Abscope Environmental, Inc. Celebrates 35-Year Anniversary

by Becca Taurisano

Abscope Environmental, Inc. is a Canastota, New York-based, full-service remediation firm in its 35th year of business, thanks to a proud legacy started by founders John Romagnoli and his son, Jack. Beginning in 1989 as solely an asbestos abatement company, Abscope expanded into more comprehensive environmental remediation services in 1994 and fast tracked its growth in 2004 when Jack’s brother Jerry came on board. Planning for their succession, Jack and Jerry looked to their youngest brother, Bob Romagnoli, to take the reins. Bob became President of Abscope in 2019 and later, CEO, in 2020 as both brothers retired. While the company has experienced tremendous growth since its founding, Bob and his partners are now poised to expand into new geographical regions, offer new and innovative services, and most importantly, sustain the business for the next generation.

An Experienced Leadership Team

With more than 25 years of environmental consulting experience, Bob Romagnoli is an engineer by trade, but brought a vast array of leadership and operational skills to help Abscope redefine itself as a more state-of-the-art organization. During his career, Romagnoli led multi-million-dollar Superfund sediment remediation programs and developed turn-key environmental strategies for Fortune 100 companies, serving as Sr. Vice President at Arcadis and Managing Director at TIG Environmental.

Working closely with Romagnoli are three key long-time Abscope employees: Executive Vice President Rob Gray, Executive Vice President Robert Duffy, and General Manager, Steve Mitchell. All three have been with the company for decades and are part owners of the firm.

Rob Gray joined Abscope in 1995 when he started as an estimator. Over time his role grew into a managerial one and he currently serves as the Executive Vice President of the Environmental Remediation and Geotechnical Services division. Gray has extensive experience in Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) remediation, hazardous waste remediation, stream sediment removal, In-Situ Stabilization (ISS), sheet pile installation, deep excavations, and site development projects.

Executive Vice President Robert Duffy and General Manager Steve Mitchell lead the Asbestos Abatement and Industrial Decontamination division. They oversee the removal, encapsulation, enclosure, transportation, and disposal of asbestos-containing materials, building demolition, and lead and mold remediation. Duffy has been part of the Abscope team since its inception in 1989 and has been crucial to its success and growth. He is responsible for estimating, proposal development, submittal generation, waste disposal coordination, and final report development, not to mention business development.

Mitchell has been with the company 30 years and is responsible for coordinating manpower across both divisions, a task that can be very challenging, especially in today’s environment. “Stevie’s attention to detail is second to none” says Romagnoli. “He’s the ultimate team player and always puts the company’s interests first.” 

Romagnoli said it took some time for the leadership team to learn how to best work together but have now struck the right balance. “These three guys have been here for decades and have significantly contributed to the success of this company,” said Romagnoli. “My role is to allow them to continue building on that success, while bringing a new perspective on operational and strategic matters.”

A Fresh Perspective

After joining Abscope, Romagnoli immediately identified several key areas for improvement, the most evident of which was in-house technology. While IT changes are never easy to implement, Romagnoli felt they were imperative to keeping Abscope at the forefront of the industry.

As an example, Abscope invested heavily in upgrading their take-off and estimating systems. The conversion to InSite and HeavyBid allowed for higher productivity and more accurate results. According to Romagnoli, the value was apparent from day one. “Our PMs have done a great job in assimilating to these new systems which in turn have allowed them to be much more productive. Given the complexity of the new platforms, we’ve only scratched the surface of their potential. I’m excited to see how much more we can extract and use to our benefit.”

Abscope also upgraded the GPS equipment on their “yellow iron” with the latest, most cutting-edge Trimble™ technology, including Trimble™ TSC7 v2s and R780 bases and rovers. The new equipment delivers the latest in field technology, optimizing efficiency and most importantly, accuracy. Abscope’s fleet is extensive, consisting of approximately 30 pieces of heavy equipment.

On the administration side, Abscope recently converted the invoice approval and payment process from paper-based to digital. “It is much more efficient for our PMs to digitally approve vendor invoices versus dealing with mounds and mounds of paper,” said Romagnoli. “The system has also minimized duplicate or erroneous payments.” Field Superintendents are also joining in Abscope’s IT revolution, now using tablet apps to track time, significantly reducing transcription errors within the accounting department.

New Horizons

From the types of projects, the size and scope of the work, and even the geographical location, much has changed at Abscope since its beginning in 1989. Most recently, there has been a surge of projects in the alternative energy space and Abscope has provided civil works for commercial-scale solar and wind projects. The work generally includes preparing the site for ultimate component installation by others and consists of earthwork, installation of storm water drainage, development of access roads, crane pads, and various other site features.

“Alternative energy has exploded for us, and it is not something that we necessarily expected,” said Romagnoli. “Smaller, more local opportunities have opened us up to much larger and broader opportunities nation-wide.” In fact, there has been so much growth, Abscope is considering the creation of a new division to execute the work.

Abscope’s job size and scope 

has changed too over the years. In the early years, jobs were $500,000 or less lasting up to a month, but now jobs range from $10 to $12 million lasting six months to a year. “The diversity of our projects shows how we have grown,” said Gray. “Today our projects are more complicated and the systems we have been installing are much more sophisticated.”

