ALCC news center
Now's the time to plant Email
Written by Plant Select   
Monday, May 27, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

Now's the time to plant 'Windwalker' big bluestem for a stunning fall show

Spring/early summer is the best time to plant native grasses for a great summer and fall garden show, and you can’t go wrong with Andropogon gerardii PWIN01S ‘Windwalker’ big bluestem.

While most big bluestem varieties exhibit varying shades of green, ‘Windwalker’ stands out for its distinctive soft blue color, with narrow, arching light blue leaves accented with a subtle maroon tint in the spring. Its graceful foliage not only complements other garden and landscape plants but also evokes the rich texture of tall grass prairies.

Designers will find ‘Windwalker’ particularly appealing for its ability to enhance garden displays. The soft blue foliage serves as a perfect backdrop for big bluestem flower heads, accentuating their texture and harmonizing with the surrounding colors, especially those of light purple flowering plants. 

As autumn approaches, ‘Windwalker’ undergoes a stunning transformation, turning a rich burgundy hue. This fall coloration adds visual interest to the garden without overshadowing other plants—except when backlit by the warm glow of late afternoon sunlight. These moments offer a profound connection to the beauty of the landscape and a sense of belonging in our steppe region.

‘Windwalker’ big bluestem is a must-have addition to any garden, especially if you cherish light purple blooms. Its unique attributes, from the delicate blue foliage to the striking fall coloration, elevate the aesthetic appeal of garden landscapes while celebrating the beauty of native plants. Embracing ‘Windwalker’ is a step toward creating landscapes that resonate with the spirit of our region.

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green Now:

A drought-tolerant garden: step by step

How AI is transforming the landscape industry

 

 
A drought-tolerant garden: step by step Email
Written by Tim Flanagan   
Monday, May 27, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green NowLast fall, Sustainable Landscapes Colorado installed a drought-tolerant perennial garden in the Buell Mansion community in Cherry Hills Village. We removed the existing sod, saving on weekly mowing costs and watering. And we gave homeowners the “sleep, creep and leap” mantra. First season, plants will dig in. Second season, plants will stretch out. And by the third season, the Buell Mansion Sandy Lake Triangle should be spectacular for years to come. Once established, this garden will survive on rain and snow.

We chose flowering perennials for each season. Camassia and allium bulbs will offer a blue and purple sea of flowers as the snow begins to melt next spring. Native camassia bulbs should naturalize and fill in any gaps over the years. Next up, our favorite: the hardy, deep-rooted, pea-shaped leafed baptisia will bloom in pale purple, providing an early food source for native bees, honeybees and bumblebees. A matrix of beautiful prairie dropseed will support the flowering perennials and provide a tapestry of emerald green.

When summer arrives, the penstemon ‘Pike’s Peak’ and sunset hyssop will feed visiting hummingbirds. And by late summer, the yellows of rudbeckia and the pinks of echinacea will mingle with the black seedpods of the baptisia to create quite the prairie painting and winter food source. Meanwhile, the native shrubs will provide habitat and cover for the birds. As plantsman Roy Diblik points out, drought-tolerant gardens are “know maintenance.” We know the plants will enjoy living next to each other and will thrive with an annual haircut in March. They will also benefit from their own leaf litter instead of wood chip mulch.

Read full article in our Spring Colorado Green magazine issue.

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How AI is transforming the landscape industry

Now's the time to plant

 
How AI is transforming the landscape industry Email
Written by Katherine DeGaine   
Monday, May 27, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green NowArtificial intelligence (AI) is taking the world by storm, and it will play a big role in building, scaling and evolving the landscape industry. 

For landscape architects, AI algorithms can analyze terrain, climate data and customer preferences to generate automated landscape designs, streamlining the planning process, ensuring designs are tailored to specific environmental conditions and providing customers with the exact experience they are looking for. AI-equipped drones can conduct aerial surveys to quickly analyze a site, monitor plants and even create 3D models that assist with design and planning.

One of the best ways a landscape business can implement AI is in lead generation using platforms that allow AI chatbots to nurture leads and set appointments for sales associates and estimators.

