Monthly Archives: March 2015

Solar projects gaining on commercial rooftops

The amount of solar energy that hits one square mile of Earth in one year is equivalent to the energy produced from four million barrels of oil. Of course, converting 100 percent of that solar energy is a difficult proposition given the fact that today’s rooftop photovoltaic technology is only capable of converting 15 percent of the Sun’s energy into electricity. However, many companies have committed millions of dollars toward capturing and utilizing as much of that solar energy as possible in order to offset their reliance on fossil fuel energy.

One such company is MGM Grand International, and its showpiece can be seen from the air as you pass over the Mandalay Bay. In August, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center will complete an expansion of the convention facility making it the fifth largest in the United States with 2.1 million square feet of space under a single roof.

The roof of that facility is already home to the second largest rooftop photovoltaic array in the world, and the completed expansion will increase the total number of panels to 21,324 and the capability to generate 6.5-megawatts of AC power, enough energy to power 1,300 homes. The electricity generated from this system will be used to offset 26 percent of the Mandalay Bay’s power demand. This, in turn, will also lower demand on the southern Nevada electricity grid at the hottest time of the day. The project diminishes the need to import energy from outside the local energy system and reduces energy costs for the entire Las Vegas system.

The project is a partnership between MGM International and NRG Energy, Inc., under an agreement where the Mandalay Bay property will purchase the power from NRG at a very competitive rate over the lifetime of the contract. This allows the hotel to predict the exact cost for 26 percent of its power use regardless of NV Energy’s rates.

In addition to generating power, this project also helps to clean the air by displacing approximately 6,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), emissions that would be generated from fossil fuel power plants. That is about the equivalent of taking the emissions of 1,300 automobiles off the road.

When the project was initiated in 2013, Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International stated, “Integrating environmentally responsible practices throughout our operations has been a key pillar in MGM Resorts’ strategic sustainability plan. Partnering with NRG to install the solar rooftop at Mandalay Bay highlights a major milestone in our efforts to promote renewable energy and reduce our consumption of the planet’s limited resources.”

While there are few places in the U.S. with as much rooftop space as Mandalay Bay, rooftop photovoltaic systems are being embraced by Corporate America. Wal-Mart has been the quickest to go solar, with 105.1 MW of power currently installed on its stores. The company is working in California, Arizona, and a super store in Gardnerville, Nevada, and plans to be using 100 percent renewable energy by 2020. Kohl’s, Costco, and Ikea stores are also going solar on a nationwide basis, and collectively the three are generating 137.4 MW of power.

At the end of 2014, according to its Letter to Shareholders, SolarCity had 190,000 U.S. customers with one gigawatt of combined generated power. With Google’s backing, the company expects to install another 25,000 new solar households, generating another 500 MW of power.

In Nevada, SolarCity employs more than 1,000 customer service and installation personnel and installs between 12 and 20 rooftop systems per day.

According to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “From now through 2016, the use of solar power is projected to increase faster than any other source of energy, both renewable and non-renewable.”

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Heller challenges NLRB ruling on who is employer

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller used a small business round table at the recent International Franchising Association’s convention as an opportunity to do some big game hunting. His quarry was the elephant in the room — a recent finding by the National Labor Relations Board that employees of individual franchises were employees of the parent company.

The Nevada Republican didn’t miss, much to the delight of the round-table participants, most of whom have a stake in the issue.

Heller requested the participants to speak from their heart. And they did, although it took a while to focus on the NLRB ruling.

As a general consensus, each of the participants expressed concern about the increasing amount of government regulations they face. Heller agreed, stating that “It has been very difficult to run a business in the U.S. for the past four to five years because the government has not been predictable. One thing that we will have this year that we have not had in five years is a budget. Budgets set priorities and that is key to you knowing how to plan your business.”

Then the discussion moved to NLRB ruling that McDonalds, the world’s largest hamburger chain, could be named as a joint employer in several complaints regarding worker rights at franchise-owned restaurants. The decision is pivotal because it could expose McDonald’s Corp. to liability for management practices in those locations. This decision also comes at a time when fast food employees in the U.S. have been protesting for higher pay, and labor groups calling for pay of $15 an hour and the right to unionize.

Catherine Monson, CEO of Fast Signs, attacked the issue head-on: “I don’t know the names of my franchisees employees, I don’t control their hiring practices or tell them how to run their business. This ruling can be devastating to our corporation and our franchisees.”

John Noellert, a Fast Signs franchise owner with two locations in Reno and Carson City, confirmed Monson’s comments stating that “The most you have ever said about my employees was just a moment ago.”

The issue is crucial for Noellert. “My business is excellent; I have doubled over the past four years despite the recession. I have a P &L and a budget but my biggest problem is trying to figure out my HR cost due to changing regulations. My lowest paid employee is making $4 above minimum wage. I believe that franchising is successful because you are an independent businessman but have the support from corporate.”

