Thursday, September 11, 2014

Report from the Salt Summit

'The outcomes of the meeting were both powerful and clear: changes need to be made immediately for the upcoming winter season.'

By Martin Tirado, CAE
On Tuesday, August 26, over 100 snow and ice contractors, property/facility managers and manufacturers/suppliers met in Madison Heights, Michigan to work together on a critical issue. The issue discussed was how can we, as the professional snow and ice management industry, better manage, control and apply salt and other snow & ice melting materials? The outcomes of the meeting were both powerful and clear: changes need to be made immediately for the upcoming winter season.

The reality we are all facing is that salt supply for snow contractors is both limited in availability and of increased cost to obtain for use in the upcoming 2014-15 winter. Bulk rock salt is still extremely effective in melting snow and ice. With its broad usage by both the government and private sectors, when we have heavy winter storms like in the winter of 2013-14, supplies get low and production mines have a difficult time keeping up with demand. (View the Detroit Free Press article covering the event and more on high rock salt prices here).

So what do we do now? After morning speakers provided some background on liquid applications, chemical temperature effectiveness and establishing best practices for application rates, attendees spent the afternoon discussing solutions is small focus groups. This peer-to-peer interaction is powerful, as often times the best learning comes from discovery of what other companies are doing to solve the same challenges we all have. A complete report of the results is forthcoming, with some of the immediate takeaways being:
  • Consider using liquid applications, both applied to bulk salt supplies and as pre-treatment to reduce the amount of salt used and enhance its effectiveness.
  • Be diligent in training your operators on knowing how to properly calibrate spreaders, and know the optimal application rates needed to get the job done.
  • Communicate with your property and facility managers on chemical effectiveness, air and surface temperatures and proper application rates. Over-application is not a sustainable solution. 
  • Maximize the use of truck and plow snow clearing.
  • As the contractor, position yourself as the expert in your field.  
Interested in knowing more and attending this program yourself? Due to the high demand of the Salt Summit, SIMA, along with our sponsor SnowEx, is holding a 2nd program on Thursday, September 25. Registration information is available here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Now hiring: Snow & ice workers

'We have a workforce development challenge in the exterior building services industry, with snow & ice services in a particularly difficult situation.'

By Martin Tirado, CAE
"Now Hiring." That statement is on a large sign posted at the headquarters of a prominent local snow and landscape contractor in the Milwaukee area. After talking with dozens of SIMA members at the Snow & Ice Symposium, the sign could easily be posted by just about any snow company in North America. The sign should be a welcome one for job seekers since this work often includes pay well above minimum wage, steady work, and the opportunity for career advancement. The trouble is that the workers snow companies need aren’t applying. 

Winter work limits the talent pool
We have a workforce development challenge in the exterior building services industry, with snow & ice services in a particularly difficult situation. We know the challenges of maintaining a reliable workforce: snow & ice work is unpredictable, requires working in some of the worst weather conditions, and when the snow hits we are on call with all of our customers at the same time. This equates to high employee turnover or a workforce that just isn’t interested in working in this field. 

SIMA visits the Capitol
At SIMA’s Legislative Day on Capitol Hill, we talked to our elected members of Congress to address the challenge of workforce development. The potential minimum wage increase is not a factor, since SIMA member companies are already paying higher than any proposed wage increase. Immigration reform is part of the equation, since there is a noncitizen workforce that has helped us and can continue to do so. Unfortunately, immigration reform is a complicated legislative issue, which results in a cumbersome regulatory environment to put noncitizens in the workforce and on a path toward citizenship. Most small businesses do not have the time or infrastructure necessary to deal with the red tape.

When sidewalk crews are offered in the range of $20 per hour and businesses cannot find workers for these positions, there’s a problem. Recently passed bipartisan legislation appears to be setting the correct direction to help companies. Implementation at the state level and having a direct impact on small businesses will need work and assistance. 

Where can you help?
Offering opportunities for vocational and other training is critical, since there appears to be a need to get more people involved in horticulture programs after high school. If you’re in a cold weather climate, these horticulture programs need to offer training in snow & ice management, and this is where our industry can have a direct impact. 

Another workforce option that needs change is incentivizing people to go to work. It’s not easy for small businesses, particularly in snow & ice, to operate. Oftentimes, the regulations related to unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, OSHA and others make the employer guilty until proven innocent. I encourage you to look to your local and U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their positions on labor and see where you can help.

Legislatively it’s going to take some innovative thinking and action to create solutions to our labor challenges. SIMA is representing our 1,600 member companies and thousands of employees in this effort. With your help, we expect to see some results. 

