NNBW tells 21st century business history of Reno region

Part 1 of 2 on the history of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly.

A lot can happen in 15 years. That is especially true in Northern Nevada.

Fifteen years ago in 2002, the nation remained shell-shocked after 9/11. It didn’t take long before the housing bubble began expanding — expanding until it burst. That sent the nation into the Great Recession, with the Reno region in particular, taking an economic nosedive.

In the last few years, the region has not only climbed out of the recession, but also has been carried into an economic renaissance.

Through those 15 years of boom to bust to dramatic resurgence, the Northern Nevada Business Weekly has watched and reported.

This month, the NNBW is celebrating 15 years of bringing business news to the region.

The NNBW’s first edition — Volume 1, No. 1 — published on Aug. 5, 2002. Page 1 stories included “The jobs machine humming,” and “Hot market draws more realty agents.”

From concept to first edition, the creation of the NNBW took about 18 months, according to Ken Moen, one of the original investors and NNBW’s first publisher.

The NNBW began as many startups begin — with a group of entrepreneurs with a vision.

The initial investor group, working as Big Horn Publishing, LLC, consisted of Ken Moen, Don Jassel, Marlene Olsen and Erica Olsen. They envisioned a monthly business publication.

“We called it ‘Project X’ to keep it on the low down,” Moen said during an interview in the NNBW office.

In researching the viability of a business publication, the partners looked at the region as whole, not just Reno.

“Macy’s and Costco, at that time, were the biggest revenue generating stores in Reno,” Moen said.

The partners approached representatives of Swift Communications (then Swift Publishing) to become part of Project X.

Arne Hoel, Swift board chairman, and Dick Larsen, CEO, brought Swift into the project on the condition that they had majority ownership, and that it publish weekly, which the original partners agreed to.

“Arne (Hoel) said, if we went into the market and failed, it would be hard to do it again,” Moen said.

With Swift and its resources on board, the partners hired John Seelmeyer as editor and Pete Copeland to be sales manager and later co-publisher with Moen.

The group also hired its first reporter, Duane Johnson, who has worked for the NNBW throughout its 15-year history.

With the team assembled, the NNBW moved the Monday after the Fourth of July into its first office — a small, second-floor space on Smithridge Drive.

“It was the bones of an office,” Seelmeyer said during an interview with the NNBW. “When the wind was blowing, I could see my coffee slushing in my cup from the wind coming through the (window panes). There were eight, 10 of us jammed in a little office space in a high crime neighborhood.”

In July 2002, they produced a prototype — with real stories, not designer gibberish — with the help of freelance writer Mike Sion, and designer Debbie Wells.

The first official edition came out a month later.

After the first publication, the investors brought champagne to celebrate, Seelmeyer remembered. “I said, ‘No. The hard part was the second one.’”

And it was.

“We never considered ending it. We were never, not going to make it. But the second edition was pretty close,” Seelmeyer said.

Even before the first edition published, the NNBW team had competition for the niche business publication market breathing down its neck.

“It was terrifying,” Seelmeyer said.

One group was only about two weeks behind in developing its business publication, he said. When the NNBW published, the other group pulled the plug.

The fledgling NNBW operated on a shoestring budget.

“Deadline was at 5 (p.m.) Thursday,” Seelmeyer said. “I would go in on Friday morning and vacuum (and the graphics designer cleaned the bathroom and kitchen).”

Seelmeyer noted how well he, Copeland, and Moen worked together.

“Ken (Moen) was a pretty good photographer — the only time we had a dedicated photographer. What a luxury,” Seelmeyer said. “On Monday I would give him a list of things to shoot and Wednesday there they were.”

Through its 15 years, the NNBW has had several offices.

The second office was in an office park behind Trader Joe’s. For a short time, the NNBW staff worked out of the Swift Corporate office in South Meadows after Swift had moved out and before the Boy Scouts purchased the building. Seelmeyer described being in the huge, mostly empty building as “eerie.”

From there, they moved to an office off south Kietzke. And most recently, the NNBW team moved to the heart of the downtown business district at 50 W. Liberty.

Through the moves, the NNBW staff cranked out new editions week after week.

Seelmeyer lead the NNBW’s newsroom staff for 12 years.

“Time just went like hell,” he said. “I could remember the previous edition (that I did) and I can remember the first few days clearly, but the 10 years in between are just a blur.”

They had a lot on the line.

“Both Pete and I had minority stakes. It’s not often that an editor has a stake in the product and almost as rarely, the publisher. That made us highly motivated, highly motivated. Also, if we failed, we’d be gone. We both had young families.”

Seelmeyer remembers many of the stories he wrote for the NNBW.

Every story had to have two elements, he said. First it had to help readers understand something about the economy — how things work. And second, it should help someone who read a NNBW story go sell something.

He saw the latter element in action.

One day, Seelmeyer went to an office for a story interview and saw a copy of the NNBW ripped to shreds, he remembered. The owner said that every week he would go through it and tear things out to give to his sales team.

Another time, after breakfast with a friend and a new acquaintance, they went outside and the acquaintance got into a Porsche. “He said, ‘this is my NNBW car. I bought it exclusively with sales leads I got from the NNBW.’”

“We were being very useful and that’s really what I wanted the publication to be,” Seelmeyer said.

Then the recession hit.

See part 2 of the history of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly in the Aug. 14, 2017 edition.


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