Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Health care costs — Scotts means business

I went in for a routine annual physical exam in December and it ended up costing me hundreds of dollars out of pocket, not to mention costing my insurance carrier more than $6,000. Did I use the word “routine”?
I guess to my doctor routine means a stress test, two run-throughs of a shiny new imaging machine, and a 10-minute visit to a heart specialist. The total cost of these procedures, which took a total of about 90 minutes exceeded $7,000. After it all, nobody could say with any certainty how healthy my heart is.
"Let's wait and see," is what I heard.
Strangely (and perversely), I almost felt cheated that they didn’t find something wrong with me.
My point is: The U.S. health care system is big, big business where expensive tests on incredibly expensive and sophisticated equipment are now "routine," in my mind too "routine."
My advice is: Take care of yourself unless you (including your pocketbook) wants to get a serious workout at a huge hospital. (Is the hospital in your neighborhood starting to gobble up the entire surrrounding neighborhood as mine is? Is it starting to look more and more like Las Vegas casino?)
What set me off on this kick was an article about what the Scotts Miracle Gro Co. is doing about its employees’ health. The article appeared (of all places) in the Bangor (ME) Daily News.
Scotts is serious — yes, make that SERIOUS — about its employees’ health and, of course, the company’s health care costs.
Smoking by employees? Don’t do it.
Here’s a quote from the article will give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

“An outside company Scott hired to manage its employee health promotion program asks Scott employees to fill out lengthy health status questionnaires that help identify those at greatest risk for worsening health and higher health care costs. Health coaches then push higher risk employees to improve weight, exercise more, get cholesterol and blood sugar under control, and comply with their medication plans. Employees who refuse to fill out the questionnaires or work with the coaches on their personal health plans pay up to $1,200 more annually for their health insurance.”

Click on the headline to read the entire article. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Get ready to hear about H-2B

Spring is almost here, which means landscape professionals are looking to fill out their staffs with hard-working, enterprising and motivated employees. And then they won't be able to find any.
So get ready for a crop of new stories about H-2B, the guest worker program that so many in the Green Industry rely on for seasonal employees, like this one from Reuters:

As President George W. Bush's plans for a guest worker program languishes in a backlash against immigration, employers both large and small say they rely on Hispanic workers to keep the economy running.
Landscaper Fred Hollmann jumps through legal hoops every year to bring a handful of Hispanics to work in yards and gardens in southwest Ohio.
This year, he could only get six temporary work visas for non citizens. "They work hard, they show up every day," said Hollman. "I'd love to hire more."
Criticized on one hand for taking jobs from unemployed Americans or for working too cheaply, Latinos are complimented on the other for doing work others won't do -- a tightrope where stereotypes seem to work both for and against them. (Click the link up top for the complete story.)

Unfortunately, these stories are going to be even more common this spring because of problems we've been hearing about in the H-2B Visa process, and the fact that roughly half of our U.S Congressmen are too busy running for president to actually do their jobs as congressmen and come up with a comprehensive immigration reform package. — Mike Seuffert

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Landscaper saves home from fire

In his previous post, Ron was complaining about the landscaping news coming in all being negative. Well, here's one landscaper who made the news in a way that he should be proud of:

Shelton, CT - A Connecticut firefighter acted well in time and managed to put out most of the flames before a firefighting crew could reach the scene of a two-family house on fire. Dave VanWart, a 25-year-old landscaper and a firefighter by profession, used snow from the lawn to put out the fire.
Vanwart was alone when the blaze began, no fire truck had arrived yet so Vanwart decided to jump into action. He grabbed a shovel from the bed of his truck and ran to the first-floor apartment.
"I took the shovel and put the snow on the fire to try and knock it down a little bit so it didn't catch the rest of the house," Vanwart told reporters.
Assistant Fire Chief Mike Ulrich praised VanWart's timely effort and said that using snow created steam which prevented fire from spreading.

Article courtesy of All Headline News (
— Mike Seuffert

It's good to be the King

For the past year or so, I've been joking to our friends at Cub Cadet that I'm waiting to see pictures of LeBron James riding in one of their lawnmowers. The reason is that Cub Cadet is the main sponsor of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who, in case you don't know, play professional basketball basically next door to Landscape Management's editorial offices.

It sounds like Cub Cadet is finally ready to take my advice. The Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting: "LeBron James has signed another endorsement deal, this one with Cub Cadet, manufacturer of outdoor lawn equipment. Cub Cadet is one of the brands of Medina County-based MTD Products. The multiyear deal will be announced today. James will promote a new line of equipment called the Cub Cadet Time Saver Family. The advertising campaign is scheduled to begin in the spring."