Geographically things are changing as well. Gray recalls in the early days, most of the work was within a two-to-three-hour radius, but not lately. Remediation projects are bringing Abscope’s crews to the Mid Atlantic, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, and as far away as Puerto Rico. In 2022, they successfully completed a challenging six-month project in Dallas, TX with a world-renowned chemical manufacturer, where Abscope remediated asbestos contaminated soil on residential and small commercial properties. “We are now set up well to handle these larger, more complex projects,” said Romagnoli. “It is exciting to see such large and iconic companies/clients view us as a trusted partner.”

Thanks to the successful completion of the Dallas project, the very same Fortune 500 client selected Abscope for a large PCB soil remediation project in Puerto Rico in 2024. “We are grateful to them for giving us this unique opportunity to assist in such a highly visible and intricate project, especially in a geographic location that’s not necessarily familiar to us.” Abscope has invested a significant amount of time and money to make sure the project goes off without a hitch. “Ideally we’d love to leverage this opportunity to do other work (e.g., emergency response and disaster assistance) in Puerto Rico in future years, but for now, we need to keep our eye on the ball and ensure that this critical project is successful” said Romagnoli.

With Romagnoli’s experience 

in sediment removal, stream remediation, and shoreline stabilization, Abscope has been doing more work in those markets as well. “We most recently did a shoreline stabilization job in Lackawanna along Lake Erie,” said Gray. “With all the erosion from wind and waves, shoreline stabilization has been a big area of focus for us.” The addition of wetland and stream remediation is one example of how complex their current projects are due to the adherence to regulations with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on the plantings, soils, and rocks required during the restoration process.

As work around the country continues to grow, Romagnoli and Gray are considering an expansion into new office locations. “We are looking to expand in the near future and discussing our growth plans for the Mid Atlantic area,” Gray said. With upcoming work in Puerto Rico, Romagnoli could see an office location in Florida as well to support the Southeast and Caribbean. “There is a lot of potential there, just a question of if and where,” he said.

Safety First

From environmental remediation to asbestos abatement, sediment dredging to shore stabilization, deep excavation to restoration, safety is Abscope’s number one priority. Duffy was instrumental in the creation of project-specific health and safety work plans for Abscope’s company-wide, behavior-based Health and Safety program. His daily interaction with clients, regulatory personnel, subcontractors, and project engineers as well as having managed or supervised over 3,500 asbestos abatement projects gives him a keen understanding of the safety issues facing field workers. “There are so many things that could go wrong on a job,” said Duffy. “We have to get ahead of it and make sure everyone is as safe as possible.”

On project sites, Abscope superintendents hold Toolbox Talks or safety meetings every morning to discuss the particulars of the job, what protective equipment is required, and what to do if something goes wrong. “Our guys in the field are very diligent when it comes to safety; they know there are no short cuts,” said Romagnoli.

The leadership team, Project Managers, and employees in the field also attend monthly safety calls to share stories about “good catches;” things on the job that could cause an injury. Good catches are recognized on the monthly safety calls and quarterly safety awards are given out to employees who are most focused on safety. “We rank health and safety here above everything else,” said Gray. “We take it very seriously.”

Investing in the Future

One of Romagnoli’s other priorities has been to bolster Abscope’s employee benefits and incentives. Romagnoli is focused not only on employee retention but attracting new talent as well. As an example, Romagnoli established a 401(k) program for the company back in 2020 to help employees help themselves. Abscope also provides a generous match. In addition, Romagnoli also set up a tuition reimbursement program that is meant to

encourage staff to continuously improve their skills. “We’re always looking to get better, but we want to make sure to take care of those that continue to make this company what it is,” he said.

Looking ahead to the future, Romagnoli would like to see the company grow to $25-30 million over the next five years. From acquisitions to new office locations, he is focused on building out systems and services to benefit the next generation. “My Dad would be bursting with pride seeing that the company has stayed in the family and become so much more than what he anticipated it to be,” he said. There is the potential for other family members to join the company at some point, but for now, Abscope is flourishing under current ownership. By honoring the past and continuing the proud legacy of the Romagnoli family into the future, Abscope is poised to be sustainable for generations to come.  


Diana Plue, Esq. Sheats & Bailey, PLLC

On November 17, 2023, New York State amended sections of General Business Law Article 35E, known as the Prompt Payment Act, which applies to all private commercial construction projects having a value of $150,000.00 or more. This new legislation amends two sections of the Prompt Payment Act: General Business Law section 756-a and 756-c.

Section §756-a (2) of the Prompt Payment Act is amended to allow a contractor to submit a final invoice that includes retainage upon substantial completion of the contract, as defined or contemplated by the terms of the contract.  This is a notable departure from the prior version of the statute, where a Contractor had to wait to submit a final invoice until the contractor performed all its obligations under the contract.

The amendment to GBL § 756-c, limits the amount of retainage that can be withheld by an owner, contractor, or subcontractor on a private construction project. Under this new legislation, the maximum amount of retainage that can be withheld on private construction projects is five percent (5%).  In addition, contractors and subcontractors cannot withhold more retainage than the owner.  So, if the owner does not withhold the maximum 5% in retainage, then the contractor or subcontractor cannot withhold the maximum 5% retainage. Upon receipt of retainage, a contractor or subcontractor must release a proportionate amount of retainage to the relevant down the line subcontractor. Failure to release the retainage per GBL §756-c subjects the owner, contractor, or subcontractor to pay interest at the rate of 1% per month from the date retention was due and owing until paid.  

