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Merit Group comes under new ownership

BY Brae Canlen

Centre Lane Partners, a New York-based private equity firm, has become the new owners of The Merit Group, a distributor of paint sundry- and drywall-related products. The company will continue to operate under the current management team and business structure, according to the announcement. 

“This is an exciting time for our company,” said Mitch Jolley, CEO of the Merit Group. “Centre Lane has a strong vision for growth and will take an aggressive approach in continuing to position us as the leading company in the sundry distribution industry. We are eager to get back to the business of being a valued partner to our vendors and customers.” 

Headquartered in Spartanburg, S.C., The Merit Group distributes its products through its Lancaster, Five Star, and Merit Trade Source and Merit Pro trade names. In May 2011, the company filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 reorganization in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina. At the time, the company’s management team and advisers said they would focus on a potential sale of the business or a strategic investment in the next 90 days.

The Merit Group serves more than 10,000 retail locations, including national, regional and independent paint chains, home improvement centers, hardware stores, lumberyards and drywall yards through its seven regional distribution centers. 

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Industry adds construction jobs

BY Brae Canlen

Construction employment rose by 8,000 jobs in July, hitting a 15-month high, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). But the Arlington, Va., trade group issued a “grim outlook” for public sector construction activity, which it said will “act as a drag on expanding private sector construction.” AGC officials want Congress to pass long-term funding for public projects.

The industry unemployment rate fell from 17.3%,  a year earlier to 13.6% in July 2011, and the number of unemployed people who previously worked in construction shrank by nearly 400,000, said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. However, Simonson noted that the July 2011 employment total of 5,532,000 was only 32,000 higher than in July 2010 and was almost 2.2 million, or 28%, below the record level of April 2006.

“It is encouraging that the construction industry has added 54,000 jobs, or 1%, since hitting bottom last January,” Simonson said. “However, unemployed workers are leaving the industry at seven times the rate they are finding jobs in it, which suggests future expansion will be hard to achieve.” 

The construction economist noted that employment in heavy and civil engineering construction — the segment that had previously added jobs as a result of federal funding for stimulus, military base realignment and Gulf Coast hurricane protection projects — shrank for the third month in a row, by 400 jobs. Residential building and specialty trade employment dropped a combined 1,600 jobs in July. Nonresidential building and specialty trade contractors added a combined 10,200 jobs for the month. 

“The shift in employment from heavy projects such as highways, military bases and levees to factories, power projects and hospitals will continue as government spending shrinks and the private sector gradually expands,” Simonson predicted. “But overall job creation will remain sluggish at best unless single-family home building also revives.”

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A new twist on copper theft

BY Brae Canlen

Copper shoplifting is on the rise at home improvement stores across the country, but in the Fort Meyers, Fla., area, thieves may have come up with a novel way to steal the valuable metal. According to a story in the Fort Myers News Press, two men have been arrested for repeatedly shoplifting items from a Lowe’s store in Cape Coral, Fla., returning the items for store credit and then purchasing copper tubing, which they would sell to a recycling yard.

Jason Sawicki, 29, and Eugene Weisensee, 25, both of Cape Coral, were arrested Aug. 1 by the Lee County Metal Theft Task Force, which had targeted both individuals plus the scrap shop, Allied Recycling, with which they had been doing business. Police said the pair had, on at least 14 occasions, sold copper tubes they purchased with funds gained through from shoplifting refunds.

Police were initially tipped off to the suspects after they sold more than 100 new, 10-in. copper tubes to the scrap shop. Officers followed Weisensee into the Cape Coral Lowe’s store and watched as he allegedly shoplifted an outlet tester and handed it off to Sawicki in the parking lot.

Sawicki then walked in, setting off the anti-theft alarm sensors, and returned the item for $9.39 in cash, according to the newspaper story.

When purchasing scrap metal, recycling shops are required to get the seller’s name, thumbprint, signature, photo and license plate number, but this has proven to be little deterrent to many thieves, particularly drug addicts, according to one scrap metal operator interviewed for the story.

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