CJ Industries was established in 2013 and is a General Mechanical and Plumbing Construction company. Melinda Rocha is 100% owner and was inspired to start the business by her dad. Growing up she watched him work long hard hours to get his own company off the ground. His dedication instilled in Melinda the drive to open CJ Industries. Melinda knows firsthand that being a woman in a male-dominated industry is not an easy task, but she has not let that deter her from learning to navigate the construction world and gaining respect from her peers.
CJ Industries has a core staff of 20-30 workers that Melinda keeps busy, but thanks to fluctuating employment in the construction industry and increased company needs, the firm was able to employ upwards of 50 employees during the fall and winter of 2018.
Melinda is active in several organizations, including the Kansas City Chapters of NAWIC (the National Association of Women in Construction) and WCOE (Women Construction Owners & Executives); and the KCK Chamber’s Women Executive Network, to name a few.
Melinda’s future goals are to continue to grow the business, provide more jobs to current and future workers, and give back to the community.
Established in 2015, Safely Delicious is a manufacturer of allergy-friendly food products and is 100% owned by Lisa Ragan. As a mother of two children with serious food allergies, Lisa wanted her children to feel included with their friends in social settings. After their diagnoses, it became Lisa’s mission to learn everything she could about food allergies and to make snacks that looked and tasted like what their friends were eating but were safe and delicious for them to enjoy.
After sharing some extra treats and receiving rave reviews from coworkers in 2015, Lisa decided to start her own business selling her allergy-friendly snacks that are free of gluten, dairy, peanut, tree nuts, soy and egg.
Today, Safely Delicious has 7 products in 2 sizes and are sold in over 130 locations nationwide and online. Lisa is a member of the Specialty Food Association and a member of the From the Land of Kansas organization. In June of 2017 she took part in her first professional food trade show in NYC. The business currently employs 5 part-time employees and is planning to hire additional full- and part-time employees this fall.
The company has been featured in several national and local publications, including Manufacturing Confectioner Magazine and Kansas City Magazine. In 2018, Lisa was named the Overland Park Small Business Person of the Year; and Safely Delicious was selected as the 2019 Emerging Business of the Year by the Kansas Small Business Development Center.
Lisa’s future goals include creating a fund that would provide financial assistance to families that need to purchase epi-pens or other medications needed for food allergies; and to build a larger commercial facility to increase the production of her Safely Delicious products.
Dawna McCabe purchased Century Business Technologies from her father twelve years ago and has led the company to becoming an industry recognized and award-winning strategic business partner for their customers. Their services now include a full range of hardware technologies, Document Management, Managed IT Services, a Professional and Customer Service Team, Managed Print Services, commercial LED Lighting and much more.
Century Business Technologies currently employs approximately 70 employees throughout the state. In the past few months of 2019, they have created 6 new positions, with others in the planning stages.
Century Business Technologies acquired Dynamic Computer Solutions in 2018 and are expanding their IT services into western Kansas, where Century already had a large presence with their branches in Dodge City and Garden City. They are also looking to expand their services into additional Kansas markets, such as Wichita, Salina and Manhattan. The LED lighting division is also growing with their product available across the US.
Dawna and Century are active supporters of many organizations and local charities, such as TARC, Momentum 2022, Topeka Rescue Mission, and Children’s Miracle Network, to name a few. Every Century employee receives 2 paid days per year to volunteer in the community but many of them go on to donate additional time outside of work hours.
The company has also received numerous awards, including: Pros Elite 100 Award, 2019 Ricoh Circle of Excellence Award, and the 2018 Woman-Owned Business of Distinction.
Monroe 816 was officially established in January 2018 by Val Katzer and is a local boutique, specializing in trendy, quality restyled furniture, décor, and other gifts at affordable prices.
Val dabbled in and grew her photography business photography for many years while also moving up the corporate ladder as a sales manager. All the while, she was playing around with painting and flipping furniture, long before it was the cool thing to do.
