“I was one of Bob’s Boys,” says Michael Hatcher, matter-of-factly. The president of Michael Hatcher & Associates in Olive Branch, Mississippi, is referencing the late Robert “Bob” Callaway, who served as his advisor when he was a student in Mississippi State University’s College of Agriculture & Life Sciences more than 35 years ago.

Callaway was one of the educators most influential in defining the skills and mindset of several generations of landscape contractors. Even more than 35 years ago when landscape company owners grappled mightily with their public perception, Hatcher fondly credits Callaway’s “visionary understanding of what the landscape contractor’s profession required.”

That visionary understanding, far from dissipating since Callaway’s tenure at MSU, has expanded exponentially. Not only do most of the nation’s land grant universities offer courses leading to degrees in horticulture, design, contracting and turfgrass, education in those disciplines are now commonly offered at junior colleges and vocational schools, as well.

This brings us back to Callaway who, along with Michigan State’s Roy Mecklenburg and Ohio State’s Ron Smith, is credited with initiating what is now known as the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ National Collegiate Landscape Competition. In 1977 that event, ALCA Field Days, attracted about 200 participants from five schools to MSU.

By contrast, more than 1000 students from 60 schools competed at Brigham Young University in Utah this past March. Today, state and regional industry associations now offer similar student competitions but on a much smaller scale of course.

If you’re looking for energetic young talent for your company, you owe it to yourself to build relationships at universities, junior colleges and vocational schools with active landscape programs. Better yet, sponsor or actively participate in one of their student competitions.