On their face these amendments dictate that the maximum amount of retainage withheld can only be 5% and that retainage can be billed before the project is fully complete. However, the opening of section 756-a states “except as otherwise provided in this article, the terms and conditions of a construction contract shall supersede the provisions of this article and govern the conduct of the parties thereto.”  Section 757 of the Prompt Payment Act provides only four instances where terms of a contract are void and therefore the parties conduct is fully governed by the Prompt Payment Act, and not the contract terms.  The amount of retainage withheld and the contracts definition of substantial completion are not one of the listed contract terms that are void.  As such, we think there are ways with carefully constructed contract provisions to still withhold 10%. 

Furthermore, the amendment to the GBL §756-a leave the definition of substantial completion to the contracting parties.  Thus, the definition needs to be carefully drafted and vetted by the parties as the definition will dictate when a final invoice can be submitted and thus when final payment received. 

For more information, contact Sheats & Bailey, PLLC; a law firm dedicated to serving the construction industry.  Tel: (315) 676-7314

The information provided in this article is not intended to serve as specific legal advice for any particular situation. Competent legal and experienced counsel should be consulted.



Is fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus a compensable mental injury under the Workers’ Compensation statute? On July 20, 2023, The Appellate Division-Third Department in three separate unanimous opinions decided the issue with a resounding “NO”.

Matters of Matthews, Brown, and Djanuzakov* involved claims filed against the New York City Transit Authority and its subsidiary by claimants who had public facing jobs.  The claimants, a train conductor, cleaner and bus driver filed mental stress claims alleging various psychological conditions as a result of being exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace. The claimants never contracted COVID prior to filing the claim however, they claimed exposure to other workers who tested positive and several coworkers and passengers who died of COVID-19 causing claimants to feel unsafe, depressed, and afraid to return to work.  In all three claims, the treating psychologists gave total disability, finding that the psychological symptoms made it impossible for the claimants to return to work. All three claims were disallowed by the Law Judge and the Workers’ Compensation Board.

In Matter of Brown, the claim was disallowed due to insufficient medical evidence to establish a causal nexus between the mental stress and claimant’s job duties. In Matters of Matthews and Djanuzakov, the Board disallowed the claims finding that the stress experienced by the claimant (train conductor and bus driver respectively) was the same as other similarly situated workers during the pandemic. The attorney representing all three claimants appealed to the Third Department.

The Court noted that “it is well settled that a mental injury arising from work-related stress is compensable” and the fact that the condition was pre-existing will not preclude the claim if the claimant’s employment exacerbated the condition as “to cause a disability which did not previously exist.” The claimant, however, must demonstrate that the stress that caused the injury was “greater than that which other similarly situated workers experienced in the normal work environment.” The Workers’ Compensation Board, as the fact finder, determines whether workplace stress is extraordinary based upon the evidence presented to it. In all three claims, the Third Department found that the Board’s reasoning was supported by the case law and affirmed its decisions.      

2017 and 2022 Legislation to Address Mental Stress Injuries

WCL Section 10 recognizes that certain stressful situations at work may trigger disabling mental injuries. In order for a mental injury to be compensable, the stress that caused it must be considered to be greater than the normal stress at work experienced by similarly situated workers. This evidentiary standard sets a high bar. In 2017, the legislature in recognition of the high standard for mental injury claims by police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians created a carve out by removing the restriction that a mental stress claim had to be greater than the stress sustained by similar first responders.

During the 2022 legislative session, the Assembly and Senate passed a bill that would have extended the exception carve out for first responders to the entire labor force (A2020-A/S.6373-B). In addition, the bill if passed, would eliminate the requirement that the stress stemmed from a work emergency. The Governor vetoed the bill, noting the significant cost to the system, this however, did not stop the bill from being reintroduced during the 2023 session. In 2023, A.5745/S.6635 passed the Senate, but failed to pass the Assembly.       

For more information on workers’ compensation contact Lovell at 1-800-5-LOVELL or visit online www. Lovellsafety.com.

*Matter of Sheldon Matthews v. New York City Transit Authority, 218 AD3d 983 (2023)

Matter of Tracey Brown v. New York City Transit Authority, 218 AD3d 967 (2023)

Matter of Djanuzakov v. Manhattan & Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority, 218 AD3d 980 (2023)

Insurance Renewals – Navigating the Hard Market

Actions that aid results

By: Brett Findlay, Vice President, Business Risk Specialist, OneGroup

The New York construction industry, and realistically the entire New York business landscape, is in the midst of an insurance hard market. The lack of insurance availability and the pricing volatility associated with it is leaving consumers in a difficult place when it comes to their insurance renewals. Although insurance options may be limited, it’s critical to know what or who those options are and when to approach them. Proactively managing your program can be an effective solution to unpredictable insurance renewals.

A hard insurance market is characterized by an increased demand for insurance coverage coupled with reduced supply. Underwriting guidelines from the carriers will become more stringent, policies issued by carriers will decrease, premiums are higher, and carriers are less willing to negotiate terms. The current market is hard and exhibits all of those tendencies. The question is, how do you proactively and effectively manage your program to counter the marketplace?

