Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Business Spotlight: Working with Veterans

Teresa Emerson says 70 percent of Clearview’s business is cleaning commercial buildings such as Juanita K. Hammons Hall. Working with veterans tips the scale for a woman-owned window-cleaning firm in governor’s award.
Business Spotlight: The Cleanup Crew - Working with veterans tips the scale for a woman-owned window-cleaning firm in governor’s award. Teresa Emerson never thought she would run a window-cleaning business. But two days before earning her MBA from Drury University, the telecommunications veteran put her college knowledge to use with the 1995 purchase of Clearview Window Cleaning from David and Debbie Morris. “About three days later, I was hanging doing high-rise work,” says Emerson, who worked in the field a few years in the early days as a small-business owner.

Now 20 years in, the work of Emerson’s crew is seen in the shiny clean windows of such major commercial clients as CoxHealth, Mercy, City Utilities of Springfield and Missouri State University, as well as area storefronts and homes.  Her commitment to growth and the hiring of veterans and active military personnel even earned her recognition from Gov. Jay Nixon in early September. It’s all in a day’s work for Clearview.

Nixon’s nod; On Sept. 3, Emerson traveled to St. Louis for the 2015 Governor’s Conference on Economic Development. One of 10 honors presented by Nixon, Clearview earned the Governor’s Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year Award. Nominated by a Springfield peer, Emerson visited St. Louis, met the governor and gave a speech thanking her employees. “It was a very odd feeling. I’m usually not much on awards,” she says. “They tend to focus on the moment in time. This is 20 years in the making. It made me think of all the technicians who have worked here over the years who have just been great people.”

In presenting the award, the governor noted Clearviews employment growth to 15 window-cleaning technicians and three support staff from just three employees when she took over in the mid-1990s. “I think they want to see that you are creative in the way that you keep your business rolling,” she says. Nixon, who started the Show-Me Heroes campaign in 2010 to encourage business owners to hire active military personnel and veterans, also credited Emerson’s commitment to that cause. Of her 15 technicians, seven are Missouri veterans, active in the military or members of the National Guard or Reserve.

Emerson wouldn’t have it any other way. It doesn’t hurt the state’s Show-Me Heroes program provides on the job training assistance – reimbursing 50 percent of wages for new employees – and facilitates federal work opportunity tax credits, which can range up to $9,600 for hiring individuals who face employment barriers. But Emerson says the main advantage is the work ethic instilled in service members, as well as their commitment to teamwork and adherence to safety guidelines.

Not all employers hold service members in that regard. “Believe it or not, it can be very difficult for a veteran or somebody in the military looking for a job,” says James Wittman, a five-year Clearview employee and an active Army Reserve member. Wittman says he’s observed employers pass over workers who list active military duty on their resumes. Calls of duty may come in a matter of hours, which can put a business in a pinch. A team leader for Clearview, Wittman says Emerson is understanding of his sergeant responsibilities to the Harrison, Ark.-based Army unit. “I don’t have to worry a bit,” Wittman says about the Army’s occasional short notice for personnel.

Shine on: Hanging from rigs, climbing ladders and using other equipment, Emerson’s crew performs about 70 percent commercial jobs and 30 percent residential, a complete flip from when she bought the business. Clearview’s work takes technicians as far as Ft. Leonard Wood, Parsons, Kan., eastern Oklahoma and Eureka Springs, Ark.

Large office jobs range widely from $300 to $3,000. Homes, which largely comprise jobs for working couples, tend to average $200. The company’s 600-700 clients may only use its services once or twice a year, but some are as often as weekly. Declining to disclose revenues, Emerson says sales increased roughly 5 percent last year, and she projects a 12 percent rise this year.

Ronnie Lightfoot, CoxHealth system director for support services, says the health system has contracted with Clearview for his seven years with the company. The contract is renewed every three years, and Lightfoot says Clearview gets the edge in the bidding process because of a commitment to pristine buildings and a systematic rotation. “When you see workers hanging off the buildings, that’s her team maintaining our windows,” Lightfoot says. “If there’s a facility we own, they maintain the windows for us.”

For Cox South’s recently completed patient tower, Clearview was brought on board to perform construction cleanup work, a growing source of revenue for the company. Lightfoot says Clearview’s employees are trained in Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, and they take on jobs needing specialized lifts and tools to clean out-of-reach places. At Cox South, Clearview was the final piece of the puzzle after the contractors and engineers finished, essentially completing the final polishes. “It’s kind of like getting up and getting showered and all ready, and she’ll be putting makeup on the building,” Lightfoot says.

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