In 2021, the Emporia Main Street organization will turn 30 years old, and we’ve never experienced a year quite like this. Before mid-March of 2020, we saw a year full of expanded events, a lot of new developments, some new businesses, and the formation of new resources that could benefit different types of business startups. The events have obviously suffered, but developments are filling, new businesses are still starting (though we remain focused on supporting our existing businesses through difficult times), and we are still committed to bringing new assets online to support the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Once mid-March hit, a pandemic took over the public and business focus, and Emporia Main Street sought partners and assets to assist our region. We worked with our partners at Network Kansas to defer local loans and administer the HIRE program to six local businesses to provide immediate financial assistance. We partnered with Newman Regional Health and a small army of talented volunteers to provide over 11,000 masks to health care workers, patients, and the families of patients to fill PPE needs and allow the hospital valuable time to avoid a deluge of patients. We worked with KVOE to start a Lyon County Disaster Relief Fund to purchase PPE supplies, and then morphed the fund through a partnership with the Emporia Community Foundation and the United Way of the Flint Hills into a grant provider for area small businesses and non-profits that has raised $200,000 towards relief efforts. We worked with KVOE and Printing Plus to produce hundreds of “Thank U” signs that celebrated local heroes while generating funding for grants. Emporia Main Street worked with the City of Emporia and G. A. S. to apply for CDBG-CV funding to support small business grants and support local food initiatives. We worked with Lyon County elected officials to offer specific business support, and highlight the need to channel additional funding to area impacted businesses through COVID relief programs. Our website, social media channels, and e-news have served as funnels to highlight a variety of different support mechanisms for businesses, and to gather data for best practices via our consumer perception surveys. We have worked with officials on a federal, state, and local level to highlight area needs and generate new support assets. We have worked closely with Kansas Main Street and our local Board of Directors to defer IWW and Trusler Loans while providing individual business consultations.
Through the difficulty of COVID, we have seen the best among us rise to the occasion to help others and build a stronger foundation for our community. As Kansans, we wouldn’t expect any different. We celebrate those that sacrifice and innovate for the betterment of the region, and our Emporia Main Street Annual Meeting allows us to achieve recognition of others consistent with our state motto. This year, more than anytime in recent history, we must recognize those that are going above and beyond. Ad Astra per Aspera; we must look to our stars through difficulty.
Our difficulty was narrowing down the stars to singular entries in each category. We have so many that do so much, so as we celebrate each unique award recipient, please understand that this Emporia Main Street Annual Meeting is a celebration of all those individuals, organizations, and businesses that do more than what is expected of them simply because they want to leave things better than they found them.
Advocate of the Year: Kristy Bayer. Kristy has been and continues to be a great supporter of Emporia Main Street and our community. As the Deputy Director of Athletics at Emporia State, Kristy has encouraged numerous student athletes to volunteer and get involved. A community advocate that can communicate the activities and goals of Emporia Main Street to an institution like Emporia State University generates opportunities for collaboration. Kristy has served on several of our event committees throughout the year and whether it was selling tickets to The Taste, running registration for Mix and Mingle, or playing the role of an owner of a swanky 1920s night club for Speakeasy Night, Kristy was there to help. As a member of our promotions committee, Kristy offers insight on community events and often shares thoughts on how to get faculty, staff and students at Emporia State involved. During the early stages of the Pandemic, Emporia Main Street worked with KVOE and Printing Plus to produce over 800 “Thank U” signs that celebrated local heroes while generating funding for grants. Kristy volunteered to be on our delivery team. She, along with a group of community members, loaded up her kids (Brooks and Sloane) on a weekly basis for over a month to deliver signs all over town. As a newer resident of Emporia, Kristy has embraced our community and served as an advocate conduit for newer Emporians. You will often find Kristy and her family attending local events and encouraging others to take part in the great opportunities our community has to offer. Kristy, we appreciate your support of Emporia Main Street and all that you do to make our community better. Congratulations on being named the Advocate of the Year.
