Growing Kansas: The Newsletter
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After working as a project manager for a general contractor, Sheila founded Sorella Group in 2006 with the help of her sister, Karla. Struggling to come up with a name, they learned that the Italian translation for sister was sorella, and knew they had found their business’ name.
Sorella Group started in Sheila’s basement as a building material supplier, but quickly turned into a full-service carpentry business and specialty contractor.
Today, the business has 30 full-time employees and two part-time employees. Sorella Group has hired multiple veterans of war and provides on-the-job training for those just entering the carpentry & construction industry.
Sorella Group has received numerous awards, including five consecutive “excellence in ethics” awards from the American Subcontractors Association. The company was also named “the subcontractor of the year” in 2013 by the American Subcontractors Association of Kansas City. In addition, Sheila is on the national executive board for Women Construction Owners & Executives and will be taking over as the national president in 2019.
In 1998, Ron and Kari Wagner were living in Dallas and were the parents of three young children. However, they recognized a need for manufacturing custom orthotics in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Almost overnight, they moved their family to Kansas City and, with Ron’s prior lab experience and Kari’s business expertise, Mid Star Lab was up and running within six weeks of arriving in Kansas.
By 2011, Mid Star Lab diversified their product line to include shoes, and less than a year later, had to move their main manufacturing plant to Edwardsville, KS, to accommodate their growing need. Then, in 2016, Mid Star Lab had to expand again and moved into an 11,000 square-foot manufacturing plant in Tonganoxie, where today they are the community’s second-largest employer.
In 2017, Mid Star Lab also purchased Capitol Orthopedic and expanded from a small company focused on shoes and orthotic inserts into a full-blown orthotics and prosthetic company in five states.
A-S-K Associates, Inc. was established in Lawrence, Kansas, by husband and wife Kenneth Martinez and Sheila Martinez, both doctorates in education.
A-S-K Associates has two primary business activities: The A-S-K Conference Management Group, which partners with federal, state and commercial entities to provide conference planning services around the globe, and the A-S-K IT Group, which provides IT services to Kansas state agencies and commercial and non-profit organizations in the Kansas City area.
Prior to Ken’s retirement in 2014, Sheila was the vice president and developed the company’s policies and procedures, developed and managed all human resource functions and served as project manager for their Head Start contract. In later years, Sheila served as the IT Division Administrator, the subcontract administrator and managed customer relations.
Today, Sheila is the majority owner with a staff of 10 employees, most of whom have been with the firm for more than 10 years. The firm’s major goals include growth within their established market area and to expand into selected new markets.
Stacy McCowen started making crafts and doing craft fairs 30 years ago while living in Germany with her husband, who served in the U.S. Army.
For the next 20 years, Stacy did craft fairs at every duty station they were based at. In 2009, during her husband’s last assignment in Leavenworth, over 300 people attended an open house in Stacy’s home. It was then that she decided to open a brick and mortar location, Candle Queen Candles.Stacy’s business grew rapidly and quickly became one of Leavenworth’s most notable attractions.
Candle Queen Candles has over 30,000 Facebook fans and attracts daily visitors from Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri. In addition to selling candles, Stacy sells handbags, Pandora jewelry, clothing, and other gifts. Stacy also operates an Airbnb in the apartment above her storefront and offers tours of the 200-year-old tunnels that run underneath the property. Stacy’s storefront is also renowned for its beauty, and its murals serve as a popular photography spot.
Over the years, Stacy has employed more than 100 women, most of whom are from military families. Additionally, she has raised more than $50,000 for local charities through her “Queen’s 5K Romp.” Stacy is a regular guest speaker at the Kauffman FastTrac Entrepreneur Classes and serves as a mentor for fellow entrepreneurs.
After doing exterior design work as a contractor for other businesses, Karen decided to start Exterior Lifestyles by Design in 2014, her own full-service exterior design firm. She partnered with Amini’s Billiards and Barstools, Inc. to handle the operational side of the business. Today, the firm specializes in outdoor furniture, fixtures, and equipment, focusing on commercial projects and high-end residential projects.
