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Welcome to our July 2008 newsletter!

What will be the impact of increasing environmental regulations and outsourcing of sweeper parts?

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

Ranger Kidwell-Ross, editor

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The combination of environmental regulations and worldwide outsourcing is changing the face of power sweeping, along with the status quo of many other areas of U.S. business. The question is, will the changes harm or help the sweeping industry as a whole? What can we do to help determine the outcome?

As I write this, California's Air Resource Board is poised to outlaw operation of thousands of sweepers currently running in that state. And, a reported 19 other states are waiting in the wings to follow California's lead. Since the proposed regulations would eliminate any sweepers older than 1998, that would be a huge hit to both contractor and municipal fleets.

In this newsletter issue we have updated information on how that struggle is progressing. A component of this is a unique 'letter of defense' written by Mark Carter, president of Orange County-based Bill's Sweeping. In it, Carter contrasts a sweeper's diesel engine pollution output to the far greater amount of debris picked up, which includes 500 times more than what even engines older than 1998 emit. Carter is also spearheading a new NAPSA California Chapter formed to address the proposed regulations.

In his analysis, Carter portrays the operation of 'miracle pollution reduction machines,' (sweepers) to an ATM machine where you can put in $1 and get out $500. The result is an article that deserves being read by any agency that wonders about the environmental impact of sweepers or sweeping.

California's Southcoast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the southern California agency behind the Rule 1186 certification of sweepers for small-micron pickup, also has a new proposal. The AQMD is now proposing guidelines for determining whether or not third-party vendor parts will keep Rule 1186 Certified sweepers in compliance or not. The AQMD rules are also followed closely by a number of other states, and the results could have a huge impact on the use and availability of third-party sweeper parts in California and elsewhere.

On the other hand, increased regulation aimed at decreasing stormwater runoff pollution should provide a boon to sweeping. As sweepers are more recognized as being able to be part of the solution -- one that's both less expensive than end-of-the-pipe pollutant removal and doesn't require any real estate -- the mandated use of sweepers should become more frequent. That is, IF the sweeping industry gets off its duff and gets cracking on making a test protocol that shows the environmental community what sweepers and sweeping can accomplish.

In my previous editorial I proposed that the industry develop 'the test no sweeper can pass.' It would include air emissions' samples taken while sweeping during the test, as well as some type of vacuum test after the sweeper goes by to see what was left on the ground. Most importantly, it would have a wide range of material included. On the heavy end, this would be debris that would tax every broom sweeper to its limits.

On the other end of the scale would be very fine, small-micron particles in the PM-10 -- and perhaps under -- range that current air sweepers will have a very difficult time with. Each segment of the test could either have a numeric score or, something that would probably gain 'by in' by manufacturers, a percentage of pickup that designated a 'passing grade' for that particular test segment. The test I envision could even include such items as maneuverability and average cost per hour of consumables.

Unless we develop our own, industry-based, guidelines for sweeper performance and, perhaps, quality assessment for aftermarket products, it's clear that government agencies will do it for us. That seldom results in an ideal, positive outcome.

Now to the other topic I promised to cover, international outsourcing. You might think that sweeping, which has to be done at the customers' location, is immune from any type of outsourcing. Think again.

The industry has already seen a big impact from the use of immigrant labor as sweeper and back-pack blower operators. Use of a variety of immigrant workers has been a factor in keeping costs down for contractors around the U.S. The next wave of outsourcing appears to be coming from an entirely different direction: Foreign-made aftermarket parts for sweepers, backpacks and other machinery are now starting to flood the marketplace.

I had a dialogue over the course of several weeks with a visiting factory owner from China, who we'll call 'Jimmy.' He came to the U.S. with the intent of finding an American market for his Chinese factory's gutter broom production. When he first came into the country, he contacted me about advertising the retail portion of his business on the website. Over the several weeks he was here, we emailed back and forth, as well as spoke on the phone several times. (Jimmy's command of English was better in print, so we primarily emailed each other.)

During this time, Jimmy visited a number of sweeping product vendors around the country in an attempt to find wholesale buyers for his brooms. The end to the story is that, ultimately, Jimmy apologetically had to cancel all his plans to advertise and sell his curb brooms in the U.S. retail market. During his trip, the Chinese factory owner sold his entire production on a wholesale basis to current U.S. sweeper parts suppliers. Some of you reading this are probably now using Jimmy's brooms, which he claimed rivaled those made in the U.S. in every way.

As this story is repeated with other types of sweeper aftermarket parts -- my guess is that most, if not all, U.S. sweeper manufacturers are now importing a number of their components from China, India and elsewhere in the Far East -- the result will be further erosion of American manufacturing sector. And, perhaps, an erosion in quality of the parts used in and on the sweepers you operate. If a reduction in quality does occur, the evaluation process now underway by AQMD will become more important as a guideline for overall quality assessment that contractors and municipalities everywhere will be able to utilize.

On the other hand, these assessments will be done by a government agency with little to no 'hands on' experience in sweeping. I believe it would be far better in the long term if the sweeping industry could get together its own rules on these and other topics of vital industry interest.

I hope you enjoy the slate of articles in this issue of the newsletter. In our articles and newsletters we're trying to bring you information you can actually put to use in your sweeping company or municipal sweeping operation. If there's something you'd like us to report about, or if you have comments on this editorial, please let us know. Our goal is to write about what you want to read. In addition, I'll post any comments to this editorial online with it.

As always, if you have a sweeping-related need please tell us about it. We'll try to assist in any way we can. I routinely reference articles and studies, provide information from my "Fundamentals of the Power Sweeping Business," manual and put contractors and city officials in touch with others who may have answers to their information needs. By the same token, if you have a story you can provide, additional information on any of the topics we've covered in this newsletter issue – or need more details – please let me know. I'll be glad to help if at all possible.

Good Sweeping!
Ranger's Signature
Ranger Kidwell-Ross, editor

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