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Milfoil and Asian clams are two invasive aquatic species that are creating havoc in lakes across the country as they overwhelm native species, damage ecosystems and reduce fishing, boating and other lake tourism activities. Left untreated, invasive aquatic species can turn beautiful lakes into stagnant bogs, with low oxygen levels, turbid water and fish kills. While pursuing their degrees in Natural Resource Management at Paul Smith’s College, Andrew Lewis and Tommy Thomson were lead divers for the college on an experimental invasive plant management project on Upper Saranac Lake and were able to see the problem firsthand. They also saw an opportunity that would allow them to combine their diving skills and degrees in Natural Resource Management into a profitable business.
After college, they started Aquatic Invasive Management, LLC in 2007 to provide a new and environmentally-friendly way to control nuisance and invasive aquatic plants. Based in AuSable Forks, AIM won its first contract in the fall of 2007 to reduce milfoil presence in Minerva Lake. With little business experience, the business partners relied on their research skills, adaptability and energy to learn as the company grew. When they needed to buy equipment, Lewis and Thomson turned to Nikki Wright at the Adirondack Economic Development Corporation, an SBA Microlender. The SBA Microloan financed the purchase of a new boat, trailer and gear needed for the increase in business the following year.
“We were able to grow from one contract in 2007 to three in 2008. We had six contracts in 2009 and 10 the year after. We’ve seen exponential growth and we’ve learned that 10-12 lakes a season are our capacity at the current stage of our business,” explained co-owner Tommy Thomson.
Inclement weather determines the day-to-day schedule for AIM diving crews as well as the company’s operating season, which usually lasts six months of the year for diver comfort and safety. Thomas credits the company’s success to the natural methods used to manage invasive species. Divers harvest acres of milfoil in a day by hand; the process is chemical-free, uses 30 lb. mesh bags that can be cleaned and reused, and yields a compostable product. Today, AIM has passed the $1 million sales mark, with 13 full-time employees and contracts with lakes across the Adirondack Park, from south of Lake George to the Canadian border. With the potential to expand operations beyond New York State, Lewis and Thomson have a successful small business with a bright future.
Thomson has found the schedule of running a business- often 14 or 16 hours a day- completely rewarding: “With your business, it’s a love. The more you put into your own business, the more you get out of it and the happier you’ll feel at the end of the day.”