Val’s work was noticed, and she was invited to set up a booth at a local festival, which was so successful that she decided to do a monthly event, and later rent spaces at the local flea market and in Kansas City’s West Bottoms, marking the beginnings of Monroe 816. In November of 2017, Monroe 816 moved from into its own downtown building and a renovation began. The boutique now offers interior decorating services, workshops and DIY classes, and features other local vendors.
In the beginning, Val and a part-time volunteer were able to operate the store. Today, they have three regular part-time employees and two volunteers, with hopes to expand and grow the business even more.
In 2018, Val received the BPW Business Woman of the Year and was a nominee for Garnett’s Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year. Val was also named the Future Business Leaders of America Business Person of the Year in 2019.
Monroe 816’s tagline is “live beautifully.” It means being real, doing more of what you love, and living a beautiful life. Val hopes she can be a role model for others to show that with determination and hard work, you can make your own dreams come true.
Tammy Hammond has worked in the social services industry as a case manager for many years. Rosewood Services was founded in 1998, as the state was moving to community-based settings for individuals with developmental disabilities. Tammy recognized this as an opportunity to better serve that population by providing a nurturing environment for them to flourish in.
Rosewood Services employs nearly 400 people, between staff, clients who work at Rosewood supported jobs and clients who have been trained to work in the community. Because if its innovative programs, Rosewood has drawn individuals from across the state to be served in Great Bend.
Rosewood has built, purchased or renovated more than 60 properties in the community. Through their business plan of matching the skills of their clients so that they can create quality products, they’ve been able to establish three retail locations in downtown Great Bend. They have also built and operated the only winery in North America designed for the employment of individuals with developmental disabilities. The award-winning product line is sold at more than 100 locations across Kansas.
Their future goals are to continue growing where there are opportunities in order to expand the horizons for people with developmental disabilities, while simultaneously growing opportunities for the community. Currently, they are building a 15,000 square-foot training location for people with disabilities. They have also recently purchased another building near downtown Great Bend, which will become a Wellness Center for the Clients and Staff.
Through the years, Rosewood Services has served as a strong advocate for people with disabilities and are extremely active in promoting community activities and business development. Rosewood Services was Great Bend’s 2012 Business of the Year. They also received a Silver Award in Stevie’s National Company of the Year in 2013. Their clients have also won numerous awards for Rosewood Services, from National Horse show participations, to Wine Tasting competitions.
After working more than 20 years in the technology industry, Lenora Payne had noticed two things: businesses lacked a full-service technology provider with a customer-centric mentality; and there were no certified minority- and women-owned full-service technology providers in the region. In 2005, Lenora founded Technology Group Solutions (TGS) to fill these needs for the Kansas City area.
When Lenora started TGS, she knew what she wanted the business to do- but establishing credibility and earning initial trust with clients were just some of the early obstacles the company had to overcome. Staying true to herself and not losing sight of their customer-centric mentality has helped the business continue to grow and find and keep customers.
For over a decade, Technology Group Solutions has now been providing exceptional technology products and IT Services for organizations. TGS assembles a team of specialists with wide-ranging expertise in order to deliver solutions that reduce overtime, drive greater productivity and enhance returns on IT investments.
Although it was not her original goal when starting the company, TGS has created several job opportunities. With a beginning staff of just 3 in 2005, the company now employees over 70 workers. Lenora’s goal is to continue to grow TGS into a multi-state area. She has already started expanding into the Omaha, Nebraska and Wichita.
TGS and Lenora participate in several organizations, including: National Association of Woman Business Owners, Stormont Vail Foundation, Drumm Center for Children, and Foster Adopt Connect, to name a few. The Kansas City Business Journal listed TGS as a Top 50 Fastest Growing Companies, a Top Area Minority-Owned Business and a Top-Area Woman-Owned Business. Enterprising Women magazine also awarded Lenora as a 2018 Enterprising Woman of the Year.
After 22 years of working 90 hours a week in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry and generating millions of dollars in profitability for his former employers, Charles Robinson unexpectedly received a pink slip. Instead of letting his situation get him down, Charles was inspired to start his own company and established CJR Construction Group in May 2018. Charles moved quickly to get the business up and running and immediately began building his marketing strategy. Within only a few weeks, he landed a consulting contract and was able to breathe a little easier.
