Nextracks: Older workers start more new businesses

Barry Meinerth worked as a printing executive for 35 years before coming an alpaca farmer.
July 1, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Despite the latest bump in unemployment figures, U.S. Department of Labor statistics show workers over the age of 54 starting businesses or working for themselves at a faster rate than younger workers. That might help explain why unemployment rates for older workers is lower, and going down faster, than for younger workers.

"I don't have a big ego because I was in the corporate world for 33 years," Barry Meinerth told me while mucking the alpaca pens on his 55-acre property in Pawlet, VT.

He thought he'd finish his 35 year career as a printing executive at Time Inc., until he became a 60-year-old casualty of the incredible shrinking publishing business. Instead of retiring, he started Marlee Farms to produce and sell alpaca wool for his encore career. I drove five hours from his old stomping grounds in NYC to meet him to either confirm or debunk the idyllic notion many boomers share about escaping corporate life for the rural life.

"I didn't know anything until I bought my first alpaca," Barry admits. He grew up with animals in his youth and originally planned on being a vet until he was sidetracked into business school after college when he couldn't get a draft deferment to go on to veterinarian school in the 60's.

His business experience wisely prompted him to do some market research first, before taking the plunge. He started raising alpacas on someone else's farm on weekends and vacations while he was still working for Time, not knowing he would be making the transition sooner than he had planned.

"My goal was having a business that would make some incremental money to supplement my retirement pay," Barry explained while carefully maneuvering a group of errant alpacas into a grazing field. "Something of this scale is not a hobby farm. We did ok year one, but as the economy crashed it's become more work."

The money he makes selling alpaca wool wholesale and from the farm's small retail shop barely covers the costs of taking care of the animals. His only real chance of profitability, or least being able to afford full-time help, comes from breeding alpacas.

"Cherokee here could go for as much as $30,000," he proudly explains, but with a caveat. "It's a huge investment you don't want wandering out of the gate so to speak or attacked by dogs which is always a problem."

In addition to getting his wife to buy-in to his dream of living on a farm, his greatest concern is coming-up with an exit strategy for when he eventually becomes too old to put in the dawn-to- dusk, very physical workdays.

"I don't want to be as active at 73," he admits. "It has to become profitable so I can add laborers and make it an ongoing operation."

Barry believes his forced, early retirement was a blessing in disguise and the catalyst he needed to get back to what he always wanted to do, while he was still young and healthy enough to do it.

"Now for the biggest perk that comes with my new job, " he jokes as we pile into his four wheeler to head down to the trout stream that runs through his property. "There's no such thing as a bad day when you get to go fish on your own stream."

To see and learn more about this story and follow Mike Cerre's Nextracks, go to:

Nextracks is a series of reports from former ABC News Correspondent Mike Cerre on what's next for boomers. The series will continue on ABC7 News over the next few weeks.


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