That position was echoed by Debbie Shwetz, co-founder of Nothing Bundt Cakes Enterprises, who said: “Corporate is there to support and give advice but not control the franchisees business.”

Mara Fortin was the first Nothing Bundt Cakes franchises owner and operates six bakery locations in the San Diego area. Fortin stated: “I have a business degree and a law degree but what I need is a crystal ball degree. I thought that I would be using my business degree to run my business but I spend more time using my law degree trying to figure out all of the government regulations. I would like to expand my business more but there are too many question marks for growth.”

Heller quoted a portion of a letter that he and other senators have signed, and sent to the National Labor Relations Board:

“In particular, we are concerned about the lack of public reasoning supporting your conclusion. Small businesses like franchises are the foundation upon which the American economy is built. In fact, there are more than 700,000 franchises in America. While they may be associated with a national brand, in reality they are small, independently operated entities that contribute to economic growth in countless towns and communities across America — and have for decades. Treating franchisors as joint employers with their franchisees will likely disrupt this well-functioning, established business model.

“As you know, franchisees generally control hiring practices, working conditions, wages, and hours of operations. They also file their own taxes. Franchisors do not control any of these activities. A franchisee’s employees do not work for the franchisor. Federal labor law has long recognized the importance of these distinctions.

“In light of the serious consequences that could follow from your decision, we respectfully request that you make public your supporting reasoning and relevant data. This information will allow Congress and the public to evaluate the merits of your decision and enable franchisees and franchisors to better understand the possible legal implications of their relationships.”

Jeffrey Tews, owner of multiple locations of BrightStar Healthcare of Madison, Wis., was encouraged by Heller’s endorsement of the letter. “We (the IFA) have 150,000 franchisees in 800,000 locations in the U.S. and we are the small businesses that drive the economy. What can we do to become more involved?”

Heller urged all concerned about the issue to make their feelings known to their elected representatives. “Change is coming in D.C.,” Heller said. “What makes the biggest difference is the telephone calls, emails and letters. I receive 2,000 correspondences each day and from them I get a feel for the current topic of concern and the way the general population is leaning.”

Heller’s round-table meeting was a small part of the annual three-day International Franchise Association Convention and trade show that included 3,800 attendees from around the world. Both franchisors and franchisees had the opportunity to network and attend educational sessions that dealt with a full spectrum of business management, operations, human resources, and marketing topics.

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Franchise conventioneers brighten up Vet Village

On a recent 75 degree Saturday, a group of 80 volunteers from the International Franchise Association Convention skipped the allure of The Strip for what some might call the darker side of Las Vegas. These volunteers arrived a day early for the convention in order to give back to those in need.

The event, appropriately named “Franchising Gives Back,” is part of the nonprofit International Franchise Association Educational Foundation that, in addition to providing thousands of dollars in high school and college educational scholarships each year, chooses a community project that allows these convention attendees a once a year chance come together and make a difference.

This year’s event was no easy task. It involved cleaning, scraping, and painting the exterior of the Veterans Village, a once run-down 125-unit motel on Las Vegas Boulevard just a block south of Charleston. In addition, the volunteers also formed an assembly line to fill 500 emergency toilet kits and placed personal hand written notes of love and encouragement within each one. The event was coordinated through the Las Vegas United Way which helped to identify the community project and acquire the needed paint and cleaning supplies

Jeff Tews and Susan Rather, co-owners of a BrightStar Senior Home Care franchise in Madison, Wisc., have participated in the Franchising Gives Back program four years in a row. “It brings personal satisfaction,” said Tews.

Each participant in the Franchising Gives Back program not only donates their time, but also contributes $100 to the fund. Member companies of the International Franchising Association contribute to the nonprofit fund throughout the year.

“Veteran’s Village is a respite for those who have served our country and are themselves in need of assistance,” said Arnold Stalk, its president and chief executive officer. “It serves as a crisis intervention center and provides connections to medical and mental health services, job referral and training.”

Residents of the Village range from families with newborn babies to WWII. The average length of stay is six months to one year but many guests have made this their permanent residence.

Stalk started the Veterans Village after the death of his father Seymour Stalk, a former yeoman in the Navy, who after discharge saved enough money to buy a paint store and build a life for his family. Three years ago, with the help of federal and state grants and donations from private companies, Stalk turned the motel into Veterans Village, and the doors to the lobby have remained open 24/7 ever since.

The former motel lobby now serves as a triage center and anyone who enters, whether they are a veteran or not, receives some kind of assistance.

Since May of 2012, Veterans Village has provided more than 132,100 meals, created 306 full-time and 152 part-time jobs, and assisted in more than 10,200 housing referrals.

Stalk has plans to build another 250 units on top of the current 125 units by 2016.

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