame game. Pick what you think is the reason(s) for the sudden spike in gasoline prices. Then, for what it's worth, I'll tell you what I think. Pick your favorite of the following reasons:

- Basic supply & demand factors, (You know the stuff we learned in Econ 101.)
- Oil company fat cats getting all they can get while they can get it. ("Greed is good" - Gordon Gecko)
- Aging and inadequate refinery capacity in the United States. (It's been 31 years since a new refinery came on line here.)
- Strife and political tensions in oil producing nations. (When in our lifetimes wasn't there strife in the Middle East or Latin America or Russia and its satellite nations?)
- Market manipulation. (Speculators, whether it's real estate, oil or whatever, play the last-one-in-loses game. Meanwhile they make a killing.)

The oil companies (and their executives) are fattening up because a.) they can see trouble ahead in the form of dwindling supplies or alternative energy sources but, more likely, b.) they're greedy and testing the upper limit of what consumers will pay before they wise up and start driving more efficient cars or cut back on their driving. But isn't that basic supply and demand economics? Mix in some sharp wheeling and dealing in the New York Mercantile where crude oil and finished gasoline are traded and you have the recipe for sky-high prices. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

They're getting younger all the time

A little healthy competition can be good for business. But three Knoxville, TN, brothers that started a maintenance operation may just make their Knoxville area competitors shudder.
The Dotson boys, Jarod, 14, and twins Jacob and Jordan, 13, began three years ago by cutting the grass for a neighbor. Then they added a few lawns and then a few more. Dotson Lawn Service took most of the $6,500 they earned last year to purchase new equipment.
Now, with gross revenues measured in four digits instead of six, seven or even eight, they're not going to appear on anyone's Top Companies list, but that's not the point. Every lawn they're cutting is one less for your company. Yes, they did get a little funding help from their parents, but how is that much different than borrowing from cousins, uncles, sisters and raiding the savings account to get your own business started.
Sure, these kids can't even drive for another couple of years, so their opportunities to expand are pretty limited. But what isn't limited is the number of young, entrepreneurial kids with willingness to push a lawn mower over a neighbor's yard.
And as Jarod said,

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Raleigh television unloads on lawn care industry

Talk about getting ripped.

Wow, did Steve Daniels, the anchor for ABC 11 in Raleigh, NC, unload on the professional lawn care community, even though TruGreen ChemLawn was the only company mentioned in his two on-air reports.

The affiliate's “Toxic Green Part 1” and “Toxic Green Part 2” segments quoted industry critics that accused professional lawn care of, in effect, spewing products harmful to people’s health onto lawns in pursuit of greener grass and bigger profits. The segments aired on consecutive days in late March.

“Eyewitness News is taking you beyond the green and exposing you (to) what the lawn service industry may not want you to know,” beat the promo drum to the “investigative” report.

Daniels, from his bio on the station's Web site, is apparently one hotshot reporter. The ABC 11 Web site, lists his impressive array of television news jobs — everything from being a correspondent for “Dateline NBC” to being the weekday anchor for WTVJ in Miami, and mentions that he has won seven Emmys for investigative reporting.

Bet he doesn't win an eighth with this turkey of a hack job. (If he does, I vow never to name a daughter or ever associate anybody with the name Emmy or Emma or Emily or Enema . . .you get the point.)

In his two reports — at least the two that appear on the television station’s Web site — there isn't a single comment from a single person from the lawn care industry. The "Toxic" reports did draw a response from TruGreen ChemLawn, which issued a surprisingly mild rebuttal to the reports.

Click on the headline for TruGreen’s response and links to the two Daniels reports.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Today's tip — do not pick up hand grenades

NANTUCKET, MA — Today’s question: Assume during the course of your workday as a landscaper you rake up a hand grenade, what should you do?
1. Gasp and exclaim “Oh, S*#! as you hi-tail it outta there?
2. Prod it with the business end of your rake to see if it’s still functional?
3. Leave it where you found it and call somebody who knows a lot more about hand grenades than you do? (i. e. law enforcement)
4. Pick it up and take it to a police station?
If you answered #4, WRONG!
But that’s what a landscaper did a couple of days ago.
“We prefer that people just leave those things where they are and we’ll come and look at them,” said Nantucket Police Lt. Jerry Adams, as quoted in the April 27 issue of the Cape Cod Times.
It is believed the World War II-era was a leftover from when the U.S. Navy operated a firing range on the island.

No word yet as whether the hand grenade was “live” or not. — Ron Hall

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Today is Earth Day. Did you remember?

