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FORT COLLINS, Colo. – While addressing the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the National Collegiate Landscape Competition, Andrew Ziehler told the students in the audience a valuable lesson he learned from starting a business from scratch.

He said in the early years of owning his company, Ziehler Lawn and Tree Care near Columbus, Ohio, he was always concerned about keeping information from his competition, but learned that wasn’t the correct way to operate.

“Never do that,” he said. “This industry is built on sharing.”

The NCLC is hosted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals and took place at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.

More than 60 schools and 800 students take part in the competition, which features competitive events in hardscape projects, plant identification, business management and more.

Along with the competition, there is a career fair and the presentation of more than $100,000 in scholarship donations from landscaping and lawn care companies and industry equipment manufacturers.

© Brian Horn | Lawn & Landscape
Students visit booths during the NCLC annual career fair. The event runs until Saturday.

One of those scholarship winners echoed Ziehler’s lesson about helping the industry succeed as a whole.

Alyssa Brown, who received $2,500 from John Deere, said one of her favorite parts of the event is talking to those she is competing against each year and learning from them.

“We all succeed when one of us succeeds,” said Brown, who is a senior at BYU majoring in Landscape Management and planning to pursue a graduate degree in Environmental Science. “We progress as an industry.”

This is the fourth year for Brown participating in the event and she is the team captain of the BYU team. She said that she enjoys seeing how the industry continues to give back to the students. 

“Our industry has a big sense of community,” she said

Another theme commonly heard at the event was the continued push to show that the green industry is a place for a successful career and not just a summer job.  

Roger Phelps, corporate communications manager at STIHL, the platinum sponsor at the event, said students are seeing the potential in the industry more and more each year, but that’s not the case with parents and high schools.

“It’s most important to show a career ladder to parents and guidance counselors,” he said.

That career ladder is important to the students, but they have more of an immediate focus when it comes to joining a company.

“They want to know – what am I going to be doing when I get out of college?” he said.

Ivan Giraldo, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Clean Scapes, said he heard a lot of students talking about being good stewards for the environment.

He sees that an opportunity for the industry to communicate that the green industry isn’t part of the problem but instead part of the solution. 

“We need to keep explaining what our industry can do for the environment,” he said.

The event ends Saturdays with final results being released next week.

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