OK, Cub Cadet probably didn't need my advice to know James is a bankable commodity. Going just from memory, LeBron now endorses Nike, Sprite, Microsoft, Upper Deck, Bubblicious and now Cub Cadet. Plus he plays a little basketball on the side.
— Mike Seuffert

Monday, February 19, 2007

Not all news is bad news. . .however

I spent a few days fishing with my son, Jason, cruising the mangroves in a flat-bottom boat in southwest Florida this past week. The fishing was so-so (barely enough keeper sheepsheads to make a good meal) but the company and the scenery were incredible.
Glad to report that the world kept on spinning in my absence. Sad to report that most of the news (at least the news reported in the local media across the U.S.A. wasn't so good.) Or, as we used to say at the newspaper office the painful morning after a particularly long night at the local watering hole discussing the world's misadventures — “The news never sleeps . . . and neither do we!”
Here’s what’s been happening while I was tossing shrimp into the backwaters:

— the State of Michigan is debating a 2% tax on services, including lawn care. Lawn care providers there think it’s almost a sure thing since the state budget is in bad shape. Those of us in living and working in or near Michigan know that things aren’t so happy in the Motor City, or anywhere where the Big Three have a big presence. Lawn care folks in Michigan tell us that the tax creates a problem because some of their customers have prepaid and there’s no way to recover the 2%.

— A former bookkeeper of a lawn care business in Lincoln, NE, and her son each got sentences of 2-4 years in prison for stealing nearly $200,000 from the company. The two were also ordered to repay the company more than $250,000. The bookkeeper reportedly took the money over a period of three years to finance her son’s towing business and race car, reported the Associated Press. (My sister, who runs a business in eastern Pennslyvania got ripped off by a bookkeeper in a similar scam several years ago. Owners, keep your eyes open.)

— A landscape company in Oswego, IL, mistakenly cut down 31 trees at a 7.5-acre assisted-living development last month. Ouch! Now someone has to cough up more than $27,000 to replace the trees. The excuse being used is that the landscapers “misidentified” the markings on the trees as signs that they were to be removed. For the article in the Suburban Chicago News click here.

— “Gimme Green,” focusing on America’s “obsession” with lawns, got its world premiere at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival on Sunday, Feb. 18. This is definitely something that will NOT win the Professional Landcare Network’s “Best-Film-of-the-Year” Award. Here’s how one newspaper described the 27-minute film: “Gimme Green manages to touch on the most important issues involved with America’s lawns. It uses the visual absurdity of lush yards in Southwest deserts to show how home irrigation sucks up vital aquifers and follows a chemical crew as it sprays pesticides on a patch of suburbia. But mostly the film relies on numbers to make its statement. (Children who play on chemical-sprayed lawns are 6.5 times more likely to develop Leukemia).”
Here’s a link to the article describing the movie.

— A suburban Chicago landscaper will be spending some time in federal prison after being convicted of bribing a Chicago city official to get $8 million in contractors, including work at the city’s famed Millennium Park Here’s the link to a Jan. 31 news report announcing the sentencing of Michael Lowecki, owner of James Michael Inc. Click here , the link to an earlier article describing the scam that landed the landscaper in deep trouble.

— And finally, the Virginia General Assembly is considering a bill that would prohibit commercial providers of lawn care services from broadly applying pesticides and fertilizers onto impervious surfaces such as streets and driveways. (Folks, can it be that we’ve been so sloppy with our applications that we’ve been feeding sidewalks and driveways or not cleaning them off after applications? If that’s the case, maybe we should get spanked.)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Coming to a company near you — workers bearing microchips?

Coming soon to a company near you — an immigrant worker implanted with 16-digit RFID chip.
Maybe not tomorrow.
Maybe not this year.
But. . .I’ll put a few bob on it, not that I’m happy with idea of having a tiny chip, with all kinds of my personal information, injected under my armpit. It’s beyond scary.
On January 22, Verichip Corp, which makes a human implantable microchip set its planned initial public offering at 4.3 million shares. Its parent company, Applied Digital Solutions (NASDAQ, ADSX), is expected to spin off Verichip ( any day now. The Verichip shares will be listed on NASDAQ under the symbol CHIP.
The Web site of Applied Digital Solutions ( touts the microchip technology for infants, patient protection and wander prevention, for example for victims of Alzheimer’s disease.
How big a step is it beyond those stated uses to implement a program to implant the RFID chips into guest workers to identify and provide information, at the wave of reading device?
It's being discussed.
A Web site opposed to the use of these chips on humans makes for interesting reading. click here, or click on the headline.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Taking jobs away from the Gringos

