Snow creates jobs, for construction workers, landscapers
Published 3:33 pm, Thursday, February 3, 2011
Connecticut's biggest accumulation of snow in at least 15 years this winter has created employment opportunities and lucrative contracts for construction and landscaping businesses called out to clear parking lots, roofs and driveways.
"This has been a good shot in the arm for bucket loaders and dump-truck operators," said Michael Riley, president of the state's motor transport association.
Riley, whose organization represents truckers and heavy equipment operators, said trucks that were idle this summer as the construction industry remained in recession, are now being sent to parking lots to cart away snow.
Construction and landscaping companies have faced one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression. Employment in construction-related fields was down 28.6 percent, or 19,800 jobs, in December from the high set in June 2007.
Snow removal, because it's seasonal, isn't recognized as an employment sector, making it difficult for the state to estimate how much income it creates. Riley estimated the value of snow removal in normal years as "millions and millions. And this year, it's millions more," he said.
All this demand is tough to keep up with, according to Russell Munz, co-owner of Stamford-based Pyramid Real Estate Group, which manages 100 residential and commercial properties between Greenwich and Derby.
"We've doubled our staff," Munz said of maintenance crews the company uses to shovel roofs, sidewalks and parking lots. Pyramid has 15 people on its payroll for the winter to tackle these projects and most are landscapers and carpenters, he said.
The company has also had to hire pay loaders to cart away snow and contractors to clear parking lots.
While Pyramid has adequate access to equipment and workers, he said his company has fielded calls from some businesses asking for assistance due to shortages in both areas.
And it is getting expensive as demand ramps up.
Munz said his company hired its own workers to shovel roofs after quotes from roofing companies were too high.
He said typically, the companies send out three-man crews, which are billed out at $96 per man.
Though the price might be worth it, he said, if it prevents damage to the structure, or worse -- an injury to a client or employee.
Several roofs have collapsed around the state following the latest ice storm.
Some contracts detail the rate of pay in inches of snow removed, which is adding up this season.
But for others who failed to specify, snow removal contracts can nearly bankrupt some servicers.
"A contract nails you to the cross," said Don Capone, owner of D & L Landscaping in Norwalk. Capone operates three trucks plowing residential driveways and three apartment/condominium associations in Wilton, Westport and Norwalk. He's been in the business since 1970.
Some snow removers entered into flat-rate contracts that, after seven storms, no longer cover the cost of cleaning up the snow.
Capone said he stopped doing those contracts, and just sticks with his set group of customers.
Wayne Saunders, owner of Trumbull-based Saunders Construction Co., stopped plowing about a decade ago. He still plows a few driveways, but he said once the snow accumulation reaches a couple of feet it requires more equipment, which costs more to run.
You have to pay people a reasonable amount, especially since they may have to go out at 2 a.m. and could be on the road all day, he said.