Responding to growing concerns about the environment, then-U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, (D-WI), called for an Environmental Teach-in or Earth Day to be held on April 22, 1970. More than 20 million people took part.

More than 500 million people in 175 countries now observe Earth Day each year.

Nelson modeled Earth Day on the increasingly effective Vietnam War protests of the time. The first Earth Day had participants in 2,000 colleges and universities; in 10,000 elementary, junior high and high schools and in hundreds of communities

The first Earth Day led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.

- Source: earthday.org

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Kiss your grass g'bye

I have headline envy after reading this article in the New York Post. It reports that the New York City Parks Department has installed 74 artificial turf sports fields and is planning to spend $150 million more to build another 100 fields over the next five years. Synthetic turf is one of the hottest businesses going right now. And not just for sports turf. It's going to be bigger in the landscape industry too. My prediction.

By the way, many of New York's synthetic fields will be used for youth soccer. How about this headline for that: "Not Exactly a Kick in the Grass." — Ron Hall

Friday, April 13, 2007

Laws easier to make than enforce

Making a law seems to be easier than enforcing it. Case in point the pesticide neighbor notification law that New York State legislators allow counties to pass. A handful of counties have.
The law requires people (including lawn pros) who apply liquid pesticides to properties to give abutting property owners and residents 24-hour notice prior to the application. In theory, the notification is intended to protect people’s health.
The reality is that the law is apparently difficult to enforce, at least in Monroe County where neighbor notification went into effect last year. Television station WHAM 13 on its web site reported this week that the county issued just 10 warnings this past year and five went to homeowners.
The station reports that health officials there say they’ll get tougher this season.
Click on the headline for the article and to see a video of the actual broadcast.

Copy and click on this link to see the notification signs the county says should be posted:

http://www.monroecounty.gov/p/health-NNSigns.pdf

— Ron Hall

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reports of the death of Canadian lawn care are greatly exaggerated

You may not agree with the source, but a recent column from the Western Catholic Reporter cited some interesting statistics about the lawn care industry in Toronto, and how it has overcome bans on pesticide use to grow 30% since 2001.

"Despite the growing trend away from chemically based lawn care, Toronto lawn companies are showing substantial growth. A recently released report by the City of Toronto's health department cites data from Statistics Canada showing a 30 per cent increase in the lawn care and landscaping sector since 2001.

It should be noted at the same time, pesticide use has decreased significantly. According to the interim evaluation of Toronto's pesticide bylaw, 'From 2003 to 2005 the proportion of Toronto residents who report any pesticide use on their lawns has decreased by 35 per cent.'"

And even though the column comes from outside the industry, her advice is pretty good.

"Non-chemical lawn care is much more labour intensive, and hence more costly than chemical lawn maintenance. In non-chemical lawn care, the standard of bi-annual spraying that most chemical companies employ is replaced by such maintenance functions as fertilizing, aerating, hand-weeding, de-thatching and over seeding. Since many of these activities are done on an as needed basis, that bi-annual visit can translate into monthly (or more) check ups.

Given the huge amount of public support behinds these bylaws, it's likely that provincial governments will respond with province-wide legislation, much like they did in the case of regional and municipal smoking bans. When that happens, smart lawn care companies will be ready." — Mike Seuffert

Monday, April 09, 2007

School science project fallout continues

Wow, the science project involving pesticides that two high school students at Pedro Menendez High School conducted several weeks ago continues to make news near St. Augustine, FL. (See blog "Not your father'
s science project.")
Briefly, the students, apparently using protocols established by an organization known as the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) sampled the air for traces of pesticides near South Woods Elementary School. When their project turned up evidence of dianzinon, endsulfan and triflualin the media picked up on the story, and concern about possible exposures to school children grew. The pesticides are reportedly used in nearby cabbage fields.
Soon thereafter, the St. Johns School District hired a company known as MACTEC, Jacksonville, FL, to test the air at the school grounds. After it said it had collected six samples on three different days, it reported that levels of diazinon and endosulfan were well below standards set by OSHA. And it had found no trifluralin. The principal at the elementary school said the testing confirmed that the health of the students there is not being compromised by pesticide drift.
But that hasn’t quieted the controversy. No by a long shot.
PANNA claims that the MACTEC testing and its results are based on levels of concern set for adults who work directly with pesticides, while PANNA’s critics claim that it is basing its findings based exposures to a 1-year-old child.
The Florida Department of Agriculture is reportedly looking at the results of both sets of tests, how the data was gathered at and what it means.
An article in the Sunday, April 8, St. Augustine newspaper, gives a good wrapup of what the two high school students hath wrought with their science project. Click on the headline for the article.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Canada craziness finally infects Guelph

Guelph, with more than 100,000 residents and home to one of the top research universities in North America, is not what you would call a hick town. But, you’ve got to wonder about the leadership in this vibrant Canadian city, located about 65 miles west of Toronto. In fact, you have to wonder about the leadership in towns and cities across Canada.

