*Editorial Note: The following article appeared in the July/August issue of the UAA Newsline.
Greetings UAA members and friends,
I have been working in the utility vegetation management (UVM) industry for more than 40 years, and for the past 10, I have proudly served as the UAA Executive Director. As some of you may know, in January, I announced my planned retirement. At that time, I also asked the UAA Executive Board to begin searching for a successor capable of leading the UAA into the future, guiding us along a path of growth and prosperity.
With a blend of emotions, I write this knowing that it to be my final Newsline contribution as the administrative shepherd of our beloved organization.
When I first accepted the position in 2011, I anticipated being with the UAA for no more than three to five years. I have stayed on much longer simply because I enjoy our industry—but more specifically, because I enjoy the people who make it so great.
Serving the UAA has allowed me to stay close with friends whom I have worked with for decades, while at the same time, it introduced me to new friendships that I have come to greatly cherish. During the past 10 years, I have worked with dozens of leaders who have served on the UAA Board, and I have enjoyed and learned from them all. I now see them not just as colleagues but as friends.
I have also been fortunate to work with literally hundreds of volunteers who are passionate about our organization and their industry, who want to make a meaningful difference. I think that is pretty cool.
A little more than five years ago, the UAA and ISA agreed it was time for the UAA to stand on its own two feet and expand. We hired our first ever employee, Diona Neeser. Diona came to us at a time of great transition—if not great uncertainty—and she helped bring order to chaos. Three years ago, Renée Phillips joined our team and helped accelerate our growth.
The UAA now has two to three times more members (5,000+) and three times the financial resources from when we originally separated from the ISA. Because of the hard work of Diona, Renée, and all of our tremendous volunteers, the UAA is now appropriately positioned to move from a part-time executive director and two staff members to a full-time executive director with a staff of four or more.
It is a big step, but my anticipation is that the administrative staff will need to double again in a few years.
Historical Perspective and Future Opportunities
When I entered the industry in 1978, safety was something that was hoped for but received far less attention than it deserved. Today, the industry has become increasingly committed to safety, and the UAA has embraced it as a core value. Just imagine what the UAA and our passionate Safety Committee will accomplish with additional resources and support staff!
It is also reassuring to see utilities growing their commitment to sustainability. Their customers, members, and investors demand it. In 1978, the environment was a hot topic among rights-of-way (ROW) managers. The industry was mostly arguing that its work was not doing much harm. Since then, the industry has adopted integrated vegetation management (IVM) as the standard.
In recent years, the bar has been raised by the Right-of-Way Stewardship Accreditation (ROWSC) Program, ANSI A300 Part 7, and the soon-to-be-published UAA/ISA Best Management Practices. Industry evolution is just getting started, and the UAA is going to have a big role to play.
In the past, managers wanted to do no harm. Today, we aspire to leave things better than we found them. Tomorrow, utility vegetation managers are going to be expected to actively steward our natural resources. There will be a growing demand for education and training, green contracts, and new tools.
Environmental stewardship, like safety, is a core value at the UAA and will continue to play a critical role in our activity and messaging moving forward. The UAA Stewardship of ROWs Committee has the expertise and will now have the additional staff and resources to help meet evolving industry needs.
Training and networking have remained at the heart of UAA activity since day one; in 1978, this meant one conference a year. Today, it still means national conferences (e.g., Trees & Utilities, the Environmental Concerns in Rights-of-way Management Symposia, ISA, and more), but there is and will be a growing demand for more. Expect more regional opportunities and more diverse methods of delivery (e.g., conferences, webinars, YouTube videos, self-guided online). Many UAA committees will be working to this end and the added staff will be able to provide much-needed support.
Safety, environmental stewardship, and education are three key areas where new staff resources can make a tremendous impact. But questions will remain. How can we build on the industry’s new education programs like the UVM Professional Development and the Line Clearance Worker Training? What do we need to do to meet the needs of those workers who do not speak English as their primary language? How can we work to promote our industry to the public and potential workers? Doubling the size of the staff will not be enough for long!
Obviously, I am excited about the future of our industry and the UAA, but I am also excited about my own future. I now look forward to finally having the time to pursue my other passions. During the past 10 years, I have been managing a small non-profit that provides scholarships for kids and builds homes, chicken coops, tire gardens, microbusinesses, and more in a rural area of Belize. In the next 12 months, we hope to provide 125 scholarships, 66 computers, 660 desks, and 150 whiteboards while painting and doing light repairs on 27 village school buildings.
While I may be cutting back and spending time on a few other things, I am not going away completely. I have watched Nelsen Money, Bill Rees, Larry Abernathy, and others retire after long careers who have turned around and given back to the industry. I may be cutting back, but I look forward to staying engaged with the industry through my consulting practice and by volunteering with the UAA. So, with that, five grandkids, and a new flyrod, I expect to keep busy.
Thank you all for being a part of this wonderful, fulfilling journey. I cannot wait to see what awaits us all in the years ahead.