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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. 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.
  2. 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.


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    Contact: Glenda Washington
    Telephone: 785.234.2644
    Note: High-resolution images of each honoree available upon request.

    TOPEKA, Kansas – Several women will be honored at the Fourth Annual Women of Influence recognition reception from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 20 at the Ramada Topeka Downtown’s Regency Ballroom. The event, sponsored by GO Topeka’s Entrepreneurial & Minority Business Development, will honor the following women:

    Shelly Buhler, Community Service

    Cathy Harris, Distinguished Mentor

    Sharon Sullivan, Education

    Cheryl Creviston, Outstanding Entrepreneur

    Linda Kehres, Rising Star

    Pam Johnson-Betts, Woman of Achievement

    The public is welcome to attend the recognition event by visiting

    Community Service
    Shelly Buhler
    was elected Shawnee County Commissioner in 2006, 2010 and again in 2014. Prior to being elected Commissioner, she served as Mayor of Rossville for six years.

    Buhler is a graduate of Junction City High School and a 1987 graduate of Benedictine College, with a Bachelor of Arts in Community Services. She also is a graduate of the University of Kansas Certified Public Manager program, the 2003 class of Leadership Greater Topeka, Leadership Kansas 2009 and the Kansas Association of Counties’ Institute of Excellence-Foundations in Government.  She has served five terms as the Chair of the Joint Economic Development Organization of Topeka-Shawnee County and is the Tri-Chair of the Momentum 2022 Economic Development Strategy. During her career, Buhler has received the Kansas Health Foundation Community Health Leadership Award, the 2010 YWCA Women of Excellence Award in Management, the 2013 Community Action’s Velma Paris Humanitarian Award, and served as a board member for the Kansas PRIDE. She is also Board Member Emeritus of the Kansas Health Foundation.

    Distinguished Mentor
    Cathy Harris
    Nursing was her life’s dream as a child, and the journey through nursing school proved to be an experience filled with bumps, bruises, and many tears; while she learned, matured and developed the tenacity to persevere. She is currently pursuing an advanced degree in nursing.  As a Topeka Correctional Facility volunteer since 1996, Harris holds meetings every Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to various inmate populations.  She is a volunteer in the Kansas Mentorship Program, designed to decrease the recidivism rate in correctional facilities. Harris is the author of three books: Liberation for Total Transformation, Beyond Your Weight and The Love Journal and writes for her international blogs (Nurturing Nuggets and the Marriage Manual).

    Dr. Sharon L. Sullivan
    earned degrees from Smith College, Washington University and the University of Kansas. She is a Professor at Washburn University. She chairs the Women’s and Gender Studies minor and is new chair of the Theatre department. Her research and activism focus on violence against women, including sexual and domestic violence, human trafficking and rape as a weapon of war. Sullivan is cofounder and director of STARS (Stop Trafficking and Reject Slavery), immediate past president of the Advisory Board for the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice, and Kansas Bureau Chief for the International Public Policy Institute. She also is an active volunteer for the Topeka YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment. Sullivan co-facilitates a creative writing group for incarcerated women at Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF), the only women’s prison in Kansas. In 2014, 2015, and 2016 Sullivan gave presentations about Human Trafficking at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She currently co-chairs the Topeka Shawnee County Human Trafficking Coalition.

    Outstanding Entrepreneur
    Cheryl Creviston
    is President/CEO and Co-Owner of Stacks, a position she has held since 2006. In that role she is responsible for the fiscal condition and long-term viability of the company, with primary responsibilities of strategic planning, finance and control, and organizational development. She describes herself as dedicated to the continued profitability of the company as its customers, and employees and their families depend on it.  She founded the Kansas network for professional women in 2004, with the mission of providing business mentoring, leadership opportunities and encouragement to women business owners. To remain current on national industry trends and challenges, she belongs to several Records and Information Management industry associations – The Association of Records Managers and Administrators, The Association of Information and Image Management and as a current national board member of the Professional Records and Information Services Managers Association.

    Rising Star
    Linda Kehres has a passion for the community and believes in giving back. She has a long history of volunteer work with the homeless through various organizations before taking over as the Executive Director for Let’s Help two years ago.