“In an industry where competition is high and differentiation can be challenging, leveraging AI in lead generation not only improves the quantity and quality of leads but also contributes significantly to a company’s overall growth and success,” says Kyle Hendrix, operations manager for Comet Suite, AI-powered lead-generation and prospecting software. Letting AI generate and manage leads leaves more time for employees to focus on converting those leads into actual customers, he adds. “AI-powered lead-generation and prospecting software like Comet Suite is essential for landscaping companies looking to combine the power of hyper-personalization and the efficiency of a targeted approach, allowing you to focus on the leads most likely to convert and reducing the time needed to prospect and submit bids.”

Every business understands the importance of customer relations, and AI can assist with that, too, with solutions ranging from call centers to customer relations management and even predictive market trend analysis based on historical data and customer behavior. “The software’s personalization feature tailors marketing messages to individual prospects, improving engagement and conversion rates,” Hendrix says. “This customization helps landscape companies forge stronger client relationships while boosting loyalty and distinguishing them in a competitive market."

AI in the field

AI is also being incorporated in the field. Robotic lawn mowers like the Husqvarna Automower and EcoFlow Blade can operate on their own when given specific parameters. Because they can mow just under an acre on a single charge, they’re best suited for residential use at the moment, but AI technology is advancing quickly. 

AI-operated irrigation control systems can monitor and control the amount of water needed to efficiently irrigate and help manage resources for large agricultural grows by optimizing planting, irrigation and fertilization based on real-time data, reducing resource waste and improving yields. AI is able to improve operations by harnessing internet and satellite data, adjusting for weather conditions, soil moisture level and specific plant requirements to optimize the system’s efficiency and contribute to sustainability overall. AI-powered sensors can be employed to monitor the health of plants, irrigation systems and other landscape elements. By collecting and analyzing data from various sources, landscape companies can make more informed decisions on plant selection, resource assignment and scheduling maintenance.

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green Now:

A drought-tolerant garden: step by step

Now's the time to plant

 
The H-2B “may” to “shall” amendment just passed Email
Written by Plant Select   
Monday, May 27, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

Great news! Thanks for all your help in pushing this out to our representatives. 

The H-2B “may” to “shall” amendment just passed by a voice vote in the DHS Appropriations Markup.

We are grateful to Reps. Harris (R-MD), Pingree (D-ME), Moolenaar (R-MI), Cuellar (D-TX), Joyce (R-OH) and Ruppersberger (D-MD) for their leadership in sponsoring the amendment. We thank the congress members who spoke in support of the amendment. Please make sure to thank them if you have a close relationship with their offices.

The amendment states:

SEC. 406. Notwithstanding the numerical limitation set forth in section 214(g)(1)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1184(g)(1)(B)), the Secretary of Homeland Security, after consultation with the Secretary of Labor, and upon determining that the needs of American businesses cannot be satisfied during fiscal year 2025 with United States workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform temporary nonagricultural labor x , shall increase the total number of visas available to qualifying aliens under section 101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(b) of such Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(b)) in such fiscal year above such limitation by the highest number of H–2B nonimmigrants who participated in the H–2B returning worker program in any fiscal year in which returning workers were exempt from such numerical limitation.

Congressman Harris introduced the amendment and the following folks spoke in support of the amendment:

Amodei

Underwood

Kaptur

Joyce

Bishop

Pingree

Congressman Pocan spoke against the amendment and stated some concerns with the program.

The amendment was passed by a voice vote. Thank you all for your grassroots efforts.

 

 

 

 
2024 End of Session GreenCO Email
Written by Plant Select   
Monday, May 27, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

The 2nd Regular Session of the 74th General Assembly adjourned on May 9th. Hicks & Associates is pleased to present this report on the activities of the legislature in 2024. Session Overview: The 2024 Legislative Session convened on January 10th. Despite over 100 bills being introduced on day one, primarily from interim committees, the session started slowly, with the first committee hearings taking a few weeks to commence. In the initial week, speeches from leadership in both chambers and the Governor’s State of the State address outlined priorities for the session. With Democrats holding the majority in both chambers and the Governor’s office, there was a strong alignment on issues such as workforce development, education, cost of living/housing, water, public safety, and climate change. Read full article here. 

 
Colorado Water Conservation Board Email
Written by Russ Sands & Jenna Battson   
Monday, May 20, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green NowColorado Water Conservation Board releases landscape transformation report

Water savings are critical to helping reduce Colorado’s potential municipal water gap of up to 740,000 acre-feet annually through 2050. Finding ways to reduce this gap is at the heart of the Colorado Water Plan and its focus on Transformative Landscape Change. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) is addressing how and why it’s important to transform landscapes through its year-long Urban Landscape Conservation Task Force initiative.

