- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Jeff Smoke’s résumé included some impressive and unique information when he returned home a year ago.

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a kayaker in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Smoke, 36, had worked as a derivatives trader for Jones Trading in Chicago the previous five years.

And shortly after graduating from Notre Dame in 2000 with a degree in finance, he had worked as an options trader in Chicago, before dedicating himself to the Olympic dream.

Still, the Buchanan, Michigan, native, now 36, wanted to come home.

“Moving back here was always kind of in the back of my mind,” Smoke told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/1tI8RpT ). “I like the area. I have a lot of good connections here, friends and family.”

He also knew what he wanted: a company that offered challenges to fit his skill set.

“It was just a matter of finding the right opportunity,” he said.

Great Lakes Capital attracted his attention in newspaper articles, so he followed it for more than a year.

He eventually decided to reach out to the South Bend-based real estate investment and development firm. A number of discussions took place, and he got to know fellow ND grads Ryan Rans, a managing partner at Great Lakes Capital, and Bryse Toothaker, director, as well as Brad Toothaker, a managing partner.

“The growth trajectory and the plan that they are on really appealed to me,” said Smoke, who has been with the firm for a year as director of development. “It’s a pretty dynamic and fast-moving company. I like that. I’ve been an option trader, so everything is like quick, quick, quick.”

The lifestyle change is a far cry from his ride to work from his apartment in Toscana Park off Gumwood Road.

The hustle and bustle of the big city was once a draw. Besides Chicago, Smoke also had enjoyed living in Miami and San Diego in his career. But he did not need to be recruited to come home.

“There is a little bit more of a trend realizing that the big cities are not all that they are cracked up to be,” he said. “It’s good to maybe go, get that experience and then you kind of have that experience that is different than someone who’s been here their whole life. So you can kind of bring that back. That’s how you can add value.”

He’s not a subscriber to the brain drain theory when it comes to Domers since few intend to live in the area following graduation. Though it would be nice to get more to stay, there are opportunities in the region for those willing to dig below the surface, he said.

“When people start to look into what their options are, I think they are pleasantly surprised,” he said.

He likes the low cost of living, the proximity of Chicago and Lake Michigan, and the available service at South Bend International Airport. But even with friends and family as major factors, the key for him was the job fit.

And a year after making the move, the job is what he hoped it would be.

“It’s very much up to you to create the value and really help the company grow,” Smoke said.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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