TK Business Magazine July Issue

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JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 3 Better Health. Better Business. A healthcare plan can improve the wellbeing of your employees and your bottom line. Our sales consultants are here to answer your questions. We’ll help you every step of the way. Call Cole or Danielle today 866-698-0612 TK 0623 An independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Get a free, quick quote
4 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 20 Creating Beautiful Spaces Meet three local businesses creating alluring spaces: Civium Architecture & Planning, Skinner Garden Store and Heart & Home Design Co. CONTENTS TK BUSINESS MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2023 PAGE
CoreXpress A Loan for Every Business Simple Terms Easy Application Local Lenders Quick Decisions Apply Online Vehicles. Equipment. Real Estate.

Tim and Ambroja Watson have turned their passion for preparing family recipes into a crowd-pleasing food truck,

Trey Burton with O’Shea Strengths Coaching shares a few strategies that may help you feel happier and more engaged at work.

The story of Harris Fabrication began in a garage when founder and president Andy Harris made the decision to take his fate into his own hands.

TK provides a look at incentives available by GO Topeka and the City of Topeka to help local business grow.

Serving as Chair of the Topeka Community Foundation and a Tri-chair of Momentum 2027, Tara Dimick shares her passion for business and the community.

6 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine CONTENTS TK BUSINESS MAGAZINE | JULY/AUGUST 2023 The Making of Top City Metal Supply 10 A spinoff from Ernest-Spencer, Top City Metal Supply offers metal pieces of varying sizes or commission quick-turnaround fabrication projects. Four Ways to Foster a Blazing Culture of Creativity In Your Organization 16 Martha Bartlett Piland with MB Piland Advertising + Marketing and Banktastic shares tips to kindle creativity. New (and Old) Directions in Business Education 40 Dean David Sollars of the Washburn University School of Business shares his thoughts on where higher education best addresses the needs of today while focusing on foundation-level knowledge. Getting Girls in Gear
Athletics to
Business Behind the Scenes 50 Automation Controls, R&S Maintenance and HF Rubber Machinery work behind the scenes to keep the manufacturers making well-known household names up and running. Understanding Digital Advertising 64 Tim Kolling with
Marketing &
Partners shares digital tactics to reach
target audience. Soul Fire Food Co. 70
The Pursuit of Happiness – at Work 74
44 Inspired by her daughter, Deb North opened Yes!
lack of girl-specific wrestling equipment.
restaurant and catering business.
Harris Fabrication 78
Growth Through Incentives 82
Dimick 92
One-on-One with Tara







Kim Gronniger

Lisa Loewen

Chris Marshall

Eric Smith

Adam Vlach

India Yarborough


John Burns

Miranda Chavez-Hazim

Jason Dailey

Braden Dimick

Hope Dimick

Jennifer Goetz

Rachel Lock


Trey Burton

Tim Kolling

Martha Bartlett Piland

David Sollars


Cordell Dimick

Valerie Williams

2023 TK Business Magazine is published by E2 Communications, Inc., 6021 SW 29th Street, Suite A, PMB 106, Topeka, KS 66614 (785) 438-7773. Reproduction or use of this publication in any manner without written permission of the publisher is prohibited.

Every effort was made to ensure accuracy of the information in this publication as of press time. The publisher assumes no responsibility of any part for the content of any advertisement in this publication, including any errors and omissions therein. E2 Communications, Inc. makes no endorsement, representation or warranty regarding any goods or services advertised or listed in this publication. Listings and advertisements are provided by the subject company. E2 Communications, Inc. shall not be responsible or liable for any inaccuracy, omission or infringement of any third party’s right therein, or for personal injury or any other damage or injury whatsoever. By placing an order for an advertisement, the advertiser agrees to indemnify the publisher against any claims relating to the advertisement.

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The Making of Top City Metal Supply

Neal Spencer, president and CEO of Ernest-Spencer, isn’t one to sit idle.

“I just love creating,” Spencer said. “My passion is to develop a good business idea, market and brand it, hire the right people, launch it, and then go on to the next deal.”

That mindset has helped him lead and grow Ernest-Spencer which is known for metal fabrication, custom coatings and specialty manufacturing, for the past 16 years. During that time, the local business has nearly quadrupled in size, he said, thanks to expansion efforts and the creation of new entities like Top City Logistics, a trucking company built from the ErnestSpencer brand.

It’s also how Top City Metal Supply, a spinoff opened in April of this year, came to be. Now, from the $2 part to the $2 million deal, Ernest-Spencer’s portfolio has customers of all sizes covered.

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“I had the idea five, six, seven years ago to do a retail division, because Ernest-Spencer gets a lot of walk-in inquiries,” Spencer said.

Those inquires often involved potential customers requesting smallscale metal pieces and welding jobs.

“Because of Ernest-Spencer’s size and the fact that our primary clients are large OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) who are working on multi-million-dollar projects,” he added, “the small stuff, if we took it, would interfere with the bigger picture.”

So, Spencer and his team came up with a solution — develop a space where anybody can walk in and not only buy metal pieces of varying sizes, but also commission quick-turnaround fabrication projects without interrupting Ernest-Spencer’s primary flow.

Since September, Ernest-Spencer has been fine-tuning the concept, dedicating warehouse space to the idea, creating a showroom, and

working through website and brand development. On April 4, they officially opened Top City Metal Supply at 5600 S.W. Topeka Blvd., and the response from the public has been “tremendous,” Spencer said.

“The individuals who walk in for their crafts or projects are really happy that there is something available for them out here,” added Keith Williamson, retail sales manager for Top City Metal. “We have a lot of contractors. With the industrial parks that are around here, a lot of those customers are excited about having an opportunity to be right down the street.”


In fact, Ernest-Spencer’s 200,000-square-foot south Topeka location — which includes about 10,000-square-feet of warehouse space dedicated to Top City Metal — may be crucial to the company’s continued growth. Spencer said they are currently

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Local dignitaries recently joined Ernest-Spencer for a ribbon-cutting ceremony of its new retail division, Top City Metal Supply. PHOTO SUBMITTED

Specialty stainless steel items, like wall art and licence plates, are for sale in Top City Metal Supply’s showroom.

working on an addition to the ErnestSpencer side that will house a new contract the company has secured.

“(The addition is) a 21,000-squarefoot high-bay building that will house assembly of a new track crawler line,” he said. “It’s a track crawler that’s utilized in the forestry industry, so we’re pretty excited about that. It’s significant from a job-creation perspective and a revenue-growth perspective for Ernest-Spencer. We’ve got a lot of things going on.”

Back on the Top City Metal side, there is lots in the works, as well.

The business sells a variety of goods that mainly fall into one of two categories: unfabricated steel, like raw sheet metal, and fabricated surfaces, such as fitted metal brackets. All cutting, fabrication and the like is done on-site to meet current needs.

“I get people that come in, and they’ll want a 1-foot piece or they’ll want a full-length 20-foot piece,” Williamson said. “We’re able to cater to those customers.”

Upon entering Top City Metal Supply, patrons are greeted by a

showroom where Top City Metal t-shirts and sweatshirts for sale hang on display, along with a handful of specialty stainless steel items, like wall art and license plates featuring some of the area’s favorite collegiate mascots.

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Just beyond the showroom sits Top City Metal’s warehouse space, which is home to state-of-the-art equipment, including a plasma cutting table, and shelves of various metal products that come in different types and sizes.

“A big help for Top City is that, as a division of Ernest-Spencer, if there’s something I don’t have or I can’t get quick enough, Ernest-Spencer may have it,” Williamson said. “I’m able to utilize a lot of their resources.”


As for the items Top City Metal keeps stocked, the business will soon have a menu of available products and related prices on display in the showroom for inquiring customers. It’s a list that is likely to grow — along with the number of finished items available in the showroom itself — as the budding business takes note of what clients are looking for.

“As we grow, we’re going to continue to add different elements,” Spencer said, gesturing toward one example of a new product coming online — a customizable steel fire pit that Top City Metal will be able to make with just about any company logo, family crest or similar design.

“With Top City Metal Supply, we’re still trying to figure out where our long-term growth will be, but we see there’s tremendous amount of opportunity to grow within the city,” Spencer added. “On the Ernest-Spencer

side, we’ve had exponential growth year over year that’s pretty tremendous, and we don’t see that trend stopping.”

A fourth-generation family business, Ernest-Spencer celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2022, and Spencer said he’s confident the company will endure for another century. He credits the people, because as the company’s products have evolved and facilities have changed, one thing has remained the same — its employeefirst approach.

“My dad, before he passed away years ago, he always said, ‘Value your people. Surround yourself with good people, and provide opportunities,’” Spencer said. “We wouldn’t be anything without the people that work at ErnestSpencer.”

In fact, it may be why some of the company’s more than 200 employees have been there for decades.

“That wouldn’t happen if we weren’t a good place to be,” Spencer said. TK

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KEITH WILLIAMSON | Retail Sales Manager for Top City Metal NEAL SPENCER | President and CEO of Ernest-Spencer Photo by MIRANDA CHAVEZ-HAZIM Photo by MIRANDA CHAVEZ-HAZIM PHOTO SUBMITTED


Imagine creating an environment in your company where creativity blazes with the fervor of a Taylor Swift fan. Even with the help of AI tools like Bard and ChatGPT, it will probably never be completely effortless. But with practice and establishing the right work ethic, creativity can burn hot.

Here are four ways to kindle that creativity.

Foster a “Dare to be Stupid” culture

Make it safe for people to put their ideas out there without self-editing. When you set that tone for every meeting — not just “brainstorming meetings” — you create an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing new ideas. When they’re thinking out loud and challenging the status quo without fear of judgment or ridicule, magic happens. Model and encourage open communication, active listening and respectful feedback to promote a sense of trust and psychological safety. Adopt rules everyone must follow:

• always state the goal up front

• no criticism allowed

• never kill an idea — work to make it better

• no one is allowed to say “that won’t work,” or “it didn’t work before”

• quantity counts: the more ideas generated, the better

• don’t fall in love with the first idea, always measure back against the original goal

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MARTHA BARTLETT PILAND, CFMP + MB Piland Advertising + Marketing Founder of Banktastic® Photo by RACHEL LOCK

Rethink the brainstorm

Often, someone calls a brainstorm session and seats everyone around a table. The circle of people stare uncomfortably at each other. Some eventually start talking. Others never say a word. It’s hard to get rolling. (Groan.)

Instead, take a different approach:

Warm Up. Always start with an icebreaker. A rapid-fire round of charades or a two minute race sculpting animals from Play-Doh will free up thinking and ignite group energy. This is time well spent.

Get Physical. Brainstorm standing up. Or while sitting on the floor. Or offsite axe throwing. Or at a park or other outdoor location. Or simply by a group walk around the block. Breaking old habits and moving around invites new ideas to flow.

Engage the Senses. Set a stage that creates sensory engagement for the participants.

• share healthy treats or retro candy that conjures up childhood memories

• crank up an energizing music playlist

• invite participants to wear hats or their favorite team jerseys

• provide colored felt-tip markers or colored pencils to use instead of standard pens

Invite outsiders

When people exclusively work on problem solving with like-minded colleagues, group think is the inevitable result. It’s as though they’re all inside a jar, trying to guess what’s printed on the label outside; they can’t see it, says David C. Baker, but the answer is obvious to an outsider.

Promoting collaboration across different departments pays creativity dividends. Make it a habit for employees from diverse backgrounds and skill sets to work together on innovation assignments. Or bring in guests from outside to spur even more insights. This cross-pollination of ideas and expertise will spark new insights, unconventional solutions, and fresh approaches that would not have emerged otherwise.

Try a brainstorming exercise we developed and named Tennessee Round Table. Rumor has it that Tennessee Williams worked on several plays at once by having multiple typewriters around his dining room table. He’d work on one play until he was out of ideas, then move to another seat at another typewriter and begin working on a different play that was underway there.

In this exercise have your group work on multiple assignments by placing notepads or typewriters in front of each seat. Set a timer and ask each person to work on ideas for the problem in front of them for five minutes. When the buzzer rings, people move to the next seat, view their new assignment, read the previous person’s ideas, then start adding their own. After five minutes, everyone moves again. After 30-40 minutes, stop the clock. Begin reading the ideas aloud for each challenge, evaluate and create action steps for where to go next. You’ll be amazed by how many ideas are generated in a short amount of time. Yes, some will be stupid. Others will be brilliant.