The diverse 21-member task force dug into the complex subject of landscape transformation, culminating in a final report that is available online at https://engagecwcb.org/urban-landscape-conservation-task-force. While the task force noted multiple reasons beyond water savings to promote landscape change, it also highlighted that water use within communities often represents a sizable percentage of a city’s water use. The task force promoted nonfunctional turf removal and other water conservation tools, including water budgets, tiered rate structures that incentivize low-water-use landscapes, land use codes and increased education and outreach.

While municipal water use is only 7 percent of state water use, and the outdoor component is likely 3 percent, the actual amount of water used to irrigate nonfunctional turf is not fully known. State estimates assume nonfunctional turf likely accounts for less than 1 percent of state water use. An initial analysis estimated there may be 20,000 acre-feet of water savings potential, but more research is needed.

To better understand the amount of turf in Colorado, the potential water savings and the cost of turf removal, CWCB collaborated with BBC Research and Consulting to release an Exploratory Turf Analysis in 2023. CWCB released an updated 2024 Exploratory Turf Analysis in January. With many unknowns remaining, research will continue to assist in responsible decision-making that can help continue to drive investments in water conservation.

At the same time, the CWCB will continue to learn from the agency’s Turf Replacement Program, which provides funding to eligible entities like water providers. While the program funding does not go to homeowners, HOAs or businesses, many of the municipalities and water providers that participated in the program made rebates available in their communities. After eight months, the available funding for the Turf Replacement Program was fully allocated, and 50 eligible entities helped advance turf replacement efforts through incentive programs and/or site-specific municipal projects. Currently, no additional funding Colorado Water Conservation Board releases landscape transformation report is available for the Turf Replacement Program, but in November 2023, the CWCB Board advanced a proposal the General Assembly will hear this spring that could bring an additional $2 million to the program this fall.

CWCB has been working to advance transformative landscape change and helped accelerate a statewide conversation on these efforts through the November 2022 Landscape Summit.

This work is important, especially in light of a warming climate. The Climate Change in Colorado report released by CWCB and Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center shows Colorado has already warmed by 2 degrees Fahrenheit and can likely expect increasingly hotter and drier conditions. This highlights the need for transformative landscape change because more water will be necessary to sustain trees and plants. Switching to more climate-appropriate, low-water plants will help make Colorado communities more resilient, especially in drought years.

To read the reports and learn more about what CWCB is doing, visit engagecwcb.org

 

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green Now:

Battery-powered equipment

Recommendation Tree List Released

 
Battery-powered equipment Email
Written by Katherine DeGaine   
Monday, May 20, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green NowBattery-powered equipment: what you need to know

After Colorado’s Regional Air Quality Control voted to approve a ban on some gas-powered mowers and handheld landscaping tools on public and government property starting next summer, many landscaping companies are considering investing in a transition to electric equipment. Battery power is also key to the recent wave of automated mowing equipment.

Green industry manufacturers have stepped up their research and development efforts, turning out innovative battery driven tech to meet the market’s anticipated demand, but adoption has been slow among landscape pros.

In addition to lower operating costs, battery-powered equipment produces zero emissions, which benefits the environment and the health of landscape workers and is significantly quieter (on average, 75 dB compared to 90 dB), which allows contractors to work earlier or later hours in residential areas.

Barriers to battery power

One of the biggest obstacles for landscapers who want to convert to battery power is cost. Battery-powered equipment can cost as much as three times more than gas-powered equipment. In addition, contractors must factor in the costs of batteries necessary to operate. Professional-grade lithium-ion batteries can run between $200 and $4,600 apiece.

To help offset these costs, the Inflation Reduction Act instituted an electric vehicle tax credit that covers 30 percent of the cost, or up to $7,500, for new commercial lawn mowers. Last year, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law, which took effect Jan 1, creating a 30 percent discount on electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers, trimmers and snow blowers. The Regional Air Quality Control Council offers grant programs for landscaping companies and government entities, and several Colorado counties offer grants and rebates.

Contractors also will need to maintain an inventory of expensive batteries to keep a battery powered fleet running. To avoid carting around one or two dozen batteries from site to site, some landscape professionals have started equipping their trucks and trailers with onboard charging stations that allow them to replenish power on the go and carry fewer replacement battery packs. Most manufacturers offer tips to help make batteries last as long as possible.

