The Utility Arborist Association’s outgoing president, Geoff Kempter has been with the association for more than 30 years. In 2018, at the encouragement of former President John Goodfellow and retired Executive Director Phil Charlton, he pursued a position of leadership with the organization.
Geoff is a Technical Services Manager for Asplundh, consultant and author of books on best practices in UA. We caught up with him in this recent conversation…
Your term as UAA president is about to end. What has the past year been like for you?
My leadership term allowed me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, lead substantive industry discussions, hear a lot of great ideas and witness first-hand the deep level of engagement so many have in the UAA. We are part of an organization that cares about what it’s doing and its mission. It’s incredibly exciting and gratifying to work with such dedicated people.
I was fortunate to be part of the process that brought in our new Executive Director Dennis Fallon to run the UAA. The organization has grown tremendously over the years and our vision is to continue increasing the capacity to move it forward. I’m incredibly proud of people like Dennis and our terrific staff, including Operations Manager Diona Neeser, Marketing Outreach Manager Susan Roberts and Communications Member Services Manager Renee Phillips.
What are you most proud of during your leadership?
We’ve been very successful in highlighting the importance of environmental stewardship. As utility arborists, we take care of valuable resources that provide huge benefits. We manage vegetation and habitat, and that provides eco-friendly resources for everyone.
We’ve made a good start calling attention to the value of our work but we need to continue to push that. Our industry is not as well-understood as it should be. It’s not a commodity service. We put people in close proximity to high voltage power lines using complex heavy equipment or the physical skills involved in climbing trees. UA requires technical skills, professional expertise and the knowledge to cut the right branches and remove the right trees. It’s important for everyone – especially those who make financial and regulatory decisions – to recognize our value.
What do you think the UAA does well as an organization?
The UAA provides members with opportunities for education and networking, especially learning from peers and understanding what they are doing in the field. UAA does a great job of connecting members at the annual Trees & Utilities conference, Safety Summits, and regional events that are within driving distance so that people can become involved and stay involved.
Some professional organizations charge members a lot of money to join, but we keep our dues relatively low. We have great sponsors to help underwrite the costs of our meetings and membership, and that allows us to reach more people. Some of the best friends in my life are people I met through the UAA. The benefits are both personal and professional growth in addition to the contacts you make.
What are the challenges facing the utility arborist industry right now and in the coming years?
The first issue is finding people to work in our industry when there’s a shortage of workers everywhere. We compete for fit, young people who enjoy the challenge of getting out there into the bush, trees and field. We’re looking for more qualifications than a lot of employers. We need people willing to put themselves out there and take pleasure in being outside doing incredibly physical work and overseeing it.
Climate change is stressing the trees and is increasing the frequency and intensity of storms that affect the power lines, which leads to higher tree failure rates. At the same time, reliable power is more important than ever. People expect it and environmental challenges are making it much more difficult to provide. To meet this challenge, we must ensure that the work we do is focused on prevention, by targeting trees and other vegetation before they cause a problem.
How would you encourage others in leadership positions like yours who are so invested in the industry to get involved in the UAA?
When I was hired at Asplundh, my specialty was municipal arboriculture. I quickly learned that UA was a key part of what my company was doing and anybody who was anybody was in UAA. So, of course I joined, and I haven’t looked back. It’s wonderful for your career. I’m a better manager at Asplundh because of the time I spend with UAA. I bring it all back and apply it to my job. I’ve always been supported by our executive team. It’s well worth taking the time to get involved.
Looking down the road, what’s next for the UAA?
I think we need to look beyond UVM and tree pruning, and consider professional vegetation management at large, including managing for biodiversity and habitat improvement. There are millions of acres of right-of-way in addition to electric utilities. What about the people who work on pipelines, roadsides, railroads, and other vegetation management? Also, prairie restoration and other land reclamation projects? We’re all using the same tools, treatments and skills, equipment and personnel, to be good environmental stewards. There’s room for UAA to meet the needs of all these folks. I can’t imagine any reasons that they would not want to be a part of our organization. UAA has the potential to grow into those markets and engage people that are not aware of what we do.