There are a lot of great reasons to be optimistic about the future of the U.S. pest control industry. Pest control continues to be an in-demand service in a society that is becoming increasingly service industry-dependent; pest control issues continue to grab headlines (e.g., bed bugs, Zika virus); the industry has proven to be somewhat recession-resistant; and climate change has the potential to lead to increased pest pressures. Another reason the pest control industry should feel good about its future is because of its emerging leaders. This industry has a lot of impressive, forward-thinking, next-generation leaders, many of whom I’ve met at recent NPMA Academies. If you’ve never had a chance to attend NPMA Academy, you really should. It’s unlike any other conference in the pest control industry. During the course of three days, attendees participate in team-building activities; hear from featured speakers who are innovative business leaders (typically not from the pest control industry); share and learn from their peers; and network with one another.

Academy was an early initiative of the Leadership Development Group (LDG), the NPMA affiliate for next-generation leaders that was the brainchild of former NPMA President Linden Griffin (1993-1994). Current NPMA President Dennis Jenkins (ABC Home & Commercial Services, Dallas, Texas) said Academy was originally created as a vehicle to develop leaders for the association, “but then it became more about developing you and your ability to run a business,” he said. “I know that a lot of the successes we have had in our business are the result of things we learned at Academy and tried in our business. I think the focus has swung back to somewhere in the middle of those two [objectives]. We are definitely trying to develop folks as leaders for the association.”

As NPMA CEO Dominique Stumpf noted at this year’s Academy, held last month in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., “Through the years I’ve been able to witness emerging leaders become captains of our industry. Academy alumni are making differences every day whether it’s through their engagement in NPMA, the influence they have on their businesses or the impact they make in their own communities.”

Having attended numerous NPMA Academies, I’ve observed how the conference has grown in numbers and has evolved to meet the changing needs of the pest control industry. LDG deserves a lot of credit for its programming efforts. I’ve sat in on LDG meetings, and it’s impressive to see how this group works to find activities that will involve all attendees and identify captivating speakers.

As a member of the media, I’m a bit of an anomaly at Academy in that I don’t work for a pest control company. Thus, I usually don’t participate on teams (although I have in the past). Instead, I float from team to team and activity to activity, in order to meet as many people as I can and provide as comprehensive coverage as possible. That’s not to say I leave Academy non-energized and without any professional development. On the contrary, after interacting with Academy attendees and listening to the keynote speakers, I bring back a wealth of management and leadership lessons.

At this year’s Academy, for example, I enjoyed hearing from keynote speaker Kristen Hadeed, who as an undergraduate student at the University of Florida founded Student Maid, a successful cleaning company that employs primarily college students. One way that Hadeed empowers her employees is involving them in problem-solving. For example, when an employee comes to her with a problem, the easy thing for her to do is solve it herself. Instead, she asks the employee to come up with two possible solutions. Although this approach takes more time, “If they can solve that problem, it gives them tremendous pride,” she said.

I’m sure other Academy attendees returned to their companies with experiences similar to mine. As Jenkins said, “When I leave Academy, I am more energized than after any other meeting. You go back to your business and you’re kind of on fire.”

The author is Internet/managing editor of PCT and can be contacted at bharbison@gie.net.