One of the most significant challenges contractors report when converting to battery-powered equipment is employee pushback and the cultural shift required to adopt this new technology. Often, crews believe the tool’s reduction in power and the need to adopt new maintenance approaches and practices will hamstring performance and efficiency.

 

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green Now:

Colorado Water Conservation Board

Recommendation Tree List Released

 
Recommendation Tree List Released Email
Written by CSU research committee   
Monday, May 20, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

Revised Front Range Tree Recommendation List released

In 2023, a revised Front Range Tree Recommendation List was developed through the collaborative effort of 16 individuals, each representing a different aspect of Colorado’s green industry. Participating organizations included the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Colorado Nursery and Greenhouse Association (CNGA), municipal arborists representing Colorado Tree Coalition (CTC) and International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), Colorado State University (CSU) Extension, Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG) and Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS). Based on the committee’s education, knowledge, and experience, over 252 trees, not including many clones of these taxa, were evaluated and rated, resulting in a single reference list for professionals to use and share with customers or residents.

The purpose of this project was to update and expand on the original list produced in 2010, which created a Front Range Tree list for use by green industry professionals based on decades of experience growing and caring for trees in the Front Range. The list is intended to assist those involved in the buying, growing, selling, selection, siting and specification of trees. The list’s ultimate goal is to promote a healthy, diverse and geographically appropriate landscape in the urban forest. These ratings apply to the Colorado Front Range, generally defined as the region from Pueblo to the Wyoming border and from the foothills to the eastern plains.

The initial list of evaluated trees was based on a compilation of seven 2023 Front Range nursery catalogs, plus recommendations from committee members. The group evaluated each tree based on five different crucial factors (soil chemistry, pH, soil texture, insects and diseases, cold hardiness, and salt intolerance) and eight cautionary factors (tree wrap, sunscald, weak wooded, short-lived, transplants, leaf scorch and exposure). Three other categories (water needs, Colorado native and limited availability) were also considered. After evaluating each tree based on crucial, cautionary and other categories, each tree was placed in one of four categories or placed on a non-recommended list.

These categories were defined as follows:

Recommended: tree that has consistently displayed no serious issues related to any of the crucial factors (examples: Celtis occidentalis and Gymnocladus dioicus)

Recommended for Most Sites: trees generally recommended for most sites that have one of the crucial factors or a cautionary problem (examples: Aesulus glabra and Ginkgo biloba)

Conditionally Recommended: trees that have consistently displayed serious issues related to one or more crucial factors and one or more cautionary factors. Some of the factors can be mitigated through proper horticulture care (examples: Quercus bicolor and Picea omonika)

Trees with Potential: trees often offered for sale and have potential to do well (Zone 5 or below) but committee felt less than 10 years of experience growing and maintaining a significant population of trees in this area (examples: Acer griesum and Macluna pomifera)

Not Recommended: trees that consistently displayed overwhelming issues related to several crucial factors or can be expected to do poorly under normal circumstances (examples: Acer saccharinum and Robina hybrids) When using this list to assist in tree selection for a specific planting location, professionals should perform a site analysis relating to cultural factors, including a soil test to determine pH, soil texture and composition.

The Revised Front Range Tree Recommendation List can be downloaded from the CNGA, ASLA, CTC, ISA, CALCPCSU Extension and Colorado State Forest Service websites. 

 

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green Now:

Colorado Water Conservation Board

Battery-powered equipment

 

 

 
new FAMLI requirements Email
Written by Sarah Jorgensen   
Tuesday, May 07, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

How to navigate the new FAMLI paid leave requirements

In November 2020, Colorado voters approved the mandatory, state-administered paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program. As of 2024, all Colorado employers must ensure payroll deductions are being made for the program and, in most cases, accommodate a leave of absence for an employee taking leave. All Colorado employers should immediately ensure compliance for FAMLI leave.

Most Colorado employers—including those with seasonal employees—are now subject to the following changes:

• Effective Jan. 1, 2023, most Colorado employers are required to process payroll deductions for FAMLI.

• Effective Jan. 1, 2024, unless an employer affirmatively opts out by providing its own fully insured, state-approved paid leave program, most Colorado employees will be eligible to take paid sick and safe leave of up to $1,100 per week for up to 12 weeks. 

