SBA winners credit diversity, workers

Two diverse, nimble companies walked away with Small Business Awards Wednesday from the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce annual luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Wichita.

J.R. Custom Metal Products won the category for small businesses with 26 to 100 employees.

Occidental Management, a real estate development and property management firm, won the category for businesses with one to 25 employees.

Both winners credited the diversity of their product lines and their employees.

"The diversification of all the different products and customers we have," said Patty Koehler, president of J.R. Custom Metal Products.

"We have Siemens, we have Excel with the mower industry, we have the bus industry with North American Bus. Just diverse industries, no more than 25 percent in any one industry."

Koehler also praised her employees for tackling such a wide range of products.

"For all their talents, the diversification of their talents that come together for our company...," she said. "I credit our success to the dedication of our employees, and to them I'm very thankful and grateful."

Occidental president Gary Oborny also talked about the diverse blend of services his real estate management company provides, such as new office space construction and building management.

Occidental's trademark is building conversions to Class A office space, most notably to movie theaters at 32nd and Rock Road.

Its business model is built around quality space a dollar or two below Wichita market rates.

"I think it's a testament to our team and the creativity and flexibility of our team," Oborny said.

"Being a turn-key development company allows us to keep the flexibility whether the economy's up or down. We can keep changing, and we change our model to try to be successful. When our team commits to that, this is the result."

Keynote speaker George Laham, president of Laham Development, spoke about the persistence required to land major retailers for Wichita.

Laham said his company invests an average of 3 1/2 years recruiting big-name national tenants to Bradley Fair, his east-side shopping center.

He built his speech around the successful recruitment of Gap, the national tenant that launched Bradley Fair's success.

He talked about how he convinced Gap site selectors that Wichita's retail market extended throughout most of Kansas, not just the city limits.

"We wanted to create Bradley Fair as a regional destination for Wichita, and the way to do that was to recruit the Gap," Laham said.

"Attracting the Gap to Wichita and Bradley Fair was the key to attracting other retailers to Wichita."