When I moved back to this area about a year ago, I was a little nervous.
First, I was moving up here from Seattle to be with m’lady, and the thought of cohabitation was a little scary.
Even more terrifying to me, however, was the realization that I would be covering business news.
In my previous reporting experience, assignments had taken me to gruesome crime scenes, the depths of the sea on a nuclear submarine, amidst angry mobs of protesters, the picket lines of a contentious strike, and the locker rooms of pro sports teams.
None of these locales, to me, however, were as horrifying as a company boardroom.
I knew nearly nothing of the cold, hard world they called “Business.”
And boy, was it going to show.
To the chagrin of my grandpa, a former vice president at Washington Mutual, I’d never balanced my checkbook (why bother? I get my balance every time I take money out of the ATM, right?)
I own mutual funds — but I’d be danged if I could tell you their names.
I owned stock in World Wrestling Entertainment— that’s right, Vinnie Mac’s big-time rasslin’ company — and its value was falling faster than the Heartbreak Kid coming off the top rope to deliver an elbow drop.
While my experience with the business world was extremely limited, I wasn’t totally unprepared, though.
As a kid, I’d served as a co-owner of a lemonade stand on Bainbridge Island.
In Monopoly, I’d been the dog, racecar, thimble and hat. I had ambitions to one day be the wheelbarrow.
Because of my love of rap music, I knew which president was on the hundred-dollar bill.
And I’d seen “Wall Street.” Twice.
Within a few weeks of starting at The Bellingham Business Journal, however, I learned that the business world wasn’t the realm of monocles, stiffs in suits, spreadsheets, TPS reports, and quarterly meetings I had it pegged to be.
Businesspeople, to my amazement, were actually people, too.
Maybe, just once in all my days of reading newspapers, I should’ve taken out that section that came after the world affairs, local news, sports and horoscopes, and learned more.
I’ve been missing out.
Sure, there are days when business reporting requires me to cover shady dealings, crunch numbers or learn the intricacies of, say, bankruptcy, but, more often than not, it’s about talking to interesting people, with interesting stories, and telling their tales to others.
Prior to covering this type of news, when I entered a business, I never gave much thought to how it came to be. I took its products and services for granted.
Businesspeople, I’ve learned, are a special breed. They can see certain needs that others can’t, and they meet them. They have the stamina and drive to put in the long hours necessary to achieve success. Despite their fears, they take chances.
In less than a year here, I’ve met plenty of them.
Tom McNutt, owner of Boccemon, for example, quit his career in landscaping and improved the game of bocce by perfecting a court made of oyster shells.
Former commercial crabber Harvey Ives made a few changes to an old-fashioned crab pot and started his own company, Trilogy Crab Pots. Today, he sells about 30,000 pots a year, charging around $45 apiece.
Drew Ryder, a former journalist, saw a cheaper, easier way to feed pigs in their barns. His electronic feeding system at FeedLogic has been rated a top emerging technology by universities and tech officials.
Anne-Marie Faiola put $15,000 worth of soap-making products on a credit card a few years ago and today her soap-making supplies company grosses more than $2 million.
Businesspeople fascinate me. And, as is the case with most people, you can learn a lot just by talking to them.
While I still might not be balancing my checkbook, or be able to name my mutual funds, from business reporting I’ve learned a lot about the people who help drive our economy, and what it takes for them to make their businesses successful.
Also, I’ve learned that the business owner isn’t typically the dull person in a dark suit I once imagined them to be. They follow sports, they fish, they enjoy cold adult beverages.
In many ways, they’re a lot like me. They just make a lot more money.
J.J. Jensen is a reporter at The Bellingham Business Journal. He can be reached by calling 647-8805, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.