Solo Notes: The Value Of Variety
Matthew Filus, RLS, has 26 years of experience in public- and private-sector land surveying and civil engineering. He is owner and principal surveyor at Reedsburg, Wis.-based Excelsior Group, founded in 2002. Filus is licensed as a professional surveyor in Wisconsin and Iowa.
His experience includes right-of-way retracement and platting, engineering roadway design, alignment and route surveying, boundary surveying, topographic surveying, mapping, Public Land Surveying System (PLSS) corner perpetuation and positioning, geodetic surveying, CAD, geographic information systems (GIS), site planning, permitting, contract and specifications preparation and administration, field engineering and construction layout, construction and records management, as well as non-metallic mining permitting and reclamation planning.
Over the course of his career as a surveyor, Filus says one of the many things he’s come to appreciate is the many places his job takes him that he wouldn’t otherwise venture to.
POB: What aspects of the business do you enjoy most and why?
FILUS: First and foremost, the technology and how it has advanced since I have been in the profession. While workflows are ever-changing because of this, the reward is typically a more expedient and thorough method to complete a given task. I also truly enjoy the variety of tasks required to complete a land surveying project. There is no such thing as a “typical day.” This variety also offers the opportunity to see varying landscapes and go a lot of places many people will never go. The profession is also very rewarding in that you are typically helping people with finding a solution to a problem.
POB: Do you have any memorable stories from field work and/or a favorite project you worked on?
FILUS: There have been many over the years, at least in the eyes of a surveyor. Searching for and finding original evidence of corners, both PLSS and others, is always exciting. I have also worked on a few historic properties of Wisconsin, including a structural survey of Frank Lloyd Wright’s former home named Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis. I also converted the original Red Lodge in Chetek, Wis. into condominiums. This is the former Leinenkugel brewing family’s lakeshore retreat.
In 2006, I formed a friendship with James M. Vianna, a professional surveyor from upstate New York. Jim and I met through a continuing education function and became fast friends. We have visited each other several times since, making working vacations of the trips. Experiencing boundary surveying in a colonial state and viewing the efforts made in the vast research and field reconnaissance necessary there has been rewarding.
A good portion of my work over the years has been connected with land records modernization. I have been involved in the development of many mapping and GIS efforts of local and county governments. Seeing these systems come online and be usable has been very satisfying.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
FILUS: There are always your day-to-day complications. That’s just life. I enjoy the profession to a level where these don’t get me down. The great recession was a financial challenge, but I learned from it. Prior to the downfall I was practicing mostly in areas of land development. Since then, I have diversified my project types and size to sustain through the next financial cycle.
POB: How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?
FILUS: Print; I read all the surveying periodicals. I peruse numerous surveying-related websites. Continuing education seminars. YouTube webinars; this is my typical nightly activity before bed. I pick a topic and find something I can learn.
POB: Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to get into the surveying business today?
FILUS: Network. It is the best marketing available. Reciprocate business with your clients. Know your limitations; don’t bite off more than you can chew. Leverage technology but don’t be a slave to it. Have a niche but diversify. Think outside the box. I know it is cliché, but find where you are inefficient and make changes. Volunteer and give something back to the community, however you can.
POB: How has the surveying profession changed since you started and where do you see it heading in the future?
FILUS: The technology of surveying had remained fairly static from its beginnings, until the advent of electronic distance measuring and computers. Since then, we have witnessed exponential advances in measurement, calculation and deliverable preparation methods.
I started surveying full time in 1989 after my schooling. My first couple of years was spent in civil engineering, performing design surveys and drafting. Field work was completed with a tape, transit and dumpy level. Drafting either was completed free-hand or with a Leroy kit. Today, everything is automated and digital.
For boundary surveying, it appears as though major advances in technology have plateaued. I am sure new innovations will come along, but not at the pace we have seen in the past 30 years. I see surveyors becoming more specialized — back to our roots of boundary work — as other professions are filling the need for other specialized services such as GIS, construction layout, machine guidance and the like.
Matthew Filus, RLS, owns Excelsior Group, based in Reedsburg, Wis. He has been in the business of surveying for the past 26 years and can be reached at email@example.com.
Solo Notes is a regular feature in POB magazine and highlights the experiences and strategies of solo surveyors and small business owners. To share your story in a future issue, please email Associate Editor Valerie King at firstname.lastname@example.org.