There are a couple simple strategies you can deploy to make this process more manageable and limit surprises and negative outcomes for your business.

Know where to look. A lack of options and higher prices are attributable to most coverage lines of insurance right now, including but not limited to property, commercial automobile liability, and umbrella liability. Identifying the key coverage lines of your program and asking your agent what the renewal is looking like early in the process is the first step. At that point, you should be gathering the data necessary for the carriers to quote those lines for you. Accurate data, provided in full 90+ days prior to the renewal date, will help your cause.

Be ahead of the renewal. By starting the renewal process early, 90+ days out, and by utilizing a broker who understands your business and the insurance marketplace, you’re putting yourself in a better position. It’s critical to select a broker that has availability to those necessary carriers. Ask the broker at that early stage what their marketing strategy is, what carriers they’ll be approaching and why.  Some of the carriers may need to visit your operations and meet with key team members in advance of providing alternatives. As they are interviewing you, this is a great time to ask them questions to see if a partnership would be a good fit for your operations and growth strategy. This is a key reason for why timing is so important. When you are discussing this process with your agent, if you’re not comfortable with their answers, it may be time to find a new one.

Know the landscape (and how to work within it). Much like the construction industry, insurance companies aren’t immune to staffing shortages either. Underwriters are going to work on accounts where they have all the data necessary to finish their process and in a timely manner. If you are not in front of them early, with what they need, the likelihood that you’ll be getting their best is drastically reduced.

It’s equally important that your agent is competent in representing your best attributes. The ability of that agent to forecast the costs and insurance availability with the proper insurance carrier should be a pre-requisite. Knowing how to communicate your businesses story is also key. You need someone who knows construction, knows your business, and knows the carriers and underwriters that are writing insurance competitively for your type of operations.

Relationships Matter. A broker’s relationship with their carriers is every bit as important as your relationship to your agent; there are two sides to the relationship. Having an agency that is well respected in the local insurance marketplace is critical to getting the best program in place at the most competitive cost. This becomes even more critical when the availability of options is limited. I firmly believe that instead of selecting multiple brokers to “quote” your insurance, it’s significantly more beneficial to interview brokers and select one to represent you. You’ll garner greater respect and attention to your business if the local underwriters know that you’re serious about your program and who represents it. If they get multiple submissions from different agents, and the data those agents submit is conflicting, the likelihood that you’ll get their best is also limited.

Typically, a hard market is not a fun process to go through. But you have the ability to proactively position your business to handle the situation. Talk to your agent, prepare yourself for the unexpected and the possibility of having to market your insurance, and get in front of the curve. Contractors, especially in today’s Upstate New York economic landscape, must be sharper than ever to increase or even maintain profit margins. Preparing yourself for a hard market and forecasting any potential dramatic increases in your insurance costs will put you in a better position to control those margins.

For more information on renewing your insurance, you may reach out to Brett Findlay at 315-280-6376 or by email at BFindlay@OneGroup.com.

Knowing Your Financing Options for Purchasing Construction Equipment

Joseph A. Hardick, CPA, CCIFP, Dannible & McKee, LLP

When purchasing new construction equipment, one of the most important factors to consider is the financing option that works best for your needs. Paying in cash may be the most convenient and cost-effective option as it eliminates the concerns of long-term debt, high interest rates and debt-to-equity ratios. However, most construction companies opt for financing due to the lack of available funds.

There are three options available for financing equipment: short-term rental, lease, and loan. For our purposes, we will focus on the latter two. Although renting is a good choice for specialized equipment that’s only needed for a short period, it can be more expensive than taking out a loan or leasing. Renting is a suitable option here because there is no long-term commitment and maintenance is covered by the rental company.

Most companies, however, require long-term equipment availability. This is where leasing and financing are best suited. Both options have their pros and cons, so the best financing option will depend on how the equipment is being used.

Purchasing With a Loan

Obtaining a loan is the most common type of financing when acquiring equipment. It was particularly popular when there were low interest rates and fast tax depreciation options. With the rising rates, it is important to assess this option. Nevertheless, loans still offer many benefits, such as:

  • It is the most cost-effective option in the long run.
  • There are no usage restrictions.
  • Payments can be customized to suit your needs.
  • The equipment can be sold or traded at any time.
  • Tax benefits such as Section 179 deduction or bonus depreciation are available.

Purchasing equipment with a loan also has some downsides, including:

  • High initial cost and high down payments.
  • Higher monthly interest and payment.
  • Equipment can become outdated, potentially affecting resale value.
  • A significant impact on cash flow.

Leasing Equipment

Leasing is another form of financing that has become increasingly popular recently. However, it’s important to note that the rising interest rates have also affected new leases. Recently, there have been significant changes in the rules involving leases, which could greatly impact your decision when acquiring new equipment. There are two types of leases: finance leases and operating leases, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

A finance lease is similar to a loan, where it is a long-term commitment, and the equipment can be purchased at the end of the lease term. Several requirements must be met to qualify for a finance lease. The financial lease has the following characteristics:

  • Fixed payment plan based on the equipment’s useful life and fair market value.
  • Lower monthly interest and payment, but longer lease terms.
  • The equipment might have usage restrictions.
  • The option to buy at the end of the lease term, either at FMV or a predetermined price.
  • A long-term commitment, sometimes can be longer than a loan.