Provide time and resources for creative pursuits

Allocate dedicated time and resources for employees to delve into their passions and curiosity.

Encourage them to pursue side projects, participate in hackathons or attend workshops that interest them. Or even more unconventional, send them to training that ventures beyond their normal educational pursuits.

Offer exposure to tech and training that support bold thinking and problem-solving. Let them experiment with AI and play with new apps. By empowering employees to explore their creativity and invest in their personal growth, you can foster a culture of innovation where new ideas are valued and nurtured.

Creativity isn’t for the chosen few

Like any worthwhile pursuit, great creativity is developed with the right environment, good habits and practice. Don’t just wish for it. Work for it. TK

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Topeka and the surrounding area are full of beauty. Whether that’s in a picturesque building, a lovely garden or a wonderful kitchen inside a home, northeast Kansas has businesses producing alluring spaces every day.

JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine
Photos by JENNIFER Drone Photos by BRADEN DIMICK
JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 21 SAVE $65 on your first lawn treatment visit Spend time on the lawn pest-free this summer.

The Immaculata Church in St. Marys was consecrated in May 2023 and is the most significant project Civium Architecture & Planning has done to-date.

Building Beautiful Communities CIVIUM ARCHITECTURE & PLANNING

In the case of one of Kansas’ newest structures and one of the largest churches in the state, the beautiful Immaculata Church in St. Marys — just northwest of Topeka about 30 minutes — took nearly six years to complete from start to finish.

Who are the architects behind this massive project?

Topekan David Heit, AIA, and his small team at Civium Architecture & Planning, 1250 SW Oakley Ave, Suite 200, a local firm that just celebrated four years in operation in May by winning the Micro

Enterprise Small Business Award from GO Topeka.

The Immaculata, at a little over 66,000 square feet in area and 112 feet tall, is the largest church that the Fraternal Society of St. Pius X has ever built anew. It was consecrated in May and is the most significant project Civium has done and the most costly, complex, and detailed undertaking Heit said he has ever been responsible for.

For Heit, who studied classical architecture and traditional urbanism at Notre Dame, the Immaculata was a dream project and a huge

Creating beautiful spaces with the hope of them lasting hundreds of years takes time and effort.

accomplishment for his team. It also is a validation for him that traditional buildings can still be built today.

“Very often, there are arguments out there from those that oppose continuing this type of building who say, ‘Well, the craftsmanship to do that has been lost. We don’t have the craftspeople who can do those things anymore; it can’t be done with machinery and technology. Or it’s too costly to do that; we can’t afford it,’” Heit said. “I think us accomplishing this project demonstrates to the naysayers that, no, it can still be built that way. It still has a relevant place in our contemporary society. To say it’s

automatically more expensive to build traditionally isn’t necessarily true.”


With all projects Civium undertakes, their focus is on building communities, not just individual buildings. Civium believes architecture allows people to shape the world we want to live in, and good architecture elevates the human experience. The firm’s name was inspired by this philosophy. Civium is a Latin word meaning “for the citizens.”

“As a young firm in a town like Topeka, while we work on a wide array of projects and on all kinds of

building types,” Heit said, “I formed the company with the idea that we’re trying to focus on working on churches, other church-related facilities, and other sorts of public, civic types of community institutions like schools and libraries.”

Prior to starting Civium, Heit, and the majority of his team were all working together at the Topeka office of Tevis Architects, a Kansas Citybased firm. The core of Civium has been working together for at least seven years.

Another notable (and favorite) project many members of Civium contributed to is the 2015 remodel of the Topeka & Shawnee County Public

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Photo by BRADEN DIMICK For David Heit, who studied classical architecture and traditional urbanism at Notre Dame, the Immaculata Church in St. Marys was a dream project and a huge accomplishment for his team.

Library that followed the late 1990s/ early 2000s addition-renovation by famed New York architect Michael Graves.

One of the overarching expectations of the library administration, Heit said, was that they needed to modernize the building and bring it up to speed technologically to give people what they have come to expect when they go to the library. They also didn’t want to lose that very distinct Graves-style and Graves-feel in the building.

“I think my team and I feel, and I think the client feels, we were quite successful in keeping that Graves

stamp on the building, yet transformed spaces to better suit the digital and technological climate we all live in and work in today,” he said.

Another notable project Heit and his fellow Civium architects tackled was developing residential lofts downtown at 718 and 720 Kansas Avenue while doing a historical rehabilitation.

“It was a lot of fun to balance creating spaces that were going to be enticing to people for the way we live today,” Heit said. “Providing the amenities that we all expect to be comfortable in our homes but preserving some of the detail,

“I formed the company with the idea that we’re trying to focus on working on churches, other churchrelated facilities, and other sorts of public, civic types of community institutions like schools and libraries.”

JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 25 }

beauty and interest that makes living in old buildings and living in old homes so enticing to people still today.”


Heit and his team won a Merit Award for Excellence with Distinction for Historic Rehabilitation from the Kansas Preservation Alliance for their work at the 718 S. Kansas Avenue Lofts.

As for the recent GO Topeka award Civium won in May, it was quite the surprise, Heit said.

“Doing what we do, we get the opportunity and privilege to work with a lot of other companies in this town — sometimes they’re startup businesses trying to find their first store or their first office, or sometimes they’re established businesses that are taking off and growing,” Heit said. “We’re continually amazed at the entrepreneurship and the effort and great ideas that are developing right here in our own community.”

“So, to be selected and honored for what we’re doing as a small architecture firm just makes it all the more meaningful when I’m acutely aware of what’s going on in our business community that’s certainly also worthy of being distinguished for what they’re doing.”


Now that the Immaculata is complete, Civium is in a bit of a transitional period, Heit said. After spending six years working on the Immaculata, he said, “I think I wake up each morning and look at myself, and go, ‘Oh wait, I’m not working on the Immaculata project — what am I doing?’”

Civium is fortunate to currently be working with several Topeka businesses to expand their facilities, Heit said, adding they have also been invited to submit their qualifications for the design of a large national shrine church in the mid-Atlantic part of the country. While it’s too soon to predict what might come of that, Heit said, “It’s exciting to be recognized so quickly for the work we did and what we accomplished with the Immaculata. We are hopeful that’s exactly the type of project that will bring us more good things to keep us growing and moving forward.”

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Photo by JENNIFER GOETZ PHOTO SUBMITTED PHOTO SUBMITTED Many members of Civium Architecture & Planning contributed to the 2015 remodel of the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library.
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Creating Beautiful Spaces


If you were to drive by Topekan Cameron Rees’ house and see his yard, you would know immediately, as he puts it, “somebody that lives there has a little bit of a gardening bug.”

It’s a spot with lots of wonderful plants and deep roots. Just like the business he runs, Skinner Garden Store, 4237 NW Lower Silver Lake Road, the local place for “plant people” who want to create beautiful spaces in their home and yard.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time and helping a lot of people in the process,” Rees said. “So, there’s probably evidence of

something that came from us in a lot of yards around here.”

Rees, who is general manager and co-owner of Skinner’s with his wife, has been involved with the business since the early 1980s and in his current role since 2009, taking over for his dad, Jack Rees.


Skinner Garden Store, which began as a wholesale nursery in the Kaw River Valley in 1886, added a retail garden center in 1956 that prospers today just off of U.S. Highway 75 in North Topeka, offering thousands of varieties of

“There’s plenty of room to be creative when growing plants and making your space unique.”
— Cameron Rees Co-owner Skinner Garden Store
JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 29

high-quality plants ranging from trees to shrubs to grass as well as ground cover, vines, perennials, roses, and vegetables. They also offer gifts, pots and yard art.

Joseph Henry Skinner planted the nursery in the late 19th century. Today, the Skinner family legacy lives on both with the name of the garden center but also through fifth-generation plant expert Jim Skinner, great-great-grandson of the original founder. Jim Skinner worked and helped run the wholesale nursery for many years until it closed in the early 1990s. Since 1992, he has worked at the garden center, and today runs the landscape side of the business, bringing a lifetime of nursery experience to that role.

Rees and his team of 15 to 30 staff members — depending on the season — offer services that include landscaping, design, installation, delivery and potting. Have a great idea for your yard? The team at Skinner’s can help make it a reality by delivering and installing it at your house,

and they won’t leave until it’s the way you like it. Want assistance with plants for inside or on your porch? They can turn it into an “expertly potted mini oxygen factory” so it’s ready to thrive in front of your eyes.

Another cool thing Skinner’s does that you might not find at a big box store is spend a lot of time crafting good signs for all the plants and other products with color pictures so people can read easily.

“We write them, so it’s good, practical, grown here in Topeka, Kansas information,” Rees said.


If you’re like many plant noobs, it all can be very overwhelming. Luckily, Skinner’s has all the answers for you, both in-person and on their website, and the crew vows to help you with any of your needs. The staff is classically trained, has practical knowledge on how to do things, and above all, in

addition to being plant experts and/ or horticultural nerds, they’re good at talking to people, Rees said.

Skinner’s does an e-newsletter every two weeks called “The Dirt” that contains gardening tips, business updates and plant/product information. You can subscribe to it on the Skinner’s website.

Additionally, Rees hosts a weekly radio show year-round from 8-9 a.m. every Saturday called “Garden Answers” on WIBW 580 AM/104.9 FM. It’s done live, and he takes phone calls and texts during the program. Rees has been involved with the program since about 1990, but the show was originally started by former Skinner’s owner/ general manager Don Roepke in 1967. Rees said he’s been told it’s the oldest continually airing program on their radio station.

“I would strongly encourage anybody that’s a little overwhelmed or confused to just ask questions.

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Photo by JENNIFER GOETZ Skinner’s Garden Center offers services that include landscaping, design, installation, delivery and potting.

Whether it’s from us or from a friend that seems to know what they’re doing, just don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Rees said. “We’re out there for a reason. I’ll help folks all day long, and they’ll apologize for taking up my time. We want to spend time chatting.”


Rees, who is kin to the owners of Rees Fruit Farm in Topeka, said one of the coolest things about the plant business is that gardens aren’t typically full of crabby people.

“Flowers generally make people smile,” he said. “People that want to garden want to spend time doing things like that, generally are pretty positive, optimistic kind

of people. Which kind of makes sense. If you’re willing to take a stab at planting a seed in the ground and letting it grow into something or take a little bitty transplant and turn it into salsa or the other great things you’re going to make, you got to have a little optimism that’s it’s going to turn out all right.”

Whatever it is, there’s plenty of room to be creative when growing plants and making your space unique to you, Rees said.

“We can help. We can provide ideas and knowledge and plants,” he said. “Every space is different, just like every home is different.”

Want to have your yard or area be the talk of the block for the creative beautiful vibes it gives off?

“Even if it’s just a pot of flowers on the porch or a little tomato plant on the back patio you start figuring it out,” Rees said. “And each time you do something, you’re going to be that much better at that aspect and that much more prepared to take on the next one.”

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Cameron Rees, co-owner and general manager since 2009. started his career at Skinner Garden Center in the 1980s. Photo by JENNIFER GOETZ
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Designing Beautiful Kitchens


“Creativity is at the heart of projects we complete. Not just from the look of a project, but we spend a lot of time listening to how families use their kitchens.”

To many, the kitchen is a sacred place in one’s house. It’s one of the most well-traveled rooms in the home, and it’s where many joyous occasions occur. Food — the life essential — is prepared, and vital communication is shared. It’s one place families find comfort whenever they’re home. Smells can instantly bring back memories of wondrous meals prepared in the kitchen with loved ones. That’s why designers Cyndi Haines and Jessica Horton of Heart & Home Design Co. love creating

beautiful kitchens for her clients.

Heart & Home has been in business nearly six years, crafting cabinetry, countertops and kitchen designs for families in Topeka, Lawrence, Manhattan, Kansas City and the surrounding area.

