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What this man does with a million acres and why

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 29th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The man with a million acres just likes buying land. Most people barely own their homes, but billionaire Brad Kelly, 55, is one of the largest, and most eccentric landowners in the country.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Recently featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kelly made his fortune in the discount cigarette business. Ironically, he says he "never defended the practice" and that he doesn't smoke. However, the self-made billionaire has made his fortune from the industry. 

Kelly was born in Franklin, Kentucky, and bought a small cattle ranch when he was just 17. He never completed college, but he did have a head for business. 

When he noticed old tobacco warehouses sitting empty, he bought them and leased their space to other small businesses and manufacturers. While cleaning out one old warehouse, he found some cigarette-making equipment. This gave him the idea to make cigarettes.

Kelly started Commonwealth Brands based in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He built the business up, then sold it in 2001. 

Meanwhile. Kelly continued investing in land. In 1997, he began buying land outside of Kentucky, looking to Florida and Texas for undervalued parcels. 

As Kelly's land holdings grew, he took up a new hobby - breeding exotic animals. Working with zoos and conservation groups, Kelly breeds a wide range of endangered species including tapirs, buffalo, hippos, rhinos, and more. 

His strategy is certainly about making money, but he isn't a speculator. Kelly keeps almost all of the land he buys, often renting it back to the previous owner who stays on to manage it. Most of the land he buys is ranch land. 

He denies that there has been any plan in buying the land, other than to preserve and enjoy it. "There's never been a grand plan," Kelly told the WSJ. Life takes you a lot of places, every day you adjust your compass."

Land ownership is becoming an increasingly popular investment strategy, especially for those with large reserves of wealth. Billionaire land owners frequently purchase land in the American west where it is relatively cheap, and where people are likely to move in future generations as they escape the urban sprawl of the east. 

What will become of this land is up for speculation. Some parcels will certainly be sold and become part of the mix of cities and towns that exist now or will thrive in future years. Others will hopefully be preserved for generations, becoming private or even public parks and reserves for the public to enjoy. 

For Kelly however, the land buys are mostly about enjoyment and personal satisfaction. "I fell in love with the West; the wide-open spaces, the wildlife and beautiful landscapes. I knew immediately that I wanted more land-and lots of it." It's a common allure to which many have succumbed.


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