An operating lease is any other lease that doesn’t qualify as a financial lease. An operating lease is like a rental for an extended period, where the equipment must be returned without the option to purchase it at the end of the lease term. The operating lease has the following characteristics:

  • Flexible lease period.
  • Requires the equipment to be returned at the end of the lease term.
  • Does not impact the debt-to-equity ratio if it’s less than a year.
  • Offers access to newer models and technology.
  • Requires limited maintenance.
  • Last for a short term, usually three years, but can be modified.
  • Has higher monthly payments (flexibility comes at a cost!).


Making the right financial decision when purchasing equipment can greatly impact your profitability. The financial options available to you will depend on your specific situation, and there are many variables that need to be taken into consideration. However, if funds are readily available and the equipment is essential to your daily operations, paying in cash is the best option.

Contributing Author: Joseph A. Hardick, CPA, CCIFP, is a tax partner who has over 40 years of experience in all areas of individual and corporate income tax preparation and planning. Joe specializes in corporate tax and tax planning for manufacturing and construction companies.

State of Construction Industry

Earl R Hall, Executive Director – Syracuse Builders Exchange

By most measures, 2023 was a strong year for construction industry employers throughout upstate New York.  Measuring growth can be subjective, however, the increase in membership at the Syracuse Builders Exchange is one standard metric which is objective.  Membership increased to 970 at the end of 2023, with 42 new member employers joining during the year.  Today, the Syracuse Builders Exchange remains the largest construction industry Association in the state of New York.

Another metric used to measure growth is the total number of building projects for bid compared to 2022.  Building projects for bid increased 3.6% from 5,064 in 2022 to 5,244 in 2023.  The increase was driven by continued public investment in the medical, secondary and higher education markets, coupled with strong private capital investments in the industrial, multi-family residential, and commercial markets. 

Central New York is poised to continue sustained construction growth into 2024 with many regional project owners beginning work on such projects as:

  • Onondaga County STEAM School
  • Turning Stone Expansion
  • Onondaga County Aquarium
  • Syracuse Inner Harbor Development

The continued optimism associated with regional economic development, coupled with increased construction bidding opportunities, is somewhat tampered by a potential recession, lack of adequate skilled labor, increased material costs and aggressive project schedules.  The construction industry is not immune from periodic challenges, but contractors have proven to be resilient over the past century as they continue to deliver finished projects to owners.

Labor will continue to be the most concerning matter going into 2024 as the lack of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen may impact contractors’ abilities to bid additional work and/or to complete tight schedules on time.  Although the building trades’ unions and non-signatory employers have been aggressively attempting to recruit, train, and retain construction workers, such efforts have not produced a labor pool large enough to accommodate the current projects scheduled to being in 2024.  There remains much optimism the abundance of work will attract skilled craftspeople from other geographies throughout the United States.

Labor wages continue to increase at rates upstate New York has rarely seen.  Wage increases vary by trade but have averaged close to 4% per year in the past two years, and in some cases higher.  Such wage increases have been driven by high inflation, huge demand for skilled labor and significant increased costs associated with food, gas, and clothing.   Labor costs and the availability of skilled labor will continue to be of concern throughout the year.

The anticipated economic development to hit central New York will be led by the construction industry.  Although many leaders in the secondary and higher education arenas are focused on careers inside these yet to be built new buildings and facilities, those project owners need to first build those facilities.  Most suburban school districts are a decade behind in developing career and technical education programs, in particular construction career pathways.  And while regional BOCES programs remain vital to the construction industry, those student seats are limited.  The need for a four-year construction curriculum is essential in developing the next generation skilled workforce contractors and project owners desperately needed.  The only way to meet the incredible economic development opportunities that await central New York is to have the skilled work force to build those projects.

These issues are not unique to upstate New York as such is prevailing throughout the country.  Although such headwinds are anticipated to continue in the short term, contractors and project owners alike remain resilient and will explore developing alternative methods to deliver a finished project. 

CRAL Contracting, Inc. CRAL’S Craig Zinserling walks the talk

Tami S. Scott

Perseverance is a character strength that most entrepreneurs would agree you must embrace to accomplish your dreams. This virtue is one that Craig Zinserling developed years ago, initially through watching and learning from his parents, Jack and Marcia. He would observe how they handled life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – just by sitting around their kitchen table and witnessing how they faced their challenges with a great attitude.

“You’re never given too much that you can’t handle,” he said. “My parents brought me up that way and [I’ve] been able to adapt that into my life.”

Zinserling, who founded CRAL Contracting, Inc., is celebrating the company’s 18th anniversary this year as an indoor air quality specialist. The “acronym” CRAL comes from combining Zinserling and his wife’s first names together: Craig and Lori. It’s perfectly fitting, too, since the company’s backstory involves a collaborative effort between the couple to get it started. “I’d always watched my father in his business endeavors, and I always aspired to have my own business,” said Zinserling, despite having worked his way up to a vice president relationship working for a national environmental contracting company. “My wife Lori – she would encourage me. We had many, many long discussions trying to figure out how to make that leap even though we had a mortgage, three kids, and a couple of car payments – how do you pay all that?”