Even though limited capital and lack of financial security were early obstacles, CJR Construction was able to turn a profit of more than $380,000 in its first year, with 2019 looking to be even better. Today, the company has three full-time employees and uses more than 38 1099 subcontractors that allow CJR to perform and complete projects in demolition, framing, drywall, flooring, painting and program management.
Charles’s long-term goal is to obtain his 8a certification and become one of the largest African American contactors in the Midwest region. He wants to be able create jobs for other minorities in the community and offer a trade to young men and women who have a desire to work in the engineering or construction industry.
Morning Light Kombucha was born from Melinda Williamson’s desire to bring healthy products to the community, while supporting the local economy and giving back to Native American communities. After discovering and using Kombucha as a part of her journey to healing from a diagnosed autoimmune disease, Melinda decided to bring the drink to the Midwest. In 2012, she left her job in academia and began saving every penny. She signed up for any business workshop she could find in the area and through the Small Business Development Center. After considerable time and effort, Melinda obtained her Food Processing License and Food Establishment License in March of 2016 and hit the ground running, offering Kombuchas on tap at the Downtown Topeka Farmers market within a couple of weeks.
Morning Light Kombucha is a fermented tea that uses organic ingredients sourced from local organic farmers, whenever possible, or purchased from local businesses. The drink is loaded with probiotics, antioxidants, and vitamins that are acquired during fermentation, making it a healthy alternative to soda. Melinda’s brews are made in small batches with lots of love and they hope it comes through in every glass.
A percentage of all sales goes back into Native American communities, including the Native American Rights Fund, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Native Woman Lead, and more.
Morning Light Kombucha was a finalist in the 2019 Best of Topeka Awards and has been featured on KSNT News and WIBW. You can find the drink on tap at various locations, including the K-State Union Kitchen; and The Tipsy Carrot and The Burger Stand in Topeka.
SnapIT Solutions, LLC was established by Neelima Parasker in 2015 out of a passion to empower communities and create opportunities in technology. SnapIT Solutions partners with their clients to provide quick-to-market technology solutions that can be easily scaled to fit the customer domain as they grow.
After working in the corporate IT field for 18 years, Neelima noticed that the IT industry’s exponential growth wasn’t being matched by a growth in local talent. Snap It Solutions was started as a response to address this gap by providing complete technology solutions to businesses that have limited resources and financial capabilities, but still have a great need to be competitive in the market.
Neelima started SnapIt with the goal of changing at least 10 young adults’ lives each year through IT training and internships. In 2018, more than 50 students were trained through various programs and hired into internship and apprenticeship jobs within various technology companies. In 2019, they’re on track to train more than 150 young people. Neelima’s vison is to help grow the IT talent in Kansas in order to provide high-tech services to private and public businesses across the state and nationwide; with a focus on generating talent from traditionally under-represented and under-served communities.
Among several awards and recognitions, Neelima received the Women’s Business Development Center Kansas City, Rising Star Award in 2019 in recognition as a visionary business owner who leads the change on creative, solution-oriented, and cutting-edge business processes. She has also been featured in Oprah’s O Magazine, Fortune magazine and Entrepreneur magazine as a Leading Woman in Business.
Elliott and Kathryn Threatt are the principals of E & K Retail, Inc. Elliott started this entrepreneurial venture by purchasing a GNC Store in Salina in 1992. As the Threatt’s continued to buy and sell GNC Stores in Kansas and Missouri, the company changed its name to Threatt Nutrition Stores, Inc. in 1997 and eventually to E & K Retail, Inc. in 1999.
In 2001, E & K Retail Inc. expanded into the KCI Airport by serving as a local partner with Paradies Shops out of Atlanta, GA, the largest airport retailer in the industry. At this point, they were juggling the GNC Stores and airport concessions so in 2014, Elliott and Kathryn sold the GNC stores but kept the company name and changed the business’ focus to the airport concessions. E & K Retail’s services include providing snacks, books, magazines and organizing company parties.
