Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reflecting on a great year & looking to the future

'Overall, it’s been a very successful year and one I’ll certainly never forget. We accomplished a lot and made significant progress toward our goals.'

By Mike Anderson, CSP
Wow, what a year! I was asked to write about this past year in my role as SIMA board chair. I would describe it as different, busy, challenging, tough, exhilarating, frustrating, tiring, rewarding and definitely memorable.  

Most of our members work in areas that either set or came close to setting records for snowfall and cold last season. After two mild winters, it was nice to finally have a lot of snow. I love the excitement. I welcome the challenges. I appreciate the satisfaction of working “a perfect storm.” You have to love this business to make a career out of it. It’s not for the weak or timid. You have to be strong and have laser-focused determination and boundless energy to do it well. I can’t even tell you how many all-nighters I pulled this winter. We all lost a lot of sleep working tirelessly toward our goals. 

Education at the forefront 
You could definitely feel that excitement at the 17th Annual Snow & Ice Symposium in Columbus, Ohio, in June. An almost record 1,730 people came from all over the world to share their stories, ask questions, and get help with their problems. I kept hearing that this was the best Symposium ever. I’ve attended every one of them since 1999, and I agree! Vendors were very happy, and many want larger spaces next year. The buzz and energy level in Columbus was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

One problem many of us dealt with earlier this year was the salt shortage. We were presented with unique challenges and forced to make tough decisions. At SIMA, we recognized and responded to the members’ need to better deal with these challenges. Instead of an annual Snow Strategies Forum, SIMA held the first Salt Summit in August. The response was so great that it sold out early and we booked a second Salt Summit for September. SIMA continues to stay proactive and provide exceptional value for the small cost of membership. 

Moving north and west
One of my personal goals this year was to reach out and work toward expanding SIMA’s membership in Canada and west of the Mississippi. In case you missed it, we booked our first Symposium north of the border in beautiful Montreal for June 2017. I’m confident we’ll get lots of new Canadian contractors to become members once they’re introduced to SIMA and see how much it can help them with their snow & ice businesses.

I’m pleased to say two of the three newly elected board members are from the areas where we want to expand. Kent Peddie, CSP, is located in Ottawa and does about 80% snow and 20% landscaping. Carl Bolm, CSP, is a snow-only contractor based in St. Louis and was honored this year as the 2014 Snow Business CEO of the Year. Carl has been to every Symposium since 2002 and has taught at several of them. The third incoming board member, Laura Ingram, CSP, works for a snow-only company in the Chicagoland area. Laura, a former math teacher, heads SIMA’s Outreach Committee. All of the new board members are strong individuals with reputations for honesty and integrity. I could see any of them as the future SIMA chair. 

Giving thanks and passing the gavel
This is a great opportunity to thank the three outgoing board members for their outstanding service to SIMA: Jim Hornung, CSP; Daniel Gilliland, CSP; and Brian Churchill, CSP. Jim and Daniel each served a term as board chair. These three men and the great SIMA staff have made enormous contributions to help bring SIMA to where it is today — stronger than it has ever been financially. 

Overall, it’s been a very successful year and one I’ll certainly never forget. We accomplished a lot and made significant progress toward our goals. In October, I hand off the baton to Jason Case, CSP, who will take over as chair. Jason is hardworking, intelligent and definitely a winner. I have no doubt you’ll be in great hands this next year. It’s been fantastic! Let it snow!  

Mike Anderson, CSP, owns Snow & Ice Pros in Highland, IN. Contact him at mike@snowandicepros.com.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Snow Safety Week returns

'It’s exciting now to think that we are entering our third year of producing Snow Safety Week.'

By Brian Birch, CAE
A few years ago, SIMA CEO Martin Tirado threw me an idea he’d been tossing around. It was “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel at the time, and he said simply: “We should do something like that for the snow industry.” It was an interesting thought, but neither of us took any notes or went any further with it at the time.

Like all good ideas though, this one kept popping back into my head. As SIMA has shifted to a more specific focus on industry safety, the “Shark Week” concept hit me full blast. “We should do a Snow Safety Week!” I said to my 2-year-old son at the time. He wasn’t too excited with the brilliance of this statement.

It’s exciting now to think that we are entering our third year of producing Snow Safety Week. We again will work with our publishing partner at Moose River Media to accomplish this task. We also welcome back our official Safety Sponsor, BOSS Snowplows, that continues to support safety initiatives through SIMA. Over the past two years we’ve created definitive tips, videos and images tied to snow & ice management safety. 

Visit www.GoPlow.com, hover over the Operations tab and choose “Safety/Training.” Here you will find more than 80 articles specific to safety and training, thanks to initiatives like Snow Safety Week.

Snow Safety Week this year is October 27-30. The week will kick off with an industrywide free webinar: “Snow Fighter Safety: How to Battle the Elements While Maintaining Your Health.” The webinar will be archived at SIMA’s Resource 24/7 Training Center. Stories will be published online at GoPlow.com, and Plowsite.com will moderate several discussions. Safety is so important in this industry. I encourage you to take advantage of the resources we’ll provide during Safety Week.   

Snow Safety Week stats
  • 2-3 - New content items related to safety will be published per day.
  • 15,000+ - Snow professionals will be engaged via online information and messages tied to Snow Safety Week.
Brian Birch, CAE, is chief operating officer of SIMA. Is there a safety-related topic or concern that you think we should cover during Snow Safety Week? Please email your ideas to Brian@sima.org.

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 martin@sima.org.