    Through her leadership roles, Kehres has always had an active voice in influencing decisions directly affecting our community. Currently as member of the Topeka Homeless Task Force, she collaborates with the city, county, and various community agencies, to ensure the most vulnerable in our community have an enhanced quality of life. She has a Master’s in Business and is nine credit hours short of her Doctorate in Theology.

    Woman of Achievement
    Pam Johnson-Betts 
    holds a Bachelor’s degree from Washburn University, a Master of Social Work, from the University of Kansas, is a graduate of the Lucas Group executive development program and the School Development Institute, Yale University, is a L.S.C.S.W. and a certified public manager.

    Johnson-Betts is committed to both professional and community service, including: Current Topeka Public Schools Education Foundation Director & TPS Ombudsman; Cabinet Secretary in Sebelius administration serving as head of Kansas Department on Aging; Appointed by Gov. Graves as First African-American female executive director, Kansas African-American Affairs Commission; Kansas African-American Affairs Commission charter commissioner; director of office of government and community relations, K.D.H.E., Topeka Public Schools first African-American school social worker, inaugural Director of  501 Yale-sponsored program known nationally as the “Comer Process”,  adjunct instructor at Washburn University (Education Department) and Comptroller for the Kansas Division of Southwestern Bell. Johnson-Betts has served the last 13 years on the Board of Directors for Stormont-Vail Regional Healthcare Center. She currently also serves on the Stormont-Vail Foundation board, Shawnee County Prevention & Recovery Services board & Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce Small Business Council. Other community affiliations have included: Inaugural member Washburn Women’s Alliance, ABWA-Career Chapter, Topeka Chapter of Links, Kansas delegate to the White House Conference on Aging, Every Women’s Resource Center, Red Cross Board of Directors, Junior League, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, YWCA Board, The Brown Foundation, League of Women Voters, United Way & N.A.A.C.P.


    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.


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    For Immediate Release
    Aug. 9, 2017

    Jared Hitchens
    Communications Specialist, Topeka Chamber

    Chamber leader selected for education fellowship
    Stapleton one of 21 nationwide selected to participate

    TOPEKA, Kan.  — Barbara Stapleton, Vice President of Workforce & Education for GO Topeka, has been selected by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) to study education attainment and workforce development along with 20 other chamber of commerce professionals from communities throughout the United States.

    The Fellowship for Education Attainment is an immersive executive development program that provides chamber of commerce professionals with education and tools to improve the cradle-to-career education pipeline in the communities they serve.

    “I am thrilled that Barbara’s skill and commitment to her profession are being recognized with this fellowship,” said Matt Pivarnik, President and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and GO Topeka. “What she learns will benefit the entire community. Coupled with the critical nature of cradle-to-career to the success of the Momentum 2022 plan, this opportunity could not have come at a better time.”

    Throughout the year-long Fellowship for Education Attainment, participants are required to develop a regional action plan that focuses on addressing specific education attainment or workforce development issues in their communities.

    “We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to this executive leadership training initiative and the high caliber of applicants,” said ACCE President Mick Fleming. Speaking on the need for businesses to be more engaged in talent development discussions and outcomes, Fleming says his organization assists its members through various learning opportunities and best practice sharing. “This latest step in our strategy to engage business leaders and advocates in education attainment maximizes the linkage between qualified talent and economic development goals.”

    ACCE’s Fellowship for Education Attainment is designed to advance a chamber of commerce’s already-defined education attainment goals and ultimately help the business associations nationwide build replicable programs and processes.

    Leaders selected to participate in the 2017 Fellowship represent communities including Albany, New York; Atlanta, Georgia; Augusta, Georgia; Vail, Colorado; Brockton, Massachusetts; Brooklyn, New York; Burlington, Vermont; Corpus Christi, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; Evansville, Indiana; Frankfort, Kentucky; Fullerton, California; Greenwood, South Carolina; Helena, Montana; Irving, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Mason, Ohio; Raleigh, North Carolina; Salina, Kansas; Topeka, Kansas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

    # # #

    About GO Topeka
    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. Learn more at

  5. Molly Howey promoted to GO Topeka Senior Vice President for Economic Development

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    gt-logoFor Immediate Release:
    Friday, June 9, 2017

    News from GO Topeka
    120 SE Sixth Ave., Suite 110, Topeka, Kansas
    A high-resolution photo of Molly Howey is available upon request.