Martin Tirado, CAE, is chief executive officer of SIMA. Contact him at

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SIMA bolsters snow & ice education

'A journey that started five years ago culminates in the addition of the Advanced Snow Management program to an industry starved for operations-based training.'

By Ian Ashby
Over five years ago, I decided to volunteer some time to SIMA through the Education Committee. I was surprised that SIMA, the national association for snow professionals, didn’t do as much operations and safety training as many other nonprofit trade associations in service-related industries tend to do. I am passionate about this topic due to the types of accounts my company services in our region — high-profile industrial accounts with a stringent focus on safety and a need for efficiency. Fortunately, others within the association agreed that SIMA needed to put its best foot forward for the industry at large.

Since then, the SIMA educational team of volunteers and staff have worked hard to bring more hands-on operational and safety training topics and concepts to the table. Then, two years ago, SIMA took its biggest step yet by hiring an industry veteran and fellow snow warrior, Phill Sexton. His primary assignment was to create focused operations and safety training for industry professionals that had some meat to it, and that could potentially carry weight with insurance companies and facilities management professionals.

It is with great pride that I share the results of these years of effort by the SIMA volunteer committees, including the Education Committee and the Stakeholders Advisory Group. In June 2014, SIMA announced the completion and launch of the final course in the Advanced Snow Management program — the Ice Management course. Not only did this make accessible what we all feel is the best training available for deicing management, but it also cleared the way for the first professionals to earn the newest designation for the industry: Advanced Snow Manager. 

To reinforce this, I personally called the three largest facility managers in North America (two of whom we work with), and asked them how much weight they place on professional training like this when making snow service decisions. The answers ranged from 30-35%. Each agreed that if all other items in the bid were equal, professional credentials like this would greatly enhance a company’s chance of winning a bid. 

Congratulations to the first Advanced Snow Managers (view the list here). Their leadership and effort is commendable, and on behalf of SIMA and all the stakeholders who helped bring the Advanced Snow Management training program to the market, we salute you. 

Ian Ashby is owner of Arbutus Landscaping in Calgary, Alberta. Learn more about ASM by visiting

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Online tools to help you grow

'The SIMA website has long been the place to go for updates on industry events, to find members, and to access training and tools.'

By Brian Birch, CAE
It's been a great pleasure to work for SIMA for almost 10 years and see the growth and transformation that has taken place across the industry. There have been many challenges, and many still exist for snow professionals. It is our mission at SIMA to provide the resources, leadership and support you need to grow and overcome the obstacles in your way.

We are excited to announce the launch of snow new tools that can help in these endeavors. The SIMA website has long been the place to go for updates on industry events, to find members, and to access training and tools. You may have noticed that we recently completely revampled, and things have changed quite a bit.

The site is still going to be a central part of the industry with some added features, including:
  • Mobile friendly: Designed with a mobile-first mindset, the site is extremely friendly to mobile devices and tablets, so you can access the information you need anytime from any screen.
  • Enhanced member search: Members in good standing will find that the new SIMA Find a Member section mobile friendly and easy to use. Industry professionals can find each other anytime, and potential customers can find members using an array of search criteria, including a ZIP code-radius search for U.S. members.
  • Resource 24/7 revamp: The best place for online training and tools in the industry, Resource 24/7, just got better. This includes a cleaner and more intuitive explanation of how to access training, coupled with a new way to access and purchase the variety of training courses and materials available to industry professionals.
  • Account management tools: The SIMA portal features a whole new set of tools for SIMA members and customers to utilized, including options of saving payment information, annual automatic membership renewal, certification credit reporting for Certified Snow Professionals and much more.
  • Event registration central: Moving forward, all SIMA event registrations will occur within the SIMA portal, ensuring ease of login and use for members and customers. A history of events you have registered for will also be available for long-term reference.
  • Donations for the cause: Members will also be able to donate to the Alan Steiman Scholarship Fund anytime. This scholarship has sent seven up-and-coming professional snow contractors to the Symposium over the past five years.
I hope each of you takes the opportunity to visit the new Your feedback is always welcome.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Impact of Snow 2013-2014

'Even by the smallest measure, SIMA messaging was seen by millions of people across North America.' 

By Brian Birch, CAE
In 2012-2013 SIMA launched the first national awareness campaign for the private snow & ice management industry. Building on major successes from last year, the association spearheaded a campaign during the 2013-2014 winter.

The Impact of Snow campaign delivered as strong as the first year. The association refined its messaging and created new, helpful news releases, ranging from safety to awareness to the power of winter as a whole, for the media to take to the public. The winter didn't let anyone down this year, and the industry was ready.

