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Q & A: Year-In-Review - Association Report
by Michelle Medaris

For its year-end roundup, Landscape Contractor / DBM magazine contacted the heads of the industry's largest and most influential trade organizations for their take on the past year. With access to hundreds or thousands of members, these organizations are in a perfect position to recognize the mega trends and important industry topics like no one else.

Q: How would you characterize the "mood" of your membership (in terms of business and the industry) over the past year?

Rick Church
American Fence Association
Executive Vice President

Rick Church, Executive Vice President, American Fence Association (AFA):
''The mood of our membership is getting more positive. The economic downturn had a significant impact on our industry and the building industry in general. Over the last year, our members are busier quoting jobs and working on jobs.''

Paul R. Gosselin, CLVLT, President, Association of Outdoor Lighting Professionals (AOLP):
''The mood of our membership is getting more positive. The economic downturn had a significant impact on our industry and the building industry in general. Over the last year, our members are busier quoting jobs and working on jobs.''

Deborah Hamlin, CAE, FASAE, Executive Director, Irrigation Association:
''It has been a good, steady year for the irrigation industry and the mood is cautiously optimistic. A still-slow economy, drought and a sluggish rebound in new-home construction present challenges for much of our membership, but we see them adapting well to the economy and the changing technological landscape. We're also seeing an uptick in large jobs involving irrigation designers and consultants, which often means more work for contractors is on the way.''

Charles A. McGrath, CAE, Executive Director, Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute:
''ICPI members are 'cautiously optimistic' with forecasts for the construction industries looking to stay level or slightly up for the next two years, followed by a surge in activity beginning in 2014. I believe that since the interlocking concrete pavement industry doesn't have as large a market share in the commercial sector, it can actually chalk up sizable growth in flat economic times and gain market share. To this end, ICPI has committed to increasing its industry's annual sales in institutional, commercial and industrial from 21 to 50 percent over the next seven years.''

Russell Adsit
International Erosion Control Assoc.
Executive Director

Russell Adsit, FASLA, Executive Director, International Erosion Control Association (Region One):
''Beginning with the International Erosion Control Association's annual conference in February, we've seen our membership base become more energized and excited than ever before. There is a palpable sense of optimism and many mentions of members having more work than they can handle. This gives us the sense that many in the industry are finding their footing in the post-recession economy.''

Robert Garbini
National Ready Mixed Concrete Association

Robert Garbini, President of Marketing, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association:
''Our membership is relieved the worst is behind us, (but have) low expectations for anything but ongoing slow recovery.''

Kris Kiser
Outdoor Power Equipment Institute

Kris Kiser, President and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute:
''Members are largely optimistic since we are seeing some good signs: foreclosures seem to have stabilized, rates are staying low, home values are largely appreciating, and market sales are improving. There were some substantial weather events in the spring - storms and power outages - which also triggered some product sales. So, while members wish the economy recovery would be more robust, they remain positive.''

Sabeena Hickman, PLANET CEO, CAE, CMP:
''Many members seem to be cautiously optimistic. The economic outlook is better than it was a few years ago and many of our members engage in a variety of different business lines like snow removal, design, build, holiday decorations, both commercial and residential work, sustainable landscapes, integrated pest management, etc. Those that diversify are better able to deal with mixed economic or changing weather conditions from year to year.''

Q: What trends did you take note of over the past year?

Rick Church, AFA:
''The most significant trend is work did increase this year slightly. However, our members aren't comfortable in thinking that work will continue to increase. Residential work is still very hard to come by. Commercial work has been okay this year. There are concerns about the impact of the presidential election on the economy and willingness of people to spend money on building related projects.''

Paul R. Gosselin
Association of Outdoor
Lighting Professionals (AOLP)

Paul R. Gosselin, AOLP:
''More people are fixing up their current homes with outdoor living spaces instead of building or purchasing new homes.''

Deborah Hamlin
Irrigation Association
Executive Director

Deborah Hamlin, IA:
''The dry conditions this year helped boost the adoption and use of 'smart' technologies, such as smart irrigation controllers and sensors. Not only are irrigation contractors increasingly promoting the use of the water-saving devices, but building departments and governmental agencies are more often making their use a requirement.
To mitigate the drought, some local governments provided incentives for the use of smart controllers and soil-moisture sensors. Such incentives allow homeowners and local municipalities to make better decisions during drought conditions, so they don't need to completely shut off water for irrigation. Looking to the future, I predict an increased need for irrigation contractors to have the knowledge and skills to effectively use smart technologies.''

Charles A. McGrath, ICPI:
''Environmental awareness is becoming more prominent, especially within the municipal market. The EPA requires states and municipalities to reduce stormwater runoff and pollution with a selection of best management practices, including permeable interlocking concrete pavement (PICP) for low-impact development. Plus, interlocking concrete pavements and permeable interlocking concrete pavements are eligible for LEED(R) credits under USGBC and CaGBC guidelines. In 2013, you will see more projects specified with products that minimize the impact on the environment, reduce pollution and the carbon footprint. With the municipal market leading this effort, the commercial and residential markets will look for ways to follow.''