OK, let me say upfront that this is about lawn care products, the kind that anybody can buy at any garden center, big box or hardware store. If you're not interested in the ongoing controversy involving the use of these products by professionals in Canada, tune out now. If you’re in the turf services business and, in particular, you're a local politico, you’ll find what I have to say interesting, whether you agree or not.

As a former (and longtime) city hall reporter I thought I had heard and reported on just about every cockamaymee new piece of legislation that the fertile minds of local lawmakers could float.

Hmm, let’s see. There was the proposal to control wild rabbits in one city because a particularly vocal councilman complained that the critters were damaging the vegetable and flower gardens of his neighbors. That effort failed, as did a similar recommendation in another community to license pet cats in the city, with one ward councillor even proposing they be subject to the same leash law as dogs. (On reflection, maybe that wasn't such a bad idea.)

It’s almost impossible to add up the hours I sat witnessing misguided attempts by local legislators to protect citizens from this hazard or that, most of them being of the annoyance variety and practically all of the them overstated and sometimes comically over-dramatized.

I’m not saying that hold local lawmakers to be dishonest, mean spirited or even that they put their own interests ahead of their constituents — well, perhaps occassionally. Indeed, I’ve sat elbow to elbow with dozens of council members, commissioners, zoning board appointees, etc. at local pubs or coffee shops, and we've engaged in friendly conversations on a range of issues. And sometimes we've even agreed on a point or three. Most of these local representatives were intelligent, honest, civic minded . . . and sometimes woefully ignorant of a particular issue or, giving them the benefit of the doubt, closed minded to opposing viewpoints, even when they the viewpoints are supported by evidence or facts
.
Is this the case in Guelph and elsewhere in much of Canada where local lawmakers have either passed or are in the process of passing laws restricting the use of pesticides by professional lawn applicators?

These laws target lawn care companies almost exclusivey.

The question is: Why are just professional lawn care companies being singled out when homeowners can continue to buy and use exactly the same products?

The bigger question is: Why are local lawmakers even involved in this issue?

This is senseless, and especially in Guelph, home to the Guelph Turfgrass Institute, the premiere turf research and educational facility in the entire country. — Ron Hall

Friday, March 30, 2007

Big hug for Keating Enterprises Inc.

Talk about giving back to the community! One big pat on the back (and maybe a hug, too) to Keating Enterprises Inc., based in Worcester, MA.
The company is donating its services, materials and equipment to maintain six city-owned parks this year. That includes mowing, fertility, tree replacing and snow removal.
This is no small gesture.
City Manager Michael V. O'Brien estimates the work is saving the cash-strapped city about $100,000.
This isn't the first time, Michael J. Keating, the owner of landscape company has chipped in when times were tough in his town. Back in the lean years of the early 1980s his company mowed the city Little League fields to help out.
“It feels good to give back to the city and we will continue to do whatever we can to help out,” Keating is quoted as saying in a nice article (click on headline above) in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper.
Keating realizes that to get, you have to give first. His company turns 40 next year!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Compete without 'illegals'?

Do you have to hire illegal immigrants to compete in the landscape business? Kirsten Stewart says you do — in her California market, at least.
The 40-year-old landscape business owner, who lives in Santa Monica, refuses to hire undocumented immigrant workers. Because she pays more for labor she says she can’t match competitors’ bids for landscape work, and her business is suffering because of that.
She claims that the reason why Americans don’t want to take landscape jobs is because the wages are so low because of the availability of illegal workers.
We’ve often wondered what percentage of immigrant landscape employees are working with forged papers. Nobody seems to know and the subject is rarely brought up, at least not publicly.
We’ve also often wondered how the Pew Hispanic Trust came up with the figure of 10 to 12 million illegal workers in the United States. Somehow that number has become taken as Gospel and is used whenever the issue of immigration comes up.
Read about Kirsten Stewart’s stance on illegals (as written by Mark Cromer, a writer for Californians for Population Stabilization) by clicking on the headline. — Ron Hall

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Not your father's science project

Forget those styrofoam balls on straightened coat hangers rotating around a yellow beach ball. The solar system doesn't cut it as a science project any more? And those baking soda eruptions from paper mache volcanos? They're oh-so-yesterday.