They persisted and they made that leap but not without a multitude of sleepless nights, seven-day workweeks, and attending many of his son’s soccer games with laptop in tow. As the sole “employee,” Zinserling wore many hats, selling, managing, and actually doing all the jobs on his own.

“In the beginning, it was hard getting established, but we made it through and we were able to establish a foothold through relationships we had built here in Syracuse, having grown up here my entire life,” Zinserling added.

CRAL now has two locations – one in Syracuse and one about an hour and a half west of Syracuse, in
Rochester. Zinserling said the second location was a natural fit as he and Lori had lived there for some time, too.

The relationships he’s built over time have played critical roles in the building of CRAL and where it is today. For instance, once CRAL was established, its first customer was Crucible Steel in Syracuse – and that was in large part due to connections he made and maintained.

“If I have a friend who has a tax business or a barber shop, I’m giving my friend business even if it’s more money. I want to support my friends and those relationships that I’ve developed for over 55 years in Syracuse,” Zinserling said. “It’s a small town and doing work right and treating clients well will follow you.”

Loyal customers and a good-standing reputation also mean publicity in the form of “word of mouth.” When the pandemic began, Zinserling feared the worst.

“I think with any business owner, there was complete panic. From a business standpoint, I was wondering if I’d lose everything,” he said. “How do you close a business down and have no [money] coming in, and not be able to pay people? How will we survive?”

As the saying goes, perseverance pays off. Office staff continued to come to work and “didn’t skip a beat,” he remarked. The team was able to complete the projects for which they were hired and “like manna from heaven,” Onondaga County called CRAL for work. The first testing site had been set up in the inner city, but it needed disinfecting and sanitizing, and CRAL is the expert.

“Our crews [went in] on a daily basis with specialized equipment. They were in full PPE, we had HEPA air cleaning devices spread out throughout their facility and we were disinfecting, and sanitizing around the clock,” Zinserling said.

Soon after, this service branched out to private businesses and nursing homes throughout NYS and downstate into NYC. “The nursing homes weren’t set up for isolation and that’s what we do. We’re very good at engineering isolation, containment, and we would contain an entire wing of these nursing homes and put them under HEPA negative air pressure and disinfect and sanitize around the clock.”

Other than a few calls here and there from a private business or nursing home, Zinserling said that type of work is essentially over. Regular services, such as mold remediation, lead abatement, and asbestos abatement, can again take the lead in project acquisition.

Giving back

Zinserling remembers what it was like to find and rent office space when he was just a budding business owner himself. About six years ago, he began pursuing real estate to purchase and eventually found a building that was reasonably priced but had a large footprint – 22,000 square feet. “I don’t need that much space,” he said.

So, he came up with an idea that stuck and worked. He set up that building, and another one that he acquired, to be incubators for young local, minority entrepreneurs. “They rent a simple office from us and a space for their startup business.”

He’s had several renters leave to buy their own real estate to work from and he said it’s so fun to watch. “It’s absolutely a joy for me to watch these young guys and gals pursue their dreams and be successful.”

Zinserling also sits on the board for David’s Refuge, a local charity that over the years has grown exponentially. The nonprofit provides respite and other support to parents and guardians of children with special needs or life-threatening medical conditions. Warren and Brenda Pfohl

formed David’s Refuge in honor of their son to encourage parents to keep pressing on. David was diagnosed with and battled Batten Disease for thirteen years.

“Parenting and marriage are difficult enough under regular circumstances and on top of being a full-time caregiver, it’s extremely difficult,” Zinserling said. “They really saw the need for caring for the caregivers.”

The organization provides caregivers with respite weekends, putting them up in nice places that also support the local community. To learn more about David’s Refuge, visit DavidsRefuge.org.

Zinserling’s steadfast spirit is a trait that, by the way he chooses to live his life, does not go unnoticed. And because he has a deep, personal, and meaningful sense of meeting life’s challenges with patience and perseverance, he wants to help those he works with daily to adopt that same attitude.

Now having grown a company to include up to 50 employees, professionally surviving a pandemic, and personally helping others through complicated life journeys, Zinserling is a stellar example of success.

And so are those who have helped him achieve his dreams.

“We have a core group of staff that has been here from nearly the inception. They are the backbone of the business,” Zinserling said. “Frankly, I am no longer needed. They are so talented and caring that they run the business.”

For more information on CRAL Contracting, Inc., visit cralinc.com or call 315.671.6006. For more information about David’s Refuge, visit davidsrefuge.org


Construction Career Aspirations Are Achievable

Earl Hall, Executive Director, Syracuse Builders Exchange

Long before governmental entities began to focus on “inclusivity” and other “workforce development” initiatives targeting minority, women and “disadvantaged” groups of people who may not have had a presence in particular segments of the economy, construction industry employers have tried for decades to include all people into the industry, including immigrants. The United States of America provides all people equal opportunity to participate in the economy, including the regional construction industry. Determination, self-motivation, hard work, perseverance, and the will to succeed are human attributes necessary to be successful in life and business. Gul Ahmad Hamidi is an example of how an Afghan immigrant successfully entered the local workforce and pursued a career in the construction industry.

Hamidi was born in Afghanistan, earned a degree in Civil Engineering in New Delhi, India, and was a civil engineer and a construction project manager in Kandahar, Afghanistan. While his career accomplishments were impressive and his future full of opportunities, it all ended Aug. 31, 2021, when he escaped Afghanistan on a United States military C-17 cargo plane, leaving his family behind.

