Turf Magazine - August, 2012

CENTRAL FEATURES

Black Gold Good for the Green Industry

Oil fields create opportunities for landscape work
By Nancy Riggs

With a goal of becoming the largest landscape business in North Dakota, Quality Landscaping, Inc. owner Chris Lindbo has found an ally in the oil industry. Quality Landscaping is located in Minot, N.D., the site of major oil drilling that began in 2007 and one of the largest oil sites in recent U.S. history, say some reports. The company delivers a full range of services almost exclusively on commercial projects, spurred directly or indirectly by the oil-fed local economy.


Chris Lindbo displays a landscape at this apartment complex that his company originally installed in 2006 but he recently replaced because of extensive flood damage.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF QUALITY LANDSCAPING.

"We really aren't doing residential jobs now because we just don't have the time," says Lindbo. "We do residential projects only for people who we have a commercial connection with. We do everything in landscaping: we move dirt, do rough and finish-grading, and install lawns, plants, pavers and seawalls."

Lindbo, 45, said that his extensive experience in the industry is the key element in the success of his company. He launched Quality Landscaping in 1994. "I started working at a local nursery job in 10th grade, and worked in landscaping with the nursery for 12 years," he says.

Quality Landscaping has grown steadily with the exception of 2008. While much of the landscape industry experienced revenue declines, Lindbo was forced to take on fewer jobs due to a shortage of employees. However, the company rebounded the following year with a revenue of just over $1 million, and continues to grow.

While landscaping work has increased, new challenges have also surfaced. With a major shortage of qualified workers, Lindbo has focused on creative solutions to assure sufficient employees to complete his increasingly larger projects. Low-rent housing to recruit out-of-state workers and a systemized training program have allowed the company to continue to offer services in a quality, timely and reliable manner.

Oil industry attracts workers

Quality Landscaping, Inc.


Owner: Chris Lindbo
Founded: 1994
Headquarters: Minot, N.D.
Markets: Minot and other communities in north central North Dakota
Services: Landscaping, hardscaping, irrigation systems, water features, dirt work, sod and hydroturfing, athletic fields, and trees and shrubs
Employees: 12
Website: www.qualitylandscapingnd.com
Oil drilling in the Minot area utilizes a modern technology that helps facilitate obtaining natural gas and oil through hydraulic fracturing of rock, often referred to as "fracking." The oil find has brought an influx of workers and associated business, stimulating local economic growth.

While the increase in business is appreciated, it has forced Lindbo to come up with solutions for finding and keeping qualified employees. "It's really hard to find qualified employees. The oil fields were paying people very high wages with full benefits," Lindbo said. "Most of the employees I was able to get were from out of state. With high rent, many couldn't afford to stay here and work when they had to pay $1,500 a month in rent."

Lindbo decided to go into the rental business himself. Being able to provide low-cost housing helped his recruiting. "I could advertise for people to come here to work for me and have a place [for them to] live where they pay a very low rent," he said.

Managers and operators who had difficulty finding suitable employment in regions elsewhere in the United States that were still suffering economically migrated to Minot. Lindbo says that the increase in landscape projects in the Minot area is in sharp contrast to other Midwest locations, which have experienced a drastic decrease in projects. "I have a project manager who is from the Chicago area, where the work is down dramatically," he says. "And, because landscaping is down a lot in some areas, that helps with the availability of landscaping material."

Training employees requires a major time investment, even when qualified workers join his company. "We're working on a systematic training program, so when we take on a new person that person can progress quickly and move forward with their job. That allows us to work on projects and maintain our quality and reputation for completing work on time," Lindbo explains.

Managing larger projects

Lindbo handles all project bidding and serves as a project manager on many of those projects. "We've been forced to do bigger projects, and it's actually easier to manage big projects. Working in one location is easier than moving among several locations, moving equipment and people," says Lindbo.


North Dakota's energy boom has energized the business climate there, spurring construction projects because of the influx of money and workers. Quality Landscaping is taking on larger projects, in this case loading boulders for a landscape project at Minot State University.

Lindbo explains the importance of using skid steers in his work. Quality Landscaping uses mostly New Holland and John Deere equipment purchased through RDO Equipment and Magic City Implement, both in Minot. The company installs Rain Bird irrigation systems that feature both Rain Bird and Hunter heads, depending on each property's specific needs. Ferguson Water Works in Fargo, N.D., and Western Steel & Plumbing in Minot are his prime irrigation product suppliers.

Several major projects are underway, all related to increased business due to the oil industry. "We have a major Halliburton building landscaping project," Lindbo says. Halliburton is a Houston-based company that focuses on energy services worldwide. The company is providing extensive services and operations at the North Dakota operation and is constructing a major office, maintenance and warehouse complex. Quality Landscaping is handling the approximately $100,000 landscape project for the site, which includes installing irrigation for lawns and shrubs, as well as extensive rock work.

"The Trinity Cancer Care Center expansion might not have been built without the increase in the economy here," Lindbo adds. The $100,000 Trinity Cancer Care Center landscape project features extensive boulders, plantings and irrigation. Another project, totaling about $160,000, took place at a five-building apartment complex and involved extensive dirt moving, and installation of irrigation, lawns and plants.

In one of the few residential projects the company takes on, Lindbo designed a $200,000 landscape for a local farmer and oil drilling service owner who upgraded to a much larger residence. "We moved a few hundred tons of dirt. The owner has bulldozers, and he helped move the dirt. The project included a 250-foot retaining wall holding back a hillside, extensive addition of topsoil, a paver driveway and walkway, and irrigation for extensive lawns and plantings," he says.


When the Trinity Hospital Cancer Care expanded because of the increased number of workers with families drawn by local oil fields, it called on Quality Landscaping to provide the facility with a new low-maintenance, low-water-use landscape.

Major flooding in 2011 caused extensive damage to homes and businesses in and around Minot. Quality Landscaping renovated flood-damaged landscapes at an apartment building the firm had initially landscaped when the building was constructed in 2005.

Lindbo notes that a ready market was available for renovated, flood-damaged homes due to the increased population coming into the area for the oil field work. "Without the oil here, there wouldn't have been a market for many of those homes," he says.

Looking ahead

Lindbo sees the landscaping business increasing in the next few years as the U.S. economy picks up.

"We want to be the largest revenue-producing landscaper in North Dakota," says Lindbo. He sees his company moving toward that goal by maintaining the company's reputation for quality, timeliness and reliability, again citing experience as the primary asset in his business.

Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer from Mt. Zion, Ill., and has been covering the green industry for Turf for more than 20 years. You can contact her at NFRIGGS@aol.com.