Note to school age science geeks — Check out the school project that two 17-year-old students at a rural Florida high school recently completed. Note the controversy it has created.

In a nutshell, the two students tested the air for pesticides near a nearby elementary school. When officials of the school, which opened in the fall of 2005, wouldn’t allow them to put their test equipment on school property, they put it on private property near the school. (As way of background, the school is located in an agricultural area — mostly cabbage and some potatoes — southwest of Jacksonville, FL.

When the high school students released their findings that their “drift catcher” had captured evidenced of pesticides, such as diazinon, trifluralin and the herbicide endosulfin in the air near the school all hell brought loose. School officials told parents of students there’s no reason for concern, and one pesticide expert said the findings were essentially part of the anti-pesticide agenda of the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). Other experts, including the folks from PANNA, insist the testing was sound and the results accurate.

Click on the headline for the article reported March 23 by news4jac.com. (Sometimes the link works; sometimes it doesn't.) — Ron Hall

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Scotts says healthy workers, healthier bottom line

If you've followed this blog you know that Scotts fired one of its lawn care techs this past year because he tested positive for smoking cigarettes. Scotts has a no-smoking policy. And that's no smoking anywhere, not even at your home.

But when it comes to employee health at Scotts, that isn't the half of it. The company, in an effort to control health care costs, has instituted one of the most rigorous (perhaps THE most rigorous) employee "wellness" programs ever attempted by a major U.S. company. Scotts employees apparently can get free memberships to health care facilities, enroll in free weight-loss programs, counseling for stress and depression, you name it. All of this and a $5 million, 24,000-sq.-ft. fitness center with doctors and nurses and personal training (apparently there's a cost to this) across the street from its Marysville, OH, headquarters.

What's not to like about quitting smoking or shedding that winter lard, right? Well, if you don't buy into the program, you have to pay a higher health insurance premium than employees joining the wellness crowd.

Scotts CEO Jim Hagedorn spelled it all out months ago when he showed employees that the company's health-care bill in 2003 consumed 20% of its net profits and they were trending upwards. He's determined to put a stop to that, and apparently other big companies are watching closely for obvious reasons.

A recent article in Business Week magazine about the company's aggressive "get well" campaign, drew a lot of comments from readers. Click here to read what people think of Scotts wellness plan. — Ron Hall

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Squirrels put on birth control

This has nothing to do with landscaping really, unless you've been having problems with squirrels destroying your clients' property. But an article from the Los Angeles Times recently reported that city officials from Santa Monica are proposing birth control shots to control the squirrel population at city parks.


According to the article, "Plans call for squirrels in Palisades Park to be rounded up and injected with an immuno-contraceptive vaccine to stunt sexual development. The inoculations will take place this summer when the squirrels are most active. The city plans to use GonaCon, a contraceptive developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to help control the critters. The vaccine stops ovulation and lactation in female squirrels, and halts testicular development in males. 'It’s a cutting-edge approach,' said Joe McGrath, the city’s parks chief. 'Pest control in general isn’t usually very exciting or even controversial. That hasn’t been the case with the squirrels.'”


You can read the rest of the story here.


Though since this is from an area that is pretty liberal, I really have to ask whether they've already tried passing out tiny squirrel condoms or offering squirrel abortions on demand. — Mike Seuffert

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

780 extra H-2B visas available this year?

I just came across this article from a few weeks ago. It talks about Major League Baseball reaching out to different parts of the world to build its fanbase and to recruit players. It also laments the lack of more African American players and managers.

Anyway, what I found interesting is that, until this year, minor league baseball players brought in from overseas used H-2B visas to enter the country. And I suppose that makes sense. Like landscaping, baseball is a seasonal industry where the players can go back home during the off-season.

Apparently, the law has changed this year. According to the article from ElitesTV, "MLB has gotten an even bigger break from the federal government in a recent change in the Immigration & Nationality Act, which was hardly publicized. Amended by the U.S. Congress in 2006 and signed into law on December 22, 2006 by President George W. Bush, it is known as the “Compete Act of 2006” or the “Creating Opportunities for Minor League Professionals, Entertainers and Teams Through Legal Entry Act of 2006.”

"The legislation changes the visa status of foreign-born minor league players to be able to use P-1 visas, formerly reserved only for major league players, and an upgrade from the H-2B visas, generally used by temporary foreign-born workers in numerous industries. Each team previously was limited to 26 H-2B visas per season for its minor leagues. Major leagues have no numerical limitations with the P-1 visa, valid for a period of 10 years."

