Becoming the face of Omaha business in a national magazine took more than a hop, skip and a jump for former triple-jump track star Steve Gordon.
The amount of effort it took was ridiculous. Make that RDQLUS, as in the name of his brand-management company, RDQLUS Creative.
He credits his late father, Steve Gordon Sr., for his artistic and athletic side, and his mother, Juliana Traynham, as his inspiration.
“My mother was an amazing influence,” Steve said. “She wasn't the type who would just say you could accomplish anything. She was more along the lines of, 'You can do anything, but it will require you to strive to be great at it.' ''
Gordon, 38, is part of the metro's growing young creative class, which the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce increasingly touts. He is pictured this month in a full-page ad in United Airlines' United Hemispheres magazine, which is expected to get up to 12.5 million views worldwide.
Tied to next week's U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, the ad is part of the chamber's Only in Omaha series. Steve is shown crouched on the ice, a skater faintly in the background, as he holds a pair of shoes from his own clothing line — RDQ on one shoe, LUS on the other.
In college, he often used “ridiculous” as an ironic catchword — not in its traditional negative sense but rather, he said, as slang for “wow, very good, exciting, out of the ordinary.”
A friend challenged him to put the word on his license plate, and Steve compressed it to RDQLUS. He worked as a graphic designer for several years before starting his own firm eight years ago — naming it RDQLUS Creative.
It's nothing to ridicule. He has worked with large companies such as T-Mobile, Disney/ABC, MSN and Nike, as well as medium- and small-sized firms. Though he lived for a time in New York and has clients there as well as in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and elsewhere, he runs it all from the Big O.
“I work for myself,” he said, “but I tell people I have 40 bosses a year. Each one of my clients is a new challenge.”
But why from Omaha?
“I could move to anywhere,” he acknowledged, “but that's the beauty of the Internet. I can do it all from right here and get a plane ticket to those other places. I see myself as a hunter-gatherer — my job is to bring things back to the Omaha home base.”
Words like that are music to folks at the chamber of commerce. Dusty Reynolds, director of entrepreneurship and innovation at the chamber, said young “creatives” in Omaha — not just in business, but also in arts, fashion, music and other areas — are “taking ownership” in the community and making it better.
For the past 15 years or so, it's often said, Omaha has enjoyed an improved “cool factor.” Long considered a good place to raise a family, the metro area is now seen more often by young professionals as a place with cultural, job and business opportunities.
For many, that makes it an attractive place to stay — or to return to — for folks known as “boomerangs.”
“We're seeing more people stay and others boomerang, returning after being away for four or five years,” Dusty said. “People are able to put a stake in the ground and be proud of building something.”
The notion that younger adults are staying or returning is no longer just anecdotal. The chamber points to the increased number of metro-area residents in the 25-to-34-years age group.
The 2000 Census showed 111,565 in that group. By 2011, also using Census results, the American Community Survey pegged the number at 129,885, a 16 percent rise.
The chamber's Reynolds said talented people appreciate being around other talented folks. Steve Gordon, he said, is a great example of an Omaha guy who came back and is making a big difference.
“Steve is a unique individual, very, very community driven,” he said. “He's done a phenomenal job building his personal brand, and he has a robust community online and off.”
Gordon said he is proud to have grown up in north Omaha and lamented that “a lot of negativity surrounds north Omaha.” Despite that, he said, the area has produced many talented people.
He was a long-jumper and triple-jumper at Creighton Prep, graduating in 1992, and competed in track for two years at Nebraska. He then transferred to the University of South Dakota, majoring in fine art and graphic design. He maintains a strong interest in architecture.
He stays busy with the two sides of his company — brand-management and apparel — and says he enjoys solving problems for clients. And he likes doing it from his hometown.
Think you can't succeed from Omaha with a company name like RDQLUS? Don't be ridiculous.
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