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Green Industry Panel Notes

November 11, 2008
Smithfield, North Carolina

Lin with Group Discussion

The panelists from the 2008 Green Industry Panel came from a wide range of industries and businesses. For this session, each panelist was asked to address the following:

  • Current trends in his or her particular field
  • Their expectations from a horticulture graduate as a potential employee
  • How they coped with or are coping with the drought
  • How they’ve taken a hobby and turned it into a viable and profitable business

Each panelist addressed these questions in his or her particular way and answered questions from the audience.

Because we found this information so valuable, we are making DVD copies of the proceedings available for $5. These can be ordered from our website or by sending an email to: Lin Frye, Director, Arboretum and LSG Program, Johnston Community College, PO Box 2350, Smithfield, NC 27577, or by calling Lin Frye (919) 209-2052, or by sending an email to:

We have summarized salient points to these questions below. We hope you find them as helpful and informative as we have.

We also extend a huge THANK YOU to the panelists for taking the time to share their vision and experience with us!

Group at Arboretum EventTony Kleese, Production Coordinator

Eastern Carolina Organics
PO Box 1792
Pittsboro, NC 27311
Phone (919) 542-ECO4 (3264)

  • There is a high demand for local produce in the market place, and a year-round need for organic produce.
  • Currently, there are only 5% organic products in the grocery stores
  • There are incentives for going into organic production
  • Organic production uses natural systems to control diseases and pests
  • Organic markets are consumer-driven markets; The trend is toward organic with a 20% growth in organic demand and production
  • Organic farming is profitable and grosses $10,000 minimum on average per acre per year
  • It often requires 3-5 years to establish an organic operation
  • Organics is a solution-based approach to environmental issues
  • Tony has a needs list available for those interested in growing produce
  • For those in his program, there is an 80/20 split – 20% toward marketing; 80% for the grower
  • Going “local and organic” are market niches
  • There is a great need to supply produce between November-February. The greatest need is for cole crops.

Lanny Thomas

Swift Creek Nursery
6357 Cleveland Road
Clayton, NC 27520
919 934-7764

  • Lanny invited participants to join and attend the Johnston County Nurserymen’s Association. Monthly meetings are held the fourth Tuesday of each month
  • Swift Creek is a 20-acre container production nursery; nursery plants (trees and shrubs) are grown in 1-25 gallon pots
  • His nursery operation emphasizes high quality plant material and hard to grow plants
  • He uses drip irrigation in his nursery
  • His customers are as far away as 200 miles
  • Trends are for new and colorful plants; cutting edge plants such as kaleidoscope Abelia
  • For horticulture graduates – he is looking to hire those graduates with –
    • A willingness to learn the plants well
    • They must know the habits of the plants
    • They must have good identification skills of nursery plants
    • They must have good customer relations and be able to talk to the customers
    • They must be able to make good plant recommendations for customers and to be able to make sales
    • They must be able to give customers accurate and good information about the plants
    • They must have good information about plant production
    • They should have pesticide training and license
    • Current trends – the drought will always be with us. Folks in the nursery business need a good site with adequate water supply; water restrictions are something to consider
    • Water restrictions also impact customers who are not able to water their plants when the plants are brought home
    • For potential jobs, Lanny recommends joining the JCNA and attend the meetings; oftentimes jobs are announced at meetings

Group at Arboretum EventMatt Bland

Bland Landscaping Company
PO Box 727
Apex, NC 27502
919 387-0010

  • Bland Landscaping is a full-service company including installation and maintenance for both residential and commercial customers.
  • Changes in the landscape industry - The need for professionalism and additional focus on certifications (CLT, CLT, CPP)
  • Landscaping is a competitive industry that is easy to get into due to the low barriers of entry.
  • Changes - consolidation of the smaller companies into the larger companies; larger companies are buying up competitors
  • There are and will always be water issues. Limited availability of water leads to restrictions - from production of the plants to the customers’ plant care
  • Landscapers are directly affected by the economic down-turn, especially installation operations with the slowing of the housing market and limited financing options for commercial builders.
  • Residential installation is probably most affected by the current economic downfall due to the poor housing market.
  • The commercial installation market is beginning to show the impact of the lack of money available to borrow for commercial builders. Commercial landscape installers will begin feeling this impact starting in the middle of next year and moving forward from there.
  • The economy needs a couple of years to improve both nationally and locally.
  • Bland Landscaping employs approximately 200 people; some have specialized technical experience and skills such as pesticide management; others have general management skills
  • Bland Landscaping will hire someone with a turf grass, agriculture or horticulture degree: 2 or 4 years of post secondary education
  • They are looking for people with a good work ethic and the ability to learn.
  • Every company does things its own way and employees must be willing to learn the way things are done for that particular business
  • Bland looks for employees with work experience and his company has internships; they hire many folks from their interns into full-time jobs
  • Landscaping is a physical job and students should be aware of this before entering the industry.
  • Management can be difficult to learn; management classes or experience will assist new employees entering the industry.

Amanda Holland

Bayer Crop Science
981 Highway 42 East
Clayton, NC 27527
919 320-5401

  • Bayer is a global business; their home office is in Germany
  • Amanda works with crop science – seeds, biotechnology, ornamentals
  • She screens new products for ornamentals and does research on biotechnical treatments for plant protection
  • Trends – “Going green, lower CO2 emissions; sustainability.” Her role and the role of her company is to know these trends and develop products that are beneficial to the industry
  • There is a move toward improving crops using biotechnology
  • For employment opportunities she recommends that individuals look at their personality and identify which aspects of the business best fit them.

