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Thursday, 20 March 2014 23:43

Utah Offers Grants to Body Shops to Convert to Waterborne, Not Many Applicants So Far

As the collision industry in Utah undergoes the transition to waterborne paint and everything that comes along with it, many are embracing the new products, techniques, and equipment, while others are not as enthusiastic.

The state deadline for waterborne is looming (July 1, 2014) and, as was the case in other states with similar mandates, some shops are waiting until the last moment. But some valuable news involving grants might just speed up the conversion process for body shops that were previously lagging. Any body shop that wants the state grant money will have to match the grant dollar-for-dollar, so it’s more of a hand up than a handout, according to the state Division of Air Quality and the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR), a statewide alliance that was created to make it easier for individuals, businesses, and communities to add equipment or processes that will improve the cleanliness and breathability of Utah’s air.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services has earmarked US$300,000 now to help small businesses improve the state’s air quality and an additional US$1 million after June 30, 2014, through the state Department of Workforce Services. The goal of the program is to help small businesses reduce emissions through improved equipment. The maximum amount is US$15,000 and must be matched dollar-for-dollar. In addition to auto body shops, dry cleaners, restaurants, print shops, and other small businesses with fewer than 100 employees can apply.

The first collision repairer to take advantage of the grant money offered by the state was ACS Precision Finish in Salt Lake City, UT, a shop owned by Candido Gallegos and his son Anthony. Both father and son were a little reluctant to try something new after having spent so much time mastering the solvent-based paint techniques, but their paint jobber, Superior Paint Supply, made the transition easier for them, while the grant money also made the decision a little more palatable, Anthony Gallegos said.

“We’re getting US$15,000 to change over, and for us it was a no-brainer, because all of the shops in Utah are going to have to switch to waterborne anyway,” Gallegos said.  “We looked at Superior Paint Supply’s water-based paint system (De Beer’s Waterbase 90 by Valspar) because we heard very good things about it. So, we applied for the grant and then we were pretty shocked when the state contacted us and told us we were the first shop to apply.”

“I read an article about the grants in the paper and told my son,” Candido Gallegos said. “We figured we'd get some financial help if it’s being offered. From what we’re hearing, body shops aren’t applying for these funds, which I find surprising. The money is right there on the table. They want to give us money! How often does that happen?”

The local media flocked to ACS Precision recently to cover the shop’s conversion to waterborne, while letting small businesses know that the grant money is available for them, as long as they’re willing to improve their air quality. “We were surprised when the local newspapers and news stations called us and wanted to interview us about the grant money,” Gallegos said. “It’s a big deal for Utah and a big deal for this industry and an eye opener for everybody.”

According to the Division of Air Quality, if every paint tech in the state used waterborne instead of solvent, daily emissions would drop by 572 pounds per year. In fact, the industry will be required to make this change by June 1, 2014, to comply with new air quality regulations. The big challenge for small businesses is, of course, the cost to make the upgrades.

Gwen Springmeyer is the assistant executive director for UCAIR, which is administering the state grants. She wants body shop owners to know that the grant application process is easier than they might imagine and that her organization is willing to help shops with the application process.

“The grant application is easy for several reasons,” Springmeyer explained. “There is no competition for the grant, so if you qualify and there is still money in the budget, you’ll get it. Secondly, we don’t ask for your financials. The application is seven pages and we’re more than willing to help you with it. The money is there, so we want to encourage body shops and other small businesses to apply and get these dollar-for-dollar grants. And maybe most importantly, the deadline is June 30, 2014, but then we’re also going to make another US$1 million available as part of the same program. So, essentially, the state is offering US$1.3 million in air quality-matching grants.”

Jeff Brasier is a paint trainer for Superior Paint Supply in Salt Lake City. He has been working literally non-stop for the last five months as shops rush into the waterborne game before the deadline of July 1, 2014. “I’ve got shops lining up and it’s been crazy,” Brasier said. “I’m training two or three shops all the time, back-to-back, and once we’ve got them covered, here come three or four more.”

While many shops in his region are embracing the new paint and quickly learning how to apply it correctly, some smaller shops are dragging their feet, Brasier explained. “If someone is on board, I can train them in three days without issue. But, if they’re reluctant for whatever reason, it can take months, because they have to unlearn so many old habits. The waterborne paint goes on wetter and it stays wet longer and you have to use it in a clean environment without dust and dirt all around. It’s not rocket science, so if a good painter is motivated, he or she can be adept at using it rather quickly.”

Find more information and the grant application.

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