Editor’s note: Working Our Way Back to You, will profile Ohio Valley natives who have left town but returned to the community that created them. In the first of the series, writer Phil Gable introduces us to Jay Goodman.
Perhaps I’m a sucker for a hero’s journey. From Star Wars to Lord of the Rings, some of the most riveting tales follow a protagonist who reluctantly leaves home, faces trials and temptations, becomes transformed, and finally returns with newfound knowledge, skills and abilities.
While I’m not here to belabor a trope or insist that all stories fit into a monomyth, I do so love chronicling the accounts of professionals who originated in the Ohio River Valley, “got out,” and then later came back to cultivate the community that created them.
These narratives are not fairytales. They are your neighbors, and it sure seems these days as if more and more of them are returning.
Who are these professionals and where did they go? What did they struggle with before adapting and overcoming? What are they bringing back to the valley, and how has their perspective changed? In this series, I sit down with a few of these locals to listen to their stories and reflect on what they discovered.
I begin by catching up over coffee with Jay Goodman of Harvey Goodman Realtor.
Goodman’s trim, athletic profile and eager energy disguise 40 years of age, leaving you with the sense that his best is yet to come. As we discuss origins, it becomes clear that Goodman’s latent sense of closeness to the valley developed early — born in the Ohio Valley Medical Center and raised in St. Clairsville, Goodman attended The Linsly School until his graduation in 1998.
“I have no complaints,” he reflects. “I had a great childhood.”
Since his youth unfolded on both sides of the river, it’s not surprising that he has carried into adulthood a fondness for both.
Nevertheless, the call of a different kind of community led him on a journey out of town and away to Ohio University. It is in this moment that Goodman and I attempt to puzzle out when he “left.” Did he officially leave when he moved away to college, or did things get real when he left the state? Perhaps in this case, “leaving” is more a process than an event, although Goodman noted that physically moving away for college represented a significant milestone.
However, at the end of four years with degree in hand, Goodman recounts: “I had graduated from Athens and did not want to move home yet even though I had a family business.” College friends of his were living in Chicago, and Goodman was eager to launch his fledgling career in good company. It was the beginning of a fresh and exciting era.
A DECADE AWAY
“I quickly learned that I didn’t know much,” Goodman muses. Counseling clients through the home-buying process takes on new meaning when you’re a young professional renting in the shadows of Wrigley Field, and Goodman soon discovered a necessary tension between “faking it ’til you make it” and earning the buyer’s trust through interpersonal authenticity. His solution? “I told people I was new,” he explained. “You can still be confident and honest at the same time.”
His commitment to “put people first” took on new meaning as well. While continuing to work as a broker, Goodman began seeing his clients differently. “Each person had a story,” he noted. “They had things going on that were more important than my paycheck.” Goodman also encountered what he dubbed “the grind.” Goodman quickly found himself slogging through long hours: “I was doing property showings on nights and weekends” and noted that the work could be “feast or famine.”
Nevertheless, professional life in Chicago brought unique opportunities in addition to these challenges, and Goodman overcame knowledge gaps and the “grind” by working for two years as the licensing assistant for one of the top producing agents in the city — a move that afforded him timely mentorship and connections. He also eventually began acquiring property of his own: “I bought a three-unit in a bad but up-and-coming part of town.” While taking the leap was a bit scary, Goodman observes, “People ask, ‘How should I prepare?’” His response? “Just start doing it!”
And then there was the time when he walked a potential buyer through a residential property only to have that buyer convince Goodman to work for him in the commercial real estate business! One thing led to another, and before long, he had become a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM). “I guess he won,” Goodman chuckles.
Things were looking up. In addition to a growing career, Goodman also found love in the form of Rachel, a bright-eyed artist and native from Saskatchewan, Canada. Talk turned to discussions about family — how to start one, and also what to do with the family business back in the Ohio Valley. The couple watched as their peers began migrating to the suburbs of Chicago.
“We were downtown,” Goodman explained. “The Chicago public school system, for where we lived, was not great.” They began adding up the pros and cons. Goodman knew that while he felt no pressure to step into the family business, his father was reaching a decision point regarding who would eventually take on his clients. More importantly, Goodman contrasted downtown Chicago with his childhood memories. “I thought of the upbringing I had had … and it was night and day.”
After a decade in the Windy City, the Ohio Valley was calling Goodman home.
When asked if the valley seemed different after his homecoming, Goodman laughed: “Not really!” Then, pausing, he grows more thoughtful: “There’s definitely something new on the cusp,” Goodman explained. “There’s this new industry beneath our feet.”
In describing the impact of emerging petrochemical industries on the real estate market, Goodman reflected, “I was pleasantly surprised at how much action there was!” While the appeal of starting a family ultimately brought him back, new career opportunities rewarded that decision.
Goodman also realized that his 10 years of big city experience combined well with local markets. He also emphasizes that “it’s important to know that going away was an important step in the family business.” Doing so meant seeing the valley around him with new eyes. Rather than remain working in one niche market, Goodman could branch out into several — brokerage, land development, property management, construction, and commercial and residential property development. Instead of remaining a one-trick pony in a big city, Goodman’s professional capabilities could become more diversified. He had left the valley a boy and returned to it a city builder.
Rewarding as these occupational achievements have been, Goodman nevertheless notes that what he enjoys are a couple of fundamental paradoxes. To begin with, where else beside Wheeling can an individual simultaneously experience both small-town and big-city life? Furthermore, there’s the close-knit community — a tantalizing mix of “new people” and “people who I grew up with, whom I’ve known my whole life.” Having journeyed long and returned, Goodman now appreciates a depth of perspective to life and work.
Throughout our conversation, a unifying theme emerges. There’s this call of community — a sense of place that nurtured Goodman as a child, then compelled him to follow his friends to Chicago, and ultimately bid him to come back to the valley and to his family’s business. After all, what would a career be without a sense of place, a sense of belonging?
And so it is that, without realizing it, Goodman has been working his way back to you.
• Phil Gable is a psychologist, veteran and Army Reservist with a history of one deployment to Afghanistan. Despite growing up in Kennesaw, Georgia, he likes to think of himself as having “married into” the Ohio Valley where his wife grew up. He is a graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University and Fuller Theological Seminary, where he completed his doctor of philosophy in clinical psychology. When not shamelessly navel-gazing or sipping bourbon, he likes to pursue hobbies such as writing, reading and running. Phil considers Wheeling the perfect place to do all of these things, and can occasionally be found hiding out in the comic book section of the library downtown.