Volunteer of the Year: Hannah Price. Hannah goes above and beyond in helping Emporia Main Street. Hannah has been a rock star helping with numerous events throughout the year. From running registration at Freedom Fest and the Taste, to helping at our booth during The Dirty Kanza, to dressing up as a flapper girl to serve cocktails during Speakeasy Nite – we can always rely on her to be there. In 2016, Hannah started interning for Emporia Main Street. She got to experience the office on East 5th in all its glory. From zero heat in the winter to no ac in the summer, from working on the Taste, The GBO, Dirty Kanza, Great American Market, and the auction in less that 800 ft of space – she stuck with it. I am not sure how we landed a nursing major for an intern -but we were lucky to land her. After graduating in 2019 with her nursing degree, we were elated to find out she was staying in Emporia. We also basically told her that she wasn’t leaving us either. Hannah has continued her valuable community work with Emporia Main Street on a variety of different fronts, while working as a registered nurse at Newman Regional health. Hannah, Thank You for all that you have done for our organization and our community, we are excited to work with you on new and exciting projects this year. Your Volunteer of the Year, Hannah Price.
Business of the Year: Plum Bazaar. The wonderful owners of Plum Bazaar have served the Emporia Community for decades. While moving Dayton’s Hobbies to their new location in the 600 Block to make room for the Emporia Arts Center, they preserved a fantastic structure that serves as the place to go for unique craft and hobby enthusiasts in the region. The Kelley Sisters are phenomenal community supporters that embrace a variety of local causes, including Emporia Main Street. This past few months, Plum Bazaar came to the community’s aid in ways that some may not be aware of. In the very early stages of the pandemic, our local medical providers had a severe shortage of personal protective equipment, and product was back ordered for an indeterminate length of time. Plum Bazaar was our source for much of the elastic that was used in local masks, they made the white ribbons that were used to raise funds for covid relief and honor our health care workers, and they’ve constantly served as the source for materials needed at a moments notice to alleviate the crisis of the day. Plum Bazaar is a successful staple business in the core of our community, and that success is attributed to hard work, creativity, business intelligence, and a great relationship with their customers. Plum Bazaar aids in the success of our downtown, the Emporia community, and the extended region because they have one important intrinsic element that you simply cannot teach; they care. Whether it is adopting gardens, decorating lamp posts, dropping off May Day baskets, helping local businesses find rare materials, making caramel apples for the neighborhood, or the thousand other little things that the folks at Plum Bazaar do on a yearly basis; they make things better for everyone. In a world that often rewards businesses that think only of themselves, we love the opportunity to recognize a business that does so much for others. Congratulations to Plum Bazaar.
Steve Hanschu Award: The City of Emporia. City staff members that plan, maintain, and repair community infrastructure are the unsung heroes of civilization. Try conducting business if your water doesn’t run, the streets don’t drain, the toilets don’t flush, or infrastructure collapses. Emporia has an exceptionally small staff of dedicated public servants that do their best to stretch every tax dollar to ensure we have the services we need to function as a community. Often working with a fraction of the staff and budget available to other communities in our area, the men and women that touch our infrastructure take great pride in supporting the functionality of our community. We cannot preserve buildings or build businesses without quality infrastructure. Over the past year and a half, the City of Emporia has worked diligently with subcontractors and local BG Consultants Representatives to repair and modernize our core sanitary sewer system. Out of sight too often results in out of mind for communities throughout the rural United States, but Emporia remains committed to repairing and updating systems as time and resources allow. Researching new technologies and using a lot of legwork, Emporia public servants were able to save tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars on the rehabilitation of our local systems, while producing a quality product that should last the citizens of Emporia several decades. Public service is often a thankless job, but we thank the City of Emporia, and its dedicated staff, for taking pride in our community and doing the work necessary for our city to sustain itself and prosper.
J. Warren Brinkman Award: Cory Haag. We have awarded Cory for his work in the past, but his tireless efforts to produce new and updated housing in Emporia should continue to be lauded. While many wondered what could be done with a vacant bank building and drive through banking area at the intersection of a state and federal highway, Cory saw potential. The resulting new mixed use development with the Preston Plaza and Lofts filled every residential space prior to its official opening, and the innovative salon design seemed almost prophetic in the era of Covid by allowing individual salon spaces that incorporate social distancing by design. As more individuals seek communities like Emporia as home base during a “work from home” era, Cory has provided our community with a competitive advantage. We have people moving from larger communities into the core of Emporia, and they are utilizing local broadband services and access to local businesses to generate an urban experience at a fraction of the cost. Haag property management is building a better tax base, has created more new housing units than any other developer over the past decade, and is giving us the opportunity to recruit and retain individuals that have higher paying jobs. Preservation and infill development, when done correctly, are highly efficient mechanisms to grow a local economy. We can all see the results of Cory’s efforts, and we all benefit from his tireless work to improve our region. Congratulations Cory!
