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Author Archives: Matt Lara

About Matt Lara

Matt is the resident social media guru and website guy, working on the marketing and communications team. He supports GO Topeka, the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Entrepreneurial & Minority Business Development, Forge and Heartland Visioning.
  1. New Kansas PTAC Subcenter in Topeka creates opportunities for local businesses

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    For Immediate Release:
    Friday, Oct. 6, 2017

    News from GO Topeka & EMBD
    120 SE Sixth Ave., Suite 110, Topeka, Kansas 66603

    Contact: Glenda Washington, v.p. of entrepreneurial and minority business development, 785.231.6048

    TOPEKA, KANSAS – GO Topeka’s Entrepreneurial and Minority Business Development program is now a Kansas Procurement Technical Assistance Center subcenter and Kristi Dunn, who joined EMBD this summer as subcenter director, already is helping area businesses navigate the complex requirements of government contracts and procurement.

    “The addition of a PTAC subcenter in Topeka – and Kristi’s skill and experiences as a subcontractor and project manager applied to the role of director – ensure we can provide local businesses with services they need close to home,” said Glenda Washington, vice president of EMBD. “This is a service set we were not previously able to provide. This assistance can mean big things for businesses that meet the required guidelines.”

    Dunn, who came to GO Topeka with program development and project implementation experience with NASA, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and other agencies, is providing Topeka area businesses with individualized support and training previously accessible only in the Kansas City area or Wichita.

    The Kansas PTAC is headquartered at Wichita State University. PTAC was created by Congress in the 1980s to assist businesses involved in government contracts. Today, Kansas PTAC assists qualified businesses in locating, obtaining and performing federal, state and local government contracts. Kansas PTAC is funded through a partnership that also includes Pittsburg State University, Johnson County Community College, the City of Wichita and now GO Topeka.

    PTACs are the bridge between buyer and supplier, Dunn explained, bringing knowledge of both government contracting and the capabilities of contractors to maximize fast, reliable service to our government with better quality and at lower costs. Services include bid-matching, bid preparation assistance, specifications and standards, regulations and certifications, procurement/price history and training seminars. PTACs also can assist small businesses looking to utilize designators such as woman-owned, minority-owned or service disabled veteran-owned.

    “My goal is to help some businesses grow by assisting them as they navigate the complex process of working with the government,” Dunn said. “My role is to act as a helpful guide along the way. I also have a robust network across the country of other PTACs and participate in on-going technical training. If I don’t have the answer, I can certainly find someone who does.”

    All Kansas PTAC clients must meet specific guidelines and complete a registration process before services can be provided. Information about that process is available at Scheduled training opportunities in Topeka are online at

    “The businesses we work with must be viable and have a track record of quality product or service,” Dunn said. “The first step is to become a Kansas PTAC client. If we can help, we will through every step.”

    Dunn has extensive experience working in the complex world of federal and state contracting, with specific experience in program development. As a sub-contractor with NASA, she managed a team based at Kennedy Space Center, providing contracting support to NASA Headquarters. Prior to this role, she was on overseas assignment as a Subject Matter Expert to Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory. This role required interface with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and British Command for shore-side operations. As support staff for the base, she gained extensive knowledge about the individual roles and requirements to successfully navigate multimillion-dollar procurement contracts. Dunn is a graduate of Washburn University.


    A program of GO Topeka, EMBD provides programming, training and financial incentive support opportunities for small businesses throughout Topeka & Shawnee County. Learn more at

  2. SBA’s Powerful New All Small Mentor-Protégé Program-New Release

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    The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) powerful new All Small Mentor-Protégé program has shifted the landscape of federal government contracts.  Government contracts attorney Steve Koprince will be outlining steps for small business to become a part of this powerful tool when he makes a presentation on Tuesday, October 17 for the Kansas Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at Wichita State University. The program starts at 8:30 with registration beginning at 8 a.m. in the Harvester Room at the WSU Old Town 238. N. Mead in Wichita.

    The program allows any small business to obtain critical developmental assistance from a mentor (large or small), with the blessing of the SBA.  And best of all, SBA-approved mentor-protégé teams get special exceptions from the SBA’s ordinary affiliation rules–including the ability to joint venture for set-aside and sole source contracts even when the mentor is a large         business.

