Business Perspectives

Awards illustrate how Wichita is still a city of entrepreneurs

A recent theme in meetings we have attended has been "we aren't an entrepreneurial city like we used to be." We respectfully disagree with that statement. Although some of our entrepreneurs may not be as widely known as Pizza Hut and others, entrepreneurs are here, and they are contributing to the local and national economy across a variety of industries.

Featured in this Business Today are 10 finalists for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Awards. We are proud of them and collectively they are a shining examples of our many outstanding small businesses in Wichita. This group demonstrates entrepreneurship in action:

* Three are high-tech information technology companies, two are complex manufacturers, one is in oil and gas, two are in sales and distribution, one is a financial services enterprise, and one provides personal services.

* Nine are family-owned businesses, of which four are first generation, three are second generation and two are third generation. These alone are incredible statistics in the world of family business.

* The oldest companies, with 90- and 103-year histories, have expanded and reinvented themselves throughout the years as the economy and their industries have changed.

* One, founded by a naturalized citizen, started with a single product. It now has multiple, diverse engineering and manufacturing product lines. Its customers can be found in aviation, automotive, agricultural and medical fields, among others.

* One entrepreneur recounts starting his business in his home. The company has now outgrown its first corporate location and has grown to nine employees in less than 10 years.

* Finalists include an automobile dealership that accelerated to the top spot for sales volume in North America in three years.

* A young adult, called out of college to save the family business, began with two part-time employees in addition to herself. Her company's volume has increased by a factor of 24 in less than 20 years, the staff has grown to more than 70 employees, and the company was named of one of the country's 25 Best Places to Work in Collections in 2009.

* How about the one that developed a unique application for a related family business and then found other customers and global markets for the same application?

* There is a leading day spa that in eight years has expanded to a second city, has developed and is marketing its own proprietary skin care line, and is expanding its local facility by 50 percent this year.

* One is a manufacturer that has felt significant impacts of the recent recession yet remains financially strong and is currently investing in new equipment in order to be prepared for the future.

These owners and businesses share some common traits:

* A high degree of passion for their work and for serving others

* A practiced philosophy of incredible levels of customer service

* An equally strong commitment to employees as to customers

* A commitment to our community, demonstrated in diverse ways that fit the culture of the company and their employees

* An understanding of the need for change, and a willingness to undertake it in order to grow the business

* And the willingness to take risks

Several of the finalists have talked about the support they have received in Wichita — the mentoring and guidance they found from business.

Can we do more in Wichita to help entrepreneurs get started, grow and prosper? That answer is certainly yes. How we do that is a topic of important conversation. In the meantime, celebrate the current entrepreneurs of our city and their successes. They are phenomenal!