The Status of the State Societies

Over the next two months, Professional Surveyor Magazine will be examining the future of surveying with diverse sets of guest editorials, so now is a good time to look at where surveying is as a nationwide entity.

There are approximately 55,000 licensed professional land surveyors in the United States. Each state has a society representing the licensee members in that state.  Recently, I sent a questionnaire to the executive directors of the societies to gather data on their states. The discussions here are generated from information submitted by 34 societies that felt the issue was important enough to respond.

On average, each state reports approximately 50% of the licensed professional land surveyors in its state as members. This figure is most likely higher, as many surveyors are licensed in multiple states but maintain only one state society affiliation. Montana has the highest ratio of members to total licensees, with Washington, Iowa, and Illinois close behind. 

Most states reported a decline in membership over the last five years.  Considering the economic downturn along with the average age of a licensed surveyor (reported to be approximately 58), this is not surprising. The average membership decrease for those states reporting was estimated at 14%. This appears to occur unilaterally across the state as, with only a few exceptions, each state had the same number of chapters as there were five years ago.  Only Iowa, North Dakota, and Wyoming reported membership increases. 

The directors were asked whether there were more, less, or the same number of surveyors employed in their state.  While this cannot be readily quantified, only New York, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming indicated a probable increase in employment from five years ago. The states that reported the largest downturns were Arizona, Alabama, Florida, and Nevada. 

A significant event for each society is an annual conference or institute.  On average, the attendance at the conferences is approximately 65% of the total membership for the state, verifying the importance of the conference to the membership.  These well planned events successfully combine education with networking and socializing.  New Jersey and Wisconsin appear to be the most successful, each with conference attendance that’s nearly double their membership. 

The state societies and the national society are crucial to the advancement of surveying as a profession. Legislation for the benefit of the surveyor is proposed and championed by the societies.  Conversely, societies are at the front of contesting legislation that may be detrimental to the surveyor, such as the recent LightSquared legislation.  

The societies consist of individual surveyors who have devoted time to “protect and serve” their peers. Each licensee has ethical responsibilities that come with the privilege of being licensed. Their responsibility to the public and to their clients is the portion of ethics most people focus on, forgetting one other important aspect: their responsibility to the profession. We must each do our part to ensure the stability of our livelihood and help it grow and prosper.

Bill Beardslee, PLS, PE, PP is the past president of the New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors and their 2006 Surveyor of the Year.

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