Payroll deductions and leave benefits

FAMLI is being funded through contributions by both employers and employees. Premiums are currently set to 0.9 percent of each employee’s wage—half paid by the employer and half paid by the employee. Only employers with 10 or more employees are responsible for the 0.45 percent wage share; all employees must be taxed the employee portion regardless of employer size. Beginning Jan. 1, 2025, the premium rate may increase, but it is capped by statute at 1.2 percent. The maximum weekly benefit to a covered individual is $1,100, which is not subject to Colorado income tax. The FAMLI division of the Colorado Department of Labor has published a calculator to estimate benefits depending upon an employee’s average weekly earnings.

The maximum leave in a rolling calendar year is 12 weeks, or 16 weeks if the covered individual has a serious health condition related to pregnancy or childbirth complications.

Notably, the term “employee” is broadly defined under FAMLI, allow self-employed individuals to opt in to the program by paying only an employee portion (0.45 percent of wages) and also permitting seasonal and temporary workers to make claims.

Covered employers

Virtually all employers with employees in Colorado are covered, with a few exceptions:

• Small employers (nine or fewer employees) are relieved of paying the employer portion of the premium.

• A complete opt-out is available for local governments.

• A limited “private plan exemption” is available to private employers if they provide a comparable plan and receive an approval from the agency.

Employee eligibility

Employees are eligible to make a claim for and receive paid family leave after they have earned at least $2,500 in wages within Colorado over a period of a year. That means that any employee is eligible, regardless of status, if they have earned $2,500 in wages from any job in Colorado during the base period before they apply for FAMLI benefits. The base period used to determine FAMLI benefit payments is roughly the year before a FAMLI leave period would begin. 

To determine whether an employer’s headcount subjects them to the employer portion of the tax, employers must count employees who worked 20 or more weeks during the previous calendar year, no matter how many days per week they worked. 

Handling employee claims

It is important to train all managers and supervisors on how to handle employees’ claims or notice. In cooperation with an employee’s provider, the FAMLI division alone will determine whether an employee is entitled to leave, the length of leave and the weekly benefit amount.

To avoid employees claiming retaliation, it is essential to remember that the leave is protected if the employee has been employed for six or more months, meaning the employee must be given their same or a similar job upon their return at the same rate of pay

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green Now:

H-2B Update

Northern Water releases landscape templates

 
H-2B Update Email
Written by Colorado Green Now   
Monday, May 06, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green NowHB 1178 Defeated: Local Government Pesticide Control

We extend our sincere appreciation to all GreenCO and ALCC members, as well as our partner organizations, for your unwavering support in defeating HB 1178. We're pleased to share that the bill has been effectively deferred until May 9th, eliminating the need for a vote on the House floor.

This success is a result of the combined efforts of our coalition. Your dedication to opposing this policy is truly commendable, particularly within the context of a Democratic supermajority House.

Looking ahead, the ALCC anticipates potential future attempts to introduce similar legislation. Landscapers and their partners must join together to safeguard our industry against these types of threats. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to express appreciation to the legislators who played a role in this achievement. Keep an eye out for our forthcoming "thank you" action alert, which will guide how to convey your gratitude.

Lastly, we extend a heartfelt thank you to all the lobbyists who tirelessly advocated for this cause. Their perseverance and advocacy efforts have been pivotal in our fight against this bill over the past five years. Your steadfast support is truly appreciated.

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green Now:

new FAMLI requirements

Northern Water releases landscape templates

 
Northern Water releases landscape templates Email
Written by Lindsay Nerad   
Monday, May 06, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

0n a morning in late December 2021, fire erupted and moved fast, fueled by intense winds, through suburban neighborhoods in Louisville and Superior. When the fire and winds calmed, 1,084 structures had been destroyed.

In the aftermath, a community advocate who lost her home in the fire approached Northern Water to inquire about landscape templates to help in the rebuilding process. In her research, she had discovered a project from Sonoma and Marin counties in California that provided landscape templates to the communities affected by the North Bay Fires of 2017. Northern Water’s Water Efficiency Department began exploring the opportunity and developed a community advisory group formed from municipal employees and homeowners in the impacted areas.

