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December 15, 2015

State of the Association

As the year draws to a close, it is an important exercise to step back and reflect on the direction of the association and to answer for our members the most fundamental question: “Why do we do what we do?”
If you are not already aware, the Western Growers organizational model is dramatically different from anything you will find in the industry or even among trade associations generally.  Not only do we provide traditional trade association services ranging from political and legislative advocacy to education and training, we also offer many value-added products and services designed to enhance the competitiveness and profitability of our members.  Over the decades, we have evolved from a single-issue organization into a powerful advocate on dozens of public policy issues at both the state and federal levels; the nation’s largest provider of health benefits to the agricultural industry; a full-service broker of health, commercial and personal lines of insurance; a respected third party health benefits administrator for self-funded employers; and a growing pharmacy benefits manager, among many other industry-specific services offered to our members.
Some may question why Western Growers is involved in so many different business ventures, implying we should stick to our “core competency” of being a trade association.  My answer to them is quite simple: The culture of Western Growers mirrors the character of our members and the industry.  Our members are adaptable; their businesses change over time, even while they maintain their fundamental values.  They are the hardest-working and boldest entrepreneurs in the country.  Period.
Our members are highly competitive, constantly striving for greater efficiencies.  They seek, and often create, innovative solutions to the immediate and impending challenges facing their operations.  And our members are conscientious stewards of the land and the people who work it, driven toward the goal of sustaining their businesses for future generations.
In the same way, Western Growers operates with the singular focus of ensuring the long-term viability of our members.  Before any business decision is made, before any energy or financial resources are spent, we ask ourselves, “Does this honor the trust our members have placed in us?  Are we faithfully serving the interests of our members to the best of our abilities?”  Above all, we touch back to Western Growers’ mission statement: To enhance the competitiveness and profitability of our members.
To answer these questions in the affirmative, it requires that we operate less like a traditional trade association and more like one of the cutting-edge companies we represent.  It requires that we not only understand and respond to the needs of our members today, but that we anticipate and prepare for the threats they will face tomorrow.  Sometimes, the solution to these problems present business opportunities, as they did nearly 10 years ago when we began the Western Growers Transportation Program.
In responding to growing uncertainty in moving our members’ products to market, we developed a strategic shipper-based program that offers a turnkey transportation solution that enhances service levels and equipment availability for our membership while also supporting Western Growers.  Our partnership with C.H. Robinson has been so successful that other agricultural associations across the country now use the program, as well.  The money derived from all of our for-profit entities is then reinvested in the activities of the association.  This money allows us to provide more and better products and services at lower (or free) prices to our members.  This money allows us to hire the most talented professionals, and more of them, to work on the many public policy and political challenges confronting our industry.  Keep in mind, this is money that would otherwise be spent outside of agriculture on companies where the profits go to enrich shareholders.
Did you know that we haven’t raised member dues in more than a decade?  In fact, we have the lowest dues of any state or national fresh produce association to which our members may belong.  And did you know that last year, member dues represented just 2 percent of the revenues generated by Western Growers and its consolidated entities?  Rather than growing our organization on the backs of our members, we have developed a business model that allows us to help our members become more profitable while generating the resources necessary for us to continue fighting the fight on behalf of the industry.
We do all of this so that we can help you be more competitive and profitable, today and in the future.  We need to continue to build an organization that is strong enough to stand on its own, while flexible enough to bend with the changing political and economic landscape.  Our success in these endeavors will continue to enhance our effectiveness as we stand alongside our members and help them preserve and grow their businesses for generations to come.