It is sad that the first time the Joplin Business Journal actually wrote anything other than a business fluff piece was in its pubilsher's letter to subscribers, which was included with its final issue.
The Journal, which ran more press releases verbatim than a White House correspondent, was saluted in a bitter three-page goodbye note from Publisher Roger Asay. The note attacks his competitor, Joplin Tri-State Business, that publication's parent publication, the Springfield Business Journal, this blog, the Joplin Chamber of Commerce, and all of those businesses who did not support JBJ.
Apparently, everyone but Asay was at fault for his publication's death. However, the letter made no mention of the fact that, for the most part, Joplin Business Journal avoided everything that resembled actual business news, including less of that commodity than Joplin Tri-State Business, The Turner Report and heaven help us, the Joplin Globe.
In fact, I would hazard a guess that since the first issue of the Joplin Business Journal was published, even the Joplin Daily has run more actual business news...and it published its last issue two years ago.
Asay closes his letter by saying the Joplin Business Journal could mount a comeback with the proper investors. Of course, this comes after he has spent three pages turning off any such potential investors.
Asay's letter is printed below:
Joplin's premiere business journal shutters
Owner cites ad revenue, adverse competitive advantage as causes
Thank you for your patronage of the Joplin Business Journal. We hope that you find our 2009 Meetings and Events edition a
useful resource guide for your planning of your next business extravaganza or special community event.
However, it is with deep regret that we must announce the closure of our doors effective March 31. This publication and the
release of the Health Care Heroes special edition represent the last products for the Joplin Business Journal.
• How it all started
The Joplin Business Journal (JBJ) began as the brainchild of the late Tom Murray, former Joplin Globe editor, who approached
me in August 2005 with the concept of developing a regional business journal. Murray was convinced that the idea could and
should succeed, so we proceeded to explore the market, develop the business plan, open up office space, hire staff, and purchased the Joplin Business Journal.com domain name.
We established the 21-county area of Southeast Kansas, Northeast Oklahoma, and Southwest Missouri as the news target
because it filled an apparent gap between the larger metropolitan areas of Fayetteville, Kansas City, Springfield, Tulsa, and
Wichita. The selection of this underserved market was based in part upon more than 20 years of personal sales and business
experience in the region as an employee, business owner, and business broker.
Our objective was to promote business to business communications by connecting business resources in larger communities to
those offered by those in small cities and towns, and vice versa. While there was risk and a sizeable financial investment for start up, I was in a position to make it happen, so we moved forward.
• Early issues and surprises
We were aware that the Springfield Business Journal (SBJ) was making overtures into the region. Murray had conversations
with the SBJ late in 2005 and even introduced them to leaders in the community, but they gave him no clear indications that they would move into Joplin. As I recalled from our conversations, the SBJ wanted a show of support before they made a decision and that would require about $400,000 in contracts.
The JBJ introduced its premiere edition Jan. 30, 2006 to the market with plans to start weekly production in February.
However, to our surprise during the course of producing our first edition, we discovered that the SBJ announced Jan. 17 that they would launch their first edition of a new publication for Joplin by April 10. That was not an immediate issue because competition is good, except that unknown to us, the SBJ was in town selling advertising contracts, perhaps capitalizing on what they developed from Murray's introductions.
The SBJs new publication, Joplin Tri-State Business (JTSB), first edition boasted more than 20 businesses or organizations on
its back cover as supporters. The problem for JBJ developed when we went to sell advertising for our first edition and found our efforts blocked because many of the local companies had signed contracts earlier with the JTSB.
One could argue that SBJ got out of the starting gate faster, but we believe they used Murray to advance a hidden agenda.
Our second surprise came when we learned the new JTSB, which is owned and managed by the Springfield Business Journal,
had secured space in the Joseph Newman Innovation Center (JNIC). We had no idea that a 25-year-old company would be eligible to locate in a business incubator, which is where they have been for the past three years.
That move created a most uneven playing field for the JBJ. Based upon the information that I obtained from the Center's Web
site, the fundamental mission of the incubator is to give a start up business a foundation for growth for creating jobs. An incubator is designed to accelerate the successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services, developed and orchestrated by incubator management and offered both in the incubator and through its network of contacts.