They currently have over 200 employees in 6 airports including, Kansas City, Newark, Minneapolis, Madison, Cedar Rapids; and added 20 more positions with the opening of Whisk and Bowl in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport in May.
E & K Retail, Inc. has received many recognitions over the years for their commitment to the community and giving back. Some recognitions include Corporate Business of the Year from the Black Chamber of Commerce, Best Community Involvement and Best Commitment to Diversity from the Kansas City Business Journal. E& K Retail, Inc. is also a member of AMAC (Airport Minority Advisory Council).
With more than 20 years’ experience in Early Childhood Education and Family Support, LaFarris Risby is a woman with renowned credentials and a tangible success story. She is the founder of Loving Arms Childcare and Preschool, the largest African American owned childcare business in her community, serving children 6 weeks to 12 years of age. LaFarris is also an author, speaker, business strategist, consultant and executive.
Loving Arms Childcare and Preschool began as a registered home-based childcare facility. When they became a licensed Group home in 1999, they moved to their first center-based location and began caring for 37 children. In 2005, Loving Arms purchased a building and are now licensed to served 91 families.
Their facility is unique and sets themselves apart by providing programs and activities that nurture and provide partnerships in the education and development of the entire family. This strategy provides a stable workforce for the community and aides in steady employment in the childcare field. They currently have 12 Full-time employees.
Future goals for the business include establishing The Learning Cupboard, which will provide parenting classes for families and training for students with an interest in Early Childhood Education. The Learning Cupboard will package custom curriculum into digital products and services for in-home and center-based Childcare providers, as well as for use by home-schooling parents.
This past August, LaFarris launched her first book” Dare to Dream” and has also recorded two instructional audio books, entitled “Quality Childcare on a Shoe-String Budget” and “11 Essential Keys to Quality Care and Profitability.” LaFarris also writes the “Brown Bag Parenting” blog at www.lafarrisrisby.com In 2018, she successfully completed and became an Alumni of Goldman Sachs’s 10,000 Small Businesses Program.
In 2017, Thaddeus Perry wanted to make healthy snacks for his wife who had just undergone surgery. After borrowing a cooking pot and a burner, he started making pork rinds for their family to enjoy, but soon found a demand like no other. He has since invested in a large custom kettle to speed up production time and expanded the product line from 4 flavors to 8 in less than two years. Perry has also cooked every single pork rind himself since day one.
Perry’s Pork Rinds is working to purchase and revive an old gas station in their hometown of Bronson, which will include a full kitchen. The company currently has over 3,000 followers on Facebook who consistently return to their e-commerce store, which has a return rate of 80%.
Thaddeus’ wife, Kelly Perry, works full-time managing the business while Thaddeus does the cooking and selling. They also hire local high school students and retired people to help bag, wash and label their products; and will hire anywhere from 1-10 workers to help at the various festivals they attend.
Perry’s Pork Rinds is a proud Boosters of the Uniontown High School and are members of From the Land of Kansas. As they continue to grow, they plan to become licensed for wholesale and expand into the theater industry.
Angela Motsinger, CPA, MBA, opened Motsinger Tax & Accounting, LLC in 2012, with a goal to provide truly excellent service with a focus on personalized care for small businesses. Angela earned two undergraduate degrees, in Accounting and Finance, and her MBA from Baker University; and has over 25 years of experience in the public and private financial field. She is truly passionate about her work and it shows in everything she touches.
While there are many bookkeeping and tax professionals in the Lawrence area, Motsinger Tax & Accounting specializes in women and minority owned small businesses. Angela assists business owners from inception to maturity with general business and tax consulting. From financials to marketing to succession planning, Angela makes it her mission to support her fellow women and minority business owners and help them succeed.
The firm is currently the DBE Support Services contractor for the Kansas Department of Transportation, providing assistance to KDOT’s certified DBEs by hosting workshops & events, and providing one-on-one coaching and referrals that are targeted to the needs of women and minority businesses.