Russell Adsit, IECA:
''IECA has seen an uptick in the demand for continuing education. Members want to be informed on the latest issues that matter to them and turn to IECA's webinars, live training and conferences to meet those needs.''

Kris Kiser, OPEI:
''Clearly the battery/electric marketplace is growing and a number of our members are moving into this marketplace and offering diversified power sources. So in turn, OPEI is stepping up to represent this growing area by adding battery/electric categories in our market statistics, and we're even currently looking at ANSI standards for battery/electric products.''

Sabeena Hickman

Sabeena Hickman, PLANET:
''We have seen changes on the human resources side of our members' businesses. The down economy created an opportunity for businesses to recruit some great top-level employees, while at the same time many companies have nearly given up on the H-2B program and have had to work harder to find good employees. We are also seeing an increasing number of audits by government agencies on employee wages and I-9 records.''

Q: What have been the top challenges your members faced in 2012?

Rick Church, AFA:
''The top challenge faced by our members in 2012 was doing more with less. The economic circumstances have dictated scaling back on resources.
As the work has increased, all our members have been faced with expanding the use of their remaining resources to perform the work required. Available credit has also been a challenge facing some of our members this year.''

Deborah Hamlin, IA:
''Drought and the economy continue to challenge our industry. Contractors I've talked to say they took a hard look at their business operations this past year and made changes to remain profitable.
They're running their companies leaner now. Many realigned their businesses, added new services and repositioned themselves to adjust to the marketplace. Successful contractors, we've seen, are adaptable.
For example, new-home construction has not fully rebounded, so we continue to see contractors shift from new-home installations to maintenance services and system upgrades.''

Charles McGrath
Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute
Executive Director

Charles McGrath, ICPI:
''The top challenges we have seen for the hardscape/landscape industry in 2012 is obviously the economy and new housing starts. The residential hardscape market has seen incremental growth over the past two years. Since new-home construction has slowed, hardscape installers have taken advantage of a growing home retrofit and renovation market. Some contractors have diversified services into paver maintenance and sealing for residential applications.''

Kris Kiser, OPEI:
''In 2012, we had an issue come up out of left field when the Canadian province of British Columbia required outdoor power equipment makers to recover and recycle equipment. Rather than put the burden on each and every manufacturer to develop their own recycling plan, OPEI stepped up and created a Stewardship Plan to help manufacturers comply, helping make sure compliance was not too onerous or difficult for the industry.
Further, we incorporated a Canadian organization, OPEI Canada (OPEIC), to interface with Canadian governmental and tax authorities. OPEIC interfaces with Canadian authorities on extended producer responsibility programs, which require product recovery and recycling, and OPEIC will also be working with Health Canada on consumer product safety issues. And the need to handle global regulations impacting our domestic market is only increasing. OPEI is currently working cooperatively with EGMF (European Garden Machinery Industry Federation) to more fully address a new European restriction on heavy metals (RoHS2) which impacts outdoor power equipment, marking up language in the regulation and offering comment and proposed changes.
E15 became a legal fuel this year and is finding its way into the marketplace. The court denied our petition to review the EPA's approval of E15 for a subset of engines on the market. They ruled against us on a procedural matter, so OPEI, along with its litigation partners, have filed an appeal. We see 2013 as the year when the original Renewable Fuel Standard - which prompted this push for higher levels of ethanol - will be re-examined by Congress.''

E-15, the latest ethanol-gasoline fuel blend approved by the EPA, has been a top concern for landscape professionals this year. Although this fuel can potentially damage small engines, such as chainsaws and lawn mowers, only six states are required to label their gas pumps for E-15
(see diagram).

Russell Adsit, IECA:
''The most mentioned challenge, if not the top one, is the evolving nature of regulations. Members come out en masse to hear the latest from government entities on new regulations and how they will affect their businesses. After that, applying those changes to their practices in ways that make economic sense is something IECA has strived to provide to members.''

Paul R. Gosselin, AOLP:
''The economy has been the biggest challenge for everyone this year, not just our industry.''

Sabeena Hickman, PLANET:
''One of the top challenges members face is keeping up with changing regulations. Since Congress has been nearly gridlocked, many issues affecting the lawn and landscape industry have been addressed recently through lawsuits, and state, local, and Federal regulations, instead of through national legislation.
Recent changes to the H2-B program and the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) have arisen through federal regulations and lawsuits, which drag out the issues and leave companies uncertain about how to plan for the future, and those companies that work in multiple states need to stay on top of it all.''

Q: What legislation has either hurt or helped your membership over the past year?

