The National Hispanic Landscape Alliance (NHLA) is a new force in the North American landscape market. Although small in numbers (so far), it's growing and gaining a voice in industry affairs. In March 2011, the NHLA held its first-ever conference in Washington, D.C., and met again at this past October's GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Ky., electing new officers and offering educational opportunities for members and guests.
Jesus "Chuy" Medrano, one of the founders and the first president of the NHLA, speaking with Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) at the NHLA Convening Reception in Washington D.C. in 2011. Medrano is owner and president of CoCal Landscape, Denver, Colo.
PHOTOS COURTESY NHLA.
NHLA, which key industry players felt was long overdue, is dedicated to meeting the needs and advancing the goals of the industry's huge Hispanic-American contingent, which is prevalent at every level of the industry - from on-site workers to business owners and every management level in between. It's also taking an active role in defending issues that impact the landscape industry as a whole.
"Hispanics are a huge force in the industry as laborers, as managers and as owners," says Raul Berrios, president of the NHLA. "One of our goals is to empower them with knowledge so that they can succeed and grow faster." Berrios, originally from Bolivia, is president of Rulyscapes, Inc., a seven-year-old, multiservice landscape company headquartered in Centreville, Va. Prior to entering the landscape industry he operated an international trading business.
"Hispanics know how to do landscaping. They're very good at the work but often they don't realize the business itself, the opportunities that it offers them. We can help them," says Berrios.
Based on demographics and the thousands of Hispanic-Americans in the landscape industry, the NHLA promises an increasingly important role in the growth and direction of the landscape industry. For example, as of 2010 approximately 50 million people in the United States identified themselves as Hispanic-Americans. This is 15 percent of the U.S. population. It's projected that by 2050 the Hispanic population in the United States will triple in size to around 133 million.
NHLA Officers and Directors
Executive Director: Ralph Egües Jr., principal & consultant, Cruz Fox, LLC
Past President: Jesus J. "Chuy" Medrano, president and owner, CoCal, Denver, Colo.
President: Raul Berrios, principal Rulyscapes, Inc., Centreville, Va.
Secretary: Veronica de Hoyos, director of human resources, Lawn Management Company, Houston, Texas
Director: Mark Dominguez, director of human resources & safety, The Landscape Partners, Richland Hills, Texas
Directors: William M. "Bill" Behan, director, public affairs, John Deere, Cary, N.C.; Castañada, president and owner, Pro Landscape, Inc., Hillsboro, Ore.; Chance Lee Castillo, landscape maintenance manager, Greener Pastures Landscapes, Dallas, Texas; Frank Garza, operations manager, Greener Pastures Landscape, Dallas, Texas; Roger Phelps, promotional communications manager, STIHL, Virginia Beach, Va.; Lalo Torres, president, Sun Hardscaping, Raleigh, N.C.; and Josh Denison, human resources & operations manager, Denison Landscaping, Fort Washington, Md.
So, what does the word "Hispanic" actually mean? That's not easy to pin down. Generally speaking, in the United States most people view the term as describing a person (often of mixed race) with a Spanish surname. By that definition, the term refers to a very broad swath of individuals - longtime citizens to relative newcomers to seasonal workers - all of them originally from Spanish-speaking cultures.
On its website (www.hispaniclandscapers.org) the NHLA estimates that 80 percent of the landscape industry workforce is comprised of Spanish-speakers, the majority in entry-level roles. This has created a demand for Hispanic-Americans to fill jobs as mechanics, supervisors, human resource professionals, managers and, yes, even owners.
Ralph Egues Jr., left, with Freddy Balsera on the show floor of the 2011 Green Industry Expo. Egues of Miami-based Fox Cruz, LLC. serves as NHLA's executive director. Balsera operates Balsera Communications, a Hispanic communications firm based in Coral Gables, Fla.
"The industry also presents great entrepreneurial opportunities and a growing number of Hispanic-Americans are becoming partners, buying firms, or starting new companies," says the NHLA website. "Today, more than half a million Hispanic-American families depend on the landscape industry for their livelihood."
The NHLA's board goals are threefold: partnering with other green industry and Hispanic groups on issues of mutual support; supporting government policies that are beneficial to the landscape industry and small business, in general; and attracting new members.
One of the larger issues facing the NHLA and the industry as a whole is the H-2B seasonal guest worker program. Many landscape companies rely on legal immigrants who arrive each spring to perform a host of landscape services and return to their home countries in the fall. The program, which has been in existence since the 1990s, allows for the issuance of 66,000 H-2B visas. Historically, most of the visas have gone to Spanish-speaking immigrants working in the landscape industry, but other seasonal U.S. businesses count on these workers, as well.
It can be argued that the landscape industry would be much smaller without these seasonal employees. Indeed, in a very real sense, many companies within the industry have become dependent upon these workers. However, H-2B is not without its critics, including organized labor, which claims it takes jobs away from U.S. citizens.
Jesus "Chuy" Medrano, owner of CoCal Landscape, Denver, Colo., says this reasoning is flawed. In fact, he says that if U.S. landscape companies do not have access to these workers it will actually harm U.S. workers.
"If we can't get enough workers then we can't provide the services to our customers," says Medrano. "That means we don't buy as much fertilizer, as many new mowers, as many new trucks. That means fewer jobs for American workers. That harms American workers."
Since its implementation, the H-2B program has seen its share of political wrangling, some of it causing the program to become increasingly difficult for the U.S. businesses that rely upon it.
In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a rule that provides a new calculation system to set wages for H-2B workers, in some labor markets requiring employers to raise their wages by 50 percent. Employers, including landscape company owners that rely on these seasonal workers, say that the wage rule will drive up their cost of doing business and result in higher prices for their customers.
Two different lawsuits were filed in 2011 to stop implementation of the wage rule. The plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits is the Professional Landcare Network, the NHLA and the N.Y. Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. Implementation of the rule was postponed several times this past year. As of this writing, industry groups were still fighting the rule, which was scheduled to take effect on January 1 of this year.
Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine.