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Painting company that hired from Pa., W.Va. colleges lacked license

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Michigan-based painting company that for years recruited student managers in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia did not obtain the contractor's license Pennsylvania requires until last week, records show.

Student Painters registered after the Tribune-Review inquired with the attorney general and the company about its business in the state, records show. The registration is required under Pennsylvania's home improvement consumer protection act.

Officials at the Attorney General's Office would not speak specifically about Student Painters or whether they'd received complaints or were investigating. Deputy Press Secretary Dennis Fisher said contractors who do not register are prohibited from working in Pennsylvania and could draw fines of up to $1,000 per violation. Each job performed without a license, each advertisement without the contractor's license number and each contract without the required information could be considered a violation, he said.

Officials said that before Feb. 28, no one was registered as a home improvement contractor in the state under Student Painters, Young Entrepreneurs Across America or several of the student managers' names.

“We've been here for years. ... I'm comfortable that we've not been doing business illegally,” said Andrew Dennison, Student Painters' vice president for Michigan and Pennsylvania, noting that the company worked in Pennsylvania the past four years and got other necessary permits, such as EPA certifications for handling lead-paint waste.

“I know we have to have been registered in Pennsylvania, because some kids had gotten in trouble soliciting where they shouldn't, and (authorities) looked up our license,” said branch manager Brannon Harnish, 20, of Leechburg, a University of Pittsburgh sophomore who's been soliciting customers in the East End and Penn Hills.

Pennsylvania has required home improvement contractors who do more than $5,000 work in a year, including painters, to register with the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection since 2008. Student Painters was licensed in Michigan under Dennison's name, but Pennsylvania law says out-of-state contractors have to register here as well.

For the past four years, Student Painters, headquartered in Macomb, Mich., has recruited about 30 local college students a year to act as managers responsible for running local branches of the company, finding customers whose houses need exterior painting, recruiting and training fellow students as laborers, supervising the jobs and managing their branches' finances during the summer.

Students — recruited at area colleges by Young Entrepreneurs Across America with presentations promising real-life business experience, money and a Caribbean cruise for the top managers — undergo an intense weekend of business and management training on how to run their branches, make sales and draw up estimates for customers.

Student Painters pays for paint and materials and keeps 40 percent of the profits; it's up to the managers to set their prices and their employees' hourly rates. The company assists with running the payroll, providing liability insurance and giving each manager advertising materials. Its corporate partner, Sherwin-Williams, offers managers and painters up to two weeks of training each April.

“It was an MBA in two days,” said student manager Cody Stewart, 18, of Indiana. “They train us, and then we train our employees. ... I'm aiming for an $80,000 business, altogether.”

The Better Business Bureau had no complaints about Student Painters from customers in Western Pennsylvania.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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