Green companies eager to grow support, workers

‘We want to … show that we are not invisible.’

TURNING LEAVES: Jose Velasquez, of Bartlett Tree Experts, prunes bushes and trees at a home in Portsmouth. The company's regional manager, Chris Fletcher, would like to see the arborist industry grow in R.I.
Posted 5/28/12

Chris Fletcher, manager for the Westerly to Newport region at Bartlett Tree Experts, loves to see interns from the University of Rhode Island come each semester, eager to work and learn within the arborist industry.

But he hates to see them go, which they inevitably do, he said, for greener pastures across state lines. “When they figure out the situation, they put in for a transfer. The draw for more money is elsewhere [and] we find it hard to hold good, quality people,” Fletcher said. “It’s this cyclical, downward spiral of holding ourselves in the same place all the time.”

Fletcher is talking about the green industry – in this case businesses in the field of garden, lawn, golf course and park installation and maintenance – a low-profile industry in the Ocean State with limited government support.

But that doesn’t have to be the case, according to the Rhode Island Nursery & Landscape Association, a South Kingstown member organization of horticultural, agricultural and landscape businesses ranging from vegetable and flower growers to landscape architects and designers, as well as arborists and nurseries.

The association, with the help of several partners and state agencies, recently published a preliminary 2012 economic-impact study that reported that the sector is a $1.7 billion industry in the state.

“This is really the first time that all these groups came together and said you know, it’s time that we show Rhode Islanders that we are a significant part of the [state’s] economy,” said Shannon Brawley, the association’s executive director. “What we want to do is show that we are not invisible.”

The idea is that the study, for which data was collected and analyzed by Tom Sproul, an assistant professor in environmental and natural economics at the University of Rhode Island, will lead to active engagement with state lawmakers in order to facilitate better green-business planning and resource protection.

Only preliminary findings so far have been released, though a final version is expected soon.

Agriculture, according to the study, isn’t even the biggest piece of the green industry. Of the $1.7 billion in impact, just $268.2 million is attributed to the agricultural sector.

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