In early 2023, Northern Water hosted an informational meeting to garner insights from community stakeholders, which included employees from Louisville, Superior, City of Boulder and Boulder County. The group included planning, sustainability and fire mitigation experts, as well as a nonprofit organization focused on watershed issues and three community members who had lost their homes. This advisory committee was instrumental in guiding the project.

The meeting revealed several key takeaways, including high interest in following fire-wise principles, supporting pollinators and stormwater quality, managing significant grade variation and slopes, and cost-effective options. Additional topics discussed included a landscape maintenance manual, which is now in development, and a workshop to train contractors and others involved in rebuilding.

Drawing from the Sonoma-Marin landscape templates and advisory committee feedback, Northern Water submitted a request for proposals to develop a package of Sustainable Landscape Templates. Contracting with Norris Design, the firm developed six implementation-ready landscape templates that are designed to be water saving, fire wise, and bird and pollinator friendly. In late 2023, Northern Water and Norris Design released the landscape templates, which include full landscape plans, irrigation plans, plant guide with flammability ratings, water saving estimates, construction details and cost opinions, and a resource package. The templates address various lot needs: two for cul-de-sac lots, three various rectangle-sized lots and one for corner lots.

The Sustainable Landscape Templates pay particular attention to plant material that is not only low water but is beneficial to native pollinators and birds. The templates call for significantly less turf, resulting in 50 percent or greater water savings than a standard Kentucky bluegrass landscape. To keep water efficiency at the forefront, Northern Water requested that no more than 30 percent of the front yard be designated as turf and asked that turf alternatives, such as Tahoma 31, Dog Tuff and native grass (buffalo, blue grama blend) be included as options. In addition, the statement of work requested planting areas consisting of low-water native and climate-adapted plant material.

Fire-wise principles such as choosing fire-smart plant and landscape materials and calling attention to the importance of home ignition zones when placing plants and trees in the landscape were also included. There are several ways to accomplish this, including placing trees a minimum of 10 feet at maturity from a structure and other trees; reducing ladder fuels, such as woody shrubs, under trees; maintaining a 5-foot buffer of no plant material around the home; and using fine rock mulch rather than wood.

Beyond the Marshall Fire

When the final landscape templates were presented at a community meeting in December at the Louisville Recreation and Senior Center, attendance exceeded expectations with standing room only.

In the development of the templates, lot selection was based on actual lot conditions in the areas burned by fire. Because much of the rebuilding was taking place in unincorporated Boulder County, it was suggested that at least one of the templates reflect a large lot. Of the five remaining lots, two are pie-shaped cul-de-sac lots, one of which is modeled from a walkout basement with significant grade changes sloping towards the back, and the other with significant grade changes sloping towards the front. One small rectangle lot was modeled from the Sagamore neighborhood in Louisville, one from a standard rectangle lot and one from a corner lot. The intent was to capture as many unique landscape conditions as possible. Two of the plans have no front yard turf, and two incorporate a dry creek bed to move and better utilize natural precipitation on the landscape.

Northern Water and Norris Design teams worked methodically to ensure that plants called out in the templates were largely native to Colorado or the region to create resilient and ecologically diverse landscapes that not only look beautiful but provide ecosystem services and benefit wildlife. The plant list also includes individual plant flammability ratings taken from Idaho Firewise guidelines.

Moving forward, Northern Water will continue to develop materials around the templates and promote them as a new paradigm for residential landscapes. While the templates were designed for those impacted by the Marshall Fire, it is Northern Water’s hope that they be adopted by homeowners’ associations, developers, and individual homeowners throughout Colorado.

You can view the Sustainable Landscape Templates at northernwater.org/sustainablelandscapetemplates

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green Now:

H-2B Update

new FAMLI requirements

 

 
Colorado Materials celebrates 25 years Email
Written by Vicky Urland   
Tuesday, April 23, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

Gazing out over the massive mounds of soil, mulch, gravel, and other landscaping and building supplies on the multiacre Colorado Materials property in Longmont, it’s hard to believe the business started in a basement. And not a basement in a building on a construction site or industrial property. An unfinished basement in Chris and Meighan Kerr’s home.

“My desk sat on the concrete floor next to a portable heater,” says Colorado Materials Finance Director Delaney Lawless, Meighan Kerr’s sister. It seems impossible to start a materials company with no space to store the actual materials, but Chris Kerr, who has a background in landscape supplies and trailer sales, believed he could provide better customer service than other materials providers. Using his extensive contacts, he launched Colorado Materials in January 1999 as a broker, transporting materials from suppliers—pits and quarries—to contractors. 