Angela strives to be a positive influence to those around her and is involved in several impactful organizations, such as the Willow Domestic Violence Center, Independence, Inc., and Young Cancer League; she is also a member of the Kansas Society of CPAs and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Joyce Christanio is the Manager of Supplier Diversity for Sprint Corporation and has over 20 years of contract negotiations and ensuring minority, women and veteran owned businesses have access to subcontracting opportunities in the corporation’s Supplier Diversity Program, where she manages and ensures more than $886 million in diverse spend.
Joyce is involved with Sprint’s national mentoring program, where Sprint executives are aligned with diverse business owners to support business development; and has been instrumental in hosting onsite matchmaking events with Sprint’s top 20 suppliers and diverse vendors. Joyce also wrote an online Supplier Diversity Training course to raise awareness regarding the importance of small business development and created a rewards program that awards sourcing professionals who execute contracts with diverse owned businesses. She also chairs and serves on various advisory boards that create programs to assist and support diversely-owned businesses.
For all her efforts, Joyce has received several recognitions, including: the 2018 Best of the Decade Diversity Champion from MBN USA magazine; one of Professional Women magazine’s 20 Wonder Women Impacting Diversity; a Kansas City Prep High School Mentoring Award, Kauffman Foundation Community Volunteer and Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Diversity Ace Award.
At a young age, Lindsey Watts was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and encouraged to follow a little-to-no activity and no weight training lifestyle. Her health was complicated, and she was in constant pain and discomfort. After Lindsey’s husband, Aaron, finished his military service, they moved back to For Scott, where they joined the local CrossFit Gym and Lindsey discovered functional fitness, which lead to great improvements in her health and finally eased her pain.
In 2017, they purchased the 40-member gym and Smallville CrossFit was born. The goal for the business is simple: help as many people as they can. Lindsey and her husband have worked diligently to grow the business and now have approximately 130 members, ranging in ages from 4 years to 73 years old.
Smallville CrossFit has seen many new changes, including new classes, new workout programs for all levels, new hours of operations, and new pricing options, all in an effort to help a create a community of healthy people whose common goal is to live a long and healthy life.
Lindsey is a board member of the Young Professionals League of Bourbon County and Live Local Bourbon County. In 2018, she was awarded by the Ft. Scott Chamber of Commerce as the Young Professional of the Year.
In 2018, Westar Energy and KCP&L merged to create a stronger regional energy provider. Evergy, the new holding company, was formed and together they provide clean, safe and reliable energy to 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri.
Both Westar Energy and KCP&L have a longstanding history of engagement in the communities they serve. KCP&L had an established, award-winning Supplier Diversity program and, upon the merger, one of the top priorities of Evergy’s CEO, Terry Bassham, was to expand this program to Kansas.
Examples of some of their other supplier diversity programs and initiatives include:
• Hiring Dedicated Supplier Diversity Managers.
• Active involvement and Board leadership with the Minority Chambers, local advocacy groups and organizations.
• Insuring that their Supplier Diversity Advisory Council is comprised of internal stakeholders from across Evergy’s various business units which helps educate employees on supplier diversity and expand their outreach.
• Active participation at various tradeshows, networking events, and conferences both at the local/regional and national levels to share best practices and identify and nurture diverse business enterprises.
The Kansas region for Supplier Diversity started from zero in 2018 and they are proud to share that, as of June 2019, the Kansas region has invested over six million dollars in Diverse Spend.
Furthermore, Evergy has a nationally recognized mentoring program called Light Source, which is now available in Kansas. Light Source is a mentoring program that seeks to nurture emerging minority, veteran and women-owned businesses in the community. Supplier mentees are paired with a senior Evergy leader who provides business advice and counsel, connects them with training options and helps expand their network of contacts and business opportunities. This is a competitive program and there is a rigorous application and interview process.
At Evergy, supplier diversity means they recognize the value of their diverse entrepreneurs and foster an environment of development and engagement. They recognize that these suppliers are not only their valued customer, but most importantly, their neighbor. Through their Supplier Diversity program, Evergy helps local diverse businesses grow – and when they succeed, everyone wins.