A family-owned Garden City bank will soon join the ranks of Cerner Corporation and Boulevard Brewing Company as a recipient of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s annual Small Business of the Year award.
Lead Bank was honored on May 24 with the Mr. K Award, named after the late Ewing M. Kauffman. The award goes to a company that has shown growth or sustainability of their business with strong employee relations and a record of giving back to the community.
“It's a way to put the spotlight on the importance of small businesses to our local economy,” said Pam Whiting, vice president of communications for the chamber.
Josh Rowland, CEO and vice chairman of the bank, said that he and his team were pleased to win this year.
“We care so much about doing the best work we can,” he said. “We have 54 people who work at the bank and all were instrumental in achieving an award like that with recognition like that.”
This year marked the 32nd anniversary of the award, which was given out at the chamber’s annual Small Business Celebration luncheon.
The award process is several stages, starting with a nomination period where the public can submit their favorite small businesses. This year, more than 2,000 businesses were nominated.
From there, companies fill out applications detailing what they do to fit the three criteria the award requires: proof of growth and sustainability in business, strong employee relations and service to the community.
The applicants are then narrowed down to the top 10 and judged by a panel of independent members from a variety of organizations, including past Mr. K award winners and philanthropic organizations at the luncheon.
“It brings a great deal of attention to the top 10 participants and especially to the winner,” Whiting said. “We like to say that those top 10 are the best of the best in terms of the small businesses in greater Kansas City.”
During the luncheon, Rowland tried to highlight how his 90-year-old bank — which also has branches in Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and Kansas City’s Crossroads District — devoted themselves to addressing the needs of small businesses and families in their communities.
“We took the initiative when we heard the city had a goal of achieving supplier diversity targets,” he said. “So we thought, ‘Can we devise a solution that will help the city meet its goal?’ And we got there by virtue of us listening to the community and devising banking solutions that can move KC forward.”
One of those solutions was the For Change Initiative, a program Lead Bank enacted through a partnership with the city and Cornerstone Companies. The program provides loans and financial guidance to certified firms and contractors across the Kansas City metro area, regardless of their credit score.
For Change perfectly exemplified the award criteria, Whiting said.
“One of the issues for small businesses is that there is often lag time between when employees finish the work and when they get paid,” she said. “Lead Bank provided financing for that interim period and really supported local companies in growing and improving.”