The article below is an interview with Craig Rawlings, President & CEO of the Forest Business Network (FBN). Craig has more than 30 years of experience in the forest products industry. As a “serial entrepreneur,” Craig has started and run several successful construction and forest product-related businesses, culminating with Forest Business Network.
Craig’s mission is to help people in the forest products industry. He’s what our team would call “our people.” Craig has helped numerous companies acquire a total of over $2.5 million in forest and biomass-related grants to grow their businesses. It’s obvious that Craig and his team genuinely care about the success of forest product businesses and teams; just read the first paragraph on the About page of their website:
“At Forest Business Network, our focus is to help forest product businesses grow and prosper. Period.
Our company is built on decades of experience in the industry and our passion for helping others create successful forest product businesses is second to none. With rock-solid foundations in technical forest business consulting services, and event and online marketing, FBN tackles the business challenges of this new economy and an ever-evolving industry with the same grit and determination that have defined forestry professions since their earliest beginnings.
Forest Business Network’s leading weekly email newsletter is read by 10,000 of the forest product industry’s top minds and managers and is hotly anticipated in email inboxes around the globe each and every Wednesday. You can join our growing community—sign up for our free email newsletter today.”
Who should read this:
- Professionals in the forest products industry, including biomass, looking to connect with like-minded professionals
- Forest business grant writers who need help from an expert with a proven track record
- Engineers in biomass heating looking for funding and networking
- Forest businesses looking for help on marketing, distribution, and operations
- Entrepreneurs in the forest and biomass product industries
Gabby: How did Forest Business Network come to be?
Craig: Through a “perfect storm” of skillsets. My background included sawmill construction, product development, and forest products consulting—together with a knack for bridging the gap between different forest stakeholders. In 2009, I teamed up with two fellow Montanans: Arnie Didier, an expert in sales and financing for lumber, log home and wildlife organizations; and Tom Waddell, a marketing and communications specialist with a passion for the outdoors. Everything clicked on our first project. Presto: we were a team.
Gabby: What are your top three values and how do they align with your business?
Craig: “Forests First”
Like many forest stakeholders, we’ve come to realize that it’s not Us vs. Them. Putting the forest first in a collaborative environment is the key to saving not only ecosystems, but also communities and industry. And when the industry does well, we do well.
We’ve done our best to build a reputation for straight dealing. It’s one of our best marketing tools.
We love what we do. And we love being able to see the results of our work, whether it’s new equipment delivered to a second-year startup or new growth in a carefully restored stand of lodgepole pine.
Gabby: How is FBN helping professionals in the forest products business?
Craig: We foster connections and communication in the forest products industry. Before we started FBN, we noticed that there wasn’t much industry self-awareness. For instance, a landowner in need of thinning had no way of knowing how many nearby foresters were looking to bid on just that job. We’re filling the gap by publishing our website and newsletter; managing the biennial Small Log and Smallwood Conferences; and consulting with forest businesses on marketing, distribution, and operations.
Craig: Do Your Homework.
Start by studying the grantor’s RFP (Request for Proposal). But then dig deeper. For instance, find out who won the previous year’s grant. You can get a list of grantees from the grant representative or coordinator. The list of winners can give you an idea of what the grantor is expecting in terms of qualifications.
If you still have questions, keep bugging the grant coordinator. Don’t be afraid to reach out; helping you is part of his or her job. In fact, very often the coordinator will actually be hoping for inquiries. For example, Forest Service grants are often administered across all nine regions and the coordinators for each region could be quietly competing for proposals.
Assemble an All-Star Team.
Look through the grant document section by section. Does it ask for skills outside your core competency? If so, go head hunting. Look for outside PIs (Principle Investigators) who can complement your existing skill set.
Don’t hesitate to cast a wide net. These days, forest-related grantors are searching for public/private collaborations. More and more often, successful applications offer the combined expertise of private enterprises and universities—and government agencies, too.
If the grant is a study, consider adding a marketing specialist to the team. Show how the specialist can add value by pushing the study results into the public sphere (and giving the grantor more bang for its buck).
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Apply, Apply Again.
Pursuing a grant is a long, tough slog. If the grantor chooses another team, don’t shelve your application. Instead, use it as a template for your next attempt. (Why throw away all that work?) Ask the grant coordinator for a critique and then use those insights to hone your response to next year’s RFP.
Gabby: How are you educating your community? Tell us more about your upcoming conferences. Who should attend? What knowledge will they get out of the conferences?
Craig: Our most visible educational event is the Small Log Conference. It brings in top decision makers from across the forest industry and conservation communities for three days of industry tours, education panels, and networking every other year. The 7th biennial event is scheduled for March 24–26 of this year at the Coeur d’Alene Resort in Idaho.
As for who should attend: The conference attracts for-profit businesses; consultants; federal, state, and tribal agencies; academia; and NGOs. While the event tackles topics pertinent to many facets of the forest products industry, we definitely have strong biomass and wood pellet components. Attendees will be able to take part in two full tracks dedicated to wood pellets and pellet exports and hear keynote presentations from leading minds in the pellet industry, including a special guest from Japan who will discuss pellet markets in his country.
Conference-goers can hear the latest research findings in cutting-edge forest residues to biofuels projects, and even take a tour of an Idaho pellet plant. Andritz, the largest pellet mill equipment manufacturer in the world, will join nationally-recognized biomass researchers and pellet associations as attendees and exhibitors as well. The event site — LogConference.com— offers more details.
Gabby: When you’re not working, what are you doing for fun?
Craig: Hiking, biking, and generally enjoying Western Montana with my family. Our top two favorite getaway spots are Flathead Lake and the Welcome Wilderness Area.
Gabby: Anything else you’d like to share with HeatSpring’s community of 40,000+ engineers, architects, contractors, designers, policy makers and learners?
Craig: You might want to follow the progress of the USDA’s Wood Innovation Grant and be ready to apply when their RFP is released this October. To get a head start, you can review information on the 2014 winning applicants, which is published here.
Thank you for your time Craig! All the best to your team at FBN!
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- A few months ago, I connected with 7 leaders working on increasing the adoption of biomass heating systems to get a pulse for what was happening in the industry. Read 5 Ways the Biomass Heating Industry is Laying the Foundation for Explosive Growth to learn more!
- Free lecture: Temperature Stacking in Thermal Storage for Biomass Heating Systems
- Free tool: Hydronics Design Studio
- Check out Hydronic-Based Biomass Heating Systems, our 10-week online training with John Siegenthaler and the Biomass Thermal Energy Council
- Read John Siegenthaler’s article: “Heating with Biomass: It’s Not Just About the Boiler”