    Michaela Saunders, director of brand strategy, 785.234.1030 or 402.490.0165

    Molly Howey promoted to GO Topeka Senior Vice President for Economic Development

    TOPEKA, KANSAS – GO Topeka recently promoted Molly Howey to the position of Senior Vice President for Economic Development. In the new role, she will expand on the business development and attraction responsibilities she has held since 2011 when she joined GO Topeka.

    “Molly is highly respected in our region, state and country as a leading economic development professional,” said Matt Pivarnik, President and CEO of GO Topeka and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. “She recently confirmed her mastery of the profession by joining the elite group of economic developers holding their Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) credential. The International Economic Development Council’s (IEDC) certification acknowledges that recipients have achieved the pinnacle of excellence in the economic development field. It is clearly the industry leading designation.”

    Howey earned her CEcD credential in September 2016. Originally from Overbrook, Kansas, she is a graduate of Washburn University and Washburn Tech.

    GO Topeka’s primary mission is to attract and retain businesses in Topeka and Shawnee County. Wendy Wells, chair of the GO Topeka board, said Howey lives that mission daily.

    “Molly has a passion for the community, which is heard and felt by the companies large and small,” Wells said. “She will continue to cultivate success in this new role.”

    During Howey’s time with GO Topeka, the organization has announced more than 1,800 new jobs and more than $500 million in capital investments in Topeka and Shawnee County. In her new role, Howey will oversee business retention and workforce development efforts in addition to attraction of new business to the area.

    Bob Archer, who serves on the Joint Economic Development Organization board, said Howey’s past success in securing new companies to Topeka and Shawnee County speaks for itself.

    “She has proven successful in using the available incentives and opportunities to entice site selectors, and ultimately businesses themselves, to move to our community,” Archer said.

    Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast, chair of the JEDO board, agreed. He said: “Molly’s passion, professionalism and sense of community serve all of us well.”

    Howey is a member of the TARC board of directors, a member of the Industrial Asset Management Council and a member of the International Economic Development Council Young Professionals Advisory Board.

    GO Topeka, a private not-for-profit, contracts with various organizations to create opportunities for economic growth that provide a thriving business climate and fulfilling lifestyle for Topeka and Shawnee County.

  6. TopCity Interns Program to Commence June 7 with Zoo Kick Off Event

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    Forge - Official logo (1)Wednesday, June 7, 2017
    News from Forge
    Topeka’s Young Professionals
    120 SE 6th Ave. Topeka, KS |

    Contact: Michaela Saunders, Visit Topeka director of brand strategy, 785.234.1030 or 402.490.0165

    TOPEKA, KANSAS – The inaugural year of the TopCity Interns program officially kicks off at 5:30 p.m. today at the Topeka Zoo. In all, 173 interns who working for the summer at 24 different Topeka area companies, will gather to learn more about Topeka and get a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo from director Brendan Wiley.

    The interns represent 47 different universities and are coming to Topeka from 23 states and six different countries. They will leave the event with information on Topeka’s quality of life, events, restaurants and more, combined with welcome bag items from sponsor companies.

    The TopCity Interns initiative was announced March 29.  The program was created with the purpose of providing interns for local Topeka and Shawnee County businesses with a positive internship experience while investing in their future as professionals. The goal of the project is to impart a lasting, positive impression of Topeka and Shawnee County in the hope of retaining these young professionals in the community.

    “The TopCity Internship network represents a change in how several leading companies in Topeka engage our community. For the first time, these organizations are collaborating to celebrate the quality of life, and the breadth of opportunities, that exist for young professionals in the city,” said Robert Ross, Forge Leadership Team member and Allocation Manager with Payless Shoes, who co-chaired the TopCity Interns planning committee.  “[Forge’s] goal is to recruit and retain young talent in Shawnee County. The TopCity Interns program will contribute to this by providing Topeka employers a competitive advantage as they recruit. We will give their interns – potential full-time employees — the opportunity to participate in exciting events, receive direct exposure to some of the country’s leading CEOs and provide a platform to create lifelong friendships forged in our community.”

    Several programs, including lunch ‘n learn opportunities with executives and social events, have been organized by a committee with representation from several participating companies and Forge, Topeka’s young professionals’ organization.