Deborah Hamlin, IA:
''2012 was an interesting year for the irrigation industry relating to legislation and regulations. While Congress was tied up with the farm bill and budget debates, we saw many states and municipalities move numerous forms of legislation and regulations that have wide-ranging effects on the irrigation industry.
The drought of 2012 caused many localities to call for outright bans on commercial and residential irrigation. In Texas and Indiana, we worked with local associations and stakeholders to lift those bans, paving the way for discussions focusing on efficiency.
Other states took a new look at the scope of what an irrigation contractor is legally able to do. In Illinois, a 10-year standing licensing program runs the risk of sun-setting, unless reauthorized by the general assembly of Illinois; if this license sunsets, irrigation contracting will be subject to a plumbing license. In Oregon, the landscape architect licensing board moved to define irrigation design under the scope of a landscape architect. Through conversations with state associations and the landscape architect board, we made positive strides to address this scope issue, allowing for our certified irrigation designers to ensure efficient irrigation designs in commercial and residential settings. However, it was not all doom and gloom in 2012. In Massachusetts, we saw the state Senate pass legislation requiring the use of a rain sensor or a smart controller in new landscape irrigation installations, and in Florida, we see positive movement toward achieving an industry-led licensing program. I'm excited about the volume of member and stakeholder involvement we had in 2012 on various public policy issues and look forward to these partnerships increasing through 2013 and beyond.''

Charles McGrath, ICPI:
''Most notably, ICPI succeeded in lobbying Congress to include the first-ever permeable pavements provision in the Transportation Reauthorization bill (MAP-21). In doing so, ICPI has established that permeable pavements are now a technology for use under the auspices of the U.S. Transportation Department. Passage of the new law culminates a 15-month comprehensive strategy of intensive, highly targeted lobbying by ICPI to use the Transportation Bill as a vehicle to promote pavers in federal transportation policy.''

Robert Garbini, NRMCA:
''Agreement on highway funding, even at reduced levels, has been key for the concrete industry.''

Kris Kiser, OPEI:
''OPEI celebrated a big win in September 2012 when the EPA announced that it would remove its 40-percent turf limitation in a newly published revision to the WaterSense New Home Specification. The WaterSense New Home Specification, to become effective January 1, 2013, establishes the criteria for new homes labeled under the WaterSense program and is applicable to newly constructed single-family and multi-family homes. Originally, EPA released a new home specification containing restrictions on the amount of turf grass that could be used nationwide on new home sites (40 percent grass use on a site's landscapeable area). OPEI and its partners not only saw the turf limitation withdrawn from the WaterSense specification, but we also defeated an attempt to include a turf limitation in a national commercial building code.''

Sabeena Hickman, PLANET:
''The H-2B rule changes imposed by the Department of Labor have created uncertainty among companies who make plans to use H-2B workers. However, recently Congress voted to extend the law that prevents the Department of Labor (DOL) from implementing its H-2B wage rule through March 27, 2013. This move is part of a stopgap spending measure to keep the government funded beyond the start of fiscal 2013, which begins October 1.
PLANET will continue to fight on Capitol Hill and in the courts for a permanent, favorable solution to protect the H-2B program, but we are pleased that, in the meantime, our members will not be subject to unprecedented wage increases.
PLANET is also a plaintiff on litigation filed in Florida to prevent the DOL from implementing both the H-2B wage and the program rules and has contributed $25,000 to these lawsuits. The attorneys for these cases are optimistic that the District Court and the Circuit Court will issue favorable decisions in both the wage rule case and the program rule case.''

The intese summer drought forced landscape contractors into many tough situations while trying to keep their plants and businesses ''in the green.'' Advancing smart technologies proved to be
helpful tools.

Q: What would you say has been the single biggest news story to impact your membership? (Drought, economy, strict lending, legislation, etc.)

Paul R. Gosselin, AOLP:
''I would say the economy and election. The good news is that money is cheap right now so people can afford to do a lot of upgrvades for very little interest if they roll those upgrades into their home improvement or purchase loan.''

Deborah Hamlin, IA:
''The record drought was the biggest story this year and its impact continues to test our industry. But it also gives us the opportunity to adopt innovation, adapt to change and prepare for the high-tech future that is quickly shaping our industry. I believe this shift will allow the landscape irrigation industry to continue to improve business practices, become certified and create new market opportunities.''

Charles McGrath, ICPI:
''Passage of the transportation bill has been the biggest news story this year that will impact ICPI members. ICPI's lobbying work on the transportation bill is a core component of ICPI's overall mission to expand the use of pavers in North America. From a strategic perspective, ICPI seeks to invoke the immense authority, influence and resources of the federal government to infuse pavers into federal policy as deeply as possible. The permeable pavements provision will grant the U.S. Secretary of Transportation authority to conduct work specifically on permeable pavements such as pavers. This is the first instance in which permeable pavements have been specifically added to the authority of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The permeable pavements language adds concerns such as stormwater runoff and flood control to the Secretary's values to address at USDOT. Pavers provide major advantages in mitigating stormwater runoff and flood mitigation.''

Russell Adsit, IECA:
''IECA's membership is highly involved in dealing with the aftermath of fires. With the drought this summer and the ensuing wildfires, many IECA members have been tapped to help cities and counties stabilize the burn areas and make those areas safer for families, businesses and the environment.''

Robert Garbini, NRMCA:
''The key news story (this year) was the ongoing tepid economic recovery, but with solid indication that housing starts are finally improving.''

Sabeena Hickman, PLANET:
''The economy continues to have an impact on many of our members and their clients. Economic uncertainly makes it hard for companies to make solid business plans and to forecast, and it impacts client feelings about whether or not they are comfortable spending money on their lawns and landscape.''

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December 10, 2019, 6:53 pm PDT

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