The firm currently has 4 employees but continues to expand rapidly. Three of the properties on which the firm has worked have received Capstone Real Estate Awards from the Kansas City Business Journal for commercial and real estate development. The firm also won a Best of Houzz award this year from Houzz.com for having the highest level of client satisfaction. Karen is consistently researching the newest trends, the latest styles, and the leading-edge materials and fabrics, which is a real benefit to her clients. Karen says she looks forward to continuing to aid in the development and beautification of Kansas’ leisure areas.
Karen Duff started in logistics and transportation just out of high school with a fortune 500 firm based in Atlanta. She quickly took on increasing responsibilities and advanced to import manager. Always a keen business professional, Karen recognized a need in the Kansas City market for a U.S. Customs Courier service. To address this need, Karen established International Express Trucking, Inc., or IXT, in 1993 and became the only U.S. Customs Courier service in the Kansas City area. It was also during this time that many large importers utilized her as an in-house U.S. logistic customs clearance business consultant, capitalizing on her extensive international expertise.
Currently, IXT continues to be the largest woman-owned intermodal drayage business within the six-state Midwest region. Complementing IXT’s drayage services, the company also provides brokerage, leasing, permits services and custom courier services. As of 2017, the company employs more than 40 full-time employees and has 90 plus independent contractors. Plans are in place for future expansion into domestic intermodal with the potential for future acquisitions to expand the IXT footprint.
Some recent awards include Distinguished Women in Logistics 2017, a “Women Who Mean Business” award, and a KC Chamber Top 10 Small Business award.
Ron Harris got his start in the concrete business by working for his stepfather’s concrete construction company. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to start his own company, Harris & Sons Enterprises, in 2004. Ron started by doing small concrete jobs for individuals but as his business grew through word-of-mouth, he was able to hire employees and acquire equipment.
There were obstacles to overcome, such as the lack of opportunities and the ability to compete for larger dollar projects, but through determination and hard work, Ron has been able to obtain contracts through the City of Topeka and several commercial businesses. In addition to the concrete business, Ron has added snow removal services and recently purchased a foundation company.
Ron has been able to maintain 5 employees, working 30-40 hours a week.
Harris & Sons Enterprises, Inc. was recently accepted in the SBA 8(a) Mentor/Protégé program, which he envisions will allow his business to grow and compete for federal contracts on a larger scale. Ron’s genuine devotion and dedication allows him to be a role model to local youth who are striving to be upstanding citizens in their community and to be successful future business owners.
MASS Medical Storage was established in 2012 but was later acquired by the Guezuraga family, David and Aubrey who focused on new product development. Combined with increased marketing efforts and new hire investment in sales, production, and engineering, MASS Medical Storage began and continues to have rapid growth. Their innovative medical storage and drying cabinets can be found in hospitals all around the world, including the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics. Their brand is incredibly strong in the operating room and in the GI Lab. In recent years, the company has shifted its focus to produce more medical devices, such as its Channel Drying Cabinet, which is one of the first products to market in the United States.
The company currently employs more than 40 full-time employees on top of its regular consultants and contractors. MASS Medical Storage also prides itself on its diverse work force and strives to be a part of the social fabric of Kansas. Its recent awards include a Premier GPO Supplier Horizon award in 2017 and a Premier GPO Diversity award honorable mention in 2017.
After working in the medical industry for 28 years in the areas of sales, marketing and human resources, Greg Ikner founded The AGA Group in 2009 to help other professionals in their career search and professional development. His employment agency offers professional jobs in the healthcare industry to qualified candidates throughout the United States. With the belief that “it’s never wrong to do the right thing,” Greg has positioned The AGA Group to be a top healthcare staffing agency and workforce solutions company in the industry.
