Editor’s note: The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is a non-financial partner of Startland News, which serves as the media partner for the Small Business Superstars program.
Finalists for the KC Chamber’s Small Business of the Year award highlighted their companies’ commitments to strong workplace culture, DEI initiatives, and community relations during a panel discussion Thursday evening at the 2023 Small Business Top 10 Reception.
Company leaders took turns sharing glimpses of their businesses with the audience, and many underscored how employee relations and retention had contributed to their success.
“We set out to build the company that we wanted to work for,” said George Brooks, co-founder of Crema, a custom software design consultancy. “We’re in the business of people; we just happen to design and build technology. … People want to be seen, heard, and known, and so for us, that’s a big initiative.”
Crema emphasizes that focus on its people — both employees and clients — with what Brooks called a “results-based culture.”
“I don’t care when or where you work, as long as your team and your client are supported,” Brooks said. “I don’t care about butts in seats; I care about people serving other people.”
All 10 finalist companies are vying for the prestigious “Mr. K Award” — named for the late Kansas City entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Kauffman — that honors the Small Business of the Year in Kansas City.
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Thursday’s event at Hotel Kansas City marked the last showcase before a winner is announced at the Small Business Awards Luncheon, which is set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 14 at the Marriott Muehlebach Tower.
Click here to register for the luncheon or to learn more about the event.
Judges for the competition look at whether a finalist has a record of giving back to the community, prioritizes DEI, and has shown growth or sustainability of their business with strong employee engagement.
Click here to learn more about the KC Chamber’s small business awards program.
Seated with a row of her fellow finalists before Thursday’s crowd, Karen Crnkovich, president of commercial HVAC and plumbing service contractor DMC Service, Inc., noted that she emphasizes schedule flexibility for her employees, so they can be there for those important moments outside of work.
“Our employees are parents — not just working moms, but working dads too — and they want to be able to take their kid to kindergarten that first day, or be able to coach the team,” Crnkovich said. “Being able to do that when you have a job where you’re on call can be really challenging. So when they come to us and say, ‘Hey, I want to do this,’ there’s no shame.”
J. Rieger & Co. tries to build a sense of community for employees by providing optional out-of-work events, said Andy Rieger, president of the East Bottoms distillery.
Brad Oddo, CEO of payment processing software company BASYS Processing, said his company boosts retention by offering employees a completely paid vacation to a destination of their choice every five years they’re employed by BASYS.
“They get to choose where they go, how long, [and] they also get an extra week of vacation that year,” Oddo shared. “The thing that I really love about the vacations that people take is when they come back, they show me the pictures, and it’s that memory that’s made that we get to be a part of as a team that I absolutely love.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion measures were also a key focus of the discussion, as Fahteema Parrish, president of Parrish & Sons Construction, urged the importance of reaching out to young people of diverse backgrounds to allow them to see themselves represented in all spaces.
“They see us as a woman-owned company — a minority woman-owned company — in a male-dominated space,” Parrish said. “They see that, and then they’re able to envision themselves being a successor in that realm, or exploring the opportunity of being an entrepreneur in that space.”
“We are extremely, extremely, extremely intentional when it comes to DEI and making sure that they can see themselves in a variety of spaces, because the key thing is educating, exploring, and then illuminating the path for them,” she added.
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Amber Reed, owner of Resolve Counseling and Wellness, noted that her practice offers therapy services from local graduate students to clients at discounted rates in an effort to remove financial barriers to mental health care access.
Company leaders from fellow finalists Crux KC, Quantum Resource Professionals, The Running Well Store, and Walz Tetrick Advertising rounded out the discussion.
Check out a photo gallery from Thursday’s event by Startland News’ Austin Barnes and Nikki Overfelt Chifalu, then keep reading below.
The group of 10 contains four newcomers and six finalists who return to competition from previous years, including four repeat finalists from 2022.
Recent Mr. K winners include Chicken N Pickle in 2022 and Charlie Hustle in 2021, and the award has been presented annually since 1987.
Several other awards will be presented at the June luncheon, including the KC Chamber Emerging Business Award and the KC Chamber Small Business Equity Award.
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