As an interpreter for the United States military, Hamidi was taken by the United States military and hidden for the month of August, before being rushed to one of the final C-17 cargo planes leaving Afghanistan. While on board, he assisted pilots by communicating important instructions and information to those on the plane, which was headed for Germany. Hamidi would spend the next several months at United States military bases in Germany and in Philadelphia, preparing to begin his new life in the United States.

In March 2022, InterFaith Works of Central New York introduced Hamidi to me via an email. He expressed a strong interest in working in the construction industry as a project manager. After meeting Hamidi during two different interviews, it was apparent that he had all the characteristics necessary to become a successful employee and a productive member of society as he embraced the United States’ way of life, freedom, and culture.

After interviewing with local construction companies and having nothing more than the clothes on his back and documents from the United States government, Hamidi was hired by one of the area’s premier general contractors. Today, Hamidi is enjoying the infancy of his construction career and the many wonderful benefits of living in central New York.

Hamidi is a shining example of one’s ability to pursue the American dream by applying the human attributes necessary to be successful in life and in one’s career. He escaped Afghanistan on the very last day before the Afghan government collapsed, now controlled by the Taliban. Arriving in central New York with nothing, Hamidi today has a car, an apartment, clothes, and money to enjoy the many entertainment opportunities central New York has to offer. He continues to send money back home to his parents in Afghanistan and saves money to someday own his own business or to buy a home.

Hamidi’s story reinforces the notion anyone can be successful in entering and participating in the construction workforce. Being successful in a career is not a right – it is earned. It is earned by self-motivation, hard work, perseverance, and the will to succeed. Overcoming adversity is something most people experience at some point in life, whether it is personal or career.

Hamidi’s story is compelling and is a prime example of how citizens in New York who really desire to enter the construction industry workforce can do so, if they have the drive and commitment to be successful in life and with their chosen career.

Understanding Workers’Compensation Insurance Rates

Steven Bell, Vice President of Underwriting & Sales, Lovell Safety Management

For the last seven years, Workers’ Compensation (WC) Insurance has been one of the few bright spots in the insurance landscape. Unlike other coverages, rates for WC have been falling. More importantly, insurance carriers have had an appetite for WC risk, and market competition has benefited employers throughout the state. As 2024 approaches, the landscape is changing ever so slightly as carriers appear to be becoming more selective. What does that mean for the typical construction company? When the market begins to turn, it first starts to affect businesses with higher losses. At this point, your WC costs should not be rising unless you have had adverse loss experience or payroll growth.

Several key trends that are expected to shape the WC market in the coming year:

1. Loss Costs, Experience Rating and Rates: Effective October 1, 2023, WC loss costs/rates on average will decrease another -2.6%. Since 2017, WC loss costs/rates have decreased approximately 45% in New York. There are many factors that have been driving the loss cost/rate decreases, such as loss experience and development; loss frequency, severity, and wage trend factors; loss adjustment expenses; benefit levels; catastrophe and disaster premium; and industry differentials. While all these factors play a role, the future wage trend had the most impact on loss costs. All other factors being equal, as more wages are paid, more premium is generated and, if losses remain the same, then loss costs/rates will go down.

Experience Rating is designed to modify the loss cost to better fit an individual employer’s loss experience. You may have seen a larger credit or debit on your most recent renewal due to the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (NYCIRB) changing the methodology and formula for determining your experience modification. To temper the change, NYCIRB used the lowest of either the new formula, a claim-capping procedure, or the old formula plus 30 points. Effective 10/01/23, the new formula will use the lowest of either the new formula or claim capping procedure, which may further impact these changes.

Since 2022, we have seen a steady increase in interest rates. While higher interest rates can stagnate economic growth, they may extend the competitive workers’ compensation market as improved investment returns may offset the need to increase pricing if losses and frequency deteriorate.

2. Regulatory Revisions: In 2023, the legislature passed two bills that may impact system costs: the Minimum Weekly Rate A.2034-A/S1161-A and the Mandatory Initial Hearings A.6208/S.5867. The Minimum Weekly Rate legislation establishes a new minimum weekly indemnity rate of compensation that would be indexed to not less than 1/5 of the State Average Weekly Wage (SAWW) or the employee’s full wages if equal to or less than 1/5 of the SAWW. The Mandatory Hearing legislation will require the Workers Compensation Board to index a claim upon receipt of a medical report, hold a hearing within 60 days, or 45 days upon request, hire stenographers to record hearing minutes and send all notice decisions to claimants in their native tongue. All businesses should be concerned about the potential financial impact of these bills.

3. Technology: The latest technological trend is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Carriers are actively deploying AI to improve claim processing, early intervention, diagnosis, treatment, fraud detection, pricing, and loss prevention. In terms of occupational safety, you will see the rise of AI tools such as wearable technology that can monitor employee vital statistics and monitor things like air quality and warn workers instantly of unsafe air quality. Other technology includes video monitoring where AI monitors video of employee activity identifying unsafe behavior and actions and instantly sends out notices to address them. While these potential advancements may be able to impact safety, they raise concerns about privacy.

