Atlantic Man Living The American Dream

(photo by Jennifer Nichols)

Jamie Joyce is known for owning and operating the business JJ Design, but also as the person who oversees the Heads Up Drag Racing Event in Atlantic.

ATLANTIC – When Jamie Joyce was growing up on a farm northeast of Atlantic, that’s where he thought he’d be years later.

He’d own his own farm, he’d raise his own livestock. He’d plant and harvest his own crops. He enjoyed it when he was helping on the farm with his parents, who were raising row crops, dairy cattle, beef cattle and hogs.

“I liked it all,” he said. “It’s a good lifestyle.”

But after putting figures down on paper, he discovered, “There just wasn’t enough money in it.”

But Joyce didn’t give up. He got a job after high school, and decided to attend Iowa Western Community College in Atlantic.

“I actually wanted to be in business for myself, so I took business classes,” he said.

He took classes, and he could be found in the aisles of Hy-Vee, working in a management role. But in his spare time, you could find him underneath the hood of the family car. But, of course, life decided to throw him another curve ball.

“I actually didn’t finish (college), because they dropped the business program, and I was going to have to travel to go to class,” he said.

Again, Joyce didn’t give up. He continued working at Hy-Vee, but also, like many others before him, started a side project in his garage,

“I started the business that I have now, and I built that up to the point where I could quit my job and be self employed,” he said.

That business is JJ Design, which is located at 217 Walnut Street in Atlantic.

“I started it in 1998 in my garage at home, and it just grew from there,” he said. “We offer screenprinting and signs. That’s the main two things. We make signs, any kind of sign you can imagine, LED signs that you put up at banks and churches with the message board-anything from that clear down to a decal for the back window of your car. We screen print textile-t-shirts, sweat shirts,coats, hats, tote bags, anything textile.”

“It was mostly screenprinting at first,” he said. “(Then) I discovered that the same software that you use for laying out screenprint design also works for signs- you just have to have another set of equipment to make signs.”

He started his side project in 1998, and by late 1998, he was able to quit his job at Hy-Vee.

“For (about) a year and half or so, I operated out of garage, but it wasn’t enough room,” he said.

So in 2000, he purchased the building on Walnut Street from Ed Leistad, and opened the shop.

The business also offers embroidery, and he also added some specialty items, like business cards and pens, for example.

“I just thought it was something that went hand and hand with what we’re doing,” he said. “Because people who own a business and come in and say, ‘okay, I need signs on my building, and my truck, and we need our business name on the t-shirts and jackets and all that.’ I thought, ‘I’ve already got the art work. I’ve already got the ground base put down. Now for us to do business cards and pens is easy. We’ve all ready done the hard part. It’s just offering our customer another service at a good price. And it makes it a one stop shop. Come get and get everything you need to promote your business, except for a newspaper ad.”

When starting the business, he said a lot of his customers came from Atlantic, because he knew people from Atlantic since he had grown up here, but since then, “I’ve shipped products that we’ve manufactured to all 50 states and four counties.”

Sure, maybe things like the world wide web and social media may have played a part in where he has found his customers, but he said a lot of it is those face to face connections.

“You meet people throughout life,” he said. “I met one guy who was a sales rep for a big company, and he would fly all over the country overseeing other sales reps under him. I got to know the guy, and he said (once) ‘Can you do this? Can you do that? And I told him ‘Yeah we can.’ I didn’t know if we could, but I figured out a way. Some of the biggest stuff I’ve done has nothing to do with Atlantic, Iowa.”

While he doesn’t want to elaborate too much-keeping those company secrets, secret-he would reveal this, “ I can say that some of it was unique packaging for food products, where the package is something that can be used later.”

He said his favorite part is being his own boss, and getting to work with people who are just like family.

“(I’m living) The American Dream,” he said. “ I wanted to be self employed and not work for corporate America. I wanted to have the freedom of being self employed, and not having to answer to an employer. One thing I do really enjoy are employees. I have three great employees. They work hard. (They’re) like family.”

His actual family includes wife, Karyn, son, Nick, and daughter, Emma. But he never he never lost the passion of all things automotive, which would result in him organizing a Heads Up Drag Racing Event at the Atlantic Airport.

“I’ve always been kind of a motor head,” he said. “A few years ago, I built a drag car. It started out to be hot rod, and then I just got addicted to drag racing at the track. You can go run the car as hard as you want and not get in trouble. And I just really got hooked on that.”

He would likely have to travel to race to places like Pacific Junction or Onawa, or even places over three hours away.

But he had an idea one day when he and friend happened to be out at Atlantic Airport.

“A friend of mine and I were out at the airport one afternoon,” he said. “And talked to Barry Reid, who is the airport manager. And we said ‘what would you think about letting us have a little drag race on the runway here?’ And at first, we were thinking just get a group of our buddies, have about 30 guys show up, and their spouses, kids, other friends that don’t have (cars) can come watch.”

He said the airport would be the perfect place.

“It’s a long straight run, and there’s no ditches,” he said. “ I don’t think you’d be able to get a street or section of highway closed down, and (actually) that’s dangerous, you’ve got ditches and telephone poles and all that stuff. At the airport, if they go off the track, they’re just out in the grass.”

Reid agreed with Joyce.

“Well, that’s sounds like fun,” Reid said. “Go ahead.”

Just like his side project that turned into a business, his drag racing idea grew into something much bigger as well.

“I started planning all this out, and then I just got bombarded with people who were just super excited about it,” he said. “And it turned into a way bigger thing than what we originally intended. It was supposd to be just a group of guys, that go shut down the runway for a few hours, and just have fun. It went from that to -the first year we had 1,500 spectators showed up, and over 200 cars. (But) we kind of expected that after the word got out with social media (when Karyn made a Facebook Page about the event). We had people come from Texas and Missouri and Nebraska, and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota. We had people come from all over to participate in this event.”

All this interest gave Joyce an idea — how about using this event to help someone else in need?

“I donated the proceeds from the event to the Shrine Hospital to help out the kids,” he said. “I’ve got a good friend whose grandkid got burned in a garage fire. And the Shriners put him on a private jet, and flew him to a burn unit that specialized in children, and it saved his life. (And I have another friend) who has a son, (he’s) an adult now, but he was born with some problems. He’s been confirned to an electric wheel chair his whole life. And the Shriners have helped them out a ton. I just like what they do. And (making that decision) gained a lot of respect. A lot of people that normally would not go to a drag race came to this one because it was local, and because of what the cause is.”

He organizes the event with a number of volunteers, including a drag race committee – “We have an awesome committee that they’re the ones that make it happen.” – along with members of the fire department, Medivac, people who move and set up concrete barriers on the runway, people who collect money from the drivers, people who collect money from the spectators, people who help direct vehicles to park, SWITA drivers who drive people from the designated parking area at Mahle, and even people who will drive people in golf carts to get them to the seating area and get them back to the bus stop. He has vendors who serve food-this year it was Troublesome Creek BBQ and Farmer’s Walnut Street Diner- and members of the Boy Scouts worked with Atlantic Bottling to offer water and Coke Products.

All that work makes for a great time.

“The drivers just have a blast,” Joyce said. “ When they’re leaving, when they trailer up their cars, and they’re headed out. They’re all giving you the thumbs up. Thanking all the crew.”

And it’s not just the drivers who like the idea.

“The local people think it’s great because it’s drawing a pretty big crowd to town that normally wouldn’t come here,” he said. “They’re spending some money while they’re in town. They’re seeing what Atlantic has to offer.”

But Joyce’s favorite part of the whole thing is being behind the wheel.

“(I like) Jumping in my race car and making a pass (down the runway),” he said.