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It is a chilly Tuesday morning, and corporate landscape whiz Melanie Reinhold, laden with slide equipment, is rushing out of her office, on her way to the airport and a sales presentation out of town. The sky is overcast, the trees are bare-branched and the grass is turning brown. There's a whiff of recession in the air.
For the next hour, she'll be in her blue Cadillac, linking up with the rest of the world by car phone, giving instructions on the run to Shari Nowicki -- her secrectary, alter ego and chief of staff -- back at the office. And then, a few hours later, the real work will begin.
"It usually takes several months of negotiations and more than one presentation to get the job," Reinhold says, and then -- as though thinking aloud -- calculates the possibility of getting another flight if she misses this one.
At 35, she is perhaps the youngest and most successful of the current crop of female entrepreneurs in metro Detroit. When she took the helm at her late father's firm, the former Reinhold Landscaping, in 1983, it had sales of barely $1 million a year. By the end of the decade, they were at $10 million. Early last year, she and partner Donn Vidosh engineered a merger that brings total sales to at least $30 million and gives each operation new strengths.
The different thing about Reinhold and her company is that, during the entire time they were riding the crest of the construction boom, they were constantly diversifying -- in part to limit the effects of an eventual recession. For more than ten years, Reinhold has been trying hard to perfect her end-run around it.
Slumps in the building trades are almost considered acts of nature -- an inevitable part of metro Detroit's roller coaster economy. But construction-related companies have often dreamed about business opportunities elsewhere -- especially in recession-resistant Sunbelt cities, or other parts of the South.
Reinhold and her firm had the same idea.
"In 1982, in the throes of the recession, I made the determination that we had to locate a project outside this geographic area," Reinhold says.
Since its first out-of-state contract, for the Federal Express headquarters in Memphis, Tenn. in 1983, her firm has put its green thumbprint on such high profile clients as Disney and Ralston-Purina, among others. The newly merged firm, Reinhold & Vidosh, is rolling ahead on corporate landscape work at GTE in Dallas.
And now it counts. "There is a definite slowdown in new …