For the first few years, Chris and his then wife, Meighan, ran Colorado Materials from their basement, with Lawless assisting on the business end and Chris’s brothers working in sales. Meighan, a certified public accountant, not only balanced the books, but also brought in income from her job with a CPA firm in Boulder. “It truly was a family business because we were the only ones who wanted to work in the owners’ basement,” Lawless jokes.

An organic business plan

As Colorado Materials celebrates its 25th year in business, Lawless says it has expanded organically, capitalizing on opportunities when they arose. In 2002, three years after they launched the business, the Kerrs were offered good deals on large amounts of rock and other building supplies. That spurred them to make the leap from a basement brokerage to leasing land so they could stockpile products.

In about 2008, the Kerrs purchased land near the Longmont space they leased. In the ensuing years, they bought adjoining land, and for the last decade have owned about 13 acres along Longmont’s Boston Avenue.

“There’s been just such a steady climb over the last 25 years,” Lawless says. “We didn’t pursue growth—it just came to us. I think our growth has been comfortable without having a whole lot of extra risk.”

That growth includes expanding the product mix. In the early years, Colorado Materials focused on bulk goods like rocks and soils. Now, it carries more items that cater to smaller landscape customers, like patio tiles and pavers. Colorado Materials also offers wood mulch, compost, base and sand, retaining-wall materials and cinderblocks, ice melt and winter products, building materials like timbers and concrete and masonry products, and landscape supplies and tools.

“Our customer focus is contractors and installers of all sizes. The retail side, the homeowner business, has grown in the last few years and now is maybe 20 percent of our business,” Lawless says. As landscaping philosophies in Boulder County have changed, Colorado Materials has also adapted. Today, it’s a certified vendor of Rooflite, a green media used on living roofs. About a decade ago, Colorado Materials partnered with a dairy farm in Loveland to make Colorado Analytical Laboratories-certified Class II compost from the farm’s animal waste and clippings. The result is CMI Organics, a division of Colorado Materials.

All in the family

Of course, the grass hasn’t always been green for Colorado Materials. The 2008 housing crisis resulted in business pullbacks. In 2013, heavy rains flooded the yard and washed away many of the materials. And about a decade ago, Chris and Meighan Kerr divorced.

The Kerrs still run the business together— Meighan in the back of the house and Chris in operations. “I think it’s one of those things where you decide we’re going to do this and make it work. They keep things professional and not contentious,” Lawless says.

While the Kerrs don’t yet have a succession plan, they have children in their 20s and also think of their employees as family. They give loans and flexible time off to their workers, along with more standard benefits like 401Ks and paid health insurance. A handful of the 40 employees have been with the company for more than 10 years, and Lawless says most of the staff treats the business like they own it.

Colorado Materials also gives back to its community in multiple ways, including supplying materials for the Longmont Veterans Community housing project and the Niwot High School baseball field. On June 14, the company will celebrate its quarter-century anniversary with a community-wide hog roast.

“Twenty-five years for a family-owned, local company—we feel like that’s a big accomplishment,” says Sales Director Emil Anastas 

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green Now:

Meet a new member

Boost your financial literacy

 
Boost your financial literacy Email
Written by Steve Coughran   
Tuesday, April 23, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

When I owned a landscape company, I made the grave mistake of not paying attention to macroeconomic trends and financial markets. In 2007, amidst the housing market boom, I failed to comprehend the significance behind these indicators. Had I been more vigilant, monitoring trailing building permits as depicted in Exhibit 1, I would have recognized the decline in permit issuance, a leading indicator of housing starts and ultimately the demand for new landscape projects. Instead, I made the misguided decision to acquire trucks, skid-steers and other equipment, anticipating another record-breaking year of construction. This proved to be a significant misstep.

Since this humbling experience, I have dedicated myself to never repeating the same blunder. I developed a comprehensive dashboard featuring key economic indicators presented in a trailing twelve-month format, effectively eliminating seasonality while helping users comprehend the narrative behind the numbers. These resources are available for free when you join boostingyourfinancialiq.com.