The typical "stay time" is less than three years. So why is the JTSB still there and not in their own place?
• Operational inequities
Another ditch in the playing field is simply cost of operation. According to my information, much of the operation of the
Center is subsidized by grants or other funding sources from local, state and federal agencies - I read that basically as taxpayer dollars. Those subsidies translate into reduced rent space for tenants, and with the addition of the "array of business support resources and services" such as high speed Internet at little or no cost to the tenant, that drives overhead down even further. Here at the JBJ, we don't have subsidy support; we paid for everything - leased floor space, all utilities, communication lines, housekeeping, and maintenance of common areas. We have to pay for a loading dock for delivery of printed product and mailroom personnel, which JTSB does not have locally because their publication is assembled and shipped from Springfield.
For example, based upon the commercial rent figures the JBJ researched for previous stories, a lO-foot by 10-foot office space
for a soft business located along the Range Line corridor could average $1,400 per month or about $14 per square foot. That same space in an incubator, because of the subsidizing, runs $200, plus a small percentage for access to common areas, such as entries, hallways, conference areas, and washrooms. These incubator costs may vary depending on the amount of subsidy, but the point is, the cost is far less than what a standalone business pays.
The JTSB publisher, Dianne Osis, went out of her way in an April 7-20, 2008 opinion to highlight the advantages of being in
the JNIC. Why not, she's getting it practically rent-free.
"This is a beautiful building and a perfect place for our headquarters. Although we only have two rooms, we have the use of
an impressive conference room and many other amenities most importantly being close to the heart of the rebirth of downtown and right next door to our friends at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce."
Speaking about employees and their cost, JTSB has 3.5 persons in its local office - an editor, a reporter, an account executive,
and part-time office person publishing a bi-weekly product. There is no production staff for layout and design, no marketing,
accounting or research director, and nearly all other work is handled in Springfield. The JBJ employed an average of 19 highly
skilled full and shared time individuals publishing every week to cover all of the bases.
Regarding the issues of sales and use taxes paid by both organizations, those arguments would take up more space than is available here. However, during our years of operation and as the climate for two business journals in one community became clearer, I became more convinced that the sales taxes, dues paid for Chamber membership, and a pledge of $5,000 to the JNIC were being used by the Chamber to our detriment.
Another perk for occupants of the incubator that I learned about is preferential treatment if they are members of the Chamber.
Part of this was evident from their editorial content, stories that could only have come from information passed to them directly from the Chamber. It seems that almost all of the news stories and advertisers are either Chamber members or supporters, or Chamber generated.
• Mixed message and perception
It is not surprising that this publication contains Springfield ads and news stories, and supports that city. In the 2008 Chamber
Expo, they featured the Springfield Cardinal mascot in support of their minor league baseball team. The Joplin Chamber cozied
up to this and a whole series of photos featuring this mascot was in the next JTSB issue.
If you examine their new Web site (joplintristate.biz/) you will find one column with Springfield news and one with Joplin
news. They cover all of the Joplin area with that one column. It just seems that the parent company of the JTSB, the Springfield
Business Journal, considers Joplin an outpost of Springfield, just like they do Branson.
The other part comes from the fact that the JTSB had the foyer booth at the 2007 Chamber expo even though they hadn't been
a member for very long; yet the JBJ, who has been a Chamber member since 1991, had to stand in line at the Chamber office at 4:30 a.m. to get one of the last three booths for the expo.
Also of interest, during the 2008 and 2009 expos, JTSB was again in the forefront, while JBJ was relegated space deeper in the
show. This may seem childish to some, but is does raise questions as to how JTSB did it.
• Why the JBJ could not remain open and lessons learned.
First, it was difficult to keep a steady sales force. When a company has sales rep turnover, it is very hard to establish the kind of relationship with your customer and potential customers. Recruiting and retaining quality account executives was challenging.
When our account executives were making sales calls, it didn't take long for them to discover that the JTSB was like an arm of
the Joplin Chamber of Commerce. The best we could do was share the advertising dollars. Almost everyone that was a Chamber member supported the Chambers' endorsed publication, which was reflected in the JTSB editorial content.
It would be difficult to sell the JBJ business unit with the Chamber of Commerce being so aggressive in the support of the
JTSB, or perhaps by its new brand, Joplin Tri-State Business Journal, and having them continue in a subsidized location.