    Of course, these important new benefits don’t come without strings attached.  Before entering into a mentor-protégé relationship, it’s critical for contractors to understand the rules–both to maintain compliance, and take advantage of a special status that lasts a maximum of six years.  In this program, government contracts attorney Steven Koprince provides an in-depth look at the SBA’s new mentor-protégé program, including requirements to participate, the application process (what is the SBA looking for?) and tips for developing a strong and successful mentor-protégé relationship.  The program concludes with a discussion of the special affiliation exceptions and joint venturing possibilities the All Small Mentor-Protégé program affords.

    On Tuesday, October 17, the program will be presented in Wichita at WSU Old Town, 238 N. Mead. This program will be from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with registration starting at 8 a.m.

    On Thursday, October 26, the program will be presented in Topeka from 8:30 to 12:30 p.m. This program will be in the Topeka Chamber Board Room on the 2nd floor at 120 SE 6th Avenue.

    Registration information can be found at, or by visiting the Kansas PTAC calendar at

    Wichita State University’s Kansas PTAC is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the Defense Logistics Agency. It is funded additionally by Johnson County Community College, the city of Wichita, Pittsburg State University, and GO Topeka.




    Scott Knapp

    Certified Contracting Assistance Specialist

    Deputy Director

    Kansas PTAC

    Wichita State University

    Office address: 238 N. Mead

    Mailing Address:1845 Fairmount St., Box 215

    Wichita, KS 67260-0215

    Phone 316-978-6876

  3. Agricultural Technology and Bioscience Industries Key to Area’s Future

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    Development and expansion of the Kansas State University north campus, along with the development of the University of Kansas west campus leaves an obvious gap (Topeka) in the expansion and growth of the corridor from Kansas City to Manhattan.

    A group of business and community leaders, along with the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka, have begun the process of determining how Topeka can participate in continued and future growth of the Animal Health Corridor, as well as emerging opportunities in AgTech and Translational Health in the region. The effort has been dubbed BAAFTech which stands for Bioscience, Animal Health, Agricultural Tech and Finance Tech.

    While the precise nature of the opportunities and focus are still to be determined (i.e., Fintech, AgTech, logistics, etc.), it is abundantly clear that the biosciences should and will be an area of focus.

    In conjunction with the efforts of the Science and Technology Task Force, an Entrepreneurial Task Force has been formed and has begun to map local resources available for start-up efforts. Momentum 2022 also includes an entrepreneurial-focused workgroup.  Combined with GO Topeka’s Entrepreneurial and Minority Business Development Council and the chamber’s Small Business Development Council, Topeka & Shawnee Country are setting the stage for a new era of entrepreneurs and small business owners.

    The BAAFTech project is primarily run by a task force. That task force has visited eight different communities in the past six months that are focusing on this industry to identify best practices that can be implemented here.  At the same time, a feasibility study has been commissioned and a recommendation is expected in early 2018.  Given the emerging nature of these technologies and the industry at large, time is of the essence.

    “Topeka sits right in the middle of the country, more importantly in the middle of the Animal Health Corridor but does not play as active a role as it should. There are great examples here like Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Stormont Vail’s Clinical Research efforts, but we could take a more active role in the corridor,” said Duane Cantrell, CEO of Fulcrum Global Capital, who sits on the BAAFTech Task Force. He is the former CEO of the Kansas Bioscience Authority and added, “I saw first-hand the untapped potential, which should include Topeka.”

    Fellow task force member Dan Foltz, president of KBS Contractors, Inc. shares that passion.

    “We specialize in building critical construction projects, more specifically in research and development facilities for animal science, pharmaceuticals and food grade manufacturing,” Foltz said. “We are passionate about providing for companies that are responding to critical needs like this.”

    More than 60 percent of the animal health research underway in the United States is occurring in the Animal Health Corridor. Topeka & Shawnee County has a responsibility to play a role in that. The jobs in this industry are continuing to grow and pay well over the average annual wage in Shawnee County at nearly $70,000/year. Topeka & Shawnee County are ideally situated to be part of the Silicon Valley of Ag Tech and Bioscience companies.


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    WASHINGTON, DC – The Nominating Committee of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) has elected Molly Howey, CEcD, senior vice president of economic development at GO Topeka to its Board of Directors for a two-year term. The election took place during IEDC’s 2017 Annual Conference, which was held Sept. 17 – 20, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Howey, will begin her two-year term January 2018.

    “We are honored to nominate Molly Howey, CEcD, as a new member of the IEDC Board of Directors, and look forward to her leadership and service,” said Jeffrey Finkle, CEcD, President and CEO of IEDC.

