Friday, December 23, 2011

The H-2B seasonal guest worker program creates and protects jobs for professional and skilled American workers

*Editor's Note: Fred Haskett, Managing Partner – Operations, U S Lawns of West and St. Charles County, offers his thoughts on recent challenges to the H-2B seasonal worker program. Look for more commentary from Fred periodically on the Landscape Management Blog.

A few days ago we said goodbye to our H-2B team. This is always bittersweet – we are glad they are going home to be with their families, their sacrifice of not seeing their wives and children for eight to nine months at a time is something we are greatly aware of and admire them for.

However, most of them have been an integral part of our team / our family for the past 8 years, and we always miss them when they are gone. This year especially, when we have no idea – Thanks to our interference from our Government – if we will ever see them again.

As has been our custom the past few years, we had a dinner the night before they left. Our leadership team shared a few hours with them and talked about family, children, the Holidays and all manner of personnel issues that friends and co-workers share when they come together outside of the workplace.

The next morning Jason Winans our Operations Manager, Mike Harpole our Production Superintendent, and myself drove some of them to the airport and others to the bus station. We all shook hands, grabbed a hug, and told them to travel safe. There were excited smiles and a few tears as they went on their way home to their native land.

During the past seven years St. Louis has become their home away from home and the source of income that makes it possible for them to send their children to high school and university. To have luxuries that we take for granted: Indoor plumbing, telephones, windows, and basic appliances. To have a career that they can be proud of.

During the past seven years these individuals have given us a stable and predictable seasonal workforce and allowed us to grow our small business by 400% in that time period and to provide good, well-paying, seasonal jobs for them and good, well-paying year-round jobs with benefits to our professional / skilled U.S. workers.

My company is a family-owned landscape and lawn care company with a 41-person team. By way of comparison, in 2004, we had only nine team members, six of whom were seasonal.
Since the 2005 season, we have participated in the H-2B visa program to hire seasonal foreign workers to meet the company’s need for a reliable and stable seasonal workforce. Currently, of the 41-person staff, the management team is my-self, my wife, and six year-round landscape professionals.  There are also five other full-time, year-round salaried employees.  The seasonal workforce consists of 28 workers, of whom 25 are H-2B seasonal workers.

Without the H-2B program, none of this would have been possible.  Before we began using the H-2B program in 2005, our annualized turnover rate was well over 200%.  Our effort to recruit U.S. workers to fill seasonal jobs and remain in them through the entire season was largely unsuccessful.  Today, with the H-2B program, turnover is less than 10%. 

If turnover increased to the level we experienced before turning to the H-2B program, our company would suffer serious economic and non-economic injury.

  • It would divert resources away from customer service to hiring, training and replacing.
  • It would reduce the quality of our service and result in the loss of customers and good will.
  • It would reduce our operational efficiency and negatively affect our profitability 
  • Our worker safety would all suffer as large numbers of inexperienced or barely experienced people would be present on each crew.
  • Turnover at the 200% rate that we experienced before using the H-2B program would require that we hire and train two or three new workers every single week during a 36-week season; recruiting and hiring over 100 people just to maintain 28 positions. 
  • Since workers often leave without notice, we would be constantly short-handed. 

This would result in an enormous negative impact on company morale and client satisfaction. 

If these new rules proposed by the Department of Labor for the H-2B program go into effect it will leave companies like ours few choices in the short term. The only choices it seems to me are to close our doors or to shrink our company by 40% to 50% and try to deliver a viable service level with turnover rates of up to 200%.  Even under this second scenario up to 50% of our full time skilled workforce would lose their jobs, and worker safety and quality of service would suffer.

It will take, I estimate, two to three seasons of very hard focus develop the new training systems required and to go through enough seasonal workers to find a small group of reliable people who are willing to work in a seasonal environment.

If these new H-2B Rules are allowed to take effect, at BEST,” we will lose irreplaceable skilled professional employees and valued customers, and, at worst, we will lose a family business that we have worked to build and will put all of our U.S. employees out of work.

 — Fredric R. Haskett   
Landscape Industry Certified Manager
Managing Partner – Operations
 U S Lawns of West and St. Charles County

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ohio State Research Shows Dollar Value of Urban Trees

Thanks to the research of a graduate student in the Department of Entomology at The Ohio State University and funding from Bayer Environmental Science, the city of Wooster, OH now knows the true value of the trees that line its streets.