"When I was mowing lawns, I saw myself in a truck checking on the men. When I was in the truck, I saw myself in the office. Now that I'm in the office, I see the company running itself.”
So said Nikita Floyd to a reporter for the Washington Post, in a perceptive article focusing on the issue of immigrants versus native-born minorities in the U.S. labor market. Floyd is the owner of Green Forever Landscaping, Upper Marlboro, MD, and by all accounts doing quite well. One of the reasons he gives for his company's growth is his workers, many of whom are from El Salvador.
Are immigrants taking jobs from U.S. citizens?
The article in the Washington Post, doesn’t make a definitive case for or against, but it reinforces what many service company business owners have been saying for years now: It's pretty darn hard to find U.S. workers that will show up every day, at least for $10 an hour.
The article is well worth a read,
click here, or click on the headline.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

ANLA's Management Clinic great mid-winter event

Louisville, KY, in mid winter is not one of America's party cities. But it is a darn good location to hold a big educational/networking event. Most of us couldn't find much mischief to distract us from the business at hand — attending the sessions and networking. What I'm referring to is the Management Clinic sponsored by the American Nursery & Landscape Association.

I'm not sure how many years these ANLA Clinics have been going on, but I'm sorry I didn't check in years ago because this is one first-rate event. Held annually in the venerable Galt House Hotel overlooking cold, muddy Ohio River, there's not a whole lot to do in the city except dive into the many events swirling around the Clinic.

(Oh yes, there was a Clinic 5K Fun Run along the river at 6:30 a.m. on Friday. A small knot of us — maybe 12 or 15 masochistic souls — gathered in the hotel lobby and cruised east along the river, then doubled back, glad to get some hot coffee and a warm shower. But back to the Clinic.)

Two editors from our pub made the trip, one driving from Cleveland and the other from Toledo, and we split up coverage of the event. We could have easily brought three editors there was so much going on . . . but somebody has got to get the February magazine proofed and ready for the printer, right?

We were surprised by the number of landscape company owners and managers at the Clinic. We learned maybe 30% - 35% of the attendees were landscapers, the second biggest group of participants next to the nursery owners and managers. In total, I think about 1200 people attended.

The ANLA focuses on the "green" part of the landscape — the trees and plants grown in our nurseries. Many of these nurseries also have landscape divisions. But there were plenty of landscapers there just learning business and plants. There were plenty of sessions devoted to both.

Not to take away from the efforts of any other association or organization, but if you're in the landscape business and you're doing design/build, bid/build or any significant amount of installation, you definitely want to check out next year's ANLA Clinic program.

Like I said, Louisville in mid winter is hardly a garden spot. But it's a nice city, it's easy to get around, the prices are reasonable, the people friendly and you'll be spending most of your time hanging out with old friends and making new ones anyway.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A provocateur draws some heat

I looked up the word "provocateur" to write this blog. A provocateur is a person assigned to provoke unrest, volence, debate or argument. The reason? Rick Anderson, a great big guy from who runs a service called the Whispering Crane Institute gave a "provocateur's perspective" of the landscape world at the ANLA Clinic in Louisville.

And yes, after about an hour of dissin' "trends" driving landscape design/build (you know, fire pits, outdoor kitchens, etc.) , he finally manages to provoke some "unrest" with his presentation, which is entertaining and, at times it seems, intentionally confrontational. But hey, how can you be a provocateur without stepping over the line, right?

Anyhoo, when big Rick gets on the subject of the value of "blogs" (something he strongly endorses) in attracting customers' attention, and he keeps on about them maybe a tad too long, he "provokes" a female conference attendee near the front of the room to comment that she works 60 hours a week and doesn't have time to blog. (Bear in mind that Anderson has been literally begging for reactions from the 100-plus people in the audience throughout his presentation.)

Anderson quickly responds to the lady: "You have time to write three sentences, don't you?" Or something very close to that.

A smallish lady, and as Anderson finds out, one with more than a little pluck, she stands straight out of her seat and tells him in no uncertain terms that she lives in the country, doesn't have access to broadband or hi-speed internet connections and, to this point anyway, is no great fan of blogging. It's pretty obvious she isn't about to have somebody talk down to her, which, to my mind anyway, is pretty darn neat. Like I said, she's a small woman but I don't think anybody in the room would have wanted to tangle with her for a minute or two.

AT this point Anderson backs off a bit and tones down his message a click or two.

As the presentation ends 10 minutes later or so, she and big Rick come to a friendlier meeting of the minds, not that they hug or anything. But, like I said, they're friendly and chatting.

In any event, Anderson's presentation was kind of on the edge but a lot of fun, and I've got to hand it to the little lady that he briefly riled; she's one tough cookie.