It has only been within the past decade that the industry began to recognize the growing impact that individuals with Spanish-speaking heritages are having on the vitality of the landscape/lawn services industry. These Hispanics are not undocumented (i.e. illegal) workers or H-2B seasonal workers, as valuable as they are to many companies. These are U.S. citizens who identify themselves as Hispanic-Americans.

The growth of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance (NHLA), founded in 2011, is helping to illuminate the presence and importance of Hispanics as managers, supervisors and company owners. It is also actively engaged in encouraging and building the leadership and managerial skills of its members and the employees of its member companies.

This past February, the NHLA offered a Train the Trainer retreat near Baltimore, Maryland. The two-and-a-half-day event drew heavily on the knowledge and experiences of NHLA member Ellen Ely, president of Landscape Training Solutions. Ely is the former director of training for The Brickman Group, and he engaged the participants in leading and managing in a multicultural business environment.

Train the Trainer a huge hit

Afterward, participants raved, not only about the education and information shared at the retreat by Ely, but also about the interaction and idea-sharing fostered among participants.

“The two men from Mariani who attended came back with a renewed sense of appreciation for what our company stands for, and they also gained some new tools that they are eager to apply to our professional training and development program,” says Fred Wacker, president of Mariani Landscape, Lake Bluff, Illinois.

Wacker adds the confidence the men gained at the Train the Trainer event encouraged them to share the skills and the techniques at “Mariani University” several weeks later.

“Train the Trainer welcomes participants to consider possible hard-to-deal-with situations and challenges them to consider the best resolutions,” says Jose Arroyo, Jose’s Lawn Service & Landscaping, Lyman, South Carolina. He adds the program provided “attendees lessons on leadership and focused on all aspects of life, whether it be at work or at home.”

The instruction was up close and personal (fun too!) at the NHLA Train the Trainer retreat near Baltimore earlier this year. The participant’s smiles tell the story.

But perhaps the biggest payoff of the event was the confidence to make positive contributions to both their companies and their lives that it instilled in participants, Arroyo adds.

Since its founding in 2011, the NHLA has steadily grown, thanks to both the encouragement and participation of Hispanic-American business owners and also to the support of major industry suppliers.

“We have members from coast to coast and from border to border,” according to NHLA President Raul Berrios, of RulyScapes, Centreville, Virginia. “Some have been in business for more than 20 years and others for less than 10.”

These trends haven’t gone unnoticed by industry suppliers who are starting to recognize the significance of this large but heretofore poorly identified population of business decision makers – the rapidly increasing number of Hispanic-American managers and owners. The NHLA claims that approximately a half-million U.S. Hispanic households depend on the landscape industry for their livelihoods.

As of this writing, 11 industry manufacturers have joined the NHLA as major sponsors and supporters.

Carlos Barron, Denison Landscaping, with his certificate of achievement. On his left is trainer Ellen Ely and on his right is NHLA Executive Director Ralph Egües.

Assuming leadership

“Without doubt, the respect for Hispanic professionals continues to grow. In our market (Chicago), we see a steady increase in the number of Hispanics who are willing to take the risk and start their own businesses,” says Wacker of Mariani Landscape.

“More and more Hispanic employers are being exposed to duties beyond that of laborer. As they progress up the corporate ladder by advancing into supervisory positions, they are breaking the barriers that existed in the past generation,” adds Josh Denison, human resources & operations manager, Denison Landscaping Inc., Fort Washington, Maryland.

But the process hasn’t been without its challenges, he adds.

“While I have seen improvements in the way that the industry views Hispanic landscape pros’ contributions and their services, there are still stereotypes that we need to overcome,” adds Denison. “That is part of the reason I joined the NHLA, to show my employees they have a voice and that we believe in what they are and what they mean to the industry.”

NHLA Executive Director Ralph Egües can easily tick off a half-dozen industry issues vital to its Hispanic component and the industry in general. However, at the top of NHLA’s list is helping its members achieve business success by networking and sharing their experiences and ideas.

The reason why the Alliance does programs like Train the Trainer is that many of its members can’t afford one-on-one training from business consultants.

“For larger companies, hiring a consultant is a wise investment, but many smaller companies can’t afford that, and they need help taking their operations to the next level,” says Egües. “They need to learn how to do things smarter and to get their workforce to perform in a more competent, professional way.

“If you do not have your programs and your systems honed so that they are as efficient as possible, you just cannot be successful,” he adds.

Egües sees the broader role of the NHLA as being what he terms a gateway association – as a vehicle to expose Hispanic-American landscape professionals to the richness of the industry.

Carlos Juárez, Ruppert Landscape, left, exchanges ideas with Rafael Díaz, vice president of the Diaz Group LLC, Chicago.

“We’ve partnered with NALP, OPEI and some of the state associations,” he adds. “There are a lot of really great things going on within the industry. There are great opportunities, including education and a lot of wonderful programming that other industry associations are offering.”

He adds that NHLA wants to help Hispanics not just work in the landscape industry, but to embrace the industry and experience all it has to offer in terms of opportunity and success.

COVER AND PHOTOS: NATIONAL HISPANIC LANDSCAPE ALLIANCE