Landscape and Irrigation and its sister publications — Arbor Age, Outdoor Power Equipment and SportsTurf — have embarked on an editorial quest to provide you with information about the current economy, the stimulus package, and what it all means to the green industry. Our findings will be presented during the coming weeks on our Web sites, followed by in-depth articles in our upcoming hard copy issues. In this installment, we received the input of Luke Frank, our “Irrigation Insider.” In addition to being a writer and editor in the green industry, Frank is communications director for the American Society of Irrigation Consultants (ASIC). His field experience includes nearly two decades as an irrigation foreman, contractor and manager.
L&I: Would you say that the passing of the economic stimulus is positive or negative for irrigation industry professionals, and why?
Frank: Who knows how all of this will shake out, but I can’t really see a negative for the industry. The administration asserts that the package will focus in part on reinvigorating financing, while building and rebuilding infrastructure, and expanding environmental projects, among others. Irrigation certainly is a player in these arenas, but we’ll have to wait and see how confident the market is in lending and borrowing funds, and watch the environmental regulations and programs that surface in the coming months.
Public projects likely will re-emerge before private projects can gain any renewed momentum from the loosening of monies. Irrigation professionals should consider securing their accreditations, certifications and licensing; expanding their training and service mix; and finding new ways to market themselves to new markets. Developing a general proposal template also could be helpful – most public projects are procured through a formal RFP/RFB bidding process. So, think positively, expand and refine your business model, and network with rabid enthusiasm.
L&I: What type of feedback, if any, are you hearing from other industry professionals regarding the stimulus?
We have a couple of years of heavy lifting to expand prospects and margins – streamlining businesses, repositioning services, learning new financing and resource use regulations, bidding wars, and the like.Frank: The biggest concern I’m encountering is that we as an industry haven’t yet established ourselves as part of the environmental “movement” or “solution”, despite considerable efforts. So, if this “green wave” continues to gain momentum, and irrigation and landscape professionals can’t position ourselves as protectors of the resource, that wave will roll right on by without us. We can’t afford for the public and policymakers to perceive irrigation and landscaping as extravagant, wasteful and in some cases frivolous. The other big concern on the street is when housing starts and other construction/development opportunities will ramp up again. Some aren’t sure how they’re going to hang on in the interim, and no one is offering an optimistic guess on how long that’s going to be.
L&I: How has the recession affected irrigation industry professionals most acutely?
Frank: Materials, capital and construction. Any petroleum-related materials – piping, wiring insulation, etc. – were adding significant costs to projects over the summer. And copper spiked, as well. Just as materials costs were coming back into line, the flow of money – both capital and financing – shriveled construction starts, making it tough to find new prospects and compete on service, as opposed to price. The retrofit market seems to be hanging in there, but competition is fierce.
I’m not sure that the recession has yet affected the larger irrigation consulting firms. Phoenix has slowed, as has Atlanta, so even the heavy hitters are exploring opportunities to repackage their services and find a more compelling unique selling proposition. Overseas markets are still relatively fertile in pockets, but if you don’t have a foothold, it’s tough.
L&I: What is your outlook on the economy long term?
Frank: I’m no economist, but folks are hopeful that the stimulus package will reignite the flow of money quickly. Personally, I think we have a couple of years of heavy lifting to expand prospects and margins – streamlining businesses, repositioning services, learning new financing and resource use regulations, bidding wars, and the like. I think confidence in the markets will return, but not tomorrow.
We haven’t seen the worst of it, but those who can adapt and effectively sell a sound water-ethic mission, and earn their credentials to back up their professed expertise, likely will prosper. Be ready to compete, almost at a carnal level. The rest of this decade will not be for the faint of heart.
– John Kmitta reporting