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Educate, entertain and inspire: A recap of Elevate 2023

September 20, 2023 -  By
Britt Wood, CEO of the National Association of Landscape Professionals, broke out his cowboy hat during this year's Elevate in Dallas, Texas. (Photo: LM staff)

Britt Wood, CEO of the National Association of Landscape Professionals, broke out his cowboy hat during this year’s Elevate in Dallas, Texas. (Photo: LM staff)

A packed ballroom at the Gaylord Texan Resort welcomed Britt Wood, CEO of the National Association of Landscape Professionals. It had to be a feeling of some relief for Wood that as Elevate entered year two, he announced this year’s attendance easily surpassed last year’s inaugural event.

“I can tell you we surpassed 2,000 attendees this morning,” Wood told the crowd. “That’s up from 1,250 attendees last year.”

Indeed, the numbers were an impressive jump from the inaugural event in 2022: a 42 percent increase in contractor attendees. The $200,000 raised for the NALP’s Foundation and $60,000 raised for the NALP-PAC were also feel-good numbers.

Wood told the crowd that Elevate has three main goals: educate, entertain and inspire its attendees. With a slate of about 25 classes per day, a two-day trade show and multiple networking events — including an epic bash at certified Texas joint Gilley’s — attendees soaked in education, networking and the newest in industry trends.

Stronger than ever

Before the event ramped up, NALP handed out some honors within the industry. Chris Senske, founder of Senske Services (No. 59 on the 2023 LM150 list) was honored with the Advocate of the Year Award for his dedication to lobbying for the lawn care industry at the state and national levels; Jenny Girard, area manager with R.M. Landscape, was honored as the Young Professional of the Year; LeAnn Ostheimer, COO of Lifescape Colorado (No. 97 on the 2023 LM150 list), was honored as with the Women Leader of the Year Award; and Mike Rorie, founder of GroundSystems, was honored with the Lifetime Leadership Award for his years of service to the industry as a consultant, entrepreneur and mentor.

When Wood announced Rorie as the winner of the Lifetime Leadership Award, he added that it took everything not to reveal the award by accident the day before. A surprised Rorie took the stage following a slideshow presentation of his work with the NALP over the decades.

“I’ve been in the industry since 1992. I came here as a nonindustry, non-college-educated person,” Rorie told the crowd. “I learned everything here in this association. I’d say it’s never been stronger than it is here today.”

The keynote speaker of the opening session was Liz Bohannon, author of Beginner’s Pluck: Build Your Life of Purpose and Impact Now. Bohannon is the president and CEO of socially conscious fashion brand Sseko Designs. Bohannon shared her story of moving to Uganda to help underprivileged young women pursue a college education. This move led to her creating her fashion brand and successfully helping countless women in Uganda improve their lives.

“I bought a one-way ticket to Uganda. My parents were like, ‘What are you doing in Uganda?’ I told them, ‘I want to make a friend,’” Bohannon told the crowd. “Setting small goals has a remarkable way of making positive change. All of my dreaming big really began to happen when I gave myself permission to dream small.”

Hunter Industries' Warren Gorowitz, director of corporate responsibility and Jay Grooms, manager of organizational development, engagement and DEI, led a discussion on diversity and it's role within the culture of green industry business. (Photo: LM staff)

Hunter Industries’ Warren Gorowitz, director of corporate responsibility and Jay Grooms, manager of organizational development, engagement and DEI, led a discussion on diversity and it’s role within the culture of green industry business. (Photo: LM staff)

Continuing education

Over the four days of Elevate, classrooms were bustling with speakers, panel and group discussions. Just an example of a few of the classes offered included:

  • Gotta Wear Shades: Private Equity and the Bright Future of the Green Industry
  • Here Come the Robots: How to Leverage Autonomous Mowers in Your Lawn and Landscape Business
  • When Should I Hire a CFO?
  • Employee Incentives that Work
  • Why and How to Build Trust with Your Customers
  • AI — Friend or Foe: Opportunities and Risks to Using AI in Your Business
  • Engaging the Next Generation of Workers
  • Advocacy 101
  • Stress Management

J.T. Price, CEO of Landscape Workshop (No. 35 on the 2023 LM150 list) and Al Welch, partner at Carousel Capital, co-hosted the Gotta Wear Shades: Private Equity and the Bright Future of the Green Industry class. They spoke to an inquisitive group of landscape and lawn care company owners about the current state of private equity in the industry.

