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The mulberry tree in the backyard of Phil Swart’s family home is where he fondly remembers consuming the delicious, ripe fruit as a child and cultivating his love of the outdoors.

Achieving the rank of Eagle Scout and spending several years as a director of outdoor skills at a Boy Scouts of America camp were his other noteworthy accomplishments, so you can see how there was a better-than-average chance Phil would end up in a career focused on trees.

“My first arboriculture job was as a student at the University of Oklahoma,” Phil recalls. “I was in the honors college and applied for a field work role with Dr. Heather McCarthy’s lab. I spent countless hours conducting field and lab work with Ph.D. student, Jon Giddens. His love for studying eastern redcedar—despite being viewed as a problematic rangeland species—cultivated my passion.”

Phil, who is this year’s UAA Rising Star Award Winner, is director of business development at Growth Solutions, an environmental services company and wholly-owned subsidiary of Rainbow Tree Company, based in Minnetonka, Minnesota. He credits his teammates at GS and Rainbow for fostering a fun and engaging workplace.

“In my role, I am shaping the future of a company that is transforming the way trees are cared for along utility rights-of-way,” he says. “I am privileged to work with amazing people in this industry and see them regularly at UVM tradeshows, UAA committees, and partnerships through our day-to-day jobs.”

Phil points to how community service is another aspect of his career, especially the positive UVM benefits of tree growth regulators.

“Typically, the public maintains a negative outlook on vegetation management as a practice that destroys trees. But tree growth regulators are one of the few opportunities where the utility provides a net value to the homeowner (through the plant healthcare benefits) while meeting the needs of safe, reliable, and affordable electricity. This is especially important in traditionally underserved areas, where access to professional arboriculture is non-existent or limited.

“If a consumer’s first experience with an arborist is positive, what type of impact does that have on their perspective moving forward? This effect is what excites me and keeps me constantly seeking improvement in our industry to show the public the good that we do. We have a great story to tell.”

Phil is grateful to the many mentors and supporters who guided him along the way, including Bruce Moore, Rich Hendler, Grant Ehlen, Jarod Cassada, Chris Martin, Jason Grossman, Keith Chucci, Maegan Mullinax, Tim Cool, Liz Westberg, UAA President Brandon Hughson, and Rich Alexander. As for those considering a career in utility arboriculture, his best advice is to get involved now.

“Utility arboriculture is a relatively small industry, and we are in constant need of people who are willing to step up and help – whether it is through the UAA, local vegetation management associations, within their individual companies, or with their local ISA chapter. I also recommend checking out the recent presentations at Trees & Utilities over the past two years. There are some emerging topics in UVM that I believe younger folks and those outside the industry could help improve and build upon.”