Posted May 17, 2016 at 5:45 PM
Updated May 17, 2016 at 7:21 PM
In a town of 20,000 platted on a patch of prairie on foundations laid by coal miners and railroaders, seven jets are housed at a busy airport.
The jets belong to companies that call Pittsburg home — companies that started at kitchen tables and in basements, and now employ thousands of employees who serve national and global markets.
“There is something in the water here,” laughed Ken Brock, president of Names & Numbers, as the company celebrated its 42nd anniversary. “There are more entrepreneurial people in Pittsburg than any town I know of. I’ve often wondered what would make this one town be as inspirational to as many people as it has.”
He does not know the answer.
But he didn’t mind pausing from the business of overseeing the creation and distribution of phone books in 70 markets to speculate.
“I guess I would say that there’s encouragement and inspiration from what other people have done,” he said.
Billionaire businessman Gene Bicknell, who came from humble beginnings and went on to found several hugely successful companies in Pittsburg, has been a good friend to Brock for many years and has always been approachable.
So have other executives who have grown their businesses to million dollar annual revenues, but who are “ordinary guys” who still can be found tailgating in jeans and Pittsburg State University sweatshirts in the PSU parking lot each Saturday during football season, Brock said.
“I can sit down on the farm with Gene and talk because that’s where we still live today,” he said. “We have our roots in a more humble place than business. That’s part of the magic in Pittsburg. Every one of these people, you can sit down and have coffee with. You can ask advice. Ask for solutions.”
Brock grew up in a town one county away with dirt streets and a few hundred residents. “It was an adventure to come to Pittsburg,” Brock recalls. “If you came to Pittsburg, you really were doing something.”
His mother and father started a telephone company in their living room — switchboard and everything, Mayberry style — that as a child, Brock learned to operate. They soon had need for telephone directories, which his dad had typeset and paid for with an advertisement from the local feed store. As a teen, Brock became his salesman.
In 1974, his dad sold his business to a company in Minnesota, and Brock sought out an opportunity to start his own phone book company in Pittsburg. He bought files from a Springfield business that was closing, brought them home in the trunk of his Fort Ltd., replaced his living room furniture with a desk and file cabinet, and went to work. Brock, who has never been to college, now employs 250 people — half of whom live in Pittsburg and half who are in 12 satellite offices across the U.S. A shelf in the front lobby is filled with industry awards from the company has garnered.