Price told the room their companies need to be in the $15 million dollar range, minimum, before considering seeking out private equity investments. He chose Carousel, he said, because the company had a reputation for hanging in there if things went south.

“I want a partner that has been doing it for a while, and has real access to capital,” Price said. “I’m very transparent about this: we have about 10 people at vice president level who have equity. I want to create truly life-changing opportunities for the people who make it happen.”

At the Diversifying Your Workforce through Feedback and Education seminar, Hunter Industries‘ Warren Gorowitz, director of corporate responsibility and Jay Grooms, manager of organizational development, engagement and DEI, led the discussion. The two stressed that they only had two slides in their PowerPoint deck, and wanted the room to contribute to the discussion.

Grooms talked about the meaning of DEI in his job title. It stands for diversity, equity and inclusion. He added that he likes to also include the letter B, for belonging.

“Diversity might not mean what you think, it’s about employing people who have differences in thoughts,” Grooms said. “It’s like how you wouldn’t want to have a football team comprised entirely of quarterbacks.”

Gorowitz asked attendees to volunteer why they chose to attend the class and share what they hoped to take away from it.

One attendee offered, “I’m looking for something sustainable, not the current buzzword.”

Grooms grabbed the ball from there.

“This isn’t about a buzzword. It’s about leadership,” he said. “Because a lot of this isn’t about writing policy. You can’t change your culture, but you can influence it. It occurs naturally. A positive culture arises, but it’s going to go where it’s going to go.”

NALP closed out Elevate with a larger than life bash at Texas staple Gilly's. The party included armadillo racing, a speakeasy and live karaoke. (Photo: LM staff)

NALP closed out Elevate with a larger-than-life bash at Texas staple Gilly’s. The party included armadillo racing, a speakeasy and live karaoke. (Photo: LM staff)

Relax and listen

Beyond classroom settings, industry companies used the format for smaller brainstorming conversations with their customers. For example, FMC held a one-off luncheon on Sunday and invited 24 lawn care companies and Landscape Management to have a group discussion about challenges the industry faces, as well as discuss Durentis, the company’s latest insecticide.

Dan Carrothers, North American professional solutions commercial director for FMC, told LM he loves meetings like Elevate, especially the smaller group settings, so he and his colleagues can learn from their end users.

“We do try to listen to customers, and we always walk away learning,” Carrothers told the room at the conclusion of the event. “We’re thinking about our own registrations, we’re thinking about, is this a solo product, or a product in combination, either with a fertilizer or a granule, and then another one that has a preemergent with it as well. So you can combine as many of those jobs as possible.”

After the trade show, the classrooms and luncheons, the last evening of Elevate ended with a giant bash at Gilley’s. Attendees were bused to the 92,000-square-foot venue and treated to karaoke, line dancing, mechanical bull riding and armadillo races. Live music, Tex-Mex food stations and an open bar along the Dallas skyline allowed attendees to relax and network.

Next year’s Elevate will take place in Charlotte, N.C., but with a later date. The event now arrives in early November, specifically, Nov. 3-6.

FMC held an invite-only luncheon before Elevate formally started. The company invited 24 lawn care companies to discuss the challenges the industry faces, as well as discuss Durentis, the company’s latest insecticide. (Photo: LM staff)

FMC held an invite-only luncheon before Elevate formally started. The company invited 24 lawn care companies to discuss the challenges the industry faces, as well as discuss Durentis, the company’s latest insecticide. (Photo: LM staff)

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 23 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.

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