Harpen opens businessWritten by Beth Irwin | | email@example.com
“You can take the attitude of ‘I’m stuck in Toledo and there’s nothing I can do about it,’ but realize that you could be stuck anywhere and not be able to do anything about it. Whatever your passion or avocation is, you can do it here.”
So said Jim Harpen, president of The Land Contract Store, which opened its doors last month in Sylvania Township. The company may be new, but Harpen is no stranger to Toledo, having spent 12 years in television news at WTVG. Since the late 1990s, Harpen has traveled wherever his ideas and aspirations have sent him.
In 2005, Harpen moved to South Florida to launch a magazine, but the venture was rained out by category 5 Hurricane Wilma. That left Harpen with a couple of options, including returning to Toledo or remaining in South Florida. He went to work at WIOD, a news-talk station in Miami. In less than a year, however, he returned to the Toledo area to be closer to family and friends, even though finding a job was going to be a challenge.
“Jobs are plentiful down there. One of the first things I noticed was that the [South Florida] Sun-Sentinel had a Help Wanted section that was 26 or 27 pages long,” Harpen said. “One of the toughest things about coming back to Toledo was knowing that I was coming back to a tougher job market, and you don’t really realize it until you start looking for a job at the age of 45 or 46.”
Comparing living in Toledo with living in Fort Lauderdale, Harpen said it is difficult to get around in South Florida. His 23-mile commute to WIOD often exceeded an hour.
“The amount of time you spend in traffic is a frustration. The amount of money you spend on housing is a frustration. You get paid like you would in Toledo, but you pay to live as if you’re in Upper Manhattan,” he said.
He adds that the personality of South Florida is very different from Toledo.
“When I used to hear a civic booster say, ‘You know, Toledo is a very friendly town,’ I would think that’s the kind of thing a civic booster would say when they couldn’t find anything else to say about a town, but it’s God’s-honest truth,” Harpen said. “Striking up a casual conversation with someone in South Florida is almost unheard of. At first it’s a novelty, almost amusing, but after a while it wears on you.”
Harpen said one thing South Florida has going for it is a willingness to embrace change. “New is old down there. People are trying new things all the time. Here, we tend to be on the tail end of a trend.
“It’s tough to sell ideas here. In general, Toledoans tend to be more comfortable with tangible things like stores and factories rather than new concepts or ideas.”
Even the idea for The Land Contract Store, Harpen said, will take time to establish itself here. With banks tightening credit standards, almost a third of people who could have qualified for a bank loan a year ago no longer can, which means slow home sales.
Homeowners who want or need to sell due to job changes or other circumstances have fewer eligible buyers. Harpen, who has mortgage lending experience, developed the idea for The Land Contract Store as a way to help homeowners become home sellers in a tough market made more complicated by the collapse of the subprime mortgage industry.
“People will say, ‘Gee, I don’t know of anyone who has used a land contract to sell a home, or a lease/purchase option.’ And they don’t really want to be the first one on the block to try it. But as soon as the company has its feet on the ground in Toledo, we are going to look at expanding into other markets that have a track record of more readily adapting to new ideas.”
Even if Toledoans seem hesitant to embrace new ideas, Harpen said he’s noticed more of a grassroots acceptance of entrepreneurship.
“That’s how companies like Jeep and Owens-Illinois came to be. It was through entrepreneurship … people with ideas.”