Forward thinking

In a recent ad campaign my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, used a great slogan: “Forward. Thinking.” That’s what successful rural builders are, and what I hope Rural Builder is in its coverage of an ever-changing industry.
One of the neat things about this job is that you can find examples of forward thinking just about anywhere. You just have to be looking for it.
When I visited Scott Foley’s shop last spring, I certainly didn’t see it. All I saw when pulling off the highway by Foley’s shop were piles of cut-up tree stumps and old wood barn boards, and a heap of scrap metal. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another’s man’s treasure.
As you’ll see in our story on Ultimate Construction’s waste management policy (page 18), recycling unused metal and using wood scraps as fuel for a wood-burning furnace is a means to helping Foley meet his bottom-line goals — while at the same time treating the environment kindly. The same thing goes for Illinois farmer Doug Scheider (page 28), who with the help of rural contractor Jim Peters built a dairy facility that includes an anaerobic digester, which turns manure into bedding, electricity, and other items that help Scheider’s farm run more efficiently.
We try to incorporate a forward thinking nugget or two in every feature story we publish in Rural Builder. Here are some of those nuggets from the past year:
– Green building is here to stay, and you need to figure out how to incorporate green building techniques into your company’s offerings. We’re not suggesting you use insulation made from recycled blue jeans in every hog barn you put up. But spending a little time on each project considering the environmental and energy-use impact of a building can not only save the earth for future generations, but also save your customers money. That’s a win-win for everyone.
– Stay ahead of or at least keep up with the building technology curve. One in particular that comes to mind concerning post-frame builders is the placement of treated wood in the ground. Someday, this might be outlawed, if not nationally then perhaps in pockets around the country. You need to look into concrete columns, protective barriers, and wood treatments that use benign chemicals, so that when and if this happens your company will be prepared.
– Keep up with the information technology curve. Please, please become comfortable with email and the Internet if you are not already. A new generation of potential customers is coming into disposable income, and they’ve been using computers since grade school. You need to learn their language.
– Pay attention to demographic and economic trends locally and nationally. If you do business in an area where the economy is struggling, there is no improvement in sight, and your family situation doesn’t preclude you from doing so, consider moving your operations to a more vibrant area.
– Don’t wait too long to flip the switch on a strategy change. If it looks like biofuel is going to be big in your area, don’t be timid in pursuing grain storage facility projects. You can even create business by persuading farmers to get in on the action.
– History has shown us that rural building trends often get their start in the residential sector, so even if your business is nothing but commercial, pay attention to what home builders are doing.
– would imagine that thoughts like this often come to you or other members of your company, but that is not enough. Designate time for forward thinking, whether it is in a weekly staff meeting, conversations with customers or suppliers, or when planning next year’s budget. Any time is a good time for forward thinking.

Unfortunately, I will be watching the future of rural building unfold from outside the industry. This is my final issue as editor of Rural Builder. I have taken another job within F+W Publications, editorial director of a website,, which we are building into a major web portal for our company’s collectible-related media properties. The opportunity to adapt some of our storied publications for a world that is increasingly turning online for information is very exciting. (The new, improved version of will not be up and running until May 1, but feel free to visit often thereafter.)
This job is incredibly difficult to leave. Five years ago, I took a job with Rural Builder having zero building experience, and was nervous about being overwhelmed by an industry I didn’t know. Thanks to a long list of builders, suppliers, and other industry supporters, that did not happen, and I now feel as comfortable discussing 29-gauge steel panels and wood preservatives as I do the NFL playoffs. There are a lot of kind, generous, smart, hard-working people involved in rural building, which is why there is no doubt in my mind that this industry’s future is bright.
Hopefully you have enjoyed the last five years of Rural Builder. Our staff takes a great deal of pride bringing you stories and advertisements that help your business thrive. My successor has not yet been determined, but the new editor will surely throw his or her professional efforts into preserving and improving a wonderful magazine and a wonderful industry.
Feel free to email me at any time, I’m sure to need a break from antiques and old cars at some point. And thanks again for making my time with Rural Builder better than I could have possibly imagined.

Scott Tappa, editor

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