In 2013, The AGA Group was approved as a GSA Contract Holder with a goal to increase their presence within the government sector. In 2014, The AGA Group was successful in being awarded a 5-year contract to provide Pharmacy and Pharmacy technician services the Bureau of Prisons in Texas. They have also received contracts with UMKC School of Dentistry, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the State of Delaware.
Greg recognized that healthcare and information technology are synergistic as technology has become critical in the healthcare delivery system. Keeping that in mind, Greg recently expanded the business offerings to include IT careers, professional development and training services. The AGA Group currently has a staff of ten and a goal to add more positions in the near future.
Lee Meisel first learned butchery as part of his duties on the family farm in Sioux County, North Dakota. As a teenager, he worked at a traditional butcher shop processing locally-raised livestock and wild game. Lee continued working in the food service industry into adulthood with a focus on butchering and sausage production.
After earning a business degree from Haskell Indian Nations University, Lee spent several years as the in-house butcher at the award-winning 715 Restaurant in Lawrence before embarking on his own enterprise: Leeway Franks. This unique, fast casual restaurant offers handcrafted sausages, sandwiches and breakfast items to the Lawrence community. Leeway Franks also supports other Kansas businesses by purchasing humanely-raised meats from area farms in addition to local, seasonal produce and locally baked breads.
Currently, Leeway Franks employs 3 full-time workers, and intends to hire more as the business grows. Lee is currently building a retail butcher shop adjacent to the restaurant, which will allow for even greater expansion. Within the next ten years, Lee plans to build into a USDA-inspected manufacturing facility with products sold online nationwide and in grocery stores. Leeway Franks has been highlighted in numerous travel blogs and articles and was awarded the 2016 Best New Restaurant in the Best of Lawrence contest.
After working for several different companies in the corporate marketplace in the early 2000s, Angela was inspired to create a diverse company that would distinguish itself from others by putting people first. With this in mind, she designed a tech consulting company that reflected her personal values and business ethics.
In 2006, Angela officially founded Veracity Consulting, a consulting team of problem-solvers and truth-tellers who deliver customized IT solutions for its customers in the commercial and government sectors. Today, the company has 150 team members (including subcontractors), serving clients in both the government and commercial sectors.
Veracity Consulting believes in giving back to people and the community. Ten percent of Veracity’s annual profits goes to the financial support of nonprofit organizations. Additionally, its employees volunteer over 1,100 hours to various community causes, which equates to $76,000 in employee volunteer time. Veracity Consulting was also named a 2018 KC Chamber Top 10 Small Business of the Year and a 2018 Diverse Business of the Year.
Michael Dean and his wife Guadalupe wanted to leave a true Mexican legacy to their six children and for them, there is nothing more Mexican than tequila. Thus, in 2010, they launched Mi Rancho Tequila after eight years of trial in error in developing their three tequila profiles: Silver, Reposado, and Añejo. Today, the tequila is known worldwide.
Mi Rancho is the only tequila to win major awards on three continents in 2017. It was the only añejo tequila designated as superior in taste by the International Taste and Quality Institute in Brussels, Belgium, and the only tequila awarded a medal at the China Wine and Spirit Awards in Hong Kong.
Mio Rancho Tequila is available in 32 percent of liquor stores in the Kansas City metropolitan area, in 80 percent of liquor retail outlets in western Kansas, and in 26 percent of retail liquor outlets in the greater Topeka area and central Kansas.
Mio Rancho currently employs four full-time employees, and the company is working to expand their brand both nationally and internationally in Asia and Europe.
After working in an administrative and support capacity in the financial services for more than 20 years, Cathy Weaver co-founded Miracles With Water in 2008 along with Enatic and the Kangen Water Company. As a Kangen-certified global trainer and a top-ranking independent distributor, she has been able to help other women achieve high levels of success through presentations around Kansas and the nation. Her trainings encourage women to achieve their own greatness and also cover growth, development, and breaking through the glass ceilings that many women find themselves in financially.
