We are the original green industry. We need to do a better job of educating customers, public officials, really everyone, about the ecological and human health benefits of the work we do.
Raul Berrios, NHLA Past President RulyScapes (Centreville, VA)
Why we formed the NHLA
The National Hispanic Landscape Alliance is the result of an awakening among Hispanic-American landscape industry professionals to the importance and benefits of collective effort in protecting and advancing our interests. In the words of our president Chuy Medrano, “It was time. We had built a foundation for success through hard work and learning the business basics, but to take the next step we had to take a wider view, we had to look beyond what we were doing. We also had to look closer at ourselves. As we did that, we could better see opportunities and threats, and our strengths and weaknesses came into better focus too. As some of us started sharing more, we realized that we could help each other. It started there. Over the last few years there had been some efforts here and there, but there wasn’t anything keeping it going unit we formed the NHLA.”
What we recognized as strengths
The growth in the number of Hispanic-Americans working in the landscape industry has been impressive. Today more than a half-million US Hispanic families depend on the landscape industry for their livelihood. Spanish-speaking laborers in entry-level roles that create demand for Hispanic- Americans to fill jobs as mechanics, supervisors, managers, and human resources professionals where their linguistic and cultural competencies are most beneficial. Hispanic-Americans also work as estimators and designers, and in accounting, sales and marketing, and other roles in large and mid-sized firms. The industry also presents great entrepreneurial opportunities, and a growing number of Hispanic-Americans are becoming partners, buying firms, or starting new companies. Our growing presence and success is happening across the country, not just in a few regions. We have members from coast to coast and from border to border. Some have been in business for more than twenty years and others for less than ten. Some have grown up in the landscape industry and others new to our field are successfully implementing marketing and operating strategies that worked for them in other industries. Some have 400 or more employees while others have less than 20. All are important, all have a story to tell, and all can benefit from being a part of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance. We matter. No one can speak for us with the impact we have when we speak for ourselves. With approximately half a million U.S. Hispanic households depending on the landscape industry for their livelihood, there should be no doubt that the concerns of the landscape industry are concerns of Hispanic-Americans. Only we can make this fact known. If unchecked, government actions stand to cut demand for landscape services in half, increase labor costs by 50% or more, and make it virtually impossible for reputable landscape companies to source sufficient numbers of laborers to grow their businesses. This is no time to stand on the sidelines and hope someone else can save what we work so hard every day to build. The fact is that when the members of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance speak Hispanic leaders in Congress and the administration listen.
The limited involvement by Hispanic landscape professionalsas leaders in industry associations resulted in our not being sufficiently engaged in the important policy discussions that impact our livelihood. A great need for additional and effective leadership existed to dissuade government actions threatening to cut demand for landscape services in half, increase labor costs by 50% or more, and make it virtually impossible for reputable landscape companies to source sufficient numbers of laborers to grow their businesses.
Opportunities on the horizon
The future belongs to those who innovate. Relationships with other successful colleagues across the country can do much to help Hispanics and the companies they own or work for grow. It is especially true in these challenging economic times that knowledge and implementation of industry best practices can make the difference between success and failure. We believe that regardless of how successful we are, we can always get better and we can make our companies better. We believe in sharing what we know and in learning what we don’t know so that we can grow our companies the right way. When we have a challenge or need that others haven’t faced we can find the answers together. Manufacturers, distributors, and dealers had a keen interest in better understanding their growing Hispanic-American customer base but there lacked a good way to do so. By welcoming them to our association, we can benefit from learning about equipment and material innovations sooner and engage in early conversations of what is most needed and how best to advance our businesses through the adoption of more advanced products. Both political parties are paying keen attention to Hispanic issues and the landscape industry’s concerns need to be identified as among those. The growing political influence of the estimated50.5 million U.S. Hispanics is fueled by their accounting for 56% of nation’s total population growth in past decade. The landscape industry provides a wide range of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities that Hispanic-Americans across the country are taking full advantage of. There should be no doubt that the interests of the landscape industry as concerns of Hispanic-Americans.
Threats around the corner
Traditional landscapes and turf in particular are being wrongly targeted as non-green. We don’t just care about the environment, we care for it and we make it better every day. Yet while we have been busy building our businesses others, so called environmentalists, have demonized the work that we do and their myths are taking hold in the popular media and influencing public policy. We have the facts on our side and we need to do a better job of speaking out, but it isn’t enough to do our part on our own. Alone our efforts can’t produce the results that our coordinated efforts as members of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance can. A typical American home lawn is much more than just a pretty place, it produces all the oxygen a family of four needs to live, it sequesters carbon dioxide, cools the environment, reduces storm water runoff demands on public sewer systems, filters and recharges our groundwater supply, enhances our property values, and provides a setting for play and recreation. We need to educate others about these facts and others giving them many reasons to better appreciate natural turf grass for its unique qualities and benefits.
We can’t grow our businesses without an affordable labor supply. Reputable firms in our industry typically pay well above the minimum wage and don’t hire undocumented workers. Yet physically demanding, seasonal work, exposed to the heat and sun of the spring, summer, and early autumn months is unattractive to many Americans. Thus many landscape contracting firms supplement their workforce with foreign workers eager to migrate on H2-B visas and earn in nine to ten months much more than they can earn in a year working in their own countries. However, the supply of this needed workforce is threatened by proposed H-2B regulations will mandate sharp pay increases and a series of regulatory hurdles that small businesses in our industry and others can’t afford. Temporary seasonal labor at affordable rates makes it possible to grow businesses and to add better paying year-round supervisory and other positions that Americans want, and that Hispanic-Americans thanks to their industry knowledge and their linguistic and cultural competencies are especially well prepared to assume.