Ross Williams, Assistant Director, Horticultural and Field Crops

NCDA Headquarters
1020 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1020
919 733-7136

  • Ross works in the Agribusiness industry to increase the demand for agricultural products including greenhouse and nursery products.
  • He works with NCLNA, Flower Growers Association, Christmas tree growers, and other commodity groups
  • His agency is also involved in the Water Wise Works project with NCSU and the NC Green Ind. Council to educate consumers state-wide about how to take care of lawns and gardens using water efficiently.
  • Job Market with NCDA -
    • Marketing specialists - should have 4-year degree in horticulture and marketing experience
    • There are opportunities for plant pest inspectors and agronomists with the Agronomic Division.
    • DOT often has job opportunities for landscapers and installers
    • There are often jobs available in those government agencies with grounds
    • that surround state-owned property such as the State Fairgrounds. There is often a need for landscape supervisors and technicians
  • For small businesses, especially, folks need a marketing plan, goals and marketing strategy for these goals.
  • Trends - Water restrictions. The population is slated to increase to about 4 million people thus putting more pressure on our water resources. How are we going to divide this limited resource? How will the green industry meet this challenge? This issue will have an economic impact on the green industry.
  • Opportunities exist for those businesses that can help consumers have a great landscape while meeting these challenges as well as install and maintain their plants through the water restrictions
  • One piece of new equipment to help with this is the “Smart controller,” a California based company. The system irrigates only when needed. Irrigation is based on evapotranspiration--the Smart Controller only adds irrigation when plants really need it.
  • Trend - there is a change in demographics, and it will impact the demand of many products and services. For example, there are significant differences between the generations: the baby boomers, Generation X - these generations have attitudes and interests that are different from one another, and we must understand how these changed attitudes affect our products and services. Baby boomers are generally those individuals who ‘do the work’ themselves; Generation Xers, in general, HIRE someone to do the work. How does this change affect our business?
  • There is a NCDA survey being conducted to capture these changed attitudes; check his website in January 2009 for results.

Group at Arboretum EventTony Avent

Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, NC 27603
(919) 772-4794

  • Plant Delights is a mail order business filling this particular niche in the market
  • Individuals entering the Green Industry need to know where the niches are! One has to be active in the business to know where the gaps exist
  • His business emphasis is the newest and ‘coolest’ plants
  • His display garden is where folks can really see what the plants look like
  • He has a GREAT catalogue – humorous, and goes into detail about the plants.
  • He emphasizes that it is important to have great customer service and great plant quality
  • With the advent of tissue culture, rare plants are now easily available, thus changing the market. It challenges how we meet the need for new and different plants.
  • Today individuals are working with breeders before the mass marketing of the rare plants.
  • Another option for obtaining rare plants is to travel the world and bring back the wild species with market value – i.e. Giant Elephant Ears.
  • The rarer the plant, the harder to find the market to sell it. For example, agave may require finding a collector market in places like EBay
  • There are some plants that can’t reproduce by tissue culture – i.e. trilliums – so one must turn that plant into something economical such as ground bed production.
  • His advice – stay ahead of the developing market
  • A company’s catalogue is a part of the marketing. Plant Delights catalogue is the “MAD Magazine” of the gardening world. The response rate to his catalogue is 25% over other catalogues
  • He has a research division, botanical garden, nursery division, production department and shipping division. He typically has five great months and seven poor months, so good business management is needed to make sure that the profit made in the good months cover the losses in the poorer months.
  • During the drought – expand the business outside its typical market
  • He uses interns and new horticulture graduates who work part-time to become his permanent staff earning $24-$25,000/year; $30,000 for supervisors; $40,000 for managers
  • For potential employees:
    • Most importantly -- he’s looking for people who can THINK
    • People who have a passion for plants
    • People who work EFFICIENTLY.

Tina and DeWayne Lee

DeWayne’s Home and Garden Showplace
1209 Industrial Park Drive
Selma, NC 27576
919 202-8471

  • They have a retail business and have been in operation 17 years. They began as produce farmers and when the pumpkin crop failed, DeWayne borrowed $500 from his mother to open a roadside pumpkin and produce stand at Carolina Pottery Outlet. They went from a $500 investment 17 years ago to over $5 million business today
  • Trends –
    • Two years ago, the trend was larger plant material; today, 1-gallon plant material is becoming more popular. These smaller pots require more maintenance, but the demand is there
    • There is an increase in vegetable gardeners, herbs, fruit trees, organic and ‘going green’ are heading our way
    • There are fewer true gardeners today; many folks want instant gratification – “Make it look pretty!” – but do not want to do the work themselves.
    • Their gift shop is what makes the money in the non-gardening months
    • Trends – buy local, but will order far away for specialty plants.
  • For employees:
    • Attitude is most important
    • Knowledge is a good thing, passion for plants is important, but economics is most important
    • Need honesty, dependability, INITIATIVE, be a team-player
    • Ability to communicate well with customers, to be able to sell and have a good personality.
    • Customer service is their number ONE goal – they try to make customers feel special!

Jess McLamb

The Roper Group
PO Box 20573
Raleigh, NC 27619
919 8733-1688

PowerPoint presentation coming soon

Shawn Banks

Johnston County Cooperative Extension Service
2736 NC 210 Hwy
Smithfield, NC 27577
(919) 989-5380 and

Click here for PowerPoint presentation

"We are the most dangerous species of life on the planet, and every other species, even the earth itself, has cause to fear our power to exterminate. But we are also the only species which, when it chooses to do so, will go to great effort to save what it might destroy."

Wallace Stegner

PO Box 2350, Smithfield, NC 27577
(919) 209-2052 / (919) 209-2517
Fax: (919) 209-2557

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