Operating a microenterprise in a sector dominated by billion dollar multinationals (wood flooring), I have been thinking about the state of micro-industry for a while now, and I need to bounce some observations about opportunities & trends off the wise members of this list. Forgive me if I become philosophical. It seems to me that there is a huge void in available various machines sized between the home experimenter and the relatively large industrial-duty. For example, pelletizing is either a guy mixing dung & sawdust in a bucket and pushing it through a pipe with a stick, or it is a US$50,000++ unit that engages big loans, zoning regs, large power service, and so on. Is it so inconceivable that there would be a market for a unit that would run on say, 16hp gas or 7.5hp electric? (enough to do maybe 100-200kg/hour?) There are tens of thousands of portable bandsaws and woodworking shops that could use such a unit. Would they make money producing pellets alone? No way.

But a few bucks income on a waste product, or smoothing their road to recovery of the energy for themselves is a worthy objective. At a time when half of the forestry industry in BC has shut down in the last 6 months from the combined effect of brutal US tariffs, stagnant growth, and the psychological effects of terrorism, the little entrepreneurs may have less lucrative work, but they don’t shut down like big corporations do; they work harder. This is one of the reasons why they have a better record of loan repayment that corporate borrowers do. I could take a viewpoint that it is a conspiracy designed to consolidate the position of the big players, and there are times when I think banks are swayed by the interests of their large clients. Some of us have felt the effects of this power. But I don’t think that is what has caused this product void. I think it is because we are just starting to see the validity and profitability of small specialized business. Consumers all over are starting to avoid purchasing from the largest, often predatory, corporate giants, and are willing to pay a little more to get unique products from companies that share their perspective or give custom or full service. There is a pent-up demand for high quality goods made with the hands of someone who is a member of the community–for a social relationship with the maker. In my valley, www.crestonvalley.com, there are now broom makers, glassblowers, blacksmiths, steamboat builders and so on, sprouting up to take a place next to market gardens, B & Bs, wholistic therapists, stonemasons, and wood flooring guys. We exist despite a vast abundance of ultra-cheap product made by exploited child & prison labourers.

If you look in a catalogue of outdoor recreation equipment, (see Mountain Equipment Co-op at: www.mec.ca) there are a myriad of backpacking stoves for butane, propane, white gas. But none for wood fuel? Does this make sense? In my experience, backpacking folks do their best to be low-impact, and packing expensive disposable non-renewable fuel cylinders just doesn’t fit. And you can’t light open fires in most National parks. I’m not a metal basher, so this isn’t an opportunity for me, but I can’t help imagining how a lovely little enterprise could burst forth.

Now many people are feeling less safe, uneasy. With layoffs and downsizing in urban industries too, I predict that the rural areas will experience an influx of disillusioned city folk. People given that last provocative poke required to take the risk to actualize their passions. To write, create art, create craft, or simply retire. And in doing it they will surround themselves with things that are meaningful and lasting.

The opportunity for innovation in the scale we on this list contemplate is large. The question remains, I think, how do we reconcile the dilemma being small-businesses producing low-volume, yet keeping the product affordable for our publics? Should we construct a database or clearinghouse for public domain designs, notes, learning resources, and opportunities as an extension to the list? Does it require a legal nonprofit framework, so that grants, bequests, and other funds could be raised for aiding participants? I’d like to hear a significant discussion on this. Is it even required? Is my optimism misplaced?

I also have spent a lot of time and energy trying to locate a small sustainable heat and power source. If I hit the lotto jackpot, I could buy the Capstone model 330. It is a multi fuel micro turbine that generates 30KW of electricity,forced air heat, domestic hot water, and has water chiller capabilities. It will run on low grade bio gas and almost any other liquid fuel. The cost with all the switches necessary to hook up to the grid, $50K ouch!
Or I recently found a company in California that has just completed R&D on a 200KW biomass combined heat and power plant that will run on anything that burns. This plant with a few adjustments (like a Babington burner and a large heat sink) will allow 5-10 families to live off the grid and not lose any of the conveniences that they enjoyed in town. They haven’t set any price’s or even estimated how many acres of straw will be necessary to run the plant 6-8 hours a day year round. This thing will take those 1500 pound round bales.
OK time for a reality check, for anybody on a tight budget you can buy a low mileage used Japanese diesel pickup truck motor for less than a grand. A brand new PTO driven 50KW generator for right at $4K. Add about three thousand for a good stainless heat exchanger, drive shaft, fuel tank, plumbing, switches and circuit breakers, etc., and you’ve got your own heat and power company for a couple of homes and one big ass commercial greenhouse. Ah independence, what a beautiful word!

I hear what you are saying and sympathise.Unfortunately we are now fully in an era where big business dominates and the banks and loan institutions who once were there to serve the customer and the needs of the community for the benefit of everyone no longer do so and their whole purpose today is for their own benefit and self agrandisement. No longer do the rewards go to guy who works the hardest and does the most who should be entitled to a fair reward for the effort expended but to those who do the least and are the more cunning and devious. A friend of mine told me this 10 years ago. At first I didn’t believe him as I in my naievity wanted to believe otherwise and that good always prevails. Over the last 10 years I have seen that he is right. The same guy also told me that Banks lend money on the hope and expectation that you will go broke at which time they and their friends have a party and a fielday. If you keep succeeding they keep lending you money tightening the noose more and more until you do (look at the fine print of loan agreements written today compared to those of 10 or 15 years ago if you don’t believe this). At the time I thought it was a particularly narrow and jaundiced point of view but also over the last 10 years I have increasingly seen that he is right. The money today is not in the things that could benefit man but in the things that destroy man and enslave him. Have a look at the people who sell the tools of war if you don’t believe this. The biggest arms dealers and suppliers in the world are the USA and Great Britain. Over the last 10 years there has been a lot of money made and spent on the wars in Iraq/ Kuwait, Yugoslavia/ Bosnia/ Kosovo, and now Afghanistan, along with quite a large number of minor conflicts. I am not here attacking the US and the UK as I am after all a NZ citizen which is still part of the British Empire, and as such I am a British subject. I am also opposed like any right thinking person to terrorism. Nevertheless if all the money that has been spent on war and the tools of war had been spent on development and things that benefit man this world would be that much better off. I personally don’t know what the answers are but would like to think I do. Undoubtedly I don’t. For everyone of us who feel good about a project and think we are aimed at the right sector of the market there are always others who consider you are too small or too large. They are also very quick to point this out if you stumble or falter. At the end of the day I think it comes down to one of self belief, but also being prepared to listen and learn, and making sure you take sufficient time out to read the fine print. Always remember because you are in the middle there is always someone either side. You therefore have to listen twice as hard. The one advantage of being at either extreme is that there is only one opposite point of view apart from your own. One of the things of listening to people with viewpoints different to your own is that each of us is forced to take off our rose tinted glasses and become more of a realist. One of the reasons that some people run successful businesses is that they see an opportunity and seize it. Others take more time checking it out and lose the opportunity or avoid wasting more time. As they say hindsight is perfect. All the best with your efforts.