“Creativity is at the heart of projects we complete,” Haines said. “Not just from the look of a project, but we spend a lot of time listening to how families use their kitchens. We want to imagine solutions to every problem or

Photo by JENNIFER GOETZ Designers Cyndi Haines and Jessica Horton of Heart & Home Design Co. strive to have their designs elevate their customers’ style.

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annoyance people have experienced in past kitchens and provide thoughtful solutions.”


This is exactly the approach they took for clients Rich and Lisa Tarwater. Having worked with them before to design the kitchen cabinets in their former home in Westboro, they were honored to be asked to design the cabinetry for their new construction home.

Previously, they had to work within the existing space and architecture of their historic home, Haines said.

“With the new build, the Tarwaters were thrilled to have a blank slate to show more of their personality and style when designing their spaces,” Haines said. “It is so rewarding to eventually start seeing things come to fruition after months of creative and thoughtful team planning. There is also no higher compliment than for previous clients to choose you to design for them

again. I feel like many of our clients become friends by the end. I’m always a little sad when a project wraps up. But in this particular project, it really was a labor of love helping Rich and Lisa design the special cabinet and countertop details in each space.”


Heart & Home has a beautiful showroom that Haines personally renovated in Brookwood Shopping Center, 2827 SW 29th Street. It is open by appointment. Haines said they love sharing their space with their clients as well as the community through events and monthly cooking classes.

While Heart & Home also creates custom bathrooms and closets, Haines’ favorite home project is and always has been the kitchen.

“It is where our families spend the most time,” she said. “You have so many opportunities to actually make people’s lives easier, to keep families healthier and to influence the

connections that people are making with their friends and family.”

Currently, Haines and her team are doing their first whole home project. It is an ADA-compliant property, which has allowed Haines and her team to put extra care into every decision they have made.

“It has taken thoughtful design to the next level for us,” she said.

Haines said her team strives to design such an array of kitchens that you only know it is theirs by the quality. The end goal is to have their designs elevate their customers’ style, she said, adding their hope is to not get labeled with a specific type of design.

“We want to know our clients on a personal level to design solutions that transform how they live their lives,” Haines said. “Our product is craftsmanship at its finest, unmatched at every level. Our partners have one level of product, and we provide that superior craftsmanship on every job.”

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While house projects are the bread and butter for Heart & Home, Haines said a pie-in-the-sky project for her would be a boathouse — “the ultimate challenge to maximize space, comfort and functionality.”


Haines said remodels can be much more difficult than starting from scratch because there is reconfiguring and dealing with the uncertainty of how much you can change a space, but also, there is nothing better than the payoff of watching the process unfold.

“We are constant students researching trends and capabilities of products. Think about how far technology has come in the last five years with whole-home smart systems,” said Haines of the devices that allow you to do things like control appliances remotely and give you greater control of your energy use, all while automating functions like adjusting temperature, turning on and off lights, and opening and closing window treatments. “We have no idea what will be used in the future, and that is exciting.”

Want to make your kitchen the beautiful space you’ve always dreamed it to be?

“We are looking to work with those individuals who geek out on the craftsmanship and details as much as we do,” Haines said. “We could spend all day talking about the lessons we have learned through our friends, families and clients’ kitchen horror stories. The kitchen really is the heart of your home, and there is no better place to take time to find solutions to the things that keep you out of the kitchen. We’d like to show you a bit about what we can do to make your life easier.” TK

38 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine
Photo by JENNIFER GOETZ Watching a space be transformed is a rewarding payoff on projects of Heart & Home Design Co.

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As I complete my 20th year at Washburn University and more than three decades in the “business education” business, I am reminded of the many innovations that have occurred, while also thinking that many of the things we do every day haven’t changed much.

This dichotomy raises an important question for all business schools: Where can we best add value as we move forward and not lose focus on what we do best? Let me share my thoughts.


What we teach in many core courses hasn’t changed much in decades. Why? Because it remains part of business practice and foundational concepts every student needs to learn. Let’s call them “the business verities.”

The simple demand/supply model included in Alfred Marshall’s 1890 textbook is still taught as an understanding of market forces and is a key to economic understanding. Sure, accounting rules and tax laws change over time, but the fundamentals of the accounting equation remain constant — your value is still what you own minus what you owe.

The same is true of the time value of money we teach in finance, the “four Ps” in marketing, the planning, organizing, leading, and controlling functions of management, and the importance of strategic understanding in business decision-making.

Yes, to someone who learned these ideas years ago, they might seem simple or old-fashioned, but guess what — new students haven’t mastered these concepts academically or in the school of hard knocks. This foundation-level knowledge is key, and it is a central focus of our curriculum.



Almost every large, successful business organization has its roots in someone’s garage, bedroom office, or around the kitchen table. From Apple to UPS, it took people who wanted to do something new and different and try to solve a problem or make the world a better place.

We offer all Washburn students the opportunity to pitch business and social innovation ideas, help them develop their business plans, and even provide some seed money so that they can take the next step in the journey.

Teaching the entrepreneurial mindset and process may not pay off immediately, but it has the potential for innovation and progress. We really have no choice but to think about new things, as nothing can be taken for granted.

Twenty years ago, Payless, Westar, and Hill’s were firmly planted as major corporate players in Topeka. Over time, their footprint has disappeared or been reduced substantially.

Fortunately, newer companies, such as Advisors Excel, or reimagined companies, such as Security Benefit, continue to grow and prosper based on new thinking about providing their customers with a better product.


Technology is constantly disrupting the status quo. We have all lived through the communications and social community transformations of the last two decades and sometimes take for granted the progress that has been made. Heck, we get frustrated when it takes a couple of seconds to load a web page on our phones!

In the business context, we see a larger and more complex evolution — all that collected data is being processed to aid in decisions; manual business processes that used to demand hours of time are now done with a few lines of code and a push of a keyboard button.

We still don’t know for sure where artificial intelligence will take us as consumers or producers, but rest assured, it is going to change the landscape significantly. We continue to refine our technology-focused courses and make changes to our curriculum so that our students have some understanding (and in some cases mastery) of some of these new technologies. More importantly, students learn that being ready to adopt new technologies in the future will be an important part of their success.


Every so often, a new concept or emphasis is floated that we must address. Taking our lead from the business world, our faculty critically study things like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG), Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), and Sustainability and share them with our students.

We don’t know the following: Will something like ESG be relevant a decade from now? I would argue that we don’t know yet.

Go back and look at the business verities I mentioned previously. They have stood the test of time. Other things, such as the importance of ethics in a business context, seem to cycle in and out of emphasis, usually driven by massive public malfeasance of some sort. Many new concepts wash up on the shore, and then they are mostly swept away again with the next high tide. The shore, however, is never the same again.



Our school is accredited by AACSB, the world’s oldest and most prestigious business accreditation body. About once a decade, AACSB updates not only the details of its various standards aimed at high quality and continuous improvement, but it usually suggests a new direction for business schools to explore.

In 2020, the new direction was to identify some key societal areas where we would strive to make an impact, develop metrics to measure accomplishment of related goals, and then measure impact over time.

With approximately 700 AACSB business schools worldwide, the hope is that collectively we could better demonstrate how we impact the world in which we live. Some world-renowned schools are placing their major focus on some pretty lofty goals — things like ending poverty and securing clean drinking water.

At Washburn, our ambitions are more focused on our local region. We believe we can impact “our society” through the following:

• Provide skilled, work-ready graduates who can fill the jobs in our growing community.

• Be a leader in Washburn’s campus-wide goal of being a place where “first-generation” college students can thrive, provide scholarship aid to help our students as we can, and provide many special opportunities for our students to get hands-on experiences.

• Utilize our faculty, students, and Washburn University Small Business Development Center to engage with the Greater Topeka Partnership, the Topeka Community Foundation, and many local and regional businesses and not-for-profit organizations to enhance the region’s economic vitality.

• Build on our outstanding record of being a diverse and welcoming school for any student who wants to succeed and encouraging our students to adopt a global mindset.

We want to accomplish some big things over the next few years. We will continually update the curriculum, replace retiring faculty members, retain our AACSB accreditation, search for new ways to assist with the financial needs of our students, and finally, complete something that has been a dream for many years — a complete renovation of the Henderson Building on the Washburn campus so that we can better teach students for years to come. Lots of change! Our focus, however, will continue to be our mission, which says we will provide “knowledge and personalized experiences to engage students who will enhance the economic vitality of businesses in the region and beyond.” In a world of change, some things remain constant.

JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 43

YES! ATHLETICS Gets Girls in Gear for Wrestling

Between cheerleading competitions, softball games and track and field meets, the North family calendar fills up fast. Like her two older sisters, 13-year-old Annie North enjoys participating in sports considered “traditional” for girls.

But when she was 8 years old, she set her sights on a new challenge: wrestling.

The idea doesn’t sound as farfetched as it did five years ago, but at the time, it was difficult to find competitions or equipment tailored to girls.

“Girls wrestling wasn’t as big as it is now,” said her mom and Founder of Yes! Athletics, Deb North. “Some girls made fun of her. Boys were brought up to not hurt girls, and

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whether they win or lose, they could have buddies make fun of them. They were in a tough spot. At the time, they didn’t want them there.”

The few girls who did compete typically had to do so in boys gear.

None of this deterred Annie, which inspired Deb to address the lack of girlspecific wrestling equipment. In 2019, she opened Yes! Athletics, named in honor of her daughter’s willingness to say yes to something scary.

Thanks to Deb’s entrepreneurial spirit, girls like Annie now have access to shoes and other essentials they need to compete in the sport. But long before the business began, its founder had to grapple with challenging circumstances of her own.

The Force Behind the Business

North’s oldest daughter, Grace, graduated from Silver Lake and currently attends Missouri State University. Rae goes to Hayden High School, and Annie attends Jardine Middle School.

In 2010, the year Annie was born, their father, Tim, passed away. Suddenly a single mother of three, Deb, who had been working as a recruiter for 15 years, decided to open her first business: True North Consulting.

“It was a God thing,” she said. “I put on my big girl pants and set out on my own.”

The company employs a team of recruiters who specialize in finding top talent and placing them in roles where they can help businesses grow.

The decade-plus of experience running her own business (and helping others run theirs) came in handy when Deb saw the need for an entirely new venture about a year after Annie started wrestling.

“We were in the process of buying shoes and found there was nothing specific for girls,” Deb said. “Everything was black

46 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine

and white in boys styles and sizes. Girls would have to buy boys shoes and convert the sizes to see what fit them.”

Annie and Deb designed the first shoes for Yes! Athletics together, and a focus group of girls tried them out and gave feedback that Deb took back to the factory — side grips were added, along with additional stitching to increase durability. They were produced in pink, purple and other colors, all with girls sizes printed inside the tongue.

The final product couldn’t have come at a better time. In 2020, the NCAA named women’s wrestling an “emerging sport,” which has contributed to a nationwide expansion of collegiate wrestling.

“There were 80 schools with women’s wrestling when I started the business,” North said. “Now, there are over 120.”

Right Time, Right Inventory

Locally, the sport’s growth is most evident at the high school level.

“Kansas was on the forefront of separating boys and girls wrestling and sanctioning a girls state tournament in 2020,” North said. “Look at Washburn Rural. They have over 100 girls come out. Look at Silver Lake, Seaman, all the schools

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Yes! Athletics came to fruition because of Deb North’s resiliency and entrepreneurial spirit to provide proper wrestling equipment for her aspiring daughter and her sports passion. Photo by JENNIFER GOETZ

around here. Rossville had a state championship team. Now there are so many opportunities with a lot of college wrestling teams within a couple hours of here.”

North’s ability to keep up with rapidly growing demand has paid off. 2021 was the first full year of operations for Yes! Athletics. In 2022, sales increased by 60 percent.

She said most business is through e-commerce on Amazon and Walmart websites, though shoes are now available at Jock’s Nitch and Play It Again Sports. Spooky Nook Sports in Pennsylvania also carries them.

“I’m in some discussions with a big retailer, so that’s a goal for 2023, as well as growing team sports,” North said. “Team sales will really get going in June, and there will also be

opportunities on our website for apparel.”

