State of the Association 2017


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

Is everyone settling in and starting to enjoy themselves in Puerto Rico? I certainly am. That Super Bowl last night was lots of fun. I know people are getting sick of hearing about the Patriots, and Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick … so I won’t dwell on it.

But I do want to remind the younger ones in the crowd that for almost 40 years those same Patriots were a laughingstock. They never made the playoffs, they never sold many tickets, and for a time they didn’t even have a place to play … bouncing between Harvard Stadium and Fenway Park.

The point … for those who are football fans and those who aren’t … is that circumstances change. And they can change rapidly. Good fortune, rising profits, loyal customers, and tree work booked months out can easily turn into weeks when the phone doesn’t ring. Enjoy the prosperity the industry is currently experiencing, but always have a plan for the future.

So, celebrate your business success today … and all week … and also pick up some lessons on how to manage the inevitable downturn in the business cycle. This economic expansion we’ve been enjoying will ultimately end … and Tom Brady will eventually get old.

For now, the state of the industry and the state of your association are very strong. TCIA is prepared to weather any storms ahead. Some highlights from 2016:

  • Final attendance at TCI EXPO in Baltimore was 3,386 – our second highest show in history!
  • OSHA put us back on the regulatory agenda. Will Trump keep us on?
  • The safety department finalized two new products: “Arborist First Responder Field Guide” and “PPE Selection, Use & Care” pocket guide
  • TCIA offered five sponsored Plant Health Care workshops throughout the United States.
  • WMC 2016 in Grand Cayman was the highest attended show in our history with an astonishing 531 attendees!
  • VFT-PAC revenue from the dinner and auction was $99,000 … and a good time was had by all.
  • The workforce development initiative is underway! TCIA is working on Academic Program Development in Wisconsin and Oregon and is seeking to establish Tree Care Sector Partnerships in Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, California, Colorado, Michigan, and Florida.
  • A new PACT Crown partner was confirmed – Utility OneSource (formerly FEVA).
  • Accreditation appeared in bid specs for the New York City Parks Department for the first time.
  • TCIA social media continues to expand, with Facebook fans up 13%, Twitter followers up 4.8%, YouTube channel views up 8.2%, and Instagram followers up 405%
  • A partnership with Morbark began in 2016. They will pay the first year dues for Morbark customers that aren’t TCIA members.
  • Tree Care Academy enrollment increased 28% from last year.
  • Enrollments in the Accreditation Program totaled 49 – the most since 2008.
  • The CTSP program beat year-end budget for enrollments and workshop attendees. CTSP enrollment was 474 for the year, with a budget of 335. Workshop registration was 418 with a budget of 281.
  • A summer staff contest uncovered 279 companies nationwide that were using TCIA logos (Membership, Accreditation, CTSP) in violation of their actual status.
  • TCIA membership finished the year at 2,291 members, up 28 from the start of the year.
  • Overall member retention rates declined slightly for the year, dropping from 87.3% in 2015 to 86.6%.
  • The retention rate for new members was 64% for the year – a solid 11% improvement from 2015.
  • Eight regional outreach coordinators were operational in 2016, bringing the value of association membership directly to regional meetings, training sessions and workshops.
  • For the two ASTI grant deadlines, we received 84 applications, of which 48 were approved for an estimated $82,210 in grant awards.
  • We trained 869 arborists in electrical hazards awareness and aerial lift safety through a Susan Harwood Grant in 2016. TCIA received another Harwood Grant for 2017.
  • For the fourth year in a row, TCI Magazine beat its budget and increased revenues over the previous year. Display ads enjoyed revenues of $1,255,702, which is $122,346 (10.8%) above last year.
  • TCIA submitted comments to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the purpose of having our Standard Industrial Classification Code Title (SOC) changed from “Tree Trimmers and Pruners” to “Arborists.”
  • TCIA submitted feedback in the development of a national arborist apprenticeship program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor Apprenticeship Office.
  • TCIA solicited production quotes for a Careers in Arboriculture video and multi-channel marketing campaign and anticipates project completion in 2017.
  • Net income from operations was $706,000.

With the economy appearing to have some strength left in it, the association was in expansion mode in 2016. This year, we’re pressing forward and investing in the priorities your Board of Directors identified as the most consequential:

First: Enhancing the value of membership

  • Eight regional outreach coordinators were operational in 2016, bringing the value of association membership directly to regional meetings, training sessions and workshops.
  • Your Board approved a budget that froze dues for 2017 at the same levels as 2016.
  • We added more free forums and education opportunities to TCI EXPO than ever before and enjoyed our second highest attended show in history!

Second: Advancing safety

  • The safety department finalized two new products: “Arborist First Responder Field Guide” and “PPE Selection, Use & Care” pocket guide.
  • The CTSP program beat year-end budget for enrollments and workshop attendees.
  • We trained almost 900 arborists in electrical hazards awareness and aerial lift safety through a Susan Harwood Grant in 2016.
  • The Arborist Safety Training Institute Grants Committee approved 48 workshops for an estimated $82,210 in grant awards last year.
  • The ASTI endowment continues to grow. Fundraising continues. In fact, just before the end of the year, one of our members – Ed Hopkins from Urban Tree – walked in the office and handed ASTI a check for $5,000. Thank you Ed & Barbara.