    Among those events is a concert in Downtown Topeka, which will be free and open to the public, planned for 6-10 p.m. Friday, June 30, between 8th and 9th on Jackson Street.  The Top City Interns Concert will feature 3 bands, from Topeka, Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

    Gabriel O’Shea, executive director of Forge, said: “This is a great opportunity for Topeka. I am excited to share Topeka with these interns. This group of new talent represents the driving innovation and creativity that moves an economy, as well as a community, forward.”


    Forge, Topeka’s young professionals’ organization, is focused on attracting and retaining young talent to Topeka and Shawnee County, Kansas.



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    Contact: Glenda Washington
    Telephone: 785.231.6000

    Topeka, KS, May 9, 2017– Three local businesses, a small business advocate and one non-profit organization were recognized as winners in their category at the 2017 Small Businesses Awards Luncheon held today in the Maner Conference Center of the Capital Plaza. The Small Business Awards event is presented annually by GO Topeka’s Entrepreneurial and Minority Business Development (EMBD) and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce.

    Kansas Department of Commerce’s Secretary Soave served as the keynote speaker of the event.

    “Small Businesses and non-profits represented here today are true success stories. They were born from a need and were challenged to fill a gap. They all have passion for what they do, vision to see beyond today, tenacity to keep going and the flexibility to change with the market,” said Glenda Washington, vice president of entpreneurial minority business development. “We are proud they are a part of the fabric of this community.”

    The 2017 winners are:

    Emerging Entrepreneur of Distinction:  Norsemen Brewing Company

    Non-profit Award of Distinction:  Topeka Rescue Mission

    Minority and Women Business of Distinction:   Oasis Family Medicine Assoc., LLC

    Small Business Advocate:   Jenny Torrence, owner of Serendipity, Pinkadilly and NOTO Burrito

    Capital City Business of Distinction:   HME, Inc.

    Sponsors for the Small Business Awards Luncheon include: Platinum Sponsor – Envista Credit Union; Gold Sponsor – Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas; Media Sponsor – KTWU and WIBW Channels; Silver Sponsors – PTMW, Inc. and Washburn University Institute of Technology; Centerpiece Sponsor – Parrish Hotel Corporation; Table Sponsors – Berberich Trahan & Co P.A., Capital City Bank, CoreFirst Bank & Trust, Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Kaw Valley Bank, Polo Custom Products, Schwerdt Design Group, Silver Lake Bank, Stormont Vail Health, Topeka Capital-Journal and Washburn University SBDC.


    Details about the award winners:

    Emerging Entrepreneur of Distinction:   Norsemen Brewing Company
    Jared Rudy, owner; 830 N Kansas Ave., Topeka, KS 66608


    Norsemen Brewing Company began operations on October 14, 2016. The original four owners maintain their standard 40 hour week jobs while spending 45+ hours a week at the business. They have added a total of seven part-time employees. All sales projections have been met and they continue to grow their Event Space and are expanding into distribution.

    Norsemen promotes and supports local as much as possible, including purchasing shirts, glasses as well as wine. Each month they feature a local artist during First Friday, showcasing their art work.

    They sponsor fundraising events for local nonprofits such as the Topeka Community Cycle Project where portions of sales are donated to the non-profit.

    Norsemen, pays homage to the North Topeka Middle school mascot that closed a few years ago. This Viking theme represents their brand and can be found throughout the brewery.

    Craft brewing combines art, science and creativity. Carefully designing recipes around hundreds of ingredients, manipulating water profiles with chemistry for each beer, reaching out and pushing the boundaries of beer styles, plus much more goes into the art of making craft beer.

    One of Norsemen’s goals was to join the momentum the NOTO Arts District was experiencing and situate itself as a cornerstone of the area in attempt to make NOTO and North Topeka a destination place other than First Fridays.

    Non-profit Award of DistinctionTopeka Rescue Mission
    Barry Feaker, CEO; 600 N Kansas Ave., Topeka, Kansas 66608. 785.354.1744

    Responding to the needs of the homeless and underprivileged within our community has been at the heart of everything Topeka Rescue Mission (TRM) has done since its inception in 1953. TRM is a non-denominational Christian organization that is dedicated to helping the homeless by providing emergency shelter, meals, clothing and other needed items to homeless men, women and families.