4. Labor, Subcontractors, Independent Contractors, and Gig Contractors: The shortage of labor has employers expanding the use of subcontractors, independent and gig contractors. New York has clear rules such as the Fair Play Act, that distinguish an independent contractor from an employee and additional rules that define who is chargeable for the premium. The Fair Play Act rules can be difficult to understand but as a simple rule of thumb, if you hire someone to do work for you and they don’t have valid WC coverage it is likely you will be charged premium for a portion of that work. In summary, it is likely the New York State’s WC market in 2024 will remain competitive for most employers. Political and Regulatory reforms have the potential to increase system costs, but only if signed into law by the governor. AI technology is poised to significantly impact carriers, employers, and workers as its use continues to evolve. Finally, the use of subcontractors needs to be closely monitored to ensure proper coverage, and avoid premium charges.

For more information on workers’ compensation, please contact the professionals at Lovell at 1-800-5-LOVELL or visit online at www.LovellSafety.com.

Deducting Business Travel Expenses

Nicholas L. Shires, CPA, Dannible & McKee, LLP

Historically, there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the tax deductibility of travel expenses within the construction industry. The shift to a more remote workforce resulting from the pandemic has furthered complications and confusion. We will answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about deductible business travel expenses.

When Are Business Travel Expenses Deductible?

Business travel expenses are deductible when an individual must travel away from their tax home or main place of work for business reasons. This is a straightforward definition, right? Well, maybe additional clarification is needed. 

An individual is traveling away from their tax home if they are away for more than an ordinary workday and need to sleep to meet the demands of their work while away. Obviously, this brings in the cost of traveling to the destination. It also brings in deductible expenses such as lodging, meals, cleaning (uniforms, work clothes, etc.) and telephone costs.

Where Is an Individual’s Tax Home?

The answer to this question is complicated. Generally, your tax home is your regular place of business, regardless of where you maintain your family home. It includes the entire city or general area in which your business or work is located. For instance, if you’re living Central New York while working in a main office in
Syracuse, your tax home is considered Syracuse and the immediate surrounding area.

In the construction industry, individuals will often have more than one regular place of business because they work on different job sites. In these cases, their tax home their main place of business or work. An individual’s main place of business or work is determined by:

  • The total time the employee ordinarily spends in each place,
  • The level of business activity in each place, and
  • How much money the employee earns at each place.

It is important to note that commuting travel is not deductible. Therefore, an individual cannot deduct the cost of traveling between their main place of business or work and their residence. They can, however, deduct the cost of traveling between business locations. This means that traveling from the main office location to a job site would be deductible.

How Do You Handle Temporary Work Assignments?

It is common within the construction industry to have a temporary work assignment at a different location than the individual’s tax home. In cases where an employee’s work location assignment is temporary, the individual’s tax home doesn’t change, and the individual is considered to be traveling away from home for the entire period of the assignment. Generally, a temporary assignment in a single location is one that is realistically expected to last (and does in fact last) for one year or less.

An employer can deduct an employee’s travel expenses if the employer paid or incurred those expenses during an employee’s temporary work assignment and the employee’s work assignment doesn’t last for more than one year.

If an employee is given an indefinite work assignment at a different location, the individual’s tax home changes to the new work location. This would be the case if the employee is scheduled to work at a job site for work expected to last longer than one year. In this situation, the employer cannot deduct the employee’s expenses as business travel expenses while they are working at the new location because the employee is not considered to be traveling away from his tax home. Individuals with indefinite work assignments must include in income any amounts they receive from their employer for living expenses.

What Travel Expenses Are Deductible?

To be deductible, business travel expenses must be ordinary and necessary expenses for traveling away from home for a business, profession, or job. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in the individual’s trade or business. A necessary expense is one that is helpful or appropriate for the business.

Examples of deductible business travel expenses include:

• Travel by airplane, train, bus or car between the individual’s home and business destination;
• Fares for taxis or other types of transportation between an airport or train station and a hotel, or from a hotel or to a work location;
• Shipping baggage and sample or display material between regular and temporary work locations;
• Using a personal car for business travel;
• Lodging and meals while away;
• Dry cleaning and laundry while away;
• Tips paid for services related to any of these expenses; and
• Other similar ordinary and necessary expenses related to business travel.

What Records Should Be Kept?

The business traveler should keep well-organized records that substantiate the amount, time, place, and business purpose of their travel expenses. A business traveler must substantiate the cost of each separate expense for travel, lodging and meals. Incidental expenses, such as taxis, fees, and tips, may be totaled in reasonable categories.

Besides keeping receipts, canceled checks, credit card statements, bank statements (for debit card purchases) and other documents, an individual traveling for business should keep a diary, log or calendar noting the dates and times of any business travel, as well as the business reason for that travel.

As the deductibility of travel expenses continues to become increasingly complex, it is a great idea to have a plan. I always recommend consulting with your tax professional up front to properly document and structure an expense reimbursement plan to maximize the tax benefits of business travel costs.

Nicholas L. Shires, CPA, is the partner-in charge of tax services at Dannible & McKee, LLP, a public accounting firm with offices in Syracuse, Auburn, Binghamton and Schenectady, New York. The firm has specialized in providing tax, audit, accounting and advisory services since its inception in 1978. For more information on this topic, you may contact Nick at (315) 472-9127 or visit
online at www.dmcpas.com