Third: Attacking a shortage of workers

The workforce development initiative is a significant investment for TCIA, engaging members in the development of new academic and training programs leading to employment in the tree care industry. New program development can take 18-36 months at most community colleges. Here’s what we’ve already accomplished in the past year:
  • TCIA is working on Academic Program Development in Wisconsin, California, Oregon and Ohio, and is seeking to establish Tree Care Sector Partnerships in Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Virginia, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Michigan and Florida.
  • The Department of Labor has determined that arboriculture is an “apprentice-able” trade. TCIA is investigating a national apprenticeship program.
  • TCIA solicited production quotes for a Careers in Arboriculture video and multi-channel marketing campaign. We anticipate project completion in 2017.
  • A six-week workforce training program is in development in Atlanta. TCIA is working with the governor’s office, the workforce development system, and the technical college system to pilot this $115,000 grant funded program. 
  • The US Forest Service, with matching state funds, is funding curriculum development at Merritt College in California for career and technical education. 

Fourth: Advocating for professionalism

  • A partnership with Morbark began in 2016. They will pay the first year dues for Morbark customers that aren’t TCIA members. Get companies into the fold and show them the way.
  • We had 49 companies enroll in Accreditation in last year – the most since 2008.
  • Accreditation appeared in bid specs for the New York City Parks Department for the first time.
  • A summer staff contest uncovered 279 companies nationwide that were using TCIA logos (Membership, Accreditation, CTSP) in violation of their actual status. We’re after them.
  • We’re working with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to have our Standard Industrial Classification Code Title (SOC) changed from “Tree Trimmers and Pruners” to “Arborists.”

If I were to summarize TCIA’s clearly successful strategy over the past few years … to explain why your association is so strong today … in one word it would be collaboration.

We’re collaborating with consulting arborists, municipal arborists and municipalities, utility arborists and the utilities themselves, with government regulators, nonmembers, and safety trainers, with associate member vendors and suppliers, with urban foresters, conservation groups, academics, nonprofits around the country interested in trees, and with the ISA.

When I went to Winter Management Conference in Hawaii as interim president, back in 2010, I received a lot of advice on how I should do my job as president. Everyone wanted to be helpful ... at least those who weren’t upset about the possibility of merging with PLANET. More than one person came up to me and said,  “you know, we need to stop fighting with the ISA. We need to start cooperating and working together with them.”

Well, the first chance I got I sat down with the ISA’s Executive Director, Jim Skiera, who is out there in the audience today. I said to him, “I hear from my members that our organizations need to stop fighting.” He looked at me and answered, “I didn’t know we were fighting.”

We agreed that since both of us thought our organizations were getting along just fine, then it should be easy to start collaborating even more closely. And we have … in defending professionalism and the credentials you earn … in working with other green industry groups to make arboriculture a part of their conversations ... in promoting careers in tree care … and in advancing safety.

I think I can honestly say that over the past seven years the level of cooperation between TCIA and the ISA has never been higher. We have been working together for the benefit of our common members, for the benefit of the industry, and for the benefit of arboriculture.

Before Jim heads off into retirement later this year, I’d ask all of you to thank him for his collaborative efforts and wish him well.

The purpose of collaboration is to create value for our members. We are stronger and more effective when we move outside of our insular worlds to see how we can help other organizations achieve their missions, particularly when those missions align with ours. And we’re stronger when those organizations do the same.

Collaboration is absolutely needed for workforce development, which will be a massive undertaking … for years to come … and progress can only be attained through collaboration. Conservation groups, tree planting organizations and local arborist groups already have the connections to our future workforce that we will need to advance the notion that arboriculture is an attractive career.

Collaboration is needed to improve safety, because our efforts depend on working with our associate members and local arborist organizations that have relationships with the smaller tree and landscape companies who need safety training the most.

Collaboration is needed to advance professionalism. We have some money in reserves for public outreach,  but we don’t have the $1.1 billion that the dairy industry spent on the “Got Milk” campaign to reach the general public. We need to collaborate to amplify our voice.

Your association is sound, our members are strong, and the industry is in a very good place. We still have collaborative work to do ... and so do you … in three areas.

  • Answer the call to come to Washington in June to meet with your elected officials. TCIA’s Legislative Day on the Hill is your chance to meet with the people who write the laws and regulations that affect your business.
  • Answer the call to expand arboriculture education and training in your state. You may already have a program nearby at a college, but the odds are enrollment is not growing. We can’t be everywhere … but our members can.
  • Answer the call to help forge the strategic plan that will guide this association forward for the next decade.

I came to the National Arborist Association 21 years ago. I was thinner … I didn’t need glasses to read … and I didn’t have any grey hair. After more than two decades, I have retirement on my mind.
There will be a time to look back … but for now I want to look forward to help position the association to fulfill its mission and serve its members. Your Board and I are setting up a process to achieve a smooth transition in leadership. The timeline is for early in 2018. We want to do this right … with thought and consideration.

Over the next few months we’ll be assessing our current strategic plan, where the association and the industry stand today, and, more importantly, where we want the association to be in five or 10 years. These discussions will help inform us on who the association should hire as the next TCIA president.

We must keep our momentum moving forward, we must see our current initiatives through to fulfillment, and … with your input .. we’ll help define future priorities to carry on TCIA’s mission … to advance tree care businesses.

We’ve accomplished a lot in recent years – and we have a lot more to do. The TCIA staff and Board thank you for your support and we’ll be looking to you for guidance on moving the association and the profession forward. I hope you will join in the conversation. Thank you.