More than most industries, landscapers build future together

Volunteers help prepare for the hardscape installation event at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition last week at Mississippi State University. Photo: David RountreeVolunteers help prepare for the hardscape installation event at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition last week at Mississippi State University.
Photo: David Rountree

I know there are many landscape contractors out there – dedicated, hardworking professionals – who have never given a thought to joining their industry’s trade group.

When you have a business to run, the idea of participating in national organizations, or even attending a trade show now and again, may seem like an unnecessary distraction – a nicety for people who go in for that sort of thing.

Maybe so for some industries, but not if you’re a landscaper.

Having spent most of last week at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC), which was held this year at Mississippi State University, I’m more convinced than ever that the National Association of Landscape Professionals is a truly exceptional organization – precisely because the people it represents are exceptional.

That includes mostly landscapers, of course, but also companies such as Stihl, Husqvarna and John Deere – among many others – that equip the industry.

The more than 700 students from 62 schools who participated in this year’s competition found hundreds of landscape professionals and volunteers from NCLC’s corporate sponsors waiting for them – ready to talk about job possibilities, provide one-on-one advice or just help them find the next place they were supposed to be.

Deere is a good example. The competition included several events involving the operation of landscaping equipment, including compact excavators. But John Deere didn’t just donate money to help NALP make it happen, or lend a compact excavator for students to give a try. Instead, Deere people traveled to Starkville, Mississippi, for several days, brought the equipment, set up the event site, staffed and judged the competition. Other companies – Ewing Irrigation and Hunter Industries come to mind – were doing much the same elsewhere.

And then there were the landscape professionals themselves – lots of them – serving as volunteers for countless tasks necessary to ensure the college students got the most out of their week.

The National Association of Landscape Professionals’ public relations director, Lisa Schaumann, observing that 2016’s competition was the 40th since NCLC began, said it’s “amazing to think about how it has grown – that legacy.”

Forty years ago, there were five schools involved, not 62. Before patting her own membership on the back for this year’s outstanding event, Schaumann was quick to credit Mississippi State, not only as host but also for the many MSU volunteers who also contributed a great deal of time and effort to the event.

She noted, too, that many successful landscape contractors – including NALP’s president-elect, Brett Lemcke – took part in the event as students not that many years ago.

“There really is great industry participation and great (equipment) company participation,” said Schaumann. “The students feel supported.

“And it’s all about the students. It’s all about the next generation.”

That’s the kind of attitude that makes NALP special – again, and only, because the people behind it are a good bunch.

Even if you’re not the joining kind, if you’re a landscaper, you really ought to consider getting involved in your national trade organization. It’s pretty awesome.

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