Cathy is also a networking expert who has organized her own networking group called “Wise Women Connect” that encourages female business professionals to become more comfortable in public speaking. With around 50 women at each event, attendees discuss their businesses and share their own journeys. Cathy enjoys meeting one-on-one with the women she meets to help them in their business ventures.
She has also been involved with several groups for women in business, which allow for conversations that provide opportunities for teaching and learning new sales and training techniques. Cathy is also the author of “Networking on Steroids,” a book which aims to take the mystique out of networking and make it more fun. She is often asked to speak to the American Business Women’s Association, along with many other business groups and organizations.
Christina Long is an entrepreneur and community-builder. She is a Wichita native, a former journalist, and a former department head within Wichita Public Schools. Christina is the founder and principal consultant of CML Collective, a graphic design and communication services company launched in 2013.
CML Collective works to create access to professional communication services, such as brand development, media coverage, website design and publishing books for minority-owned startups and nonprofit companies. The company currently has more than 50 active clients, most of whom are minority-owned businesses.
Seeing an opportunity to serve and advance urban entrepreneurs, Christina established Create Campaign, Inc., a 501c-3 nonprofit. This nonprofit has successfully helped minority-owned companies to legally structure in Kansas and has also prompted increased entrepreneurial engagement and education among hundreds of African American and Hispanic/Latino entrepreneurs in Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas.
In addition, thanks to the partnership between Create Campaign, Inc. and the Bravely Onward Fund, they have established a microloan fund for minority-owned businesses in Wichita. Emerging projects also include the development of a kitchen incubator program for minority food entrepreneurs and a coding program for minority high school youth.Through her inclusive entrepreneurship work, Christina has helped serve and speak to communities of color, while creating a space where critical conversations can occur to benefit diverse entrepreneurs.
After three years of school, one year of apprenticeship, and three years of research, Samuel Garcia entered the funeral care and cremation industry. He was mentored by Jim Larkin, with whom he opened Larkin & Garcia Funeral Home six years ago. The business currently employs seven people, all of whom are bilingual, and Sam and Jim have already started looking to open two more locations.
Sam has been praised for his help in revitalizing his community in Kansas City, Kansas. Sam took an abandoned building in a blighted part of urban KCK and restored it by totally gutting and remodeling the building. He also repaved the entire parking lot and purchased two abandoned homes next to the building with plans of fixing them up as well. Even the small changes are huge benefits to the neighborhood; such as the new brighter lights that were installed in the parking lot and are now providing safety for the entire block. In an effort to bring young people into the funeral home business, Larkin & Garcia Funeral Care also offers paid internships to local students. After personally experiencing his own tragic losses, Sam is inspired to help families in their time of need. Not only does Sam strive to keep his services affordable, but he has even offered them free of charge for families who could not afford a proper burial for their loved ones.
FHL Bank Topeka — a privately owned, federally chartered corporation — promotes housing and homeownership. FHL Bank serves 733 banks, thrifts, credit unions and insurance companies throughout Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma. FHL Bank is located in Topeka and employs about 230 people.
In 2011, FHL Bank initiated its Diversity and Inclusion Program as a part of its efforts to advance the principles of non-discrimination and the inclusion of minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, and individuals in the LGBTQ+ community in its business activities, including: management, employment, and contracting. FHL Bank has incorporated a multitude of policies, resources, and metrics to ensure the use of diverse vendors, suppliers, and clients. The corporation currently partners with a diverse vendor that hosts a comprehensive supplier portal. They also maintain their own Diversity & Inclusion Website and participate in supplier fairs in a proactive effort to connect with varying businesses.
In 2017 alone, FHL Bank spent more than four million dollars in contracting with women, minority, disabled, and LGBTQ-owned businesses. This year, FHL Bank also received an award for “Turning Contacts into Contracts” from the Metropolitan Community College for engaging women-owned businesses.