    Howey is a Kansas native and has spent the last six years marketing the capital city, Topeka, Kansas to site selectors and prospective corporate citizens. She is a graduate of Washburn University and received her CEcD in 2016. In her role, she manages two industrial parks the organization owns and oversees all business attraction efforts in Shawnee County, Kansas.

    “Serving on this board will allow me to connect with economic development professionals throughout the United States and beyond, and to bring even more innovation and best practice to fruition in Topeka and Shawnee County,” Howey said.

    Some companies that have grown in or relocated to Topeka during Molly’s time with the organization are Mars Chocolate, Big Heart Pet Brands, Target, Federal Home Loan Bank, Home Depot and Frito-Lay. GO Topeka is a public-private partnership funded mostly by a ½ cent county-wide sales tax that was just renewed for another 15 years.


    About the International Economic Development Council

    The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) is a non-profit membership organization serving economic developers. With more than 5,000 members, IEDC is the largest organization of its kind. Economic developers promote economic well-being and quality of life for their communities, by creating, retaining and expanding jobs that facilitate growth, enhance wealth and provide a stable tax base. From public to private, rural to urban, and local to international, IEDC’s members are engaged in the full range of economic development experience. Given the breadth of economic development work, our members are employed in a wide variety of settings including local, state, provincial and federal governments, public-private partnerships, chambers of commerce, universities and a variety of other institutions. IEDC’s members create high-quality jobs, develop vibrant communities and improve the quality of life in their regions.

    About GO Topeka

    GO Topeka creates opportunities for growth, prosperity, innovation, and economic diversity and vibrancy that positively impact current and future citizens of Topeka & Shawnee County by attracting world-class companies, providing existing companies with the knowledge and resources to reach their highest potential and cultivating entrepreneurial development and growth. Learn more at

  5. Advisors Excel

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    AE began with three innovative Kansans: Cody Foster, Derek Thompson and David Callanan. Like Gradient Annuity Brokerage, the trio got their start at Personalize Brokerage Firm (PBS). Post PBS, the group first tried their hand as financial advisors. However, once they stepped into the role of advisors to financial advisors, they knew that they had found their market.

    AE was established in 2005. The company’s first office was nestled in the basement of a dentist’s office on Barrington Court, a stone’s throw from their current office at 2950 McClure Rd. From there AE upsized to the corner of 9th and Kansas.  The company moved to its current site in 2014. During the first year of business, AE had a total of 4 employees, excluding the three founders. Now, 12 years later, the company has approximately 475 employees. With 100,000 square feet, plus the 30 employees housed in the upper level of Tall Grass Office Building and continued projections for growth. The question becomes, will AE need to move to an even larger space? Only time will tell.

    One of AE’s very special features is its in-house ad agency. This team of 120 people helps advisors with everything from business logos, letterheads, websites, radio commercials and more. In fact, they currently have around 600 small business clients.

    According to Cody, Topeka has been their biggest competitive advantage. “From a service based standpoint, you’re only as good as your people, and the people here are awesome,” he says. “It’s never been a challenge to find good people.”  Indeed, the company has benefited from its capable employees. And, in turn, AE has become a fixture in the Topeka business community and a strong supporter of many civic and philanthropic endeavors.

    You can find more information about the Financial Services Summit and the other blogs here.

  6. Gradient Annuity Brokerage

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    For the second installment in our Financial Services Blog Series, we are covering Gradient Annuity Brokerage (GAB). GAB is part of Gradient Financial Group, LLC (GFG) and its family of companies. This home-grown business first opened their doors 12 years ago in Topeka, Kansas. During their first year of business, the organization set up shop in a small facility at Forbes Field that had a roll-up garage door and no air conditioning. The company has come a long way since its humble beginnings and now has offices in both Topeka, Kansas and Arden Hills, Minnesota.

    GAB is a field marketing organization (FMO) lead by GFG founders and owners, Chuck and Tami Lucius, along with Gradient Insurance Brokerage, Inc. President Chad Roesler. This means they offer products lines exclusively to independent financial service professionals (FSP). These FSPs traditionally focus on income solutions, retirement planning, life insurance needs and financial safety for their clients. Some of the main carriers GAB partners with include hometown names like Security Benefit and Athene as well as brands such as Nationwide and American Equity. GAB seeks to educate FSPs so they can assist their clients with their financial decisions, and GAB is committed to this through the sales tools and technology solutions that are made available to the FSPs who work with them. This includes unparalleled support, specialized expertise, proven marketing systems, and comprehensive value-added professional and educational services to meet the needs of today’s population who are near or in retirement.