Local business organizations have been invaluable for North and her store. In 2021, she received a Game Changer Award from Win For KC, an initiative promoting women’s sports. In 2022, she won the Pitch Contest sponsored by GO Topeka’s Office of Minority and Women Business Development, receiving a $15,000 grant to pay for inventory. This April, she was the recipient of an Emerging Innovation Venture Award through GO Topeka.

Pay it Forward

For all the community support she’s received, North aims to pay it forward whenever possible.

Yes! Athletics supports Special Olympics Kansas, Wrestle Like a Girl and Beat the Streets, which offers lifechanging resources for at-risk youths.

“They provide tutoring, mentoring, college visits and ACT prep, and we provide shoes to them through a buy one, give one campaign,” North said. “We send 100 pairs of shoes to girls who otherwise wouldn’t get them.”

To further grow its brand, Yes! Athletics sponsors UFC fighter Miranda Maverick and Olympic hopeful wrestler Lauren Louive. In

addition, the company has 30 brand ambassadors across the country and features a high school wrestler of the week on its website (yesathleticsusa. com).

“I try to focus on the mission, which is to support girls and encourage them,” North said. “We love the fact they said yes to this sport that was pretty nontraditional until a few years ago. That’s what will sustain us in the long run. Hopefully, we make it clear in our messaging we’re not out to make a buck.”

As far as day-to-day operations, Yes! Athletics essentially runs itself, North said. A warehouse handles all order fulfillment and deliveries, which frees her up to focus on bigger-picture needs.

“They say you can either work on your business or in your business,” North said. “For the past months, it’s been a lot of working on the business.”

Just say “Yes!”

For all the company does for the sport and its participants, North’s top priority is saying Yes! to the three girls who matter to her most.

“When I became a single mom, people said, ‘You can’t do it all, don’t try to do everything,’ but you do what you need to do,” she said. “The time I invest into Yes! Athletics makes it a little tougher, but based on the fact that I can set my own hours, I’ve been to every single one of my girls’ sporting events. You name it, and I’m there.” TK

48 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine
During the design phase of Yes! Athletics shoes, focus groups helped provide guidance as to fit, function, durability and colors. Photo by JENNIFER GOETZ
JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 49

Couldn’t do business without you!


Topeka is home to numerous manufacturing companies that produce everything from potato chips to tires, pet food to printed materials, steel fixtures to awnings. These large companies and the products they make are well-known household names. But what is not so well-known are the local companies working behind the scenes to provide products and services to keep those manufacturers up and running.

When you think of Frito-Lay, Mars Wrigley or Hill’s Pet Nutrition, you can almost envision the machines on the factory floor, the conveyor belts moving product down the assembly lines as their mechanical parts hum and buzz. Consider the software and technology required to keep all those machines working together, optimizing efficiency and coordinating processes, and the depth of knowledge required to keep those systems integrated. That is where Automation Controls Inc. comes in.

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As a systems integration company, Automation Controls Inc. (ACI) helps manufacturers keep their production lines up and running by engineering, building, and starting up a turnkey solution to replace their obsolete control systems. They begin by evaluating a company’s specific integration needs and then design a comprehensive control system, making sure it meets all space and heat specifications.

Once the system is designed, they build the control panel and power test it, and then write, download and test the programmable logic controller (PLC) program. After the human machine interface (HMI) is built, they pretest the whole system in their shop prior to installation and start-up. Their current HMI upgrades, include redundant servers that also provide a means for ACI to remotely support the manufacturing plant 24/7 to reduce downtime.

All that just means that they allow operators to monitor their processes with

reliability and efficiency, something that Regina Brown, co-owner of Automation Controls, learned to appreciate firsthand when she helped Frito-Lay develop its SunChips line.

“Keeping the line running while maintaining quality control is essential in manufacturing,” Regina said. “If your machines aren’t running right, all of that product just becomes waste.”


While Regina and her husband, Paul, both have manufacturing backgrounds, they didn’t set out to begin a systems integration business. These high school sweethearts headed off to K-State with a plan to marry after they finished college. After his sophomore year, Paul, who was majoring in electrical engineering, decided to pick up a double major in milling science, which would add another year of college. Regina didn’t want that extra year to be wasted, so she also double

majored in business and baking science.

With four degrees between them, they headed off to Texas to begin their careers — Regina as a food scientist at Frito-Lay and Paul as an engineer for Cargill. As a member of the SunChips development team, Regina helped Frito-Lay bring up four new SunChips lines in four different plants, in just under six months.

Paul, who had left Cargill and was working for a company that provided automation services, was often traveling as well, as his company had a national vendor contract with Frito-Lay. He too got pulled into the SunChips start-ups and did the integration for the Charlotte, NC plant, and later SunChips in Korea.

“It was like we became ships in the night,” Regina said. “I remember meeting him in the airport one time to just hand off the kids and then we were off again.”

52 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine

With three young children to care for, Regina decided to leave her position at Frito-Lay. Two years later, Paul also left his job, and started Automation Controls in 1995. Wanting to move back home, Paul and Regina returned to Valley Falls

that same year. Originally, Regina had no plans to be part of the business, but after three years of sending Paul out on the road, she had an epiphany: if she joined the company, they could take the kids and go on the road together.


Automation Controls found its first customers at amusement parks and Frito-Lay Topeka. They built control panels and designed and programmed safety systems on roller coasters across the country.

JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 53 }
build a software and technology
Paul and Regina Brown, co-owners of Automation Controls, combined their
education, manufacturing backgrounds and ultimately their family goals to
business that keeps manufacturing machines working efficiently together.
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They also did local projects for Frito-Lay. Business was good. They didn’t see a need to grow beyond what the two of them could handle.

Then 9-11 happened. Almost overnight the amusement park work began to dry up. They still maintained the 22 systems they had put into place, but new amusement rides moved overseas. Insurance dropped them because of the risk associated with the amusement park work. Three weeks of scrambling finally resulted in new insurance coverage, but only for their manufacturing projects.

“Thank God for our connections,” Paul said. “Frito-Lay was one of our first customers and has been a sustaining partner for us.”

Word of the quality of the services they provided began to spread and they picked up additional manufacturing clients including Cargill, Smucker’s and

Russell Stover Candy. Business was once again stable, and the future looked bright.

Then the 2008 recession hit, and business once again dried up. They reached out to existing customers such as Frito-Lay to see if they could pick up additional business. Once again, that relationship sustained them. They began traveling to other Frito-Lay locations, providing software solutions, and performing system upgrades for a few smaller customers.

“Our customers have been phenomenal to us,” Regina said. “They gave us small projects that helped keep us afloat during that time.”

Surviving a second downturn made Paul and Regina re-evaluate their business model and put more emphasis on growth and diversification. They hired additional employees and more

actively pursued business opportunities they hadn’t considered before.

“You know what people still buy during a recession? Chocolate and pet food,” Regina said.

So that is where they turned their marketing focus. They also learned that helping someone who is in trouble, even if they are not your customer, will pay dividends in the long run.

“Manufacturing is essential to Topeka,” Paul said. “We want to do everything we can to keep it healthy and operational. It makes Topeka better for all of us.”

In addition to helping manufacturers in Topeka stay operational and efficient, Paul and Regina see it as their mission to help train the next generation of system integrators. They have partnered with Washburn Tech to train interns inhouse

54 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine
Team members of Owners Regina and Paul Brown (front row) include Matt, Doc, Josiah, Seth and Daven (back row). Photo by JASON DAILEY

on the intricacies of the business. To date, Automation Controls has trained nine interns, both engineers and technicians.

“We feel it is our duty to make sure there are enough people trained to support manufacturing,” Regina said. “Manufacturing is in our hearts. It hurts when we have a plant down because we care.”


Paul and Regina view their company as a common denominator between manufacturing companies in

Topeka. When they implement a new system for a customer, when allowed, they keep the old system parts because they can be useful for someone else if a system goes down and those parts aren’t readily available anywhere else.

“Companies know we probably have a part if they need it right away just to get them operational until they can get their own replacement parts,” Paul said. “It doesn’t matter if they are our customer or not. If they need us, we will help them out.”

Automation Controls helps manufacturers manage the software

and control panels that run their machines, but what happens when one of those conveyors breaks or a mechanical failure shuts down a processing machine? The entire operation comes to a standstill, throwing off production schedules and eroding already thin profit margins. And if the lines are down, it has a snowball effect very quickly. The workers get sent home, so their pay is affected hitting their families bottom line too.

That is where R&S Maintenance comes in.

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R&S Maintenance focuses on helping facilities keep production lines open and operating efficiently with a focus on preventive maintenance to help avoid downtime. The onsite machine shop provides custom machining, fabrication and welding services, while the millwright services include installation, service and maintenance on everything from catwalks and packaging lines to parts and whole machine installation.

“Whatever a customer needs, we can find a solution for them,” said Andy Surritt, owner of R&S Maintenance. “We understand manufacturing and our ability to make specialized parts lets us be creative to come up with ideas others might not think of.”


That knowledge of the manufacturing industry goes back a generation to when Jim Surritt, former

machinist at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, and his wife, Carol, started a machine shop out of their garage in Meriden in 1977.

Following in the footsteps of his father, Andy Surritt also started a business in his basement with former Frito-Lay colleague Dwayne Ross. Business for R&S Salvage quickly picked up, and in response to demand, they added millwright services that included equipment installations and modifications. It wasn’t long before they outgrew that basement.

“Once the business spilled out of the basement and began taking over our house, we knew it was time to find a new location,” said Andy’s wife Alexa.

R&S Maintenance leased a building in Topeka and business blossomed.

Everything was moving along smoothly — albeit with the chaos that comes from entrepreneurship — when

Andy’s father passed away and his mother wanted to sell the business.

That was in 2011. With four children ranging in ages from 17 to 7, Andy and Alexa decided to take over the family business and consolidate it with their own.

“It just made sense, so we came back home,” Andy said.


Able to provide a combination of machine shop and millwright services, R&S Maintenance quickly established a reputation for quality work and exceptional customer service, picking up clients in the printing, railroad, public works and food processing industries. Alexa, who now serves as co-owner and vice president, credits that reputation to their willingness to help anyone, anytime, with whatever they need, even if they aren’t existing clients.

56 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine
“We would be nothing without our employees.”
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“It is expensive for manufacturers to be down,” Alexa said. “If we can get them up and running, we are just grateful that we can help them. Even if that is on Thanksgiving or Christmas. We always answer the call.”

That willingness to answer has taken R&S Maintenance all over the country to service national companies.

“We have been to every Frito-Lay facility in the country,” Andy said. “And every Tostitos Scoops in America gets sent here for the mold.”

But Andy and Alexa are the first to point out that they haven’t built this business on their own, and that their success is a direct result of the talented and committed employees who take pride in their work every day.

“We would be nothing without our employees,” Alexa said.

The 80 to 90 people employed at R&S Maintenance are like extended family, and some of them are actually related. Over the years, numerous family members have worked at the company, including their three sons, who have worked their way up through the ranks after starting out cleaning in the shop during their summers off from school.


Zac, the oldest son, joined the family business after graduating from Washburn University and now heads up business development and marketing.

“Our parents have always given us the option to go do something else. But I chose to stay here,” Zac said. “I like my family and I like the family business.”

Wyatt, the middle son, moved from millwright to sales, where he works

to build those relationships with customers. That means when those late-night calls come in, he is likely to be the one to answer.

“I like it when the phone rings,” Wyatt said. “This has been the only job I have ever had. I basically grew up here. I started working in the shop my freshman year and never left.”

The youngest son, Ryder, joined the business as a millwright after receiving his Certificate in Welding from Washburn Tech last year.

“It was great to be able to take what I learned at Tech and then come here and be able to apply it right away.”

Having a family business, especially when two of the sons still live at home, means it is virtually impossible to leave work behind at

58 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine
R&S Maintenance is a true family business for Owners Alexa and Andy Surritt. Their three sons, Wyatt, Ryder and Zac have all chosen to make the family business a career. Photo by JASON DAILEY

the end of the day. But when you love what you do, taking work home with you isn’t so bad.

As the third generation of Surritts take their place at R&S Maintenance, it doesn’t mean Andy and Alexa are ready to retire but they are willing to let them answer those late-night calls.

