Industry Leaders across the South speak out on their top concerns and priorities for the new year.
Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA President, Washington, D.C.
At this very important moment in our country and our world, it is essential that we work together to solve our biggest problems–bridging deep, tribal divisions, creating new opportunities and rebuilding a sense of community at a time of fear and isolation. It is going to take innovative and thoughtful solutions to tightly weave the fabric of our society back together. ASLA is an organization with a rich history and significant role to play leading this work, both in the design world and beyond it.
Debby Cole, Former Founder/President Greater Texas Landscapes
We need to focus on the human-side of the industry. Inclusion has always been an issue, but that gets pushed aside when we’re focusing on our bottom line. If we say that we put people first, and employees are the most important asset, then we need to act like it. We can start by asking the people who are affected how to make real change.
Shawn Thomas, Sabal Landscapes, Owner, Florida
One hot button in Florida right now is workforce. Our state alone could use about 200 thousand more workers in the landscaping industry. Immigration programs, when you use the right channels, are expensive, and high schools are cutting vocational programs, so you don’t have a bunch of kids here wanting to go into landscaping either.
Jeff McManus, Ole Miss, Director of Landscape Services, Mississippi
The workforce. We have to get smarter. How does Artificial Intelligence play a role in helping us? There are some companies addressing that in mowing but at some point the labor is going to have to be addressed. I’m sending out eight mowers every morning. I’m probably going to be hiring computer programmers rather than mowers down the road.
Kevin Hargrove, LSI, Tennessee
Labor is the biggest challenge and most consistent. There is a shortage of skilled labor so our teams are learning to adapt and retain their people while training the next generation of landscapers.
Neil Bales, COO LandPatterns, NALP Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Texas
Labor is a commodity that is so valuable, and finding a good workforce is challenging. We aren’t just mowing lawns or trimming trees. Our industry is much more than that. We need to train our people to be more specialized, then provide them with a better pay scale, supplementing some of our labor with technology like autonomous mowers.
F. Todd Lasseigne, Executive Director, Bellingrath Gardens & Home, Alabama
We’ve seen good and bad with the pandemic. Retail, mail order and seed are going well but some in the landscape sector have been hit hard in some sections of the country. With plant production, you’re working with living organisms that must grow. It takes time. You can’t crank them out of a factory. If we see mass layoffs, that would impact housing, which could impact landscaping and allied trades. It’s a hard time to figure things out.
Clay Bakker, Crystal Bridges, Director of Trails and Grounds Arkansas
I hope it’s “how to keep up?” I think COVID-19 has changed the perception of what we think are safe spaces to live and enjoy life. Outdoor activities, outdoor work and living are all on the rise as we clamor to find life experiences in a safe way. I think the landscape industry has a great opportunity to become a bigger than ever part of the American way.
Sarah Lograsso, Director of Marketing, Boral, Georgia
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are transforming their backyards into full outdoor living experiences. Since we expect interest in outdoor living space to continue increasing into 2021 and beyond, we anticipate that the biggest challenge facing the industry will be meeting the intensified level of demand.
John Conroy, Owner, Fish Branch Tree Farm, Florida
There is no single challenge. Over time the threats change but certainly economic, political and social forces are always factors. Then there are the disconnects between disciplines within the industry. And a basic challenge for many is a labor shortage.
What are you doing to make your business or your projects more sustainable? E-mail our editor Laura Lee at email@example.com to be included in our next issue.