Election of Officers: The Emporia Main Street decision making body consists of four standing committees (Design, Promotion, Business Enhancement, and Organization) along with a host of other special committees (Finance, Special Events, Development, etc.) and input from the City of Emporia, Lyon County, the Kansas Main Street Program, and the National Main Street Center. The Emporia Main Street Organization Committee serves a dual function as our Board of Directors. The Board of Directors directly employs the Executive Director, and the Executive Director works collaboratively with other staff and interns. The Emporia Main Street Board of Directors is a “working board” which means that board members take on special projects and work to enhance membership, fundraising, and organizational development throughout the year. Among members of the Board of Directors, four Board Members take on special responsibilities as officers and executive team members. All of the Emporia Main Street Board of Directors support actions for the good of the region, and the officer team takes that one step further in more hands on involvement and oversight.
This year’s officer team is:
President- Kevin Nelson, President and CEO of Red Line Trucking, Inc.
Vice President- Cory Faldine, Chief Information Officer of Emporia State University
Secretary- Lisa Kirmer, Vice-President of Student Services and Title IX Coordinator of Flint Hills Technical College
Treasurer- Lane Massey Assistant City Manager of the City of Emporia.
Board of Directors Members for Emporia Main Street include:
Eric Porter– Loan Officer at ESB Financial
Amy Bolen– HR Professional at BLI
Aaron Sewell– Broker at Ek Real Estate and entrepreneur
Jeremy Johns– Co-owner and Brewmaster at Radius Brewing Company
Tracy Weltha– Co-owner of IM Design Group
Sally Sanchez– Retired, community activist and part of the leadership team at Hispanics of Today and Tomorrow
Staci Hamman– Co-Owner and Lead Artist at Coffelt Sign Company
New Board Member: Jim Lauer. Emporia Main Street has has had the opportunity to work with Jim through events, his ownership of Town Royal, and through some potential business expansion operations. We appreciate Jim’s perspective, his energy, and his business acumen. Emporia Main Street staff and volunteers are excited to welcome a new Board Member that promises to strengthen our entrepreneurial focus and resolve. I hope everyone takes the opportunity to welcome Jim Lauer to the Emporia Main Street Board of Directors and thank him for his commitment to service.
City of Emporia Agreement: The City of Emporia is formalizing agreements with appropriated agencies to standardize processes and improve communication. This year’s City of Emporia agreement requires that we add a non-voting exofficio member in addition to a City appointment to the Board of Directors. Emporia Main Street is a “working board” as opposed to a simple “advisory board”, so Board Members still require confirmation through a vote at the Annual Meeting, or confirmation through the Board of Directors.
Next Year’s Goals:
Emporia Main Street remains committed to the National Four Point Approach to build a better region. The re-emergence of the Kansas Main Street Program will provide the organization and our membership access to new tools and strategies to strengthen existing businesses, enhance training, create new resources for members, and improve our community. The new Emporia Main Street Fabrication Lab will open over the next few months, and will provide our regional entrepreneurs with new tools to diversify product lines, create competitive advantages, generate new sources of income, and start new businesses. We will aid in the establishment of new community recruitment mechanisms, and development conduits to create the spaces that our businesses and residents want and need. New Design Team Pride Projects will replicate the success of our interactive mural, and provide a new merchandise platform to better tell the story of our region. Our collaboration with national think tanks and rural economic advocacy organizations will enable our region to utilize new tools for sustainable economic growth. Business Enhancement will counter inaccurate third party data that hurts business prospects with our own renewed data platform. We will provide resources for existing businesses to modernize, while encouraging entrepreneurs to fill identified market gaps. This pandemic will not last forever, and Emporia Main Street remains committed to supporting our businesses and organizations through this tribulation while setting the stage for accelerated growth of our business and development community when the pandemic subsides.