Photo courtesy of AmericanHort

Sometimes I’m not sure about the direction in which the North American economy is headed. On one day, NBC News’s Brian Williams reports things are going well; then we learn the next quarter that, well, not so much … never mind. There is still a lot of churn in our industry, up-and-down housing starts and architectural billings, and consumer confidence is all over the place. But I have certainty in this: Our industry is coming together to solve our common problems, resolve ongoing issues and find a place in the hearts of our consumers.

I am an optimist—always have been and always will be—so every opportunity is just that, and the glass is always at least half full. Despite shifting demographic buying habits (Millennials, are you going to buy plants?) and the population’s move from suburban to urban living, among other macroeconomic changes, we can continue to thrive with a coordinated effort to tell the story about the value and importance of plants, trees, flowers and related services. Here is an early peek at how AmericanHort is exploring the opportunities and challenges.

Always up to the challenge, the AmericanHort Board of Directors met earlier this year to consider the impact the association can have on these matters. They are clearly enthusiastic about the future. Having successfully completed the consolidation of ANLA and OFA, there is a lot of energy around our core purposes of assertively moving our industry forward and increasing the consumption of our products and services. Four key themes evolved from our discussion. These compliment our mission and vision statements and more succinctly underwrite the impact the association can have on its members and the industry.

  • Horticulture will be a relevant and thriving industry
  • More individuals and companies will participate in the professional community to expand knowledge sharing and economic strength
  • Horticulture will be considered desirable for careers, educational pursuits, and for the enjoyment of our consumers
  • Plants will be valued and sought-after for their health/wellness and economic benefits, along with the role they play in beautifying our environments

Three related strategic paths will guide us toward those goals. These will inform our leaders, community connections and our staff in their day-to-day activities. Each path has its own related questions and challenges that are yet to be tackled, but we are crafting a clear focus for the industry.

Strategic Path #1

We will support members in their effort to be successful business people and grow prosperous businesses in the current and future economic and market conditions.

This is the most traditional of the three strategic pathways, and it may be the most important. It is particularly so as we continue to come out of the economic recession and prepare for future economic challenges. We need to consider things like: Are there defining moments in our businesses that can be anticipated and for which AmericanHort can design specific interventions that will be of the greatest value in a timely manner? Is there a baseline level of infrastructure and performance that an AmericanHort member needs in order to survive and begin to thrive, and can specific programs or services be designed to help them achieve it?

Strategic Path #2

We will elevate the story about the potential and payoff of plants, assertively share this new story with key stakeholders and equip members to be better storytellers.

We know that plants provide increased economic value to real estate, improve the learning abilities of kids in school, help people heal more quickly in hospitals, and can play a role in numerous therapeutic schemes. This path may engage the greatest interest, as it will both stem the trend of commoditizing plants, as well as be a critical means of realizing the stated vision related to enhancing lives through the benefits of plants.

Like Strategic Path #1, there are many questions that need answers in order to achieve our goals. For more than a decade we have supported America in Bloom, our community development affiliate, and it has shown to be an impactful organization. What other stakeholder groups are also important in terms of increasing their understanding (and also sharing) the potential and payoff of plants? What will AmericanHort members need in order to be confident and competent in sharing stories about the potential and payoff of plants in a way that increases the success of their business? Given changing demographics, what generational or cultural values need to be considered in telling and distributing the new story about the benefits of plants?

Strategic Path #3

We will continue to facilitate connecting members to the content, communities, conversations and colleagues that matter most to them.

There is significant value in the association’s members connecting with other members like them and/or those individuals who have experience or knowledge from which they can benefit. You will see more emphasis on this in the future with the development of business sector communities, expansion of networking opportunities at events like Cultivate, and major investments in industry-related research – with the Horticultural Research Institute leading the way.

These themes and strategic paths are long-term directives, and they will play a big part in the future activities of the association. They lay right alongside our industry’s short-term needs, such as influencing positive legislative and regulatory solutions, providing business services and disseminating best practices to improve the operations and profitability of all of our member businesses.

Creating and supporting a shared vision for the horticulture industry is why AmericanHort was formed. We have an unambiguous mandate from the industry, which is to develop a business climate in which we can all flourish. AmericanHort is just five months old, but we are quickly defining our way – and with your participation, we will find success.

Michael Geary, CAE is president & CEO of AmericanHort; he also serves as executive director for the Nursery & Landscape Association Executives of North America and the Ohio Produce Growers & Marketing Association. Prior to the formal establishment of AmericanHort this year, he concurrently served as CEO of OFA – The Association of Horticulture Professionals and executive vice president for the American Nursery & Landscape Association. He can be reached at