    Currently the Mission shelters over 2,000 homeless individuals each year. They have focused on providing services that not only respond to the immediate needs of guests, but ultimately help them to break the cycle of homelessness.

    In response to the needs of the Topeka Community, TRM has created nine specific, yet diverse ministries. They include Shelter Services, Food Services, Distribution Services, Street Reach, Children’s Palace, NET Reach. Doxazo Ministries, Restore Hope and Educational and Supportive Services.

    TRM also provides job training through a 12-week program called CaRE and a six-week program for residents of the Hi-Crest neighborhood called Net Works. They operate two retail establishments in Topeka for employment and job training for program participants. TRM also arranges hundreds of volunteer opportunities for employers, who encourage employees to engage in volunteering within the community.

    Minority and Women Business of DistinctionOasis Family Medicine Association, LLC

    Holly Cobb & Jennifer Harader, Members; 2850 SW Mission Woods Dr., Suite #103 Topeka, Kansas 66614. 


    Oasis Family Medicine opened on March 2, 2015. Jennifer Harader, MD and Holly Cobb, APRN-C are founders and current co-owners. They are Topeka’s first and only Direct Primary Care clinic, which means that they provide full-scope primary care to patients for a monthly membership fee. They do not bill insurance. They provide 24/7 access to their patients by phone, text and email. Oasis offers same-day visits for urgent concerns, as well as offering their patients access to discounted lab and pharmacy services.

    To address problems within the business, they hold weekly staff meetings as well as a monthly management meeting. They have adjusted their processes and procedures to meet the demand of a business that has grown faster than projected. The biggest problem they face is that their patients are a mixture of insured and uninsured. When they take on the primary care of uninsured patients, they must find the patient access to services they cannot provide within their office, such as screening tests, specialist treatment and x-rays.

    Since their inception, Oasis Family Medicine has grown to serve 1,100 patients. They started with one medical provider and one nurse, and now have two providers with a third joining the practice in April. They also now employ two nurses.

    Small Business AdvocateJenny Torrence

    Owner of Serendipity, Pinkadilly and NOTO Burrito; 820 – 824 N Kansas Ave., Topeka, Kansas 66608.  785.232.8148

    Jenny Torrence owner of Serendipity, Pinkadilly, and NOTO Burrito has a passion for small businesses. She sees the impact that a small business makes not only financially, but also by its ability to make a community unique. Jenny has invested financially in the Topeka community. She supports small businesses when she eats out, shops for gifts or has a need that can be filled by a small business.

    Jenny has led an initiative to bring awareness grass roots style to small businesses. She created a campaign to buy, shop and support local. She created a logo, website and facebook page and stickers for local businesses to place on their door.

    Jenny believes that there is a commitment to invest in our small business community. There is also a commitment to continue the growth of our amazing town and movement. Supporting small business is one of the best ways that this can be done..

    Capital City Business of DistinctionHME, Inc.

    Jon Haas, President and CEO; 2828 NW Button Rd. SW 37th Street, Topeka, Kansas 66618.  785.235.1524.

    Twenty years ago, Jon Haas followed a dream and started his company in his garage. Today, that dream has expanded to a 186,500 square foot manufacturing facility with over 360 employees. Founded on the ideal of providing superior-quality custom metal fabrication and structural steel to the construction industry, HME has become a leader respected throughout the entire country.

    HME continues to expand its delivery area and has recently taken on jobs as far away as Wyoming, Florida, North Dakota, North Carolina, and Tennessee. All of the fabrication for these projects takes place in the Topeka, Kansas manufacturing facility which provides work within our community funded by new money from other states. They are projecting sales revenue to surpass $100 million for 2017 with approximately 20% going to employees in the form of payroll and benefits and approximately 65% going to the purchase of raw materials and outside labor.

    HME will continually hire and retain high-quality workers, invest in cutting edge manufacturing equipment, and compete nationally with structural steel fabricators in other areas of the country, all of which provide an economic benefit to our business community and state.

