Unite & conquer

Larry Wilson has spent years bringing New York lawn and landscape professionals together to fight harmful regulations.

Photos courtesy of Larry Wilson

When burdensome rules and regulations hit the New York legislature, Larry Wilson is the man to call. For the past 16 years, Wilson has worked tirelessly to fight legislation that would harm or hinder green industry companies, and he’s had great success.

A late start

Wilson did some landscape work in college, but he never really thought of a career in the industry. He eventually went on to own a wine store, but after he turned 40, he decided he wanted a career change.

When Wilson’s father-in-law asked him to watch his business, Lawrence Landscape Design, while he dealt with an illness, Wilson agreed and realized he loved it. So in 1990, when his father-in-law retired, Wilson took over the business.

“I wanted to express myself,” he says. “I never really thought of doing that through horticulture but it soon became a passion for me. I enjoy seeing my work and I enjoyed making mistakes because I made a lot of mistakes and it was very enlightening to me.”

Larry WIlson volunteers at the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Renewal and Rememberence event at Arlington Cemetery.

Wilson says he suffered from a lack of confidence when he was first starting out, but through the New York State Turf and Landscape Association, he learned how to succeed.

“I would be nowhere without them,” he says. “They taught me everything I need to know.”

He says that through his positions as first director, then vice president and then president, he gained the confidence he needed to feel comfortable speaking with other people, writing communication and running his business in lower Westchester County.

A taste for politics

Wilson became president of the New York State Turf and Landscape Association in 1997 but really got passionate about green industry politics in 2000 when the state of New York passed the Neighbor Notification Law, requiring applicators to post notifications and notify neighboring properties when applying down pesticides in participating counties.

“We knew there would be more coming our way and the industry all of a sudden said, ‘We need to get together here. We need to be unified,’ at the time and I was sort of a facilitator,” he says. He called the right people, organized meetings and started the fight against crippling legislation.

“As a volunteer, you do not see anybody that is more tenacious, dedicated and loyal to an industry than Larry.” Elizabeth Seme, executive director, New York State Turfgrass Association

Elizabeth Seme, executive director of the New York State Turfgrass Association, has worked with Wilson on legislative issues for more than 20 years and says that no one works harder than he does. By keeping up to date with issues, keeping industry members informed and involved, raising funds and making the right strategic moves, she says he’s a uniting force lobbying for lawn and landscape operators.

“He made good inroads, he communicated and he started to compile all of this and use his connections and his influence to kind of pull the state together,” she says. “And he’s been able to do it, with help, of course. He keeps us moving in the right direction. And I think we’ve even gotten stronger in the last five or six years.”

Wilson brought together 12 different trade organizations through the New York Alliance of Environmental Concerns, where he serves as chairman, and started making great progress on the legislative front. Wilson’s area is a hotbed for legislative activity and so he was on the forefront of the action. He says he didn’t expect to be the leader, but when he was asked, he stepped up to the plate.

“We were basically angry,” he says. “We were angry we were really being ignored by the legislature. They would ignore our story and they couldn’t care less about passing laws. They were listening to those that knew nothing about what we do and that still aggravates me a great deal. Being so well educated, it was disconcerting to me to hear someone telling me that we didn’t know what we were doing. That was a great motivating factor to get involved in the legislature.”

And thanks to his efforts, the organizations have been working together for years. By staying on top of the issues, taking the time to effectively communicate and fight legislation pesticide issues, applicator fees, applicator reporting, pesticide use, fertilizer regulation and more.

“The biggest thing is that under his leadership we’ve maintained a communication base within the government and regulatory arenas of the state and we have either stopped legislation from coming through or lessened the impact of it or in some cases, we were able to get some of our own agenda items through so that’s a pretty big statement right there,” Seme says.

Continuing the fight

Now, at the age of 68, Wilson is still as passionate about his work as chair of the New York Alliance for Environmental Concerns. “If I don’t stay on the cutting edge, I’m going to go over it. And I do sometimes fall asleep at night on the computer doing my job and helping others do their jobs,” he says. “I’m proud of the fact that I’ve stopped 16 years of onerous legislation.”

He does it to defend the best interests of businesses in the state of New York, particularly because New York is such a bellwether state for pesticide legislation. And he has plenty of work to keep him busy. Right now, there are more than 100 bills in the legislature dealing with the application, storage, use and transportation of pesticides.

“As a volunteer, you do not see anybody that is more tenacious, dedicated and loyal to an industry than Larry,” Seme says.

When he isn’t fighting legislation, Wilson is an avid skier, reader and bicyclist.

Through the New York State Turf and Landscape Alliance, Wilson helps organize all kinds of seminars and educational sessions for applicators since the state of New York’s applicator licenses require continuing education credits.

Working with Cornell University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Massachusetts and others, the organization works hard to make sure those credits are available.

“When I see people walk in and tell us how to do our jobs and tell us what we’re doing wrong without the basis of any experience, without even knowing the challenges that we face and how we work, that still aggravates me.” Larry Wilson, owner, Lawrence Landscape

Even after many successes in his years fighting for the lawn and landscape industry, Wilson still gets fired up at the current state of politics in his sector.

“When I see people walk in and tell us how to do our jobs and tell us what we’re doing wrong without the basis of any experience, without even knowing the challenges that we face and how we work, that still aggravates me,” he says.

The end of the year

Wilson’s favorite part of the year is when then legislature closes and he can take a look back at what he and his colleagues have been able to accomplish and spend more time on his own business.

He’s is an avid skier, bicyclist and reader, making sure he sneaks at least a half hour or 45 minutes of reading in before bed. And when he can, he loves to spend time with his wife, JoAnne, his daughter, Christina, and his son, James.

But the closing of the New York legislature isn’t the end of Wilson’s duties. Besides running his own business, he also serves as vice chair of the Westchester Parks Recreational Conservation Board and president of the Hyatt Community Association, and he continues to be active with GREENPAC, the New York state green industry political action committee he helped establish in 2006.

“I think the fact that he’s been able to stay in this and continue on and people trust him and follow him is a huge compliment to his abilities,” Seme says. “He holds everything all together and it’s not an easy industry. It’s a tough game, it really is, and yet he’s withstood the test of time.”

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