- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. | Like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, David Niklas feels the quickening of spring as the season ramps up at his wholesale nursery in a farming community south of Portland. Mr. Niklas and his workers busily package plants for shipment.

These days, his flowers and vegetable seedlings have fewer places to go, after the housing bubble burst and the state and national economies flatlined.

Just three years after reaching a record high of almost $1 billion in sales, Oregon’s nursery industry has plummeted into a historic slump. Nurseries are laying off employees, cutting costs and forgoing new buildings and equipment.

A few, like Mr. Niklas’ Clackamas Greenhouses, have gone bankrupt.

“The family has poured money into it as we tried to restructure it and make new markets,” said Mr. Niklas, who had to file for bankruptcy after losing almost half his sales when his primary retailer was bought out. “Commercial lenders aren’t talking to me because I’m coming out of bankruptcy.

“They aren’t even talking to [General Motors Co.], so why would they talk to a little nursery?”

Across the country, the nursery and landscaping trades also face tough times.

“You have to eat, but you don’t have to plant ornamentals,” said Terry McElroy, a spokesman at the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Florida, which produces 80 percent of the houseplants grown in the United States, had about $844 million in sales of nursery stock in 2007 — the last year figures were available. California, the largest producer, reported $1.6 billion in nursery stock sales in 2007.

Both states did not have more recent figures, but officials said they had seen a decline in business. They expect the industry to recover slowly — but they also expect belt-tightening to remain, with fewer purchases, less expansion and fewer employees.

“We know, just by tracking sales in general, that it’s down but we don’t know how down,” said Jennifer Nelis, a spokeswoman for the Florida Nursery Growers Association. “It’s the life cycle of home construction. Plants are some of the last to go in, so the industry is the last to bounce back.

“Things are starting to get a little better, but it will always lag.”

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