    # # #

    If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Glenda Washington at 785.234.2644 or

  8. Mars to Add TWIX line to Topeka Facility, Will Invest $55 Million

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    Contact: Jackie Steele

    Telephone: 785.231.6029


    Topeka, KS, March 30, 2017Mars Chocolate North America announced it will invest $55 million in its Topeka facility to accommodate increased production, including adding a TWIX line. The investment, which entails $4.9 million in the facility and $50 million in equipment, follows the additional $100 million investment Mars announced in 2015 around M&M’s Caramel. During a special meeting held Wednesday, March 29, the Joint Economic Development Organization approved approximately $125,000 in incentives for the project, referred to as “Project Fairway,”

    “We love being in Topeka and we’re excited to keep investing in this community, in the U.S. economy and in our future,” said Bret Spangler, Topeka Site Director, Mars Chocolate North America. “At Mars, our ongoing commitment to local manufacturing is fundamental to our DNA and how we operate. We appreciate all of the support we have received from the City of Topeka, Shawnee County, GO Topeka and the state of Kansas in welcoming us here.”

    “Mars Chocolate North America is a model corporate citizen,” stated Mayor Larry Wolgast. “We are delighted that they have chosen to expand the capacity and employment of their Topeka facility by adding the TWIX line. We are fortunate to have a company like Mars contributing to our community’s economic vitality.”

    The investment is part of Mars Chocolate North America’s announcement of a $70 million reinvestment in its U.S. supply chain, continuing its long-standing commitment to American manufacturing and innovation. This latest investment will add approximately 250 new jobs to sites across the county, including 60 full-time and 50 part-time jobs in Topeka. The reinvestment continues Mars’ pattern of creating new American jobs in communities while enabling them to offer more product innovation, choice and transparency to their consumers.

    “By once again choosing to make a significant capital investment in their Topeka facility, Mars is not only reinforcing their dedication to our Community, but it affirms that Topeka is an optimal location for operating a global business,” stated Matt Pivarnik, President & CEO GO Topeka and Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. “Growing our existing businesses is vital to our community, and GO Topeka is honored to assist Mars with this expansion.”

    “We are proud to have Mars continue to invest in our community,” stated Commissioner Bob Archer, Chair Shawnee County Commission. “The expansion will provide more quality jobs to people in Shawnee County. The large capital investment, plus additional jobs shows their commitment to Topeka and Shawnee County.”

    Mars announced today the reinvestment in several of its US facility, with the Topeka facility being a significant component of the reinvestment. The company anticipates that TWIX will start being produced at the Topeka facility in 2018.

    “This announcement marks yet another area employer with plans to add jobs and upgrade facilities – SE2, Futamura USA, Reser’s Fine Foods and now Mars. In partnership with JEDO, GO Topeka is pleased to provide incentives to Mars to continue to grow and create good jobs for our community.” Wendy Wells, GO Topeka Board Chair

    About Mars, Incorporated

    Mars, Incorporated is a private, family-owned business with more than a century of history, $35 billion in sales, and six diverse business segments producing some of the world’s best-loved brands: PEDIGREE®, ROYAL CANIN®, IAMS®, BANFIELD® CESAR® (Petcare); M&M’S®, SNICKERS®, DOVE®, GALAXY®, MARS®, MILKY WAY®, TWIX® (Chocolate); DOUBLEMINT®, EXTRA®, ORBIT®, 5™, SKITTLES® (Wrigley); UNCLE BEN’S®, DOLMIO®, MASTERFOODS®, SEEDS OF CHANGE® (Food); ALTERRA COFFEE ROASTERS™, THE BRIGHT TEA COMPANY™, KLIX® FLAVIA® (Drinks); and COCOAVIA® (Symbioscience). Headquartered in McLean, VA, Mars operates in 421 facilities across 78 countries, where our more than 80,000 Associates —all united by the company’s Five Principles of Quality, Efficiency, Responsibility, Mutuality and Freedom –strive every day to create relationships with our stakeholders that deliver growth we are proud of.

    About GO Topeka
    GO Topeka creates opportunities for economic growth that provide a thriving business climate and fulfilling lifestyle for Topeka and Shawnee County.