If that is true, that means that 780 new H-2B visas should be open to industries starving for foreign labor, figuring 30 teams times 26 H-2B visas per team. Of course, that's still not nearly enough to meet the growing demand from the Green Industry and others. But it may be kind of fun to think of yourself like a baseball team and those H-2B workers you do get as your Future All Stars. — Mike Seuffert

Monday, March 12, 2007

Fishing for Moby Dick? Bring tarter sauce

A year ago today, March 12, 2006, a tornado did its killer dance through the Midwest. In its path was Sprinfield, IL, including the headquarters of Jack Robertson Lawn Care, which was destroyed. Incredibly, within days, the company, working from offices in an industrial park provided by a friend. was back in business. By August Robertson Lawn Care had returned to its rebuilt home on Constitution Drive.

An article in the Sunday issue of the Springfield Journal Register newspaper says that the company now sports this saying on a wall in the company garage: "When facing a difficult task, act as though it is impossible to fail. If you're going after Moby Dick, bring tartar sauce."

Click on the headline for this and other stories in the Journal Register about the experiences of folks in Springfield affected by the tornado. — Ron Hall

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bloomberg reports two buyout groups eyeing ServiceMaster

ServiceMaster Co. (NYSE:SVM), the owner of TruGreen ChemLawn and Terminix pest control services which put itself up for sale last year, may get buyout bids as high as $4 billion from two private equity groups lead by Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and Bain Capital LLC, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

According to Bloomberg reporters Justin Baer and Jason Kelly, the U.S. lawncare company that put itself up for sale last year, is drawing interest from at least two buyout groups that may bid more than $4 billion, four people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Clayton, Dubilier & Rice Inc. is preparing one offer, and Bain Capital LLC has formed a group with private-equity firms to make another bid, said the people, who declined to be identified because an agreement hadn't been reached. Final offers for the owner of TruGreen ChemLawn and Terminix pest control are due this month, the people said.

ServiceMaster, based in Downers Grove, Illinois, hired Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to advise on its strategic alternatives and said Nov. 28 it would consider a sale. ServiceMaster's cash flow and lagging share price have attracted buyers who intend to borrow money to acquire the company, then lower costs and sell it back to the public.

"Private-equity firms and their lenders are looking for comfort that the debt can be paid back,'' said Tom Burnett, director of research at Wall Street Access in New York. "Stable cash flow and operating income is what buyers are looking for, especially in markets as jumpy and jittery as these.''

ServiceMaster's income from continuing operations increased 3.3 percent last year to $186.6 million as sales rose to $3.43 billion. The company's businesses generated net cash flow of $289 million last year, up from $243 million in 2005.

Buying Up

Buyout firms like Clayton Dubilier and Bain often buy companies many times the size of their investment funds by borrowing money secured by their targets' assets. They usually sell their investments within five years.

ServiceMaster's shares declined 5.5 percent in the past five years, compared with a 20 percent gain on the Standard & Poor's 500 index. After the company announced it was seeking buyers, its shares jumped 11 percent, their biggest one-day gain in 21 years.

Started as a moth-proofing company in 1929, ServiceMaster has built a network of more than 5,500 sites offering services spanning termite extermination, carpet cleaning and landscaping.

Clayton Dubilier spokesman Thomas Franco declined to comment, as did Bain's Alex Stanton. Telephone calls to ServiceMaster executives, including two to spokesman Steve Bono, weren't returned.

Recruiting Executives

Founded in 1978, Clayton Dubilier has invested more than $6.5 billion in equity in 39 U.S. and European businesses. The firm, with offices in New York and London, has experience with multi-location businesses, including Kinko's Inc., which it sold to FedEx Corp. in 2004 for $2.4 billion.

Clayton Dubilier recruits executives who have run companies to be so-called operating partners and help with investments. George Tamke, the former vice chairman of Emerson Electric Co., joined the firm in 2000 and served as chief executive and chairman of Kinko's prior to the FedEx sale.

The firm last year hired Charles Banks, the former chief executive officer of Wolseley Plc, the world's biggest distributor of plumbing and heating equipment. Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric Co., is a special partner at the firm.

Bain, started in 1984 by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, has led investments in Dunkin' Brands Inc. and Domino's Pizza Inc. The Boston-based firm has raised nine private-equity funds and invested in more than 200 companies. Bain has about $40 billion in assets under management.

To contact the reporter on this story: Justin Baer in New York at jbaer1@bloomberg.net ; Jason Kelly in New York at jkelly14@bloomberg.net.

For the Bloomberg story
click here.