Association History

The origins of the IGIA trace back to December 1915 when several nurserymen attending a meeting of the Illinois State Horticultural Society. They decided to meet the following month to form a state nursery association. Interest and participation in what was then the Illinois State Nurserymen’s Association (ISNA) grew and in 1925 the association incorporated.

The incorporation quickly led to the need for an association secretary, later to become executive director. Miles Bryant accepted the challenge and in 1931 established the first ISNA office at his nursery in Princeton, Illinois. Bryant’s tenure saw the establishment of a newsletter and expansion of the annual convention into a convention/exhibition that would later become the foundation of the Mid-American Horticultural Trade Show (Mid-Am).

Since Bryant’s retirement in 1956, the association has changed physical locations four times. Leadership remained fairly consistent, with the executive director role changing hands only four times since 1956. In 1999, the association hired Dave Bender as its executive director along with three other staff members. In 2003, the Illinois Turf Irrigation Association joined the INA membership, helping the membership grow to over 500 members.

In 2004, the association embarked on a four-year campaign to change its name to Illinois Green Industry Association. The board of directors believed strongly that the association’s name needed to properly reflect the membership and the changing dynamics of the industry. The board also suggested that the by-laws be amended to increase membership participation in the voting process. In January 2007, the membership approved the addition of proxy voting by mail to amend the association’s by-laws. The name was officially changed on May 15, 2007.

In 2006, the association purchased a new building on the west side of Springfield and moved to its current location at 2900 Greenbriar Drive. Due to tough economic conditions which impacted the nursery and landscape industry of Illinois, the IGIA reduced its staff in 2008 from four full-time employees to just the executive director and a part-time communications director. The part-time communications director also served as the Executive Director of the Mid-Am Trade Show, directing the efforts of the show management team from SmithBucklin. The show owners including the IGIA were working hard to sustain and revitalize Mid-Am during the economic downturn, especially with the exorbitant costs of coordinating such an extensive event in downtown Chicago.

The IGIA Board of Directors made a change in leadership in 2012, hiring part-time Communications Director Joe Khayyat to serve as the new full-time Executive Director. Khayyat had nearly 30 years of experience working at the highest levels of state government at the Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and for former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar. For several years, Khayyat operated without a staff, as the association tightened its belt to become leaner and more efficient in addressing and overcoming various challenges including the dissolution of Mid-Am in February 2014. The IGIA also sold its office building in December 2014 to its largest tenant, a dentist that already occupied the building when IGIA originally acquired it. 

In the summer of 2014, Kellie Schmidt entered the scene, working in a part-time consulting capacity to assist primarily with communications, events, and the redesign and overhaul of the association websites. During that time, the team created its premier education event branded as InVigorateU, which will celebrate its sixth year in 2020. In the fall of 2017, Kellie joined Khayyat's team as full-time Marketing Director in a strategic move that the Board of Directors made to invest in the professional staff necessary to take IGIA to the next level on behalf of its members. In April 2018, opportunity came knocking for Khayyat in the form of a lead role at the Illinois State Fair, serving the State of Illinois and Department of Agriculture for a second time in his career.  At that time, the board entrusted daily management of the association to Kellie Schmidt.  With twenty years of marketing and sales experience outside the green industry, Schmidt approached the Executive Director role with a new perspective at a critical time for IGIA's growth in support of the nursery and landscape industry in Illinois.  

In the fall of 2019, IGIA made the move to a new location in an office building two blocks from the state capitol in downtown Springfield. This move allowed the association to lower overhead expenses significantly, which was part of the strategic plan.  As changes to the industry and economic factors caused growth in membership to level off between 2013-2018, it became clear that the association needed to become more lean and nimble.  With the oversight of the board, Schmidt was able to cut operating expenses significantly, which was critically important during 2020, as the association had to shift focus and adapt programs with the ever-changing restrictions and mitigations brought on by the pandemic. 

Throughout 2021, Schmidt and the IGIA Board of Directors identified new ways to serve members as the industry adapted to changing economic conditions.  A new path forward was forged between the two organizations that serve the nursery and landscape industry in Illinois. In the spring of 2022, an historic announcement was made that the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA) and Illinois Green Industry Association (IGIA) would become one unified organization. The decision to unify came as a natural result of collaboration that occurred between the organizations during the pandemic, culminating in a statewide education and networking event held in Central Illinois at Stoneleaf Nursery.

The unification will be complete May 2023 when the IGIA will formally dissolve as a corporation. Many members of the IGIA also hold membership with the ILCA, and those who don't will be encouraged to join.  IGIA Executive Director Kellie Schmidt will join the ILCA team as the Statewide Director of Development.  Working remotely, she will work alongside ILCA Executive Director Scott Grams who will remain the Executive Director of the combined organization. Kellie’s role will allow the unified organization to offer programs across the state while maintaining the popular programs ILCA has built in the Chicagoland area.  The legacy of IGIA will live on in events like InVigorateU, the Fall Growers Tour, the work of the Growers Committee, and other important programs.