Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Reflecting on John Lohman's 20 years of success, it's astonishing to recall the bold career change that transformed his life.

As communications manager for the Duane Arnold Energy Center—Iowa's only nuclear power plant—Lohman finally rebounded after being terminated from a local daily newspaper in his first real job after earning a master’s degree from the University of Iowa. But the stigma of being dismissed still haunted him.

“I had never been fired before, in fact I had never known anyone who had ever been fired,” said Lohman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from the University of Iowa in 1995. “I wondered how can I never get fired again? The only answer to that question is to be your own boss and start your own business.”

Lohman knew the goal, but he didn’t know the business idea. After seeing how successful the Business Record business publication was in the Greater Des Moines area, Lohman had a light bulb moment: Why wasn’t there something like the Business Record in Iowa City or Cedar Rapids?

So, in July 2004, Lohman founded the Corridor Business Journal (CBJ), a publication that spotlights new businesses, profiles interesting businesses and community leaders, and provides context on commercial activity in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor. The company now has a full slate of digital products and hosts events in the region.

Lohman was always organized and a good relationship-builder, but he did not take a college business class as an undergraduate or in graduate school. He did complete an evening MBA course from the University of Iowa that required a business idea and creation of a business plan. After working on that plan for two years, Lohman approached his wife Aspen (who he met at a toga party at the University of Iowa) with a brazen request.

“I said, sweetheart, I want to quit my very good paying job at the utility to start a newspaper in our basement in North Liberty,” Lohman said. “If it doesn’t work out, we can always fall back on your half time first grade teacher salary. Inexplicably, she said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”

Two factors were essential in getting CBJ off the ground. First, was the University of Iowa, where Lohman received two degrees (he added a master’s in journalism in 1998), was student body president, and, as a member of Delta Tau Delta, became well acquainted with Herky the Hawk.

“I bleed black and gold,” Lohman said. 

The other factor was Paul Heath, regional director of the University of Iowa Small Business Development Center.

“Paul read the business plan, he helped me get office space in the Technology Innovation Center (on what used to be known as Oakdale campus), he helped me with the financial review, he helped me get connected to a banker, which gave us our loan to get the business off the ground,” Lohman said.

Heath began working with Lohman in 2001.

“We looked at his financing and reviewed his business plan,” Heath said. “We had 200-300 hours involved with him between the students and myself over a number of years. He settled on (the CBJ idea) pretty early and went with it.”

In November of 2008, Heath nominated Lohman for Iowa Small Business Person of the Year. He won the award and went to Washington, D.C., to meet President Barack Obama. The grandeur of the White House stood in stark contrast and a universe away from the humble beginnings of the first CBJ office in the basement of Lohman’s North Liberty house. In 2004, CBJ employed five people before moving to an office in the Technology Innovation Center on the University of Iowa Oakdale Campus. It relocated to the Iowa River Landing for a month before being flooded in 2008. In 2016, Lohman built the CBJ “world headquarters” off Highway 380 between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. He launched the Quad Cities Regional Business Journal (QCBJ) 2 ½ years ago and now has more than 20 employees.

Lohman took a risk, rolled the dice, and his daring decisions have led to a remarkable 20 years of success.

“The thing I appreciate most are the relationships I have been able to create with business leaders across the region,” Lohman said. “It’s not all about John and Aspen Lohman. We have been able to create a great team with great work-life balance. It is neat we have been able to create a good working environment for a lot of folks.”