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 (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 ; Jason Kelly in New York at

For the Bloomberg story
click here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hispanic workers make job gains in spite of slump

Hispanic workers landed two out of every three new construction jobs in 2006, according to a March 7 report by the Pew Hispanic Center. They benefited from strong employment growth in the industry even as the housing market endured a year-long slump. Indeed, the construction industry continues to be a key source of jobs for Hispanics and especially for those who are foreign born and recently arrived.
Hispanic employment increased by almost one million from 2005 to 2006. Even though Latinos account for only 13.6% of total employment, they accounted for 36.7% of the increase in employment. The comparatively high share of employment reflects demographic changes in the United States. About 40% of the total increase in the working-age population (16 and older) in 2006 was Hispanic and of these 75% are foreign-born Latino workers.
Foreign-born Latinos who arrived since 2000 were responsible for about 24% of the total increase in employment in the U.S. labor market last year. Estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center suggest that in recent years about 66% of the increase in the employment of recently arrived Hispanic workers has been due to unauthorized migration.
The estimates are derived from data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. Most of the data is from the Current Population Survey, a monthly Census Bureau survey of approximately 60,000 households. Monthly data are combined to create larger sample sizes and to conduct the analysis on either an annual or quarterly basis. The analysis is for 2004-2006.
The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization, is a project of the Pew Research Center and is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts .
Click on the headline to access the full report at the Pew Hispanic Center Web site.

Friday, March 02, 2007

For heaven's sake — sell me the hot dog

For you visual learners, let me draw this picture:

Setting — Cold, rainy, nasty winter’s day in downtown Cleveland, Ohio
Time — Noon, lunchtime
Location — Office cafeteria short walk across the street from hungry editor’s office
Editor’s expectation — Plump hot dog on bun and a handful of crispy chips in plastic take-out container
Editor’s action to acquire said hot dog — Fifth customer in line to hot-food serving area containing stainless container of hot dogs, along with trays of salmon, sweet/sour chicken and assorted sides
Wait time in line — Approximately six or seven minutes
Outcome — Young server, hot dogs and chips at hand, advise editor he is in wrong line and must re-enter adjacent grill line where mob of hungry office workers await hamburgers and grilled chicken sandwiches from overworked grill cook
Editor’s reaction — Exit cafeteria in search of easier source of hot dog and chips

Take home message: If the customer wants a hot dog and you have one handy, give it to him and take his money, for heaven’s sake. Don’t send him off to the “official” hot-dog person. Remember: The world is full of hot dogs and hot dog sellers. — Ron Hall