By "value" we don't simply mean trees' contribution to the ecosystem or the fact that they beautify landscapes. Rather, we mean trees' true dollar value.

In mid-2010, the graduate student, Alejandro Chiriboga, recorded tree attributes such as trunk circumference and leaf condition among more than 3,000 of Wooster's city-owned trees. Using Forest Service software, he then totaled the dollar value of the environmental services trees provide, including reducing pollution and carbon in the atmosphere.

Chiriboga's research concluded that, annually, the trees generate $270,153 in community services, including aesthetic benefits, energy conservation, stormwater control and carbon and air pollution reduction. Chiriboga's study found that most of Wooster's street trees are young and healthy, which means they will contribute environmentally--and therefore economically--to the city well into the future.

Things in nature have always seemed priceless. So this study raises an interesting question: Can you really put a dollar amount on them? Apparently, you can. The question now is, will this experiment stop at trees? Or will it extend to lawns, shrubs and plants on the landscape?

Will mowing a lawn be deemed a loss in dollars? Will planting a flower bed boost the value of a landscape? It's hard to say. But at the very least, the OSU study has given us something new and interesting to ponder.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Owners — Are you in or out?

Randy's Take

Randy Newhard
Are you in or out? 

It’s a tough question to ask and honestly answer. I am both — in and out. I would think your answer depends on how long you have been in business. For me, it almost depends on the day, week or month — but mostly the week. I have been running my own business for 32 years. Sometimes I want out. Ok honestly, I want out most of the time. I have worked the 80-100 hour weeks for decades. Guess I am not smart enough, thinking I should have been done a while ago. Or am I?

Having this child (the business) and having over 200 grandkids (employees) and all their siblings — probably over a 1,000 — it’s very hard to let go. It sure is like parenting, you constantly have to teach, train, say no and also pat them on the back.  Grandkids (your employees ) need to know they are loved and cared for. That's where you have to be in. This caring for your child (company) really comes from the top.

You can hire the best management team in the world and they can be the best managers, but bottom line is: Employees want to know you care about them. Yes, money is in the top three things employees care about, but number one is that they want to be involved in the growth of the business and want to know what is going on. 

Secondly, they want to know their boss cares about them. Their bosses need to be trained in order to offer care and counseling. Be firm with consequences if they don't do their job. Sometimes, we’re not so good at this. It is a family business and family atmosphere, sometimes that can get in the way. But we are working on it.

While writing this blog entry, Newhard is definitely "out." Here's his photo
of a sunset while enjoying a meal with his family while vacationing in Maui.

I know I will probably never be out completely, as my exit strategy is my daughter, and working side by side with her has been a wonderful experience. Heck, she's taught this old man a lot of new tricks. She has been with our company for 15 years. Yep, right out of high school. Starting with answering the phones, to marketing, office manager, developing our databases and internal structures and processes, to corporate director-steering the ship, and now as president of the company, how can I be out completely? We make a great team!

I have the ultimate luxury, from wanting to be out — being out golfing with friends and clients, entertaining clients and taking off an extra day of the week to be with wife and my biological grandkids — Gabe and Olivia. And then being in — being at work, interacting with the other grandkids (employees), saying thanks and keeping an eye on the financials.

So are you in or out? Can you afford to be out? By afford I mean, how can you walk away from your child and the grandkids after 32 years?  I’m in... Well maybe not for now, I am out. I am in Maui celebrating my wife’s birthday, with my daughter, fiancé and our real grandkids. Aloha!

Randy Newhard, CEO
New Way Landscape & Tree Services
2nd Generation Local Family Owned Business
Multi Local & State Landscape Beautification Award Winner

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cleaning up after the Occupy Toronto protest

   We got the following email from our friend Tom Delaney, Director of Government Affairs for the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET):

   "The Occupy Toronto movement trashed one of Toronto's inner city Parks. When the City issued a plea for financial support to help restore the park, one of our members came up with the idea that we as an industry should just restore the park ourselves. One email and two days of hard but very satisfying work later, 150 volunteers aerated the entire park, spread 1 inch of topsoil and sodded all 3 acres. It was an amazing experience. Everything was donated."

The park following the day of volunteer work.
Here's what the park looked like following
the Occupy Toronto protesters vacated the site.

   Apparently about $60,000 in product and services was donated by members of Landscape Ontario.  It's yet another example of the extraordinary people we have in our industry. 