    As Chuck and Tami Lucius have seen much success over the years, they also want to give back to their local community. The Gradient Gives Back Foundation is a non-profit organization that devotes its resources to assisting families who have fallen on hard times. The Foundation provided a “hand-up” to a Topeka family by awarding 12 months of mortgage payments to help them rebuild their financial life.  The Foundation and employees of the Topeka office regularly seek to unite the local community and inspire Americans for the purpose of charitable giving through activities and donations to the Topeka Rescue Mission and other organizations.

    GFG and its family of companies employ over 80 people in its Topeka office. Roesler believes one of Topeka’s greatest assets to be its people. As Roesler stated, “You get good quality people in Topeka…it’s also a central hub for educated young people.” He noted that as long as an individual has the drive to succeed and desire to learn, GAB can teach them to be successful professionals in the financial industry. This ties in well with his notion that the Midwestern work ethic in Shawnee County factors into GAB’s overall success and good workforce continuity.

  7. Shawnee County company plans business expansion and job creation with incentives from Joint Economic Development Organization

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    For Immediate Release
    Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017

    News from GO Topeka
    120 SE 6th Ave., Topeka, KS 66603 | 785.234.2644

    Contact: Michaela Saunders, v.p. of brand strategy, 785.234.1030

    Shawnee County company plans business expansion and job creation with incentives from Joint Economic Development Organization

    TOPEKA, Kansas –  The Premier Advisory Group, an existing Shawnee County company and the umbrella company of ActionCOACH Business Coaching, Bajillion Agency and MotoVike Films, has announced it will create 45 new jobs over the next five years and invest nearly $2.5 million dollars to expand in the community.

    The project, referred to as ‘Project Leaf’, received approval Wednesday evening from the Joint Economic Development Organization (JEDO) of Topeka and Shawnee County for an incentive package that will assist the company with the anticipated job growth.

    The company currently employees 17 full-time positions and anticipates adding an additional 45 new full-time positions at an average salary of $52,000. Further, the company will invest $1.6 million to acquire and revitalize a downtown Topeka building, at 100 S. Kansas Ave., and $800,000 on equipment for the space. GO Topeka’s economic impact analysis indicates that the 45 new jobs will have a $16 million annual recurring impact to the Topeka & Shawnee County economy.

    “We’re committed to building a work culture that young professionals want to be part of. Topeka is home, and we think it’s a great place to recruit talent. We’re only as good as our people are, and our team is made up of talented individuals who love showing up to work every day. We are excited for what the future holds,” said Andrea Engstrom, CMO of The Premier Advisory Group, President of Bajillion Agency

    The incentive package approved by the JEDO board entails a maximum incentive of $225,000 for job creation. The incentives are performance based and will be paid by GO Topeka upon completion of performance indicators.

    “We are happy to support these companies as they plan their move to downtown Topeka and upcoming expansion,” said Bob Archer, Shawnee County Commission Chair and member of the JEDO board. “This kind of job growth is significant.”

    Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast, JEDO board chair, stated, “Adding these creative and business-improvement focused jobs to our community is substantial, as is the addition of three new companies to our Downtown Topeka business community.” He continued, saying, “This is exciting for Topeka. Creating additional jobs is what these incentives are intended for.”

    Learn more about the involved businesses:


    GO Topeka creates opportunities for growth, prosperity, innovation, and economic diversity and vibrancy that positively impact current and future citizens of Topeka & Shawnee County by attracting world-class companies, providing existing companies with the knowledge and resources to reach their highest potential and cultivating entrepreneurial development and growth. Learn more at

  8. Economic Development 101 to demystify process with fun twist

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    For Immediate Release:
    Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017
    News from GO Topeka
    120 SE 6th Ave., Topeka, KS 66603 | 785.234.2644

    Contact: Michaela Saunders, v.p. of brand strategy, 785.234.1030

    TOPEKA, Kansas –  Economic development is more than buzz words. It matters to our community. At this public presentation, GO Topeka will put a fun twist on this important topic. Join us Thursday to learn more.

    What: Economic Development 101 is a chance to learn more about the importance of economic development in a thriving community. It will give guests the opportunity to understand the processes of business attraction and retention for businesses of all sizes from GO Topeka’s local experts, Molly Howey, senior vice president of economic development and Jackie Steele, vice president of business retention and expansion.

    When: 5:30-7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017

    Where: Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library’s Marvin Auditorium, 1515 SW 10th Ave.