I strongly advise closely monitoring essential economic indicators such as the consumer price index (Exhibit 2), which tracks inflation trends, alongside other leading indicators like building permits, new home sales, vacancy rates and national construction spend, among others. By diligently observing and interpreting these indicators, you can make informed decisions, strategically positioning yourself for continued success in the dynamic landscape industry.

Here are steps you can take to remain ahead of the curve.

1. Regularly review and update your rates.

During the busy season, client meetings, bids and managing your team can become overwhelming, but it’s essential to maximize your earning potential within our region’s short 26-week growing period. With so much on your plate, it can be difficult to find time to focus on the numbers.

You may find yourself thinking you’ll address it during the winter when things slow down, but this can create problems. Consider a scenario where you have 100 field employees who, on average, work 2,000 hours per year, totaling 200,000 labor hours. Throughout the season, you may give out raises, experience increased insurance costs and face higher employment taxes. As a result, your hourly rate increases by an average of $2. If you continue bidding projects without adjusting your hourly rate and labor burden, you could end up losing at least $400,000 over the year (a $2 per hour increase multiplied by 200,000 labor hours). That’s a significant loss.

I recommend conducting cost analyses at least once a month, especially in times of inflation. If you don’t have the resources internally, it’s worth hiring an external expert. Additionally, ensure you have current labor rates for different timeframes (six months, 12 months and 18 months ahead) to use when bidding projects in the future. Adjusting your pricing to account for anticipated cost increases is crucial. It’s also wise to learn from successful contractors who are modifying their contracts to address inflation.

2. Negotiate favorable contracts to safeguard your profitability

I recently spoke with several accomplished contractors who have implemented effective strategies to safeguard their businesses against high inflation. Myles Coughran, the owner of Colorado Design Build, has reduced the time bids remain valid from 60 to 30 days. This strategy encourages potential clients to engage with his company promptly while protecting his business from being locked into a volatile cost environment.

Greg Bobich, co-founder of Watermark Landscape and Design, is including escalation clauses in some larger projects to account for potential material cost increases and states in all new contracts that the proposal remains valid for 30 days from issuance. Judd Bryarly, CEO of Timberline One, emphasized the importance of incorporating escalation clauses into proposals and contracts to mitigate the impact of fluctuating material prices.

By following these examples, you can protect yourself contractually against rising prices. 

Engage in monthly strategy review (FSR) meetings.

To stay well-informed about your business, I recommend establishing a dashboard to track key performance indicators such as cash flow, throughput, backlog, gross margin and net margin, among others. Think of this dashboard as the instrument panel a pilot uses while flying a plane. It would be absurd for a pilot to climb onto the wing mid-flight to check the landing gear, but many business owners rely on sheer determination and heroics instead of combining data with intuition. In addition, it is essential for you and your management team to regularly review the income statement, balance sheet and statement of cash flows, both on a monthly and trailing twelve-month basis, to eliminate seasonality and identify genuine trends.

To keep your strategy on track, it is imperative to clearly define your strategic problem— the obstacle preventing your company from achieving its purpose and vision. This might be a need to reduce costs because profit margins are decreasing while intense market competition prevents price increases. Once you have a well-defined strategic problem, you can establish focused strategic initiatives that will help your company overcome the identified challenge.

With your financial dashboard, financial reports and strategic initiatives clearly outlined, you are ready to hold monthly FSR meetings, which involve reviewing financial performance and adjusting the strategy accordingly. The most successful companies consistently build, measure, learn and take action to improve performance.

Boost your financial literacy skills

Financial literacy is a crucial skill for individuals at all levels within an organization. I am not referring to being a numbers-oriented person in the back office, but I am emphasizing the ability to interpret key financial statements, comprehend the story behind the numbers and take precise actions to drive greater value.

In the landscaping industry, if you are unaware of the financial drivers that impact your business, your hard work may be in vain. Take profitability as an example. While it is a common approach for business leaders to reduce overhead costs to increase profits, it can actually harm the long-term sustainability of your business if not executed correctly.

Exhibit 3 shows that the most effective value driver in the landscaping industry is increasing prices. But if the perceived value does not exceed the price, customers will not make a purchase. Therefore, it is essential to have a well-developed strategy in place that enables delivery of an exceptional customer experience, high-quality products or services and establishment of a strong brand. On the other hand, failing to adjust your pricing for inflation, as previously mentioned, can have a detrimental effect on profitability. This highlights the critical importance of financial intelligence in running a successful business. |

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