Industry Outlook 2009, part one

Forecasts and predictions are always tough — even moreso in times like these. So for our annual industry outlook, we asked Jason Cupp, CLP, president of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) and Bob Scott, president of the American Society of Irrigation Consultants (ASIC) for more of an overall state of the industry report regarding the landscape and irrigation industries (respectively). Their responses are presented below.

Jason Cupp, CLP, president of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET)

L&I: What would you like landscape professionals to know about PLANET as we head into 2009?

Cupp: Economists have determined that we’re in a recession, which heavily impacts the lawn care and landscape industry. Our close ties to the housing market, corporate budget cuts, etc., leave many members wondering about the future. I would like for lawn care and landscape professionals to know that PLANET will continue to be a strong supporter and resource for companies as we move ahead. It will be extremely critical in 2009 for each of us to operate as efficiently as possible, and PLANET will help to supply the education on how to run a more efficient operation. Also, PLANET’s network of members will provide the perfect forum for companies to talk to each other and share ideas and help each other in lean times. PLANET is currently planning to launch additional member benefits, making our membership invaluable during these difficult economic times.

L&I: What will be the biggest issue for landscape professionals in 2009? How should they address it?

Cupp: As I mentioned, the economy is currently on everyone’s mind. If you’re a residential company, the slowdown in housing starts, foreclosures, and cutbacks will impact your business. If you handle primarily commercial, the layoffs and cutbacks in the commercial sector will impact you. When the economy slows and people look for ways to cut budgets, they often look at lawn and landscape cuts. It’s an error in thinking because it’s extremely important to continue to take care of the real estate investment. Real estate will recover and your lawn and landscape are part of that asset. I’m often reminded that curb appeal is one of the key ingredients to a real estate sale — and it’s our job to educate clients about that value.

L&I: What are the most significant trends of the past year in the landscape industry, and will those trends continue in 2009?

Cupp: We’ve been riding a wave on the design/build side. More people are spending more time at home with family, and they’ve invested in their backyards in building outdoor living spaces, pools, patios, decks, etc. I think that this will continue to some extent in 2009 as people forego expensive trips and plan to spend more time at home. I’ve even see clients sell their vacation homes, and invest that money into their primary residence.

L&I: What impact will President Obama and the new administration have on the landscape industry?

Cupp: I am hoping that the H-2B legislation that the industry needs will finally pass in this administration. President Obama is going to be much more interested in the “greening of America,” and we need to get out in front with our industry messages on how we improve the environment and the quality of communities across America. This will be the landscape profession’s opportunity to fully promote our commitment to green. PLANET is currently ahead of this by working closely on LEED Definitions for Landscape, and sustainability was the topic of our most recent annual Crystal Ball meeting. 

L&I: During the joint PLANET and OPEI press conference at GIE+EXPO, it was mentioned that the EPA WaterSense program is something that will be monitored by both organizations as the WaterSense program seeks to limit the total square feet of managed lawns per property to aid in water conservation.  How is PLANET working with the Irrigation Association and EPA (as well as with OPEI) to ensure that water management and Smart irrigation are important issues without negatively impacting landscape professionals (and the OPE industry) through the reduction of managed landscape spaces?

Cupp: As one of the first partners with EPA in the WaterSense program, PLANET will continue to work closely with all the partners involved to develop a consensus on water policy. As water becomes a major issue in jurisdictions across the country, it is increasingly important for PLANET to work to get out ahead of this issue. We’ll be working very closely with EPA, OPEI, and IA in the coming year.


L&I: What areas of advancement in the industry are you most pleased with, and which areas do you think need to improve?

Cupp: There are several areas where PLANET has excelled. Safety is one of them. PLANET remains the model industry for the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and we’re extremely proud of that. We recently signed, for an unprecedented two years, a new agreement with OSHA called the OSHA Alliance Program. We are extremely proud of our membership for earning this opportunity.

Sustainability is one of our focuses for 2009, and the industry has been great in moving in that direction. It was inspiring to see the numbers of eco-friendly manufacturers at the recent GIE+EXPO. As the “green industry,” it’s imperative that we walk the talk in all areas, including our businesses and business practices.

One area where the industry needs improvement is in data. The success of the industry has invited Wall Street investors, companies that are traded publicly, rollups, spinoffs, etc. — all of the things that any major industry experiences. The downside to this is that we do not have the economic data of other industries that’s required for investors, consultants, financial analysts, etc. We need to band together with other organizations and produce this. I was just in a meeting last week in Washington, D.C., and one consistent is the need for good data out of the green industry.

L&I: What have been your biggest challenges as President of PLANET this year, and what have been your biggest accomplishments?

Cupp: The lack of H-2B legislation has had a dramatic effect on many of our members — some got no workers at all in 2008. I would say this has been the most singular external focus of our organization, working closely with our allies in other green industry associations. 

As many know, PLANET has been without a CEO since mid-2008. It has been a pleasure to serve the association, along with PLANET COO Sabeena Hickman, in this role. I have truly enjoyed knowing our incredible PLANET staff in this capacity, and have a greater respect for what it takes to do the work of PLANET “day to day.” It has certainly been a lesson in time management because the demands of my design/build firm didn’t lessen as my commitment to PLANET increased. 