    # # #

    If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Jackie Steele at 785.231.6029 or

  9. GO Topeka & the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce Unveil New Diversity & Inclusion Program, INCLUDED

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    Combo Logo - GO First

    Contact: Barbara Stapleton

    Telephone: 785.234.2644





    Topeka, KS, March 21, 2017– Backed by GO Topeka and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Included aims to be the authority on diversity and inclusion within businesses and organizations throughout the region. Each of the participating organizations has made the commitment to improve and grow their diversity and inclusion initiatives to increase awareness in their own organizations as well as the overall community. The Included committee is currently made up of representatives from Advisors Excel, Alorica, Bartlett & West, Big Heart Pet Brands, Express Employment Professionals, FHLBank Topeka, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Mar’s Chocolate, OneGas, Payless ShoeSource, SE2, Security Benefit, Topeka Public Schools, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, Washburn University and Westar Energy; however more are invited to join and take part in the growth of this effort in our region.

    “I see Included falling directly in line with the initiatives and efforts that Topeka and Shawnee County are currently working toward,” said Lonnie Walker Jr., diversity and inclusion analyst for FHLBank Topeka. “Included will help organizations within our area become more focused on diversity and inclusion, which supports the overall economic development of Topeka and Shawnee County. When you look at other cities around the country that have really supported this type of initiative, you can see how they have begun to thrive.”

    “This is but another extension of the core principles of growing, building and stabilizing Topeka and Shawnee County,” said Janet Dulohery, vice-president of human resources with SE2. “Included will acts as a foundational piece from which revitalization will really kick off. Diversity and inclusion serves as an invitation for businesses, organizations and people which conveys Topeka is ready for growth and welcomes them.”

    According to a study by McKinsey and Company, companies that are considered gender-diverse outperform those companies that are not by 15%, and companies that are ethnically diverse outperform by 35%. In a separate study conducted by Forbes, businesses that are labeled as “diverse” and “managed” have employees that have a 2.3 times higher cash flow over a three-year period. This study shows that the benefits to a business to become more diverse go beyond just human resources.

    Included will provide organizations the resources and assistance to create these initiatives within their overall mission and goals. These will consist of toolkits and communications that provide best practices in diversity and inclusion. Included will also act as a convener of professionals to come together consistently to foster conversations and continue education.

    “This is the biggest initiative of growing diversity and inclusion that Topeka and Shawnee County has ever seen,” said Michelle De La Isla, diversity and inclusion representative for Westar Energy and city council person. “When you see something take off and receive support as fast as Included has, you know that you are providing something that is more than just wanted in the community, it is needed.”

    “It is very important that this initiative arose from and is owned by the business community,” stated Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of GO Topeka and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. “In this way, they are the stakeholders that are pushing progress forward, which shows our peers that Topeka and Shawnee County cares about diversity and inclusion. Ultimately, it allows us to attract new businesses and workforce to our area.”

    “The Topeka Chamber is very happy to support Included,” said Eugene Williams, vice-chair of diversity and inclusion for the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. “In addition to helping businesses grow and become prosperous, the key to its success will be the leadership involved. Being able to create character and dimension in leadership roles throughout the community will help form a more inviting region. Expanding our economic landscape through diversity and inclusion initiatives is something tangible that makes sense and has proven to be successful.”

    Included strives to be the definitive resource and partner in the community as the voice and catalyst of Diversity and Inclusion in the greater region. To find out more information about Included or joining this initiative, contact Additional information can be found at

    About GO Topeka
    GO Topeka creates opportunities for economic growth that provide a thriving business climate and fulfilling lifestyle for Topeka and Shawnee County.

    About the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce
    The Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce strives to advance the general welfare, quality of life and prosperity of the Greater Topeka area to benefit the citizens and the community. An emphasis is given to the economic, civic, commercial, cultural, industrial and educational interests.

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    If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Barbara Stapleton at 785.234.2644 or


  10. March 14, 2017 Legislative Update

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    Nobody said it was going to be pretty. Last week, the Senate debated, dismembered and killed the governor’s tax plan. In the process, they sent their clearest message yet that they intend to pass lasting tax and budget reforms. The governor’s plan, it will be recalled, entailed a $1 per pack cigarette tax hike, doubling the tax on liquor, taxing passive income including rents and royalties, increasing the annual reporting fee for nonprofits and LLCs and freezing the bottom income tax rate at 2.7% (it was scheduled to drop to 2.6% this year). The plan would have raised about $180 million in the fiscal year, which starts on July 1, 2017, and $198 million the year after.

    It is not going to happen that way. The Senate Tax committee will be hearing this week about a new tax bill which would raise closer to $578 million next year. Also, this week Senate President Susan Wagle will be meeting with a small group of Chamber members to hear their thoughts on the best way to reform taxes without causing undue disruption to small business.