Even by the smallest measure, SIMA messaging was seen by millions of people across North America. The most popular messages that reached the most people were tips for safe winter walking and safety tips before going out in a storm. See the image below for campaign highlights:

SIMA will continue its PR efforts on behalf of the membership and the snow & ice industry at large.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Insurance and Advanced Snow Management

'In the snow business, anything a professional can do to differentiate in a positive way is a win for that company.'

By Shay Leon
Several years ago I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Phill Sexton, who had just taken on the new role of Director of Education & Outreach with SIMA. At the time, Phill was just starting to build a new certificate training program for the industry. I was impressed with his passion and the desire of SIMA members to build verifiable training standards for snow & ice management. 

I know first-hand how challenging it can be to operate a safe snow & ice management business. I've seen the challenges our snow clients face when it comes to insurance, liability, and service documentation. I have worked with our clients to make sure their voice is heard regarding insurance-related matters, but there is always more work to be done. These experiences led me to volunteer to serve on the Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) that helped SIMA build and launch the Advanced Snow Management program.

I firmly believe that the Advanced Snow Management certificates can help professionals in the industry increase skills and knowledge. I also know that these types of programs, built by a nonprofit trade association, managed well with a long-term vision and tied to industry best practices, are attractive to insurance providers. In the snow business, anything a professional can do to differentiate in a positive way is a win for that company.

There are only so many ways we can evaluate snow & ice companies from a risk management and insurance perspective. I am excited that SIMA has provided a quality certificate program that allows an insurance agency like Gallagher Bollinger to further evaluate a company that manages snow & ice. 

I wanted to take the time to thank the entire SAG committee for their efforts. Advanced Snow Management certificate courses are available online here. All of the courses are self-paced and end with a quiz to verify knowledge learned. Once the quiz is successfully completed, an official certificate is awarded and sent by SIMA. Any individual who earns all four certificates will be awarded SIMA's Advanced Snow Manager (ASM) designation.

Shay Leon is Area Vice President of commercial lines for Gallagher Bollinger. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Work to be done on Capitol Hill

Mark Adamson, Barbara Schiebe, Martin Tirado, & Gregg Wartgow 

'First, get to know your Congressman and their office staff who work on issues related to operating a snow and ice business.' 

By Martin Tirado, CAE
As SIMA represented the snow and ice management industry on Capitol Hill last month, it became clear that work as a general concept needs to occur. Work in this scenario can be described as 1) Congress needs to work more on passing bi-partisan legislation that makes sense and not get tied up the politicking associated with public policy; 2) Encouraging ways to incentivize our work force to get back to work and perform the essential services, like snow and ice removal, that gets our economy moving; and, 3) allow small businesses, like SIMA members, to perform their work without overly burdensome regulations that slow business growth.

When talking with Congressmen and their staff from several states where SIMA had representatives, it quickly became clear that item #1 is a monumental task that needs people committed to significant change to accomplish. For items #2-#3, SIMA provided their positions in these ways:

H2-B and Immigrant Labor – In the past year, different bills have been introduced to allow employers access to legally employ non-citizens in their workforce. H-2B, commonly used for the landscape industry, has also been addressed. Many SIMA members want to try using the H-2B program for their companies, even potentially for a source of winter services labor, but the yearly caps on the number of non-citizens allowed into the H-2B program is restrictive. Despite attempts to enhance and clarify the H-2B program, mainly through HR 4238 introduced by Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, no progress has been made.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Clarifications – According to a SIMA survey conducted in 2013, health care reform was the top legislative issue for respondents. Recently introduced to help clarify the regulatory language of the ACA is HR 5213, referred to as the STARS Act. This bill would simplify the treatment of seasonal positions for purposes of the employer shared responsibility requirement under the ACA, and could offer seasonal employees better and more affordable health care coverage through exchanges than plans being offered by employers. Like some SIMA member companies, if you have seasonal employees working less than 6 months per year, this could be beneficial to you if you are mandated to offer health coverage by currently meeting or exceeding the 50 employee threshold. As this is just in a committee now, this bill will need rapid and overwhelming legislative support to be enacted in this session of Congress.

How can you help? First, get to know your Congressman and their office staff who work on issues related to operating a snow and ice business. Let them know how you feel on certain issues and ask to be a resource to them when evaluating different legislation. Do the same with any state or local elected officials that enact legislation that impacts you. Then of course, contact SIMA so we can help each other in advancing our mutual legislative agenda.

Gregg Wartgow, Barbara Schiebe, Senator Ron Johnson, Mark Adamson & Martin Tirado