How Much Is a Workforce Pipeline Worth to You? Commit Now to Make It Happen

By Matt Edmundson, CEO, Arbor Valley Nursery

Credit: Courtesy Colorado State University
Matt Edmundson, CEO, Arbor Valley Nursery

We all know that labor is the #1 barrier to growth in our industry. We also know that depending on our elected officials to help us through government policy with visa programs is as fickle as the political winds.

As companies struggle to find talented workers at every level of their businesses, there seems to be little coordination between industry company leaders to create a sustainable pipeline of hires. We often get so caught up trying to put out the biggest fire that we aren’t practicing ‘fire prevention,’ which means not taking the time to really assess multiple paths on multiple levels to ensure success of a workforce pipeline.

The College of Agricultural Sciences at CSU has stepped up to the plate and secured funding for a new building – the Nutrien Building. As an industry we have asked CSU to step up and they have. Now it’s our turn. This is our opportunity to create the change we want.

If we stop to see the bigger picture, we will realize the opportunity in front of us by investing in this new building — financially as well as time and effort with faculty.

Four persistent problems

I see persistent problems within the green industry and its relationship to CSU. It helps to understand what they are so we can understand why they matter and how these mostly self-generated problems hold us back.

#1 – Disengagement: The environmental horticulture program at CSU is at risk due to industry disengagement.

Some in the industry are not aware that CSU and its programs are a resource for them that they can have an influence on building programs, developing compelling paths to real-world jobs and influencing enrollment. Visiting CSU once a year for the job fair doesn’t develop a relationship. It’s just ‘dating.’

#2Disconnection: The green industry at large is disconnected from CSU and not getting value from the programs.

Disconnection results from being disengaged. We don’t know how to influence the curriculum to align with industry needs. It means defining what you need in a curriculum for the industry and reverse engineering—defining how you get there.

#3 – Lack of alignment:  There is little program alignment to desirable outcomes within the green industry.

Lack of alignment is the result of companies being disengaged and disconnected from the CSU programs. We’re not creating a pipeline of graduates for the industry because the industry is not taking as active a role as it could with influencing programs. The new building represents a fresh opportunity for engagement with CSU.

#4 – Lack of GreenCO partnership: GreenCO doesn’t have a funding partner to co-invest with to help develop the workforce of the future.

Ideally, GreenCO would be a financial partner as well as connecting with departments to provide the industry perspective.

These problems are ours to solve

Why does any of this matter to green industry companies? Why are these OUR problems to tackle? We complain that we have no middle management talent to hire and expect that the current methods, which aren’t working, are somehow going to magically change with zero change on our part or investment. By this, I mean investment both financially in time and in effort with CSU.

We don’t look at the source of the issues preventing people from knowing about opportunities in our industry or take any ownership to change our results. This leaves us desperate for more H-2B visa workers year after year, our businesses hanging by the thread hoping to win a lottery every year.

We think simply showing up to a job fair entitles us to having students interested. We lack understanding of how to connect young talent to opportunities in our businesses with a compelling message that should make anyone excited to pursue a career in the green industry. And we miss out on these people telling their friends how great the possibilities are.

Our industry at large is not coordinated in its efforts to solve our labor and management issues, leaving us all on our own, with our segments, attempting with futility to solve our problems on our own.

Opportunity to realize possibilities with CSU

Consider these possibilities with the CSU opportunity in front of us and how each addresses a current problem I’ve mentioned.

Possibility #1:  The horticulture program at CSU is solidified and growing due to industry engagement.

Possibility #2:  The green industry at large is directly involved with CSU and getting tremendous value from the relationship.

Possibility #3:  CSU programs are aligned with the industry, driving industry outcomes that matter to us in the real world.

Possibility #4: GreenCO has a trusted partner to co-invest and innovate the future of our workforce challenges and beyond.

If you’re thinking this sounds like an impossible reality. It is not and I can say this from personal experience. We at Arbor Valley have been leveraging CSU with direct involvement for over a decade now and have recruited and placed eight graduates in positions with career path opportunities.

Now is the time to step up

Our industry has a unique opportunity at a unique time to create a permanent impact on our own future with an investment supporting environmental horticulture at CSU.

The Colorado Horticulture Research and Education Foundation (CHREF) has just pledged $300,000 over the next five years to fund a dedicated recruiter specifically for Ornamental Horticulture and Controlled Environment Horticulture. Arbor Valley is pledging $200,000 over the same time frame, so together we are currently at $500,000 or halfway to our ultimate target. Gulley Greenhouse has pledged $50,000 to the fund as well.

My challenge to you is to find a way to step up and join our momentum in reaching our goal of $1,000,000 over the next five years. With this level of funding, we can solidify the department at CSU and create a sustainable pipeline of future leaders in our industry and ultimately your businesses.

Because of this transition at CSU, we are uniquely positioned in time, to influence and align our desired outcomes with the program, but only if we make the investment to match what CSU has already done. Giving can be directly from individuals, firms or through CHREF. More information will be forthcoming.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, no one is coming to save us. It’s time to begin saving ourselves, on our terms by our own design. I am happy to discuss what this opportunity can look like and spur some ideas that can deliver the outcomes YOUR sector of the green industry needs. Feel free to reach out to me at