“We are happily handing that part over to the boys,” Andy said. “Eventually we will make the hand off, but we’re not there yet. They are still learning from the experts and growing; however, we make decisions as a

family so they can help shape what the business will look like in the future.

In addition to taking care of their customers, it is important to the Surritt family that they give back to their community by supporting the Topeka Zoo, helping the local school district, promoting the tech programs throughout the area and allowing high school students to job shadow.

“We don’t take the generosity of our customers or our community for granted,” Alexa said. “We wouldn’t be here today without their support.”

Keeping manufacturing productive in Topeka is more than just integrating systems and keeping equipment running. It is also about providing manufacturers with the equipment they need to produce their goods. You can’t think about manufacturing in Topeka without thinking about tires. What are tires made of? Rubber. How is rubber made? With giant mixing and kneading machines designed to withstand high heat, abrasive particles and corrosive chemicals.

That is where HF Rubber Machinery comes in.

JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 59 }
Photo by JASON DAILEY Townsite Plaza 3 120 SE 6th Ave, Suite 110 Topeka, KS 66603 785.329.2510 Your Story. Our
R&S Maintenance has established a reputation for quality work and exceptional customer service across a variety of clients in the printing, railroad, public works and food processing industries.


HF Rubber Machinery is a member of the HF Mixing Group, owned by HarburgFreudenberger Maschinenbau GmbH of Freudenberg, Germany and is part of a larger network of companies that provides equipment to the rubber industry.

The company began under the name Midwest Machine Works started by Leonard Smith in 1960. While working at Goodyear, Leonard saw an opportunity to rebuild tire molds for the plant. Ten years later, Leonard acquired the mixer rebuild business for all the Firestone Tire Co. plants as well, which led to manufacturing rubber mixers in Topeka.

Midwest Machine Works caught the attention of a well-known rubber equipment manufacturer in Europe that wanted to expand their business into the North American market. The German

company purchased Midwest Machine Work in 1989. After numerous acquisitions and subsequent name changes, the company became HF Rubber Machinery in 2005.


“People buy tires, but they don’t actually know where the tires come from or how they are made,” Executive Vice President John Adams said. “Companies like Goodyear, Bridgestone, Continental, etc. use our machines to mix the rubber for their tires.”

In addition to tires, the company provides rubber mixers to 3M, Callaway Golf, companies making products for the Department of Defense and other companies that manufacture rubber products.

“There are actually a lot of companies out there that just mix rubber for other companies to use in making

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products like floor mats or soles for shoes,” John said.

HF Rubber Machinery makes several different sizes and varieties of machines, but they utilize two specific types of mixing technology: tangential and intermesh.

Tangential (or Banbury) style mixers knead the rubber primarily between the rotors and the walls of the

mixing chamber because the rotors do not touch each other. Tangential rotors allow for multiple cooling options and are the primary type of mixer used by North American tire manufacturers. Intermesh machines use rotors that interlock like cogs to knead the rubber primarily between the rotors. Intermesh mixers incorporate spiral cooling of the rotors and were

perfected by the Germans for the production of industrial rubber.


The Topeka company builds and services rubber mixing machine that are marketed across North America, primarily in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. This means that they build their own mixing machines, assemble machines from other manufacturing divisions, stock spare parts and provide maintenance service.

“We can service all of the equipment for clients throughout North America,” John said.

While the majority of rubber manufacturers are still located in the Ohio River Valley area, several have moved south to the Carolinas and Georgia. That is what makes Topeka an ideal location for building and assembling the mixers. Being centrally located in the United

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Topeka, being centrally located in the United States, makes it an ideal location for HF Rubber Machinery to build and assemble mixers to ship. Photo by JASON DAILEY

States allows for timely shipment to companies anywhere in the market.

It typically takes 12 months to build a rubber mixer, but John said COVID and supply chain issues have made that timeframe even longer. The backlog of orders that HF Rubber Machinery is trying to fill has them booked until the second quarter of 2025.

“I have over $70 million in backlog right now,” John said. “And it isn’t going to catch up anytime soon.”

John says 2022 brought a record number of orders, and the 2023 build schedule was full by the first of August. He attributes that to a post COVID push to rebuild capacity and an increased interest in bringing global operations back to the U.S.


The company’s current build target of 20-22 machines per year equates to approximately $40 million per year in revenue. Within the next three to five years that revenue number is projected to grow to $50 million per year. That means expansion to handle up to 25 builds per year.

“We are looking at how to achieve incremental growth over the next couple of years to achieve those targets,” John said. “We want to be proactive rather than wait until the problem is at our doorstep.”

John says he also sees growth potential on the installation and service side of the industry as well. Most customers run their machines 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year, so they undergo significant wear and tear. Preventive maintenance can add longevity to the life of a mixing machine.

HF Mixing Group has a technical lab in Germany that has a scaled down version of both types of mixing machines, so clients who are considering starting a new plant or working with new materials can test various products on each machine. Technicians can run the tests and then make recommendations on which type and size of machine is recommended based on their throughput requirements.

John hopes to have a similar technical lab in Topeka within the next few years. TK

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John Adams, executive vice president at HF Rubber Machinery, explains that it takes 12 months to build a rubber mixer and that their current target is to build 20-22 machines this year at the Topeka facility. Photo by JASON DAILEY


Before digital advertising, businesses using traditional media got used to not knowing how well their advertising was performing. While you can target your audience based on radio formats, TV networks and newspaper or magazine options, and you can always add in QR codes or ask your customers where they heard or saw you, digital advertising provides entire dashboards of tracking from impressions to click-throughs to trends of website visits and so much more.

Frankly, the level of granular and precise detail that can be captured, as well as the fact that you can target your audience at that same level of detail can be a bit unnerving.

Don’t get me wrong, traditional media is still extremely important in a marketing mix, but to get your ad in front of consumers who are already showing interest in, looking for, and are ready to make a commitment to what you have to offer, digital advertising is the tactic that will give you a strong return on your investment.

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When you start the digital marketing discussion it’s very similar to a traditional campaign. Who is your target? Where do we find them? How far will they travel to get to you? Are they ready now?

After reviewing your target audience and goals there are several types of digital tactics to consider:


Polygoning technology is fairly new to the scene, and it really freaks our clients out. Not only because of what it can do…but also because of how well it works! Quite simply we create polygons using the coordinates on any physical location and then target those individuals that have entered the polygon today or even in the past.


Have you ever thought, “Dang it, there were a lot of people at that event last month that were my perfect target. I wish I could have been in front of them.” Or, what if you could have the chance to advertise to everyone who has been in your store in the last two years and could give them a great reason to come back. Or, what if you could market to everyone who has been to all your competition’s locations the last couple years and encourage them to come see you instead!

That’s polygoning!


Targeted display ads allow advertisers to select specific demographics, interests, behaviors, or other criteria to reach a particular audience segment. This ensures that the ad is shown to people who are more likely to be interested in the product or service being advertised.

By targeting a specific audience, advertisers can tailor their ad content to resonate with that audience’s preferences, needs, or desires. This relevance increases the chances of capturing the attention and engagement of the target audience.


First, we decide what location you want to target. It could be determined by zip codes, county, state, city, radius around an address, etc.

Now we look for people who are looking for you. Through search targeting, we serve them your ad after they type in relevant search terms on search engines or on websites/apps, based on the criteria you set.

Using contextual targeting, we can see that they are reading information online that is related to what you do, even if they didn’t search for it and begin serving them ads.

And of course, we add in retargeting. We have all been exposed

to this. You know when you search for something online and visit a website to learn more. Then everywhere you go online you see ads for that type of product or business! Well, that’s what Targeted Display digital advertising does for you as well. Once they have been to your website, we really want to stay in front of them.

Important to note. We don’t buy specific websites we hope they go to; we capture the individual when their searching and online journey matches your target criteria, and then once captured we follow them wherever they go next online.

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We pick the dates and locations where your targets have been in the past. Your location, your competitor’s locations, past occurring events, etc.


Almost all those people who were in those locations have cell phones. A cell phone has a Mobile Device ID just like the VIN number on a vehicle. We capture the ID from all those phones who were at the locations in step one.


Now that we have those Mobile Device IDs we can upload them into social media platforms. Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook then find the profiles that correspond with the IDs.

After capturing the consumer on their phone’s social media and mobile apps, we continue to reach them when they open their Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook apps on their laptops, desktops and tablets.


Just like that, you can talk to all those people from the past. We will put your ads in front of them on their social media feeds, on the apps they use and the websites they visit on their phone’s browser.

These are just two of many digital tactics that you can use. There are others like Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Over-the-Top video content (OTT), Connected TV (CTV), IP Targeting, YouTube targeting, and the list goes on and on!

One of the many benefits of digital advertising is that you can get very detailed reports about where your impressions are being served, how many are clicking through to your website, how long they are staying on your website and how many different pages they look at on your website. But just like traditional media, that old saying comes in to play. We can lead the horse to water, we just can’t make it drink. The biggest difference with digital advertising is, we can bring you a lot more of the RIGHT horses who are already thirsty for YOUR water! TK

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ORGANIZATION BRINGS PEACE OF MIND. Utilize every space in your home to its fullest potential with purposeful storage and workspace solutions. This is organization according to your needs.

From decluttering closets to providing added workspaces and organizing the chaotic pantry supplies, Pulito can help you tidy it up!

With Pulito, it’s a “work together” process, starting with free consultation and budgeting. An in-home meeting allows your designer to gain a better feel for your space and space accessibility. Once final drawings are approved, Pulito’s team will build it to the specs and then provide professional delivery and install.

Visit a Pulito showroom in Topeka, Lawrence, Manhattan or Kansas City to be inspired or schedule a consultation today.



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Carmona Air Inc. has been serving as a leading HVAC Contractor in Topeka since 2004. As a fully licensed professional, they are ready to tackle most medium scale installation projects to the smallest of repair jobs. Commitment to excellence is what fuels Carmona Air Inc. to go the extra mile to make sure clients are completely satisfied with the work.

Carmona Air Inc. is an authorized Daikin Comfort Pro for Whole home and Ductless, Aprilaire IAQ, Reme-Halo Air Purification, Sensi WiFi Thermostats, White-Rodgers, Honeywell and EWC Zoning. They can also service any brand of residential and most commercial equipment.

Call to schedule an appointment today or visit the website.



With 45 years of experience serving the Topeka, Lawrence, Manhattan and surrounding communities, Bob’s Janitorial Service is dedicated to excellent customer service.

When scheduling a carpet, air-duct, window, or hard floor service Bob’s Janitorial Service prides itself on not only getting the job done but doing it the right way at the right price for its customers.

Realizing that you have choices when partnering in the care of your home or business, Bob’s Janitorial strives to always exceed expectations. You would be joining the thousands of others who have chosen Bob’s Janitorial Service because it is a local, family-owned company who takes care of its customers like they would take care of family.

Visit Bob’s Janitorial Service’s website or call to schedule an appointment today.,


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Native Topekans Tim and Ambroja Watson, owners of Soul Fire Food Co., have turned their passion for preparing family recipes into a crowd-pleasing food truck, restaurant and catering business in southeast Topeka.


Soul Fire Food Co.’s menu features smoked meats along with traditional sides in its food truck, restaurant and catering business.

Tim Watson spent 15 years tweaking smoking techniques that he learned from his father, often fulfilling requests from friends and neighbors for holiday hams and turkeys as well as brisket, ribs and chicken for special occasions. The couple also provided food for their children’s sports team fundraisers, creating a following that gave them the confidence to buy a food truck in 2019.

Ambroja Watson, whose dad was a former Topeka councilman, said, “We wanted to promote entrepreneurship in our neighborhood and saw an opportunity to be part of all the good things going on here. It was something

we discussed in casual conversation when envisioning our lives, and we were at a place where we wanted to build something special. Tim’s dad is a pastor and faith is our foundation, so we prayed on it.”

Tim, a certified heavy equipment operator for the City of Topeka for 10 years, quit his job in 2018 to prepare for his new career as a mobile chef. Ambroja, who still works as a veterans experience officer for the VHA Member Services Health Eligibility Center, spent her free time focusing on side dishes and desserts.


“When we were first getting started, we didn’t know whether to open a restaurant or buy a food truck, and we were lucky we went the truck route since COVID hit shortly after we opened,” Ambroja said. “The truck

allowed us to adjust and adapt as we went along and our business exploded during the pandemic.”

