PORTAGE | The Republican candidate for U.S. Congress pitching his business know-how to voters concedes he had a painful experience earlier in his life he calls "Business 101."
"I was forced to file bankruptcy. I was in my early 20s and when you are young and excited, you think you are special and can conquer the world. The lessons I learned have made me successful in my other ventures," Joel J. Phelps said.
The 35-year-old Portage man challenging U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville, in the Nov. 6 general election is making his first run for public office.
Visclosky has made short work of almost everyone pitted against him in the last three decades.
Phelps hopes to provide the most serious challenge in years.
He is banking on a Republican resurgence fueled by Tea Party rage over big government spending. He secured Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks for America, as featured speaker for a political fundraiser last week at Innsbrook Country Club.
FreedomWorks helped Richard Mourdock to an upset victory over U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar in the spring Republican primary.
Phelps said at his fundraiser voters can rely on his skills honed in private business to make government more efficient.
One of his first business experiences was a partnership in Matrix Construction, an Illinois firm started by a venture capital fund.
"We grew so fast and sold so much that we just started hiring anybody with a pulse and paying out checks, and we weren't watching our cash flow," Phelps said.
He said the company was still solvent when he resigned in early 2003 over differences with his business partners, but was personally dragged down when it failed months later.
Court records from U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Northern Illinois indicate Phelps' bankruptcy was resolved in three months in 2004.
Phelps said he most recently had been working for Chicago Heights Glass Inc. of South Holland, a commercial glazing company. "I designed their production lines and managed high-rise building projects on time and under budget."
He said he took a leave of absence from the firm after his victory in the spring Republican primary. "I realized I'm not going make a serious run at a career politician on nights and weekends," Phelps said.
Kurt Levan, president of Chicago Heights Glass said, "He left us on good terms, and I would be happy to have him back."