    The Senate and the governor remain at odds over how to cobble together enough cash to close out the current fiscal year which ends on June 30. The House has approved the governor’s short-term plan, which involves tapping into a myriad of unused funds scattered across state government. (Despite the name, these “unused funds” are not just happy pockets of money waiting to be found and spent. These are fees and taxes which have been collected and invested for safe keeping but haven’t been expended yet. The governor essentially proposes taking a mortgage out on those funds.) Senate leadership is pressing for cuts in spending, too, as a way of getting to the end of the year; however, the recent school finance ruling makes any talk of cuts to education extremely touchy.

    PEAK Hearing

    The Senate Committee on Assessment and Taxation held hearings last week on two bills which would eliminate or seriously lessen the usefulness of the state’s jobs incentive program called PEAK. PEAK, which stands for Promoting Employment Across Kansas, gives employers a withholdings tax rebate when they create at least 10 new jobs which pay more than the county median wage. The bills heard last week would either shut the PEAK program off for a year or limit it to companies which relocate to Kansas from at least 250 miles away; thus, cutting existing Kansas companies off from the incentives.
    The Topeka Chamber, along with numerous other local chambers and the state chamber of commerce, testified that the PEAK program is a key tool used by economic developers, like Go Topeka, to attract businesses to Kansas and encourage existing ones to expand. As Matt Pivarnik testified, “A number of Topeka’s fastest-growing employers have taken advantage of these incentives. In most cases, these were companies which could have chosen to locate elsewhere.” Eliminating the program could send the message that Kansas is no longer serious about competing for jobs. The committee took no action on the bills.

    School Finance

    Legislative leaders spent most of last week considering offline how to respond to the supreme court’s school finance ruling. The court ruled the week prior that the state is failing to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate level of funding for public education. Some estimate the cost of fully complying with the ruling could exceed $500 million but the court did not set forth a particular dollar amount. Rather, the ruling notes that as many as 25% of Kansas pupils are not meeting math and reading standards so their education must be inadequate. The block grant system currently being used to fund schools is clearly not getting the job done. As they develop a new school finance formula, legislators may devise a strategy for targeting those at-risk students. The cost of that would not necessarily be as high as simply raising the base amount the state pays for each student.

    The House K-12 Education Budget Committee has been meeting since the start of the session to devise a better school funding formula. Last week, Sen. Wagle appointed a Senate Select Committee on Education Finance to undertake the same task. It is believed she wanted to tackle the budget and taxes before taking on the school finance issue. However, since the court gave the legislature until June 30 to comply with its ruling, the Senate will apparently need to multi-task.


    Both the Senate and the House are considering ways to restore funding to the state’s highway program, called T-WORKS. In recent years, the governor and legislature have repeatedly “swept” funds out of the program to pay other state bills. The Senate will consider a rise in the gas tax from $.24 to $.29. That would raise about $100 million each year. The House is looking at an 11 cent increase which would raise about $200 million annually. The idea would be that these new tax monies would be dedicated to the highway fund. In addition, last week the House Appropriations Committee gave the OK for KDOT to issue up to $400 million in bonds to raise cash for needed highway preservation projects.

    Other Legislative Activities

    The Chamber is closely watching legislation to:

    • Expand Medicaid – passed the House, faces a tougher road in the Senate
    • Streamline the process whereby cities can reclaim long-abandoned houses and put them into the hands of neighbors who will restore them – on the floor of the Senate
    • Empower cities to designate certain areas where adults could carry alcoholic beverages on the sidewalk – being worked in a House committee

    The Chamber’s final 2017 installment of Pie and Politics was a big success. Over 25 Chamber members attended to hear from freshman Representatives Brenda Dietrich and Virgil Weigel. Their description of a solid bi-partisan block of freshmen which has been meeting weekly to develop pragmatic solutions to the serious problems facing the state was very hopeful.

    Don’t miss the Legislative Coffee at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 8 at the public Library. The forum is co-sponsored by the Chamber, the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, the League of Women Voters, Heartland Visioning and Forge. This will be a great opportunity for members of the public to hear directly from their legislative delegation about the important issues being debated at the Statehouse.