Heightened pandemic precautions regarding food and personal safety also set a high standard for protecting workers and customers that the Watsons continue to practice.

“We took the approach of slow and steady wins the race and felt our way through,” Ambroja said. “Topeka has a great food truck community, and it’s amazing how much we all communicate with one another.”

The couple’s most consistent spot for fulfilling orders was in the Dollar Tree parking lot at 26th and California. The food truck won Best of the Best Topeka recognition in 2020 and 2021, inspiring the Watsons to open a brickand-mortar restaurant right across the street from Dollar Tree on June 8, 2021.

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“Tim and I love to cook and we combined our creativity to come up with menu items that our family loves and now our customers do too,” Ambroja said.

One of Ambroja’s menu staples is frybread, which can be paired with honey or cinnamon and sugar for a sweet treat or slathered with beef, beans, cheese and salsa as an Indian taco.

Ambroja learned how to make frybread

10 years ago from her Uncle “B,” “the selfproclaimed frybread king on the Potawatomi Reservation. I loved learning to make it and

the inspiration for that menu item comes from him.”

Today Soul Fire Food Co. operates the restaurant, open Tuesday through Friday, and two food trucks. In addition to four full-time employees, the couple’s three adult children pitch in too. The Watsons also have a 7-yearold son.

The couple’s catering business has expanded to include corporate functions and meals for the University of Kansas football and basketball teams.

In addition to Soul Fire Food menu must-haves like smoked meats, baked beans, cheesy potatoes, coleslaw and banana pudding, the custom catering menu includes a taco bar and comfort-food favorites like meatloaf and smothered chicken and pork chops.

“We’ve picked options that are meaningful to us that we can replicate on a larger scale,” Ambroja said. “Over time we’ve made adjustments to narrow the menu and focus on the items that helped propel us to where we are today.”


The couple’s food truck success caught the attention of television producers for “Rat in the Kitchen,” a TBS show featuring Chef Ludo Lefebvre and comedian Natasha Leggero that aired in 2022. Professional chefs and home cooks, including Ambroja, worked as a team to determine who among them was sabotaging their culinary efforts.

“It was a lot of fun, especially since we successfully identified the rat,” Ambroja said. “It was a great opportunity to highlight our business on a national platform.”

As the company continues to evolve and attract new customers, Ambroja appreciates the community’s reception.

“People have a lot of options for barbecue, but our customers really enjoy what we’re offering, and that’s made it all worthwhile,” she said. TK

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“We wanted to promote entrepreneurship in our neighborhood and saw an opportunity to be part of all the good things going on here.”
— Ambroja Watson Soul Fire Food Co. TIM & AMBROJA WATSON | Owners | Soul Fire Food Co.


at Work

As a practicing — albeit — unlicensed Joyologist, I subscribe to the teachings of positive psychology in my quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our degree of happiness is a critical element that allows us to be an engaged, effective, and efficient employee, along with a productive, a collaborative team member.

For starters, if you are not as happy as you used to be, you are not alone or abnormal. Research shows that for the average person, our happiness typically declines from our mid-20’s to our early 50’s. There are several reasons for this decline. First, we erroneously think circumstances are going to make us happier. When they don’t it’s disappointing. This is especially true at work.

Second, our bodies experience some physiological changes during this time in life from young adulthood through middle age. Have you ever woken up with a new pain somewhere?

Finally, during these years many people experience “family complications” which may include marriage malaise, dealing with aging parents, and the number one factor — teenagers in the home.

Despite these hits to our happiness, there is good news and real hope that tomorrow will be happier and better than today. With age comes wisdom, including happy wisdom.

At about age 53 the trend is to get happier again. And, importantly, you don’t have to wait until you are 53 to be happier. Happiness is about 80% psychology (perception, growth mindset, beliefs) and about 20% strategy. Let’s focus on a few strategies that may help you feel happier and more engaged at work.

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TREY BURTON Consultant & Leadership Coach O’Shea Strengths Coaching

Be intentional.

I often tell my strengths and leadership clients to be purposeful and intentional in using their talents to address a challenge or accomplish a task.

We can create a specific action plan, using our unique gifts or skills to help us be happier at work and home. The harsh reality is that our employers are not responsible for our happiness; we are.

What do you love about your job? Try to connect with that happy thing, or do that happy task, or communicate and collaborate with that happy coworker or team every day if possible.

Consider that if you don’t spend at least 20% of your day doing what you love maybe you are in the wrong job. What did you love doing as a kid? If you are not doing that already in your time away from work try to figure out a way to “adult” that activity and regularly add it to your calendar.

Express gratitude.

Research shows that verbal expressions of gratitude lead to more friendships in social networks at home and work. To help you get your daily dose of Vitamin G try this: For the next two weeks, start every morning by finishing these sentences each morning. I am grateful for my job because ____. I am grateful for my coworker(s) because ____.

Learn and grow.

Adopt the mantra, “I am a person who is learning ____.” Or, “we are a team that is learning ____.” There is value in having discussions about these two statements with others at work. Instead of saying “I’m a nervous wreck about doing in-person trainings” tell yourself, “I’m learning how to train in front of people.”

Another thing you can do is to add “yet” at the end of your sentence when discussing an upcoming challenge. A couple of years ago you probably said, “I don’t know how to use Zoom.” But now you are an expert. So, the next time you are faced with doing something new say, “I don’t know how to do ____ yet.”

Give back

In one study, 94% of people said helping others improved their mood. A related finding revealed that spending money on others makes you happier than buying for yourself.

But your service to others doesn’t need to cost you a dime. Identify a coworker you can help in some small way each week. Do it every day if you are up for a bigger challenge.

Increase social connections.

This single strategy requires the smallest effort and results in the biggest improvement to our happiness. We were restricted on many social interactions during the pandemic. When social skills aren’t routinely practiced, they deteriorate like any other under-used muscle and we are out of practice of socializing, having simple conversations, even brief exchanges.

In person conversations improve our happiness the most but we still get a boost from any social interaction — telephone, video call, a wave down the hall.

For the next month set a goal each day to visit with someone in person, or virtually if you are remote, for at least 5 minutes and discuss anything but work.

While we are working to visit more with our coworkers, let’s not forget to read the room. It’s good to bring happiness and positivity to our interactions, and it’s also good to know when to tone that down and avoid alienating those who may not share our joy in the moment. We can’t pressure others to be happy. And sometimes our extra-happy approach might have the effect of making others extra-unhappy.

French philosopher, Henri Bergson said “All the great thinkers of humanity have left happiness in the vague so that each of them could define it in their own terms.” Let’s go be the great, happy thinkers and happy doers. Define your own happiness at work and create an action plan to make it happen. TK

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Like so many of the greatest entrepreneurial stories of the past halfcentury, the story of Harris Fabrication began in a garage when founder and president Andy Harris made the decision to take his fate into his own hands.

Andy didn’t know it yet, but the solo gigs he was taking on at that time in late 2010 and early 2011 — mostly metalworking jobs for farmers and some offloading work for a few companies out of Sabetha — were laying the groundwork for what would become one of Shawnee County’s premier manufacturing companies.

Rodney Jenkins, Andy Harris and Brian Green | Partners at Harris Fabrication Photo by MIRANDA CHAVEZ-HAZIM

Within just a couple of short years, Andy Harris recognized that his business was beginning to grow and that perhaps his solo venture could evolve into something much more. It was time, Harris decided in 2013, to find some business partners.


Enter Brian Green and Rodney Jenkins.

Rodney joined to run the financial side and a few months later Brian joined as an investor.

“Prior to this, I was an insurance agent for 18 years,” shared Rodney Jenkins, co-owner and Business Manager. “Andy’s parents were customers of mine, and Andy eventually became a customer of mine. One day, Andy approached me and said

‘I’ve got this opportunity. I can handle the business side and the building, but I don’t want to do the financials or bookkeeping,’ so we partnered up there.”

Keeping with the traditional “garage startup” humble beginnings, the founding documents for the company were initially drafted on the back of a napkin.

“We met at Gambino’s in Auburn and drew everything up on a napkin,” Jenkins recalled. “Then Brian Green and I were heading to a Royals Game. I was talking to him about what we were doing and he was interested, so he became a partner shortly after that.”

Around the same time, Harris moved his base of operations to a shop that would give him and the business some room to grow.

“When I partnered with Rodney, I was operating out of a shop in Auburn,” Harris recalled. “It was an old barn with a dirt floor. At that time, I was still fixing farm equipment like manure spreaders, tractors, welders, things of that nature. I was trying to figure out what else I could do to make money.”

It wouldn’t take long to get his answer. The newly formed partnership proved to be a catalyst for growth, and within two years, Harris was in need of an even larger shop.


“We started welding fuel filler necks for a company out of Oklahoma. I was doing a lot of them each month,” said Harris. “That’s when my shop in Auburn became too small, so we moved to 125 N. Kansas Ave.

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We operated there for a while. That building was about 7,000 square feet, although only about 3,000 of it was usable.”

Still, the additional space allowed for Harris and Jenkins to invest in additional equipment and for the first time, hire staff. Once that happened, the pace of growth accelerated.

“We figured out pretty quickly that tracking people down for money and chasing pennies wasn’t what we wanted to do with our business. So we switched our business in 2014 and started offload welding and creating our own parts,” Harris said. “We hired our first employee in that 125 N. Kansas building. Eventually we hired three employees before we outgrew it.

“Once we figured out that place was going to be too small, we bought a

JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 79 Aspire. Prepare. Enjoy. With you for life. Fee-Only Fiduciary Independent Objective 785-232-3266 716 S. Kansas Ave., Topeka, KS 66603
Harris Fabrication looks forward to utilizing JEDO’s 5-year incentive monies to expand staff, equipment procurement, training and marketing.

Harris Fabrication is expanding by adding a new facility that will double their production capabilities on their existing property in North Topeka.

building at 2520 N. Kansas Ave,” Harris continued. “It’s a 40,000-square-foot building on 10 acres. We were happy to find property with land so that we could grow if we needed to. It’s been very busy since we moved in here.”


Harris Fabrication’s meteoric growth caught the attention of not only customers and community members, but local investors and economic agencies within Topeka and Shawnee County.

“Last year, we won Small Business Manufacturer of the Year for the City of Topeka,” Harris said. “We got nominated again this year, but you can’t win it two years in a row. When we won it last year, it opened up conversations with GO Topeka, who then looped us into a process for getting some additional funding.

When GO Topeka reached out to us, we initially discussed some small business incentives. Because of the amount of money we’re spending and investing in the area, we were a better fit for the traditional JEDO funding incentive, so we moved to that.”

JEDO (Joint Economic Development Organization) is a local board composed of Shawnee County Commissioners, the City of Topeka Mayor and Deputy Mayor, and Topeka City Council members. JEDO’s purpose is to identify and support opportunities for economic growth within Topeka and Shawnee County.

In the case of Harris Fabrication, JEDO is providing up to $190,000 in incentive funding.

“The JEDO incentive is a five-year plan, which started on December 14, 2022. The incentive funds we receive are prorated based on our performance against the different incentive goals they’ve laid out,” Jenkins explained. “For example, if we hire 50 people, we’ll get incentive funds based on hiring that many people. If we were to only hire 40 people, we’d get incentive funds based on that number. In other words, it’s not all or nothing.”

Harris and Jenkins are both looking forward to the substantial impact this incentive funding will make and the opportunities it will open up. The majority of the incentive funding will go toward hiring and overall new job creation, but it will also provide the company with some supplemental support in its marketing, staff training, and equipment procurement.

“One thing we learned through this is that we are considered a preferred manufacturer in the county. We’re manufacturing for people outside

the city, which means it’s outside money coming into the county, rather than just churning existing money within the county,” Jenkins said. “When you’re a preferred manufacturer, you are eligible for more incentive funds.”

The partners are excited to promote that nugget of knowledge, along with the JEDO partnership, in their recruiting as they continue staffing expansion. Concurrently, the business is opening a new facility at their location. Designed by Falk Architects and engineered by TGB Group, the new facility will effectively double the amount of production space available to the business. Team members can look forward to having plenty of space and state-of-the-art equipment with which to practice their craft.