We are able to compete and welcome competition, but it needs to be on a level playing field, and we are no match for the
Chamber of Commerce. In addition to damaging my personal reputation, they have caused me great financial damage. I haven't
decided how I am going to deal with the two final issues.
• Reflections and accomplishments
All being said, I want to leave things on a positive note. Retrospectively, the JBJ accomplished a number of firsts that we felt
made the publication a news leader in our marketplace:
First to publish a weekly business magazine in our market and provide a companion Web site
First to publish a weekly comprehensive list of business interest and annual Book of Lists
First to present the 40 Under 40, an event honoring 40 upcoming business leaders under the age of 40
First to recognize the accomplishments of the dedicated group of people working in the expanding health care community with our Health Care Heroes
First to recognize the outstanding accomplishments and leadership of women in our communities with our Women of Distinction awards
First to recognize the growth of commercial construction in the region with our Landmark Awards, honoring the
outstanding achievements of the architects, engineers, financers, and construction management firms, that made these buildings possible
First to recognize the achievements of companies and individuals that have impacted the environment in our market
with their green practices
First to publish a comprehensive Meeting and Events Guide designed to assist corporations and area convention
and visitor bureaus in planning their next business or entertainment event.
All of our events were successful, and the event participants were the leaders in their fields. In addition to these firsts, the JBJ
was proud to be selected as a co-sponsor of the Kaysinger Buiness Conference at Cottey College in Nevada, Mo., and to participate in the Health Care Symposium at Miami, Okla.
While local blogs and other print publications have in recent days been less than stellar with their remarks about our closure,
there are many readers that have expressed their appreciation of our magazine and its efforts to recognize the achievements of
business and its people, and were sadden to learn the news of our shutdown. Here are a few of the more recent comments:
For our coverage of the deactivation process at the Kansas Army Ammunition Plant in Parsons, Bill Gorman, manager of quality
assurance for Day and Zimmerman Inc., wrote, "Fantastic article! Your perspective is just what we the employees and community need to read and understand. The facility and D&Z are here to stay." His words of appreciation were echoed by Steve Kosman, director of engineering, in a similar email message to the Journal.
Joe Harding, president of Joe Harding Inc., wrote in a letter to two Journal employees, "I cannot thank both of you for the fine
business association between our company and the Joplin Business Journal. Your publication has been a great asset for us and
the entire Four State area."
"It was most meaningful to us to learn of all those persons engaged in the various aspects of health care in the four-state area," wrote Earl and Wilma Perry, volunteers at Freeman Health System who were recognized by the JBJ at the 2009 Health Care Heroes award banquet recently. "The award presented to us was most meaningful as I am sure it was to all of the other recipients of those honors,"
An avid follower of JBJ news and long time employee of Sen. Sam Brownback's office in Pittsburg, Kan., Anne Emerson said
she was sad to see such a great publication close.
"To have an opportunity to come to the Journal to see the quality of people and level of professionalism in the way you treated
customers or the people being honored was very impressive. It was a level of professionalism that you don't always see and I
was deeply appreciative of it. I think that your ability to honor different people in the community gives them incentive to work
a little bit harder for community development. The closure is going to be a devastating loss for the three state region."
In closing, we believe that the Journal has been a successful product for the Tri-State region because it has turned the spotlight of mainstream business from the metropolitan areas of the country to the heartland of America. The Joplin Business Journal, the region's first independent publication of its kind, has indeed provided an important voice not only for business and industry, but it has focused attention on the communities and its people that contribute tremendously to the economy of the region.
We do not believe the Joplin Business Journal is a dead issue. This project was exactly right and should still be published.
Despite the unusual obstacles that we could not overcome entirely, we were right on target. Attracting the right investors and resurrecting the Journal could once again restore a positive business focus to the region.
The JBJ has been proud to serve the business communities in the 21 counties of our market. It took a focused group of employees to develop relationships with people and business in each of the 45 communities we covered. We were able to do profiles of community leaders and gather business news from every community in our market.
For myself and the staff of the Joplin Business Journal, I thank you for your support of the publication and for opening the
doors of your business or organization so we could share your story of success with others around the region.
Roger Asay, president
Asay Media Network