    GO Topeka creates opportunities for growth, prosperity, innovation, and economic diversity and vibrancy that positively impact current and future citizens of Topeka & Shawnee County by attracting world-class companies, providing existing companies with the knowledge and resources to reach their highest potential and cultivating entrepreneurial development and growth. Learn more at


  9. OFG Financial Services, Inc.

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    As a part of the upcoming Financial Service Summit, GO Topeka would like to spotlight some of the financial service organizations headquartered in Topeka & Shawnee County. We begin with OFG Financial Services, Inc.

    OFG is a full-service broker/dealer. Its office is located at 120 SE 6th Ave # 105, in the heart of Downtown Topeka. The company has 12 employees at the Topeka office and 80 independent brokers licensed in 20 different states. OFG offers a variety of services in areas such as mutual funds, variable annuities and employee benefits programs. However, the company specializes in retirement and investment planning.

    A Timeline of the Company’s History


    OFG Financial Services began as Columbian Securities in Topeka, KS. It primarily functioned as a major bond house.


    In addition to bonds, Columbian Securities started offering mutual funds through its mutual fund department.


    KSTA (formerly Kansas State Teachers Assoc.) endorsed Security Benefit and Columbian Securities to be the plan provider of 403(b) retirement plans for school districts. They were also selected to educate school employees on financial literacy. This set-in motion the close relationship with both Security Benefit and Kansas schools.


    Ken Ogdon, president/owner, left his position as an elementary school principal in Wichita to head up the 403(b) department for Columbian Securities.


    Leading the way in his field, Ogdon purchased the retail side (stock/insurance/mutual funds) of Columbian Securities.


    The company changed its name to Ogdon Financial Group on Apr. 1, 1992. It would later become OFG Financial Services, Inc.

    Interesting Company Facts:

    • OFG primarily works with schools, both public and private, secondary and post-secondary, in various states, including Kansas, to provide employees with 403(b) plans and Section 125 plans also called “Cafeteria” employee benefits plan (this plan covers life insurance, health insurance, disability coverage, etc.).
    • OFG is Security Benefit’s only partner authorized to sell Security Benefit 403(b) products in Kansas schools.
    • At nearly a century old, the organization has been touted as “the oldest bond house west of the Mississippi River”.
    • OFG, in partnership with Security Benefit, helped institute employer matching funds for 403(b) plans in public education institutions.
    • The company brings economic activity into the area with 1/3 of its revenue being generated from outside the state of Kansas.
  10. Magistrate Birzer to address Women of Influence Sept. 20

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    For Immediate Release: Monday, Sept. 11, 2017
    News from GO Topeka
    120 SE 6th Ave #110, Topeka, KS 66603

    Contact Michaela Saunders, v.p. of brand strategy, 785.234.1030

    The Honorable Gwynne E. Birzer will speak at the Fourth Annual Women of Influence recognition reception on Sept. 20.

    Birzer, a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Wichita since 2015, holds two degrees from Washburn University and previously practiced law in Topeka. She will address an anticipated gathering of more than 300 Sept. 20 to celebrate the 2017 Women of Influence.

    In the public sector, Birzer served as an assistant public defender, assistant district attorney and as an assistant attorney general. She also had her own private practice firm prior to relocating to Wichita in 2004, where she worked at the Sedgwick County Public Defender’s Office. In 2006, she joined Hite, Fanning & Honeyman, LLP where she specialized in medical malpractice defense litigation. In 2011, Judge Birzer became a partner in the firm, and she served in that capacity until her judicial appointment.

    In addition to her judicial responsibilities, Judge Birzer serves her community on various boards and civic organizations. Judge Birzer has held leadership positions in both Kansas and Wichita Bar organizations. She has served on various KBA and WBA committees. She is also a member of the American Bar Association and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

    The EMBD annual Women of Influence recognition is complimentary and open to the public. Reservations can be made online at for the event, 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at the Ramada Topeka Downtown’s Regency Ballroom. The event will honor the following women:

    Community Service: Shelly Buhler
    Distinguished Mentor: Cathy Harris
    Education: Sharon L. Sullivan
    Outstanding Entrepreneur: Cheryl Creviston
    Rising Star: Linda Kehres
    Woman of Achievement: Pam Johnson-Betts


    GO Topeka is a private not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing economic development in Topeka and Shawnee County by attracting new businesses, facilitating expansions and enhancing the business acumen of small business owners and entrepreneurs. GO Topeka is contracted by JEDO to administer the half-cent sales tax.