Finding the right people has been a key driver to the company’s success, Jenkins and Harris said. With this additional investment from JEDO, they’re positioned better than ever to do just that. TK

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GO Topeka


Growing the economic impact in Topeka is the priority of GO Topeka and it’s willing to put funds toward opportunities that increase prosperity, quality of jobs and quality of life for residents in Topeka and Shawnee County.

If you are a small business owner with a plan that shows your growth intentions and possibilities, yet is needing help to make that leap, one of your first stops should be to check out GO Topeka Small Business Incentive Programs.

There are several types of incentives that might help you:

• Marketing Incentives

• Construction & Renovation

• Architecture & Design

• Equipment

• Professional Services or Consultancy Directly Related to Commercialization

• Global Markets Matching Grant

• Proof of Concept Matching Grant

• SBIR Grant Writing Incentive

• SBIR/STTR Matching Grant

The following snapshot summaries are intended to get you started. The QR code will send you directly to more information on the GO Topeka website.

Small Business Incentives Program

Autumn Deadlines:

Application Questionnaires Due: November 27, 2023

Supporting Materials Due: November 30, 2023

Applicant Notifications

Sent Out By: December 20, 2023

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To incentivize businesses to develop high-quality marketing materials to grow their businesses and generate economic impact. Expenditures require pre-approval.


Up to 50% of project costs.


• Minimum/Maximum reimbursement: $1,000 - $2,000.

• Examples of expenditures that may qualify, pending approval: signage, marketing materials for use at tradeshows, website development, professional graphic design services or professional photography for use in advertisements, and marketing for employee recruitment.

• Non-eligible expenditure examples: business cards, office stationery, advertisements and political or religious marketing.



To incentivize businesses to utilize resources for growing their companies through developing international customers for their goods or services and becoming more competitive in international markets with the results of importing dollars into the Topeka and Shawnee County economy.


Expenditures require pre-approval.


• Reimbursement or expenses offered: a 1:1 match to a Kansas International Trade Marketing Assistance Program (KITMAP), Kansas International Trade Show Assistance Program (KITSAP) or State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grant from Kansas Department of Commerce.

• Maximum incentive: $5,000.

• Proof requirements: proof of KITMAP, KITSAP or STEP grant from Kansas Department of Commerce within last 12 months prior to application for the Global Markets Matching Grant.

• Eligible expenses: align with KITMAP, KITSAP and STEP eligibility.



To incentivize construction and renovation projects that will enable businesses to start, expand, or modernize to meet growth objectives or long-term business sustainability.


Qualifying expenses must be related to the business’s growth, startup or sustainability, generating economic impact, and become part of the business’s real property. Expenditures require pre-approval.


• Reimbursement or expenses offered: up to 50% of project costs.

• Maximum incentive: $7,500 for companies with 1-9 employees. $15,000 for companies with 10100 FTE employees.

• Examples of expenditures that may qualify, pending approval: electrical work, flooring, plumbing, sheetrock, painting, windows.

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To assist businesses that are working with the City of Topeka or Shawnee County to enable construction or renovation projects for business starts and expansions.


Up to 50% of project cost.


• Minimum/Maximum reimbursement: $1,000$2,000.

• Proof requirements: Must provide documentation of work with the City or County on the project being applied for.

• Eligible expenses: design and consulting fees from professional licensed architects or engineers.

• Receipt of this incentive: contingent upon preapproval for a Construction & Renovation Incentive. Reimbursement requests for Architecture & Design Incentives can be submitted upon start of preapproved Construction & Renovation project.



To incentivize businesses to invest in equipment to help start, expand or modernize production of goods or delivery of services. The incentive is to be used for equipment needed for the production of goods or delivery of services for the industry to which the business belongs and important for the growth, startup or sustainability of the business.


Up to 50% of equipment cost.


• Maximum incentive: $7,500 for companies with 1-9 employees. $15,000 for companies with 10-100 FTE employees.

• Examples of expenditures that may qualify, pending approval: manufacturing equipment to expand production shifts or replacement of outdated equipment in order to improve business efficiencies.



To incentivize growth-oriented companies that are entering new markets or taking new products to market. Commercialization is the process of bringing new products or services to markets with the aim of achieving large-scale commercial success. Funds are not for general business operating expenses.


Up to 50% of project cost.


• Minimum/Maximum reimbursement: $1,000 - $2,500.

• Examples of expenditures that may qualify, pending approval: cybersecurity certifications for federal government contracting, attorney fees for intellectual property protection, consultants assisting in working with regulatory agencies for product approval, CPA expenses for putting together a capitalization table for an investor prospectus, working with an export compliance specialist.

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JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 85 Don’t just join a Club Join a Family (785) 354-8561 tHE toPEKa CountRY Club WE LISTEN TO YOUR DREAMS and then find ways to minimize the burden of wealth management, bestowing the freedom to enjoy everything else. Visit us at Freedom to create your next masterpiece.



To incentivize businesses to become competitive at pursing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants and develop Topeka as a hub of innovation.


For grant writing and/or grant writing training from a pre-approved SBIR specialist.


• Minimum/Maximum reimbursement: $1,000 - $5,000.

• Proof requirements: Reimbursements are given only after submission of an SBIR application or completion of SBIR grant writing training.

• Eligibility review: Proposed SBIR applications will be reviewed by a special committee familiar with innovation technologies.



To incentivize businesses to apply for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants and to help to develop Topeka as a hub of innovation.


$25,000 matching grant to a Phase l or Phase ll SBIR or STTR grant to cover business expenses outside of those covered by the SBIR or STTR grant.


• Eligibility: Applicants must demonstrate receipt of an SBIR or STTR Phase l or Phase ll grant within last 12 months prior to applying for SBIR/STTR Matching Grant.



To incentivize research and development of innovative technologies with large scale commercial market potential by furthering the impact of qualified external funding and to help develop Topeka as a hub of innovation. Expenditures require pre-approval.


A 1:1 match to qualifying external funding.


• Minimum/Maximum reimbursement: $1,000 - $5,000.

• Proof Requirements: Qualifying match must be from within the last 12 months prior to applying for Proof of Concept. Matching Grant Owner’s equity, friends and family financing, and debt-based financing do not qualify as a match for this program. If the business is pre-venture, it must be advanced to the research and development stage.

• Examples of allowable matches: Kansas Innovation Technology Enterprise POC grant, POC grant funding through K-State Technology Development Institute, SBIR Phase 0 grant, prize money from an approved competition.

• Examples of allowable uses: prototype development, beta testing, technical validation.

86 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine

GO Topeka




Choose Topeka is a talent pilot program that will offer up to $15,000 of matching incentives by partnering with employers to encourage talent to move to Topeka & Shawnee County. Choose Topeka was created with the intention of investing in employees to live and work in the Topeka & Shawnee County, so that we may foster an intentional community, and help promote positive population growth.



Land/Facility. Cash incentives for real property investments may be offered pending scope and size of the project. Incentive is paid upon proof of required investment.

Equipment. Cash incentives for equipment investments may be offered pending scope and size of the project. Incentive is paid upon proof of required investment.

Infrastructure. GO Topeka may offer to assist in infrastructure costs for necessary improvements such as extension of utility lines and road improvements required for development.


SUMMARY: Training. GO Topeka may offer a training cash incentive as part of the incentive package.

Employment. Based on the scope of the project and the projected average annual salary of the jobs created, GO Topeka may offer an aggressive performance-based cash incentive per new job added payable over five years as earned.

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City of Topeka




CIDs are created to promote, stimulate, and develop the general economic welfare and quality of life in the City of Topeka. A CID involves public financing of all or a portion of a project within the district that provides public benefit such as strengthening economic development and employment opportunities; enhancing tourism; upgrading older real estate through redevelopment or rehabilitation; or promoting sustainability. Currently active CIDs include: Holliday Square, Cross Winds, Cyrus Hotel, SE 29th St, Wheatfield Village, Wanamaker Hills, and Sherwood Crossing.



The COT Planning & Development Department administers the City’s Neighborhood Revitalization Plan (NRP), which provides tax rebates to property owners making improvements that raise the appraised value of residential property by 10% and of commercial property by 20%. The program is intended to promote the revitalization of the City’s Intensive Care/At Risk neighborhoods and Downtown by creating an incentive for the rehabilitation, conservation, and redevelopment of these areas.



The City of Topeka has established four TIF districts College Hill, Sherwood Crossing, Wheatfield Village and the newly approved Downtown TIF district. TIFs are put in place to help drive economic development in significant areas across the city.


SUMMARY: The Stages of Resource Targeting (SORT) program is lead by the City and provides resources to help the recipient neighborhood develop a comprehensive Neighborhood Plan that outlines the current conditions of the neighborhood, identifies goals for the future, create a future land use map, and includes neighborhoodspecific elements (e.g., Infrastructure, housing, and other quality of life improvements). SORT funding allows for implementation of the priority infrastructure projects outlined in the Neighborhood Plan.



Code 109.6 allows the City Manager the option to waive fees for economic development projects up to 25%. This assistance is reviewed case by case and is pending on the scope and type of project that is being pursued.



Sewer and water infrastructure improvements may be extended within the Municipal Service Area (MSA), as funds are available through capital improvement funding. Sewer and water rates are charged accordingly based on monthly water consumption. Reductions may be provided up to as much as 25% (on the system fees) for projects promoting economic development, as determined by the City Council. The City storm water fee may be reduced by as much as 40% depending upon showing of storm water best management measures implemented by the property owner to retain 100% of runoff onsite.


SUMMARY: The City of Topeka is offering incentives for Rural Housing Incentive Districts that will serve to stimulate economic growth and development of a new residential housing developments in order to provide services, employment and tax revenues for the benefit of our community. TK

90 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine
JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 91 “Bartlett & West helped us understand the long-term potential in biogas. By producing energy and selling to the power grid, we avoid flaring and expect to cut down on our operating costs. It’s rare to find a municipal project that generates revenue. This is a huge win for the City of Topeka.” Sylvia Davis, Deputy Director of Operations City of Topeka Utilities Department Driving community and industry forward, together. Oakland Wastewater Treatment Plant: Producing renewable fuel to drive city revenue and environmental sustainability Investment Products are: NOT Deposits • NOT FDIC Insured • NOT guaranteed by the Bank Subject to Possible Loss of Principal • NOT insured by any Federal Governemnet Agency Member FDIC Equal Housing Lender Blake Sutton, ChFC® Vice President & Trust Officer (785) 276-3232 Steve Newell, President Commercial Loan Officer (785) 231-1412 800 SE Quincy Street in Topeka, Kansas A Fiduciary Advisor Investments | RetIRement | estate PlannIng Lending to Kansans since 1884. Come see us for your commercial and personal financial needs. Central National Bank...





Tara is the owner of TK Business Magazine and Wichita Business Magazine. The business magazines and their corresponding websites showcase businesses and business professionals in Topeka and Wichita respectively, highlighting entrepreneurs, experts and leaders in their efforts to grow, innovate, inspire and lead.

Tara is a co-owner, partner and marketing + media strategist of Compass Marketing & Advertising Partners. Tara and her business partner, Tim Kolling, launched the company in January 2023. The company provides strategic planning, design and content creation, and delivers media buying and online advertising.

Committed to the community, Tara currently serves on the following:

• Momentum 2027, Chair

• Topeka Community Foundation Board, Chair

• Stormont Vail Foundation Board, Member

• Kansas Chamber Board, Member

• Topeka Civic Theatre, Member

She graduated summa cum laude from Washburn University with a BBA, MBA and has a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. Tara and her husband, Braden, have three children, Hope (20), Cordell (18) and Harmony (10).

It’s a little strange to be the owner and publisher of TK Business Magazine and make the decision to be interviewed. How do you ask yourself questions without creating bias in the questions? Let’s just be honest. I can’t. So, I enlisted a couple of friends, Lisa Loewen with the University of Kansas and TK Business Magazine, and Melissa Brunner with WIBW-TV, to provide me with questions.

QWhat drives your passion for business?

