Whenever we find locals willing to chat (of which there are many in the rural places we visit), we ask loads of questions about the area, their work, the weather, you name it. They think we’re playing “20 Questions,” but what we’re really doing is trying to figure out:
- where the heck we might move to, permanently
- and what on earth we’ll do for a living
As summer winds down, the locals have more time to talk. Information is getting thrown at us as quickly as the summer days are going by. The following is a summary of what we’ve learned recently, so we can look back on it a year from now — if we do decide to settle down somewhere . . . or start to run out of money, whichever comes first!
Harley Green, my Dad’s old work buddy, said that in his county, there is a law that prohibits anyone from building a new home or farm on less than 35 acres. Many counties have this ordinance, which prevents McMansions from being built, or really stinky CAFOs. A county’s general plan will reveal whether or not they have this forward thinking ordinance.
Running a Resort
Jack Frost (yes, that’s his real name) runs Joe’s Resort, a small lakeside RV and cabin resort outside of tourist-friendly Bemidji. Jack was once the FedEx Guy in Minneapolis. He found a resort for sale, and because it had a track record since the late 1920s, he obtained financing without a problem. He’s only the 3rd owner. In fact, Jim and I talked to an old guy who looked as if he’d been coming to the resort since the 1920. Having that loyal customer base was key to his success when he took over. Jack loves what he does, and says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dealing with the City
The owner of the Lakeside Marina Campground in Duluth advised us that working with the city in Duluth would be a challenge. Even for him, and he grew up in the area. The city, he says, has a hard time walking their talk of being business friendly. He had a difficult time getting his boat basin campground approved. Because he proposed doing something different that had never been done before in that town, he encountered many obstacles.
Dave and Sherry live in Cedar Grove (Belgium). They gave us a reality check on farming for a living. It’s a hard way to make a living, and your prosperity is determined mostly by the weather, which makes for a nerve wracking existence.. Their advice: unless you have gobs of money to throw at machines, animals, and to see you through bad seasons, forget it. Small farms without a lot of money just can’t compete with the big agribusiness machines.
Land is expensive where they are, due to their proximity to Lake Michigan and Milwaukee. Prices are being driven way up by urbanites from Milwaukee and Chicago moving in.
Starting a Business in a Small Town:
Sherry’s brother Bill and his wife Shannon also gave us some tips. They live smack dab in the middle of the state, in a rural farm town with 2000 people. Land is incredibly affordable there, but well paying jobs are rare, and Dave drives 30 minutes to work in a larger city, Chippewa Falls, where he manages a manufactured home business. Sherry works at a local factory for the benefits. They have a great home on 40 acres and live in a tight knit community, but advised us that starting a business in a town like theirs, where we won’t know anyone, will be tough. You need to have an in with the locals. But, locals don’t like to drive. So if we can come up with something that locals need, but won’t have to drive to the big city to get, we can probably be successful.
Running a Campground
The owner of the Honey-Do Campground in Chatham, Ohio, is growing weary from running her 78-acre campground on her own. She enjoys it, but it’s a lot of work for one lady. Previously, for 19 years, she and her husband ran it together until he passed away five years ago. When they were together, they loved what they did. Being seasoned campers helped to grow their business. Since their business was seasonal, in summers only, they got to take long winter vacations in the south to satisfy their traveling bug itch.
The owner of the Milton Loop Campground has been running it for two years. This seasonal park is not making enough money for his needs. There are 58 sites, and he has learned that it takes at least a 100-site campground, and $1 million dollars, to ensure the slightest bit of profitability. He loves what he does, and would rather be at the campground full time, but he continues to run his other business as an independent general contractor to make ends meet.
A retired doctor that runs the Wingate Winery advised us that there is a desperate need for lodging in Armstrong County. Advised talking to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce to get a real feel for what’s going on in the area as far as growth. Said that the area is definitely business friendly. He says that he sees tourism growing quickly. They are one hour from Pittsburgh, which brings in a steady clientele. Weather is mostly decent all year, low snowfall and mild winters.
This is what we’ve discovered so far in our first three months. Who knows what we’ll discover in the next three!