Living in a rural area poses a lot of challenges. That's probably why 80.7 percent of Americans choose to live in cities. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (simply called “the U.P.” by locals) is no different. Most of the U.P. today consists of large tracts of forests.
In the town of Newberry, which sits in the heart of the eastern U.P., there are no big shopping centers, Starbucks, or sushi restaurants — just a handful of scattered businesses and homes, and lots and lots of trees. For Gerald Grossman of Grossman Forestry, that’s a mixed blessing.
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Huge forests are exactly what his business needs. But at the same time, having too much forest and too little civilization poses several challenges.
Despite these difficulties, he’s grown his business from managing just 50,000 acres in 1990 to over 350,000 acres today by using a combination of good investments and smart strategies.
What is Forestry Consulting?
People buy land for a lot of different reasons. For example, a homeowner might buy the land their house sits on. In rural, forested areas, people or organizations may buy land as investments, for recreation and enjoyment, or to create hunting and fishing clubs, among other things.
Big chunks of private land aren’t cheap (around $750 per acre), so if someone is going to shell out the money for it, they usually have a goal in mind.
That’s where Grossman Forestry comes in. “If you were to buy or own some farmland, you might hire a farm manager to manage the farm. This is similar,” Grossman says. “If you buy or own forest land, you’re going to hire a consultant forester to help you manage the land.”
Grossman Forestry works with landowners through every step of the planning and management process. First, they sit down with their client and figure out what their goals are.
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Next, they assess the land in its current condition and figure out what needs to be done to achieve those goals. Finally, they can manage and monitor the land to make sure it’s meeting expectations.
These days, a lot of their business involves managing the land according to sustainable practices. Their client’s forests can become certified sustainable — a desirable label that helps with timber marketability and general social responsibility.
“A lot of folks come in and audit the practices and make sure that everything’s being done sustainably. That’s just part of the business these days,” says Grossman.
Small Communities, Big Employment Challenges
Business is booming for Grossman Forestry, which has led to one of their biggest challenges: attracting young, top-quality foresters who will stay with the business for the long term.
“It’s harder and harder to find young people to come into the profession and live in a rural community,” Grossman says. “There’s very high poverty here. The population has declined. It’s difficult to attract young people unless they’re from this area or a similar area.”
The statistics are startling. Over 30% of the population is considered asset-limited and income constrained, according to the University of Michigan. That's more than twice that of the national statistics.
For young families trying to make a living, it’s tough. From 2000 to 2010, the population of the town has almost halved to just over 1,400 people. But Grossman has some tricks up his sleeve to combat this trend.
How to Run a Successful Business When the Odds Are Against You
Grossman put a lot of thought into how to run a successful business despite the odds. One of his primary weapons was simply choosing the right niche when he started the business in 1990.
“I think if you’re in a retail- or tourism-based economy, you’re relying on people coming, bringing cash into the economy. But we’re managing land that isn’t going anywhere. The values might go up and down, but the land’s always here.”
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As a service-based business, his primary commodity is the work that his employees provide. As such, he invests heavily in them as his primary asset. He offers competitive compensation and pays for many perks like education opportunities and membership in professional forestry organizations.
So, anyone out there interested in a career that brings you closer to nature? Grossman’s success story proves that if you want to be an entrepreneur, you don’t have to travel the same path as everybody else. If you look hard enough, opportunities may present themselves even in the middle of a forest.