I am the result of being raised in an entrepreneurial environment. I witnessed firsthand the lessons and experiences that come with owning a business. My parents instilled in me a deep appreciation for the value of hard work, the joys and challenges of entrepreneurship, and the profound impact that cultivating a team can have as they become your chosen family.

Today, I get to honor business owners and their journeys. For me it feels like I am lifting up my parents and their journey over and over again through the pages of the magazine. It is my hope that you will fall in love with the businesses and choose to buy local, even with competition that delivers straight to your door.

QYou’ve served on many boards and committees for Topeka organizations.

What created this commitment to Topeka?

My commitment to Topeka is simple. I believe that we were put here to be a blessing to the people around us; to help those less fortunate than ourselves; to work hard to ensure we use our gifts to their fullest; and to leave the place we call home just a bit better than how we found it. Will we always be successful? No, but we can try. So, I try.

QAs the Chair of the Topeka Community Foundation, you’ve spoken of the profound impact that your service on the board has had on you. Can you share why?

When I first joined the board, I felt my personal bandwidth expand as I watched and learned from the people around the table. The passion, commitment, personal ownership and respect that the board members have for this organization has offered the opportunity for some of the most thoughtful and challenging conversations.

JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 93 ONE-ON-ONE

Five years ago, we started a journey to explore Impact Investing as an additional means of leveraging our assets. We asked questions like, what if we took our investable assets that would be going to companies across the world, and invested it in companies in Topeka? What if we empowered those ready to launch great endeavors that serve a social need with significant funding through a loan?

Being a part of the teams that helped move us to be experimental and push boundaries, grew my personal bandwidth again. I am a better person because of my time on the board of the Topeka Community Foundation.

Q What is Momentum 2027?

Officially, Momentum 2027 is a five-year program built to unlock growth and economic opportunity for all, founded on the principals of equity and inclusive prosperity. The strategy gives us focus on what the community, as a whole, is saying they want and need, so that we can all hop in the boat and row in the same direction. It allows us to support and raise up many organizations and people that are doing great work to improve our community and are already in the boat. It allows us to see gaps of what is missing in our community and evaluate needs so we can empower people and organizations to move forward.

For me, Momentum 2027 is each of us saying, this is my community, this the place I choose, this is the place I love, and then acting on it. You don’t need to sit on a committee or read the plan to be a part of Momentum 2027.

If you are starting a business, have kids in activities in Topeka, are beautifying your home or business, or buying from local businesses in Topeka, you are Momentum 2027.

When each of us do our part to improve our neighborhood, support

each other and take ownership of our part of the community, we are creating momentum.

QSome critics feel these exercises involve the same people, doing the same things. How do you respond to that?

I am often one of those critics but at the same time, of course it does. The realities are that individuals making major financial investments in the community need to share what their plans, desires and challenges are when investing in Topeka. And, we want to share what the needs of the community are — this is 100% a win-win.

However, Momentum 2027’s Steering Committee was different. The committee was represented by all ethnicities, genders and backgrounds, and from all parts of the community. In addition, surveys went out to have noncommittee member voices heard.

The final product is a strategy that hopes to represent and value every person in the community. For Topeka to thrive, we all must thrive.

Q How would you like to see this process inspire, maybe even create, the next generation of Topeka leaders?

Now, Momentum 2027 is about the city and the strategy for us to grow incomes, people, workforce, college degrees, connections and partnerships while aiming for prosperity for all.

What if when we invest and grow our business team, we also challenge ourselves to see and address our personal biases and hire a more diverse workforce? What if while we beautify our yard, we meet the neighbors and serve each other in times of need? What if while we buy local, we commit to a buying 100% local at Christmas?

Eyes are watching — the next generation is watching us. When we

think about who we want the next generation to become, we have to ask ourselves what are we showing them? In a world that allows us to isolate and live through technology, we're accountable to the next generation of Topeka leaders to model a true community, true care for our neighbors and that leadership involves embracing opportunities that sit in front of us every day.

Q Speaking of the next generation, how has being an entrepreneur impacted your kids?

The truth is that there are some incredible benefits and some incredible challenges and disadvantages for kids of entrepreneurs.

My daughter Hope and my son Cordell started working at odd jobs for me as children. Today Cordell runs our website and Hope helped us with the launch of the Wichita Business Magazine.

While I love having this relationship, it also can cause challenges. At times they need their mom, not their boss or visa versa.

My hope for them is to simply find their own path and love what they do, what they have and the people around them. They have watched my journey. They see the good and the bad. I want them to pave their own way and to know that I am blessed that God chose me to be their mom.

Q What's next?

Excellence and evaluate. Whether it's a business I own or an organization that I serve, I want to spend time in that continual improvement space.

I want to strive for greatness but constantly ask questions around what is working, what do we need to let go of and what needs to be added. TK

94 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine
JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine 95 Harness your financial strength. MAKE KASASA CHECKING YOUR SUPERPOWER 4.50 % apy * *APY = Annual Percentage Yield. For full account details please refer to Envista Federal Credit Union’s Truth in Savings Disclosure. Insured by NCUA. Switch in minutes The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements or prior results obtained. Thomas L. Bell Cameron S. Bernard N. Larry Bork Tracy A. Cole Miranda K. Carmona Samuel R. Feather Jessica L. Freeman Susan L. Mauch David P. O’Neal Patrick M. Salsbury Cynthia J. Sheppeard Andrew D. Tague Catherine L. Walberg GSEPLAW.COM // 785-233-0593 Experience Matters. Trusted since 1881. 515 S Kansas Ave Topeka, KS 66603 OUR TEAM ONE-ON-ONE




Grammy Award-Winning Casting Crowns to Perform at TPAC

Inaugural India Mela Celebration Coming to Downtown Topeka This August

A vibrant celebration of Indian culture is coming to Evergy Plaza in downtown Topeka on August 11, 2023 from 6-10 p.m. Titled India Mela, the event name draws inspiration from the Hindi word “Mela,” meaning festival. India Mela promises a rich and immersive experience, showcasing the best of Indian traditions, arts and flavors. The event will feature captivating cultural dancers, traditional food, a fashion show, diverse vendors, henna art, and a spectacular grand finale — a light-and-music fountain show accompanied by the beats of Bollywood music.

BT&Co., P.A. Announces Matt Deutsch as the Next Managing Director of the Firm

Matt Deutsch joined BT&Co. in 2004, became a director in 2016, and as of July 1, 2023 has become the Managing Director. Matt has more than 19 years of experience serving clients in a diverse range of industries in the firm’s audit and accounting solutions/consulting departments. Throughout the last decade, Matt has been deeply involved in the firm’s strategy development and management and has been involved in the firm’s marketing, information technology and employee development programs.

Kelse Cummings Promoted to Senior Account Associate at MB Piland Advertising + Marketing MB Piland, a Topeka-based marketing agency, recently promoted Kelse Cummings to Senior Account Associate. Since Cummings joined the firm in February 2022 as an Account Associate, she has contributed to the growth and health of the firm. Her responsibilities included assisting with client work, creating email campaigns, social media management, coordinating public relations and conducting research.

GRAMMY® winning multi-platinum group Casting Crowns will embark this fall on the Casting Crowns 20th Anniversary Tour: A Live Symphony Experience. Celebrating a milestone 20-year career, the band will be joined on tour by a live orchestra and will perform at the Topeka Performing Arts Center on October 6, 2023.

Local Funeral Director/Pastor Earns “Death and Grief Studies” Certificate

Kyle Scheideman, Funeral Director for Dove Cremations and Funerals, Topeka, and Pastor at Stull Community of Faith Church, Lecompton, recently completed 150 hours of training from the internationally recognized Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado and has earned his “Death and Grief Studies” Certificate.

Contractors Garage

Celebrates Grand Opening Contractors Garage, located at 660 NE Hwy 24 in Topeka, is officially open. Contractors Garage provides storage workspaces for contractors, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and hobbyists.

New Alliance Formed to Bid Kansas Medicaid Contract CareSource announced the first strategic alliance of its kind to compete in the upcoming procurement to serve KanCare members. The CareSource HealthAlliance combines InterHab, the Children’s Alliance, the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas and CareSource Kansas. The CareSource HealthAlliance will collaborate to offer KanCare 3.0 recipients an innovative and unique Medicaid health plan option focused on the whole person.

96 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine
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Greater Topeka Partnership and The Chamber, Lawrence Announce 2023 City Swap Event

The Greater Topeka Partnership and The Chamber, Lawrence, Kansas, are excited to announce the 2023 Topeka-Lawrence “City Swap” event, taking place October 12-13, 2023. This event will bring together business leaders, elected officials, and community stakeholders to participate in a tour of each city. The two-day event will feature speakers, networking, and opportunities to learn about the exciting developments in each community. The City Swap is a follow up to the joint intercity visit the two cities collaborated on in 2022.

Met&l Prarie Pour Tour Unveiled: Virtual Trail Connects 14 Brewery, Winery & Distillery Locations Across Northeast Kansas

Visit Manhattan, Visit Emporia, Visit Topeka and Explore Lawrence announced the official launch of the MET&L Prairie Pour Tour, a new initiative showcasing the vibrant beer, wine and spirits scene of northeast Kansas. This innovative virtual trail connects 14 premier brewery, winery and distillery destinations, offering an exciting opportunity to explore rich flavors and experiences available in the sunflower state.

Those hoping to embark on the Prairie Pour Tour are encouraged to visit PrairiePourTour. com to view all participating locations and to sign up for a digital passport that allows patrons to check in at each establishment. Earn points with each check-in by December 31, 2023 to be entered into a sweepstakes for the chance to win one of four prizes valued up to $500.

‘For the Culture KS Fest’ Coming This Summer

A new first-of-its-kind festival celebrating African American culture and heritage is coming this summer to Kansas’ capital city! “For the Culture KS Fest” will be held July 2830, 2023 in Topeka and includes not only musical performances and vendors, but networking and panel sessions focused on professional and personal growth for Black individuals.

Maria Dressman from the Elliott Group received this year’s Agent of the Year award at the KAIA Annual Conference.

McElroy’s Mechanical, Plumbing, Heating and Air has added Brandon Seamans to its growing team of residential HVAC technicians. Seamans has nearly 23 years of experience in residential heating and air conditioning service and repairs.

Trina Goss Selected for U.S. Chamber Foundation Education and Workforce Fellowship Program

Bryan Baier Named President of Healthy Blue Kansas

Bryan Baier has been named president of Healthy Blue Kansas. Healthy Blue, a collaboration of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas (BCBSKS) and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC), intends to bid on a contract this year to serve the 415,000 individuals in KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation announced Trina Goss, Director of Business & Talent Initiatives for GO Topeka, was selected to participate in the eighth cohort of its premiere business leadership program. The Business Leads Fellowship Program trains and equips leaders from state and local chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, and trade associations with resources, access to experts, and a network of peers to build their capacity to address the most pressing education and workforce challenges.

Topeka ER & Hospital brings MeMed


Diagnostic Technology to Topeka Community

Topeka ER & Hospital, a physician-managed hospital designed to provide community access to prompt, compassionate emergency care, announces that they have partnered with MeMed to adopt the trailblazing MeMed BV® test that distinguishes viral from bacterial infection within 15 minutes. TK

98 JULY/AUGUST 2023 TK Business Magazine
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Maria Dressman Receives Agent of the Year Award at KAIA Annual Convention Brandon Seamans Joins McElroy’s, Inc.

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pages 98-99


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pages 93-96

City of Topeka

pages 90-92

GO Topeka

pages 88-89


pages 86-87


pages 84-86


pages 82-84


pages 74-81


pages 70-73


pages 68-69


pages 64-68


pages 60-63


pages 56-59


pages 52-56

Couldn’t do business without you! BUSINESS BEHIND THE SCENE

pages 50-51

YES! ATHLETICS Gets Girls in Gear for Wrestling

pages 44-49


pages 42-43


pages 40-41


pages 37-39

You’ve changed, so

pages 35-36

Designing Beautiful Kitchens

page 34

Creating Beautiful Spaces

pages 28-33

Building Beautiful Communities CIVIUM ARCHITECTURE & PLANNING

pages 22-27


pages 16-19

The Making of Top City Metal Supply

pages 10, 12-15
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