   There are a couple of videos about the work at St. James Park. In one, someone put a stop-motion camera in place and with the addition of a background track ("Flight of the Bumblebees" if I'm not mistaken) created this highly entertaining YouTube video

   The good deed also got coverage from a Toronto television station. See that here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Don't lose sight of how to win, close, motivate and rally in 2012

Randy Newhard

Editor's Note: Randy Newhard, CEO of New Way Landscape & Tree Services will begin contributing to Landscape Management's blog on a regular basis. Here is his first submission.

Randy's Take

As I write my first blog, I am watching my struggling Chargers on Monday Night Football vs. the Jaguars. The Bolts have lost six straight. Their main goal this year was to start strong. Is your company’s goal to start the new year strong? Most companies do start the year strong, set goals, monitor them for a few months and then lose sight of them.

Companies can be just like our Chargers who started 4-1 and then lost sight of how to win, how to close, how to motivate and how to rally a team.

Yeah, I do have to give the Chargers some slack. The quarterback Philip Rivers lost a lot of his receivers to injuries early. They could not practice together during the week as the players healed. His linemen also got hurt, some out for year, some out for many games.

Does your quarterback, your owner, your general manager or your operational person have healthy personnel on your team? Are they hurt or injured- feeling down from down economy? Are they motivated? Do they practice together — have quality meetings in the office and in the field?

How about your sales team — do they have goals for the month, quarter and year? Do they have the tools they need? Are they motivated and by whom? Are they motivated by salary, incentives, commissions?

There are lots of things to do this time of the year. Whether you are back East or on the West coast or in the Midwest, the new year brings many challenges. There is a lot of planning to do for the new year and a great deal of equipment to get cleanup and ready for spring.

As a business owner, it's time for us to cleanup 2011 and plan for 2012. It's time to budget and set realistic expectations for our team to be empowered to make proper decisions to make our companies profitable. Yep, profitable. Some clients don't think we should make one. That's a topic for future blogs.

Have a wonderful holiday season and yes I will say it — Merry Christmas and wishing you and yours a very  prosperous and Happy New Year!

— Randy Newhard, New Way Landscape & Tree Services, is CEO of this 2nd generation local family owned business. The San Diego-based company is a multi local and state Landscape Beautification Award Winner.

Friday, December 02, 2011

You can't buy this kind of coverage

If it's true — what goes around, comes around, then Glen Rock, NJ-based R&S Landscaping is in for some good karma this holiday season (and maybe it's already happening in the coverage they got from the New Jersey Media Group).

It seems R&S Landscaping decided to help celebrate one of the company's long-time customer's 70th birthday by giving her a holiday lighting package. "The Hoefler family is one of our first customers so we're excited to be able to offer them the gift of this complimentary service," said Robert Schucker, president, R&S Landscaping in the Glen Rock Gatzette, part of the New Jersey Media Group. Read the full story here.

You simply can't buy that kind of good will coverage. And the grateful recipient is quoted in the article saying she makes sure every one of her neighbors knows who is responsible for the beautiful display. What is it they say about word-of-mouth referrals?

We don't know if R&S has received any direct new business from the publicity, and we're not suggesting you go out and provide free services every year, but when the right opportunity comes along, it might be worth the investment.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe to head back to the grocery store

There's a local talk show host here in Northeast Ohio who likes to use the phrase "I'm living in a world I don't understand." I'm beginning to agree with him.

A few weeks back we heard about the incident of a family that was busted by a Safeway security guard when they forgot to pay for a sandwich their famished daughter ate while they were shopping. Read the details of that incident here. Well, Safeway is at it again.

This time, at store in Northwest Washington, a girl was threatened with arrest and forced to sign a paper acknowledging she is no longer welcome in Safeway stores for eating some apricots and then putting the bag back on the shelf. That might seem a reasonable solution if not for the fact that the hardened criminal in this case only 4 years old and hadn't yet learned to read or write.

The company has apologized and relieved the security guard of his duties,  and the store's divisional president offered to take the girl around the story (including a visit to the bakery) to show her the grocery store is not a scary place. While the hire ups were quick to react and ultimately did the right thing (read about the story here) it shows that common sense isn't as common as we might like.

I'm not sure how you teach common sense or instill it in your employees, but if those on the front lines of your business don't have it, you could be in trouble. These incidents certainly aren't going to close the food chain's doors, but it's not really doing them any favors. I can only imagine if my kids were still that young, I'd hesitate to walk through those doors. And that can't be the kind of feeling any business wants to provide its customers.