As soon as I read this thoughtful feature on Thos. Moser in the March 27 Portland Press Herald, I wanted to share it. I’m always happy to tell the story of our work with Thos. Moser to implement innovations that reduce manufacturing waste and improve the company’s bottom line. However, this article prompted me not to highlight our past work with them, but to let you in on our thinking about how we can encourage young entrepreneurs to see opportunity in the Northern Forest.

blog post VT Farm Table with RobThomas Moser, the founder of this 70-employee furniture manufacturing business, successfully handed off the business to his sons, David, Andy and Aaron. And while it’s wonderful to see a case where the next generation takes the reins of family-owned wood products businesses, that’s not always possible. The region’s current demographic trends point toward a graying workforce. Many wood products business owners are looking forward to retirement, and are thinking about their exit strategies. This presents a unique opportunity for talented young people to take the reigns!

The good news is that we’re seeing younger entrepreneurs enter the wood product manufacturing industry without a family connection. For example, a young couple leads Vermont Farm Table, a thriving business with a facility in Bristol Vermont. We are working with Vermont Farm Table to implement business innovations to ensure their continued success (they are hiring) and we’re encouraged by their tech savvy, innovation and quality craftsmanship. We’re also working with two companies that have successfully transitioned from founders to new ownership: Invironments, a finish cabinetry and millwork shop in Hermon, Maine, and Lyndon Furniture, a fine furniture company in Lyndon, Vermont.  We’re excited to see these successful companies stay  and provide manufacturing jobs in the Northern Forest.

I’m challenging us at the Center and those with whom we work to better foster an environment that offers what young entrepreneurial people want and need to make the Northern Forest their home. Much is needed – adequate and affordable broadband and cell service; shared work places and new social gathering places, like coffee shops and brew pubs; investment in public schools and local health care facilities; a welcoming, collaborative and optimistic vibe; and more.   

It’s not simple work. It’s hard to increase coordination and communication among people who hold many, perhaps differing, opinions.  But we must seek to create new connections that make sense to new generations.  For example, the Center’s Skilled Workforce Initiative is helping to develop training programs that better align the skills our educational institutions teach with the skills that companies need for wood product manufacturing. Our work with the Maine Woods Consortium is helping increase the quality of service provided through tourism providers through worker training initiatives. Both of these help create viable careers and wages for young workers, something they need to be optimistic about the region’s future.

These are but two small efforts seeking to alter the demographic trends that threaten the social fabric of our Northern Forest communities. More is needed.  The Center is stepping up to this challenge in a more concerted way – building on our forest economy and regional advocacy work – through a new program that we hope will help foster thriving communities that attract young people – the future.  And as Thos. Mosher says, “what we build with our hands should last generations.”  Now is the time for us to build the communities that will foster the future.