State of the Association 2016

The following is the text of the State of the Association speech presented by Mark Garvin at Winter Management Conference in Grand Cayman in February.

The State of the Association … is good!

We have a shortened program for you this morning, but even less time to deliver it, so I won’t talk about everything we undertook on your behalf during 2015. Instead, I’d like to list some of the highlights. If you have questions about them, feel free to ask me or any of the TCIA staff for more details.

Having said that, I would like to stress a few of the major successes from last year:

  • TCIA membership finished the year solidly with 2,263 members, reflecting a 2.3 percent member gain (51) over the 12 months.  
  • The First-Year-Member-Contact program communicates with each new member monthly in print or electronic form with helpful information. Of the 331 new members, the retention rate averaged 57.7 percent for the year – a solid 10 percent improvement from 2014.
  • Eight regional outreach coordinators were operational in 2015, bringing the value of association membership directly to regional meetings, training sessions and workshops.
  • To date, the Arborist Safety Training Institute (ASTI) has raised $2.1 million. (Fundraising continues.) At the first ASTI grant deadline on August 15, we received 40 applications, of which 29 were approved for an estimated $41,000 in grant awards.
  • Accreditation is spreading: We now have 414 accredited facilities – an all-time high. In November, we consulted with New York City elected officials to see about adding Accreditation to their contractor specs.
  • Nine CTSP workshops in the year attracted 242 total attendees. Presently, 36 percent of current member companies are involved in CTSP.
  • More than 800 arborists were educated in electrical hazards awareness through a grant in 2015. TCIA received another Susan Harwood Grant for 2016 from OSHA for $125,000.
  • Cabo San Lucas in 2015 had the second highest attendance of any Winter Management Conference and the highest on the West Coast ever.
  • Tree Care Academy total sales in the fourth quarter grew 38 percent from the same period last year, and enrollment is up by 34 percent. Programs that have shown the largest growth are Aerial Lift, Chipper Operator and Ground Operations.
  • TCI Magazine revenues for 2015 were $1.255 million, up $165,800 over last year.
  • TCIA signed off on a Settlement Agreement with OSHA in February, culminating 10 years’ work toward a favorable outcome on the federal safety standard covering line-clearance tree trimming operations.
  • Tree care is once again on the OSHA docket for long-term regulatory action on residential/commercial tree care. The issue is at the “pre-rule” stage, and stakeholder meetings are tentatively slated for June 2016 to start writing a separate safety standard for arboriculture.
  • Final attendance at TCI EXPO 2015 in Pittsburgh was 2,846 attendees – the highest for a non-East Coast show in our history! TCI EXPO 2015 had 876 booths, up from 779 booths from the previous year in Hartford and up from 596 booths the last time we were in Pittsburgh.
  • Two new safety programs were created in 2015: Compact Lift Specialist is a new Tree Care Academy course focusing on the safety, set-up and operation of tracked lifts. Best Practices for Stump Grinder Operations in Arboriculture is a resource manual that provides essential information about stump grinding operations.
  • Net income from operations for the 2015 fiscal year was $618,000, the highest in our history. The largest contributors in exceeding our budget were TCI EXPO (beat budget by $182,700), TCI Magazine (beat budget by $272,600), CTSP (beat budget by $84,100) and Membership (beat budget by $66,000).


The important question to ask is how do all of these numbers translate into a higher level of membership value for you?

The answer is that these positive metrics have allowed the Board to make some long-term strategic investments in areas identified by you, the membership, as either weaknesses of the association or challenges you face in running your businesses.

As a result, four years ago we launched a member engagement initiative whose centerpiece was the hiring of membership outreach coordinators around the country. In that time, we expanded our membership services staff from two to 10 to serve you better.

The eight outreach coordinators, located around the country, bring the value of association membership directly to you. They know their regions, they are getting to know the members in those regions and – most importantly – they report back to New Hampshire on additional member needs.

Three years ago, we started fundraising to establish an endowment to provide subsidized safety training to the industry. The Arborist Safety Training Institute is now up and running – in no small part aided by TCIA’s financial health.

TCIA’s positive growth not only allowed us to pledge $500,000 to the ASTI endowment, our continued financial health led your Board to decide last year to have TCIA and TCIA Foundation fund all grant workshops in 2015 and 2016 ourselves. This way, all contributions received will go directly to build the endowment, which allowed us to reach our $2 million goal faster.

And now, well, we’re at it again. We’re going to tackle an issue that has plagued our industry since we became a recognized industry – the shortage of qualified employees.

I’d like to say we’re going to solve the issue, but I think we’ll begin with a more humble goal.

Starting today, TCIA’s members have an opportunity to work with educators, policymakers and workforce-development leaders on a plan to expand the pool of tree care workers. To do that, we must rethink the association’s and the members’ roles in finding and educating future employees. We need to stop relying on the temp market or raiding each other’s workforces to fill employer needs. We need to deepen the pool.

Despite the fact that millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed, employers in our industry are finding it hard to fill most positions. The market for jobs that require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree continues to see a shortage of workers.

And our industry is not alone. We’re competing with dozens of similar industries for the same labor pool.

We keep hearing that a four-year college education is the only road to the middle class. That is not true in our industry. While we certainly need entering employees with four-year and two-year degrees, we also offer a career for those with skills developed outside the ivy-covered walls of college.

Does the industry need four-year college graduates? Two-year graduates? Trained climbers and bucket operators? Ground workers willing to work, learn and advance? Yes, yes, yes and yes!

In the months and years ahead, TCIA will be calling on you to support existing programs that offer degrees in arboriculture and urban forestry. As important, we’ll be looking at regions that have the greatest demand for jobs and we’ll work to establish new programs. We hope you’ll answer the call for assistance.

TCIA was very fortunate to find Brigitte Orrick to lead this initiative. She was the dean of trade, industry, and apprenticeship at Nicolet Technical College. Now, she is our new director of workforce development. She’s learning about the colleges in your areas with existing programs and will work with you to identify schools that could be likely candidates for new programs.

This workforce development initiative is broader than selling a job or even a career to high school guidance counselors. Almost every industry and profession has the same idea ... work with young people to show them how great a career in my industry can be.

In tree care, we can sell a career along with the existential benefit of enhancing the environment, enjoying teamwork that comes with being part of a crew, and greening your neighborhood.

There are dynamic changes afoot in our country. I think it’s important to have a broader conversation about our future workforce requirements than “we need climbers and we need them now.”

We need to take a comprehensive look at the ways urban forestry, commercial arboriculture, horticulture, and green jobs are evolving … and the implications for the future. We need to grapple with ethnic and demographic factors. We need to think about this initiative over the long term. The best investments we make – as an association or an employer – may take time to realize results.

The issues we’re tackling with our workforce-development initiative are complex. We may look to start a new two-year program in one region and put certificate level classes at a school in another region.

This is an ongoing conversation – labor shortages didn’t start in 2016, and they won’t end this year either. From our perspective at TCIA, this conversation will continue to inform our work next year and into the next decade.

If there are things we can do in the next 24 months, we will do them. But these issues will continue to be front and center well beyond that. That’s why it is important that our plans include engagement with members and other green-industry stakeholders.

We can’t be afraid to shrink from difficult questions about our labor force – how we attract them, how we train them and how we retain them.

The future of the tree care industry is ours to shape. The challenges are formidable, without question. But we can do it … by thinking long-term, and by prioritizing the next generation. I look forward to continued dialogue down the road.