My greatest accomplishment, I believe, was in encouraging all of our stakeholders — the PLANET staff, board, leadership, suppliers, and membership — to embrace the idea of TEAM PLANET. We launched this new culture and governance at our Summer Leadership Meeting this past summer, and it has been such an encouragement watching it go into place. Also, it is somewhat overwhelming leading an organization that has done extremely well over the past year in spite of the challenges of H-2B, gas prices, the overall economy, etc. PLANET has maintained its membership numbers through this, and events such as Student Career Days and Renewal & Remembrance have had increased attendance.

Our members are incredible, and the feedback I receive is fantastic. People who join PLANET and become involved realize that this is a very special association with people who are all willing to help each other, and share ideas. It’s a group of astute business owners and managers who are committed to making this industry the best it can be. It has truly been an overwhelmingly positive experience to represent this organization this year. I can’t say enough to thank the members and the staff who have helped to make this successful and have supported me. I think the president of an organization often gets the accolades for successes, but I have to say it would NOT have been possible without the support and work of so many.

L&I: What is your boldest prediction for 2009?

Cupp: The H-2B cap will be raised; the economy will begin to show signs of improvement; and consumers everywhere will continue to recognize the environmental, aesthetic, and economical benefits of maintaining their lawns, landscapes, and community green spaces.

My hope also is that the industry will begin to embrace new technologies of communication most notably social networking — to get more done in less time with the branding and marketing of themselves and their companies. It’s a new frontier out there, and this is one simple and inexpensive way of getting your message and culture out there in a new and exciting way. 

Bob Scott, president of the American Society of Irrigation Consultants (ASIC)

L&I: What would you like irrigation professionals to know about ASIC as we head into 2009?

Scott: ASIC is going to get more involved as advocates for the green industry. There’s an information vacuum out there regarding irrigation’s role in sustainable landscapes. At several levels, we’ll be more active participants in defining what a sustainable landscape is, how resources can be efficiently maximized for the site, and how the site should be managed.

L&I: What will be the biggest issue for irrigation professionals in 2009? How should they address it?

Scott: The economy is clearly the big issue, and how credit affects construction. It is hard to know how much new business there will be out there. As professionals, we’re going to have to adapt to market and client needs, and do a lot of educating. We’ll have to identify opportunities this economy and administration present as part of our business development.

I think the key to developing business in this economy is for all partners in the green industry to work together as professionals in the interest of the client, and as a support system for one another. Contractors should ensure that the client is aware of all manufacturer warranties. Irrigation distributors and consultants can work closer together to accomplish system goals. Those are just a couple of examples.

L&I: What are the most significant trends of the past year in the irrigation industry, and will those trends continue in 2009?

Scott: I’m going to stay on this topic because it’s so relevant. Dealing with this issue of sustainable landscapes as they relate to available resources and water conservation was front and center last year, and it’s not going away — and maybe it shouldn’t.

We really need to better build the value of water-as-a-commodity-in-society into this concept of sustainability. The importance of water to communities impacts everyone. Over the years, irrigation consultants and the green industry in general have really worked at conserving resources, but now the rubber is meeting the road, and regulators are watching. So we need to demonstrate and educate about how an efficient irrigation system, a progressive landscape design and proper landscape management drive sustainability. Call it what you like — “native,” “sustainable,” “green,” “mitigated environmental impacts,” whatever — as an industry, we need to explain to people what we mean when we use these words.

And then there’s the economy . . .

L&I: What impact will President Obama and the new administration have on the industry?

Scott: That’s hard to predict. Wholesale change can be slow. But from what we know and what we hear, there likely will be more attention given to the environment. I think that, along with lower-cost labor, could impact us significantly; but I also believe the change will be gradual in light of the more urgent issues the incoming administration is facing.

But let’s not run the risk of being complacent — our industry could totally get lost in the shuffle if we’re not careful. We need to keep moving forward with an organized agenda that emphasizes our expertise, our role and our purpose. We all have to work together to reflect a strong, professional image.

L&I: What areas of advancement in the industry are you most pleased with, and which areas do you think need to improve?

Scott: Our strength is that we know how to adapt our pitches and our businesses to various “climates”. That’s going to be very important in the coming years, and we’ll really have to be sensitive in identifying needs and resources of individual clients.

As an industry, from top to bottom we really need to evolve some of our technology and training. It’s important to step back and look at the big picture and understand how water collection, storage and management tie together — now and in the future. Then the industry can develop bolder innovations in areas that need work such as system communications, sensing and flow technologies. The Internet should be playing a bigger role in management.

I don’t want to sound critical. The central control technology available now is pretty powerful and practical. Irrigation product manufacturers are very good about developing technology that people ask for, but I’d like to see tools developed beyond that point. It feels like we’re really missing an opportunity to take water delivery and management to the next level.

L&I: What is your boldest prediction for 2009?

Scott: We’re going to see the emergence of master-planned land use templates built around sustainability and environmentalism that will affect the entire green industry — from design through management. My hope is that the green industry will be a part of the process. We need to mix in with land developers, land-use planners, civil engineers and landscape architects to help develop appealing, sustainable products for specific regions according to their resources.

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