Sept. 19 2012 07:01 AM
When Crystal Alington came into this world, times were tough. Her father worked on a dairy farm in Erie, Pennsylvania, and to augment his income, he also worked in a nursery and as a truck driver nights and weekends. Some days he would work in a sawmill; other days, he would mow fields for the nursery. In the winter, he would plow snow. He did anything that could bring in a little extra money so he could put food on the table.

Arlington recalls cold winter days working with her dad when she was just eight years old, helping him clear snow. Her job was to move the chain on the snowplow. “We had an old International Scout with 4-wheel drive. I could never get it into 4-wheel drive without
taking a hammer and banging it in,” Arlington remembers. Her father also taught her how to mow lawns.

At the age of 15, she became pregnant and moved in with her grandmother, who lived 30 minutes away. She felt that the school in her grandmother’s area was a little more tolerant, so that she wouldn’t be ostracized. She wanted to continue with her high school  education and graduate.

At her grandmother’s, one of her chores was to mow the lawn. The neighbor next door told her how nice a job she was doing, and  asked if she would do hers. Then the neighbor a few doors away hired her, and before she knew it, she was mowing quite a few lawns. Another neighbor asked if she could do spring clean-ups and plant color, and of course, Arlington learned to do that very  quickly.

As her route expanded, she was able to save her money and bought a 1983 Chevette. She put a push mower and string trimmer in the back of the car, so she could drive to her customers.

After graduating from high school, Arlington moved back to her parents’ home. She had given birth to a daughter, Jennifer, who is now 23. She needed to continue to earn money, and kept up with her lawn care route. However, she had to take care of her daughter, so she decided that she might as well take care of other kids, also. She set up a daycare in her home.

As if the daycare center and her lawn maintenance route weren’t enough, Arlington began to expand her daycare center. During this time she met and married her husband, Rich, who was also in the landscape maintenance business. “I was 20 years old and couldn’t even get a drink at my own wedding,” she recalls.

The Pennsylvania Association of Daycare Centers had a special program for daycare owners: if the owner didn’t have any negative
write-ups on their centers and wanted to go to college, the organization would pay their tuition. Arlington jumped at the opportunity to
go to college. She sub-contracted her lawn care customers to her husband’s firm, but continued to run the daycare centers.

It took her seven years to graduate from college, but during that time she was building a successful business in daycare centers; she now had three. And then the government began cutting programs. Slowly but surely, it was no longer a moneymaking business, so Arlington turned her attention back to her landscape maintenance business. She finally sold the daycare centers in 2006.
In 1999, Arlington learned that Kohl’s Department Stores was looking for local contractors to bid on the maintenance of one of its locations in her area. She won the bid to provide landscape maintenance, snow removal, parking lot sweeping, pressure washing, etc. She founded the Affiliated Grounds Maintenance Group, Inc., (AGMG) and began servicing the location.

Each store evaluated their outside contractors, and Arlington consistently got high reviews. She was asked if she would be interested in bidding all of Kohl’s locations in the Northeast region. She visited each location, then contacted several landscape contractors in each area and asked if they would be interested in servicing that particular location, and work under the AGMG umbrella. Arlington was taking her business to the next level.

As her business grew, she began to invest in real estate. Today, she owns a real estate business, in addition to her other ventures. Her daughter, Jennifer, (who now has a two-yearold child of her own) serves as property manager on some of the real estate holdings.

Arlington’s education didn’t end with college. She is the first female in North America to hold both a certification in landscape (LICM) and snow and ice management (CSP). She is also in the process of obtaining her Green Associate Certification (LEED) with the U.S. Green Building Council.

Today, as president and CEO of AGMG, Arlington oversees 4,700 contractor companies, which are part of AGMG’s Affiliate Partners. Her companies have grown to a volume in the tens of millions of dollars, and with it all, she still has her feet on the ground. She knows that but for the grace of the Almighty, things could have gone very differently. “I feel blessed,” said Arlington. “And for all of my blessings, it’s time to pay it forward. I believe in giving back to the community.”

Give back she has. This year, Gannon University’s Small Business Development Center recognized Arlington with the W.I.L.D. Legacy Award. The honor is bestowed on a professional female leader who mentors other women, supports her community and excels in her career.

It’s an accomplishment few have achieved, and fewer still before their 40th birthday. She and her husband are very active in various veterans’ groups, where she not only donates money but her time as well.

Arlington learned life’s lessons early. She has a solid work ethic, an entrepreneur’s willingness to take risks, and a sensitivity to others that has allowed her to reach heights she never could have imagined.

One of those people who exudes confidence, Crystal Arlington just doesn’t have time to reminisce. She’s on a fast train rolling down a fast track, building up businesses along the way. Yet, she never forgets who she is and where she came from.