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Welcome to 2011 . . . A New Era in Landscape

By George Schmok

Happy New Year and Welcome to 2011!

Since we are entering into 2011, it is time to look ahead at the profession of landscape and begin to take steps to legitimize the business.

Currently only a small handful of states license landscape contractors, even though landscape development has a tremendous impact on surrounding development, and invariably costs thousands, if not tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars per project.

Those two elements alone warrant the consumer protections that licensure affords the general public's health, safety and welfare. Add in unscrupulous business practices and an often-illegal immigrant workforce, and I believe the need exists to develop some form of standardization and consumer protection when talking landscape development.

Granted, the demand for an illegal workforce has diminished due to the economic slowdown and even authorized migrant workers are finding it more difficult to find work in the industry. Nonetheless, what better time for the state associations to begin campaigning to promote landscape construction as a top-tier industry with the highest levels of professionalism?

Back in the early 80's and 90's, landscape architects were licensed in only a handful of states. Since then they have successfully argued their case and now are licensed in all 50 states. In the process, they were successful in arguing that the work they did impacted the public and surrounding lands. Unregulated design could lead to flooding, traffic accidents, consumer rip-offs, invasive species, et al. without a reasonable level of accountability on the part of the designer.

The ASLA (American Association of Landscape Architects) ran a multi-tiered approach that included a political lobby, pressure on business, academic leadership and a public campaign that ended up putting landscape architects in the news and even into national television as regular cast members of mainstream TV shows.

Today, unfortunately, there really isn't a functional, authoritative association representing landscape contractors on a national level. Sure there is PLANET, which combines landscapers and nurserymen, but only has 4,300 members across the nation which is WAY less than 10 percent of business (LC/DBM reaches 55,000 Landscape Contractors alone . . .)

It is not that legitimate businessmen and women have an aversion to being licensed. In fact, almost everyone I talk to, in almost every region of the country, say they are constantly battling ''under-the-table'' competition and would welcome some level of regulation. Unfortunately, as with the landscape architects in the early days of licensure, the associations are the biggest obstacles to the process.

You see, the state associations are set up to be the Grand Marquee of the business in the state . . . Join the association, pay your dues, put their sticker on your trucks and that distinguishes you from the riff-raff. The problem is that the consumer is ultimately unaware of the association and they are left unprotected. At the same time the low-lifes are still taking away your business and the state association is powerless to help you.

Not only are they unable to enforce any kind of regulation, they rarely, if ever, spend your dues promoting your business to the public in any cohesive campaign.

Yea sure . . . You can pass a test and be a CLT, but nobody other than you knows what that means. And certainly the consumer doesn't stop to ask if you are a CLT, or have a one on staff . . . It just doesn't happen. In fact, in my opinion, the CLT is just another attempt by the state associations at keeping you from being licensed and keeping them at the top of the hill.

What happened with landscape architects is that finally the association (or ''Society'') realized that it could still be a force in the industry AND support the licensure process. When this change of attitude finally occurred, there came a relatively quick assault that ended up getting licensure in all 50 states.

So as we enter this new decade and new era of land development coming out of this great recession, now is the time to start the process of putting landscape contractors on the professional map and gain the legitimacy that you deserve . . .

God Bless and Happy New Year . . .

George Schmok, Publisher


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