Are trees that have been felled by nature or landowners destined to rot — either where they lie or in a landfill?
Joshua Clarkweiss says no.
Clarkweiss, owner of Full Circle Forest Products, a sustainability-focused sawmill in Rutledge, Missouri, turns those trees into custom construction lumber and furniture.
“I’m focused on helping people within my bioregion use the resources they have available to them, whether that be their own forest or helping people upcycle logs that are taken down by tree services,” Clarkweiss said.
For example, earlier this year Full Circle Forest Products sawed 17,000 board feet of walnut for a client that harvested the walnut from his land and is building a house on that land with those boards. They also built five dining room tables from tree service logs felled by a company in Kirksville, Missouri.
“We’ve created our brand based on our ethics of where we source our material and what we do with it rather than the specific products we make,” Clarkweiss said.
With a strong background in sustainability, farming and forestry and a love of physical labor, Clarkweiss started Full Circle Forest Products as a one-man, portable sawmill in 2019. He gained experience by taking on small commissions from neighbors who would bring him a few logs that he would saw into whatever they needed. He advanced to new construction jobs, producing flooring and siding from trees from the customer’s land or his own.
“Then I heard about some grant opportunities,” Clarkweiss said.
Realizing that to ensure his business was sustainable he needed to do more than saw logs and, therefore, required additional equipment, Clarkweiss pursued three grants.
One of those grants was offered by the Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority (EIERA). “They provide matching funds for manufacturing equipment used to process landfill waste into value-added products,” Clarkweiss said.
The EIERA offered Clarkweiss a grant pending him finding matching funds.
After he could not come to terms on a loan with his bank because of the way the collateral had to be structured, he turned to the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
“When he first came to me, he had a draft of the business plan and he had a commitment from the EIERA for a grant that he needed to find matching funds for,” said Anastasia Tiedemann, small business counselor with the Missouri SBDC in Northeast Region.
Tiedemann read his business plan and suggested he go to the Lewis County Rural Electric Cooperative (REC) for the matching funds. Lewis County REC is a member of Northeast Power, a not-for-profit transmission electric cooperative owned by eight member-distribution coops in southeast Iowa and northeast Missouri. Through its revolving loan fund (RLF), Northeast Power can lend money interest-free for rural economic development projects.
The RLF committee was interested in making the loan but was also aware of its responsibility to protect its members’ assets, so it strongly encouraged Clarkweiss to work with the Missouri SBDC to refine his business plan and financial projections.
“It was a good project, a couple of jobs for the community, and an honest and hard-working guy that really just wanted to pursue his dreams and follow his passion,” said Allie Bennett, manager of Economic Development and Member Services at Northeast Power.
Tiedemann said Clarkweiss’s business plan just had to be tweaked a bit, but the financial projections needed some work.
"I wanted to purchase equipment to scale production and put up a building at the same time,” Clarkweiss said. “The capital required to complete both tasks was not feasible to secure, so Anastasia helped me scale back my projections."
Tiedemann said they altered the projections based on building in stages rather than trying to both scale up and build right away.
“She focused in with superhero focus and was able to just bust out these financial projections in, like, two days,” Clarkweiss said about Tiedemann. “On kind of short notice, she was able to just really dive into the nitty-gritty details with me and we were able to get it done.”
Ultimately, Clarkweiss was awarded the matching-funds loan and the grant.
“It was a great team effort,” Bennett said. They had open conversations and “were continually bouncing ideas off each other.”
Bennett says that based on this experience, Northeast Power is going to “highly encourage” their revolving loan fund applicants to work with the SBDC.
Tiedemann found working on this project exciting. “I know he was really passionate about it, so, I mean, it was a win-win situation for everybody and the environment,” she said.
Clarkweiss’s next big plans are to build a warehouse on the 7-acre site where his sawmill is located. His current, rented warehouse is about 14 miles from the mill.
His short-term goal is to team up with universities and municipalities to help them meet their sustainability goals by processing trees for their renovation and furniture needs.
Working with the SBDC has been a “game changer” for Clarkweiss. “It is just unbelievable to have that resource, to be able to talk to an expert and to have a mentor,” he said.
“I can’t thank Anastasia or the SBDC enough,” Clarkweiss said. “We’re just so grateful for what they did for us and what they continue to offer.”