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Successful Small Business – Bear Island Surveying

Bear Island Surveying used business planning services for successful change of ownership

Bear Island Surveying Storefront

Bear Island Surveying, an Ely-based land surveying company was purchased late last year by two of its employees, Jen Zgonc and Mark Crenshaw. The new owners utilized the Northland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to facilitate the purchase by assisting them with business plan development, financial analysis and projections, financing scenarios and business valuation.

“Determining the value of the existing business and identifying a fair purchase price was the most important piece of the puzzle,” said Zgonc. “The fee to hire out that service can often be very high. Betsy Olivanti at SBDC, free of charge, completed for us a rule-of-thumb valuation through financial analysis and then helped us determine what purchase price the cash flow projections would support. This allowed us to negotiate a reasonable purchase price with the owner.”

Bear Island Surveying

Olivanti is the SBDC regional consultant and provides technical support to local businesses (existing and startups) such as business plan development, feasibility and financial analysis, market research, advertising and sales, loan packaging, strategic planning, accounting systems and e-commerce. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation provided a Development Partnership grant to Northland Foundation to support an SBDC representative located on the Iron Range.

Bear Island Surveying was originally founded in 1960 as Zenith Surveying. The company, over the past 60 years, had a couple of owners and name changes until becoming Bear Island in 1996 under the ownership of  Bruce ‘Charlie’ and Gail ‘Sue’ Chernak. When the Chernaks expressed an interest in selling the business, Zgonc and Crenshaw seized the opportunity to become owners of a company they had both been employed at for many years.

Bear Island Surveying

Under their ownership, Bear Island continues to provide property boundary surveys, site plans, topographic surveys, FEMA floodplain surveys, platted subdivisions, condominium surveys, lot splits, ALTA surveys, easements, wetland delineation and legal descriptions. Clients include private land owners, commercial businesses such as Minnesota Power and Lake Country Power, and governmental agencies like United States Forest Service and Saint Louis County.

Zgonc is an Ely native, graduated from University of Minnesota Duluth and has been employed at Bear Island for over three years. Crenshaw was raised in Pine River, Minnesota and moved to Ely to take a job with Bear Island 14 years ago. They are now business partners and employ two full-time and two part-time employees in their downtown Ely location.

Bear Island Surveying Owners

“The company is growing strong. Our services have been in high demand through the COVID-19 pandemic, in part due to the low mortgage rates,” said Crenshaw. “We are continuing the tradition of being a locally-owned business and working with the people and organizations in northeastern Minnesota.”

For Development Partnership grant information email Whitney Ridlon or call her at 218-735-3004. For SBDC business consulting services email Betsy Olivanti or call her at 218-228-8552, ext. 102.

Pictured above are the downtown Ely storefront, the Bear Island Surveying crew at work and new owners Jen Zgonc and Mark Crenshaw with previous owners Charlie & Sue Chernak.


Are you interested in no-cost consulting assistance for your small business? Click here to sign up for business help with Northland SBDC or click Request for Services at the top of this page!

Guest post from The Ranger newsletter published with permission from the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation

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