Best of Business Kansas City

Follow the alphabet soup in this category, because the letters say it all. Our Gold winner, Dutch-owned KPMG, is one of the Big Four accounting firms and has 155,000 employees worldwide, offering assurance, consulting, actuarial, tax and financial advisory services. Silver goes to a local presence, Springfield-based BKD, with offices in Kansas City and 33 other cities in 15 states. Bronze honors go to RSM International, whose members include the affiliate operating locally as McGladrey.

The way Trozzolo Communications Group continues to grow, can it stay in this category long? Not an issue for our readers, who cite the firm its Gold-level administration of integrated communications services and tools, from traditional aspects like ad messaging and media buys, to digital marketing and branding. Bringing in Silver is Fasone & Partners, a full-service firm operating from its Westport base (plus an office in Sacramento, Calif.), and Bronze goes to Meers Advertising, specialists in messaging for financial-services companies, non-profits, food and beverage interests, insurance, small business and the green industry.

lives in a world of big messages, big ideas and big deals, like its recent $60 million pickup of the “Made in Tennessee” account, which prompted the opening of an office in Memphis. That kind of success is why our readers give the Gold to the company based, at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport. Years of rapid growth at Gragg Advertising have earned enough fans to generate Silver status this year for a firm that has consistently grown by helping clients crunch the data that drives successful marketing. And a 50-year-old icon of Kansas City advertising, Bernstein–Rein, draws applause from voters, earning the Bronze.

is a centenarian company, but don’t confuse age with stodgyness: It celebrates both its 100th anniversary this year and reader Gold honors for its broad range of design skills and acumen. Silver winner Populous, builder of large-scale public places like sports stadiums, arenas and more, is operating around the world and a regular contributor to design of Olympic venues. And Helix Architecture + Design, our Bronze winner, operates in a wide range of design disciplines, from civic buildings, schools and health-care settings to infrastructure, museums and residential.

Back and forth these two heavyweights go, seemingly linked forever by the Kemper family banking legacy, exemplary corporate citizenship and our readers’ affinity for full-service, home-grown banks. This year, Commerce Bank comes out on top, grabbing Gold for its range of individual and commercial business competencies and easy access with multiple locations. Those same attributes keep UMB Bank, the other branch of that Kemper legacy, in the running with Silver. And earning Bronze is Missouri Bank, with lending for business and personal needs, commercial real estate loans, mortgage and personal loans.

With things looking rosier in the construction sector this year, readers deliver a bouquet of their own to A.L. Huber General Contractor, our Gold winner from Overland Park, a small contractor working in a broad range of construction disciplines, from banks and office buildings to warehouses, churches, senior living centers and more. Kelly Construction Group earns Silver with its services in pre-construction, construction management, design/build and general contracting. Five-year-old Centric Projects, making a name for itself as a fast-growth company, as well, earns Bronze.

In Kansas City contracting circles, no company dominates this business sector like J.E. Dunn Construction. That’s not just because it’s the biggest based here, and it’s not just because the company works for clients with projects nationwide. The employee-owned firm is the consummate corporate citizen, and deeply philanthropic—qualities that are solid Gold with our readers. McCownGordon Construction, also a model of both construction skills and civic engagement, is our Silver winner, while the Kansas City office of national contracting giant Turner Construction sets a Bronze foundation.

The name may be new, and the connections are now international for Newmark Grubb Zimmer, formerly Zimmer Real Estate Services. But the readers say the service is still solid Gold at this longtime commercial realty company. One of the oldest companies in Kansas City, Kessinger/Hunter & Co., is leading the region’s charge into distribution and warehousing prominence with development of massive logistics spaces, and earns Silver. Bronze goes to Reece Commercial, a branch of the Warren Buffett empire, offering brokerage services for leasing, selling and buying commercial properties.

With nearly two dozen locations across the metro area, Pride Cleaners is easy to find, and ready to assist with your clothing needs, from dry cleaning to basic laundering, alterations and heirlooming, and with all manner of fabrics. That, our readers say, is the Gold standard here. Service, price and a job well done, plus a dozen locations (six in each state, and nine of them conveniently tucked into Hy-Vee stores) earn Silver status for Hangers Cleaners. Tower Cleaners, meanwhile, dresses up in Bronze with six outlets and a daily run of manager’s specials.

The three companies cited by readers for being the best at what they do are largely responsible for this region’s reputation as a global center of engineering excellence. Leading off, and now deep into expansion of its Kansas City headquarters, with plans to hire hundreds of new engineers and other employees, Burns & McDonnell is riding a hot streak with our readers, who like what they see and call it Gold. Global engineering and design giant Black & Veatch, with more than 10,000 employees worldwide, stands tall for Silver, while HNTB picks up Bronze for its engineering expertise.

Overland Chauffeured Services
, offering limousine service, corporate transportation and shuttle services, earns this year’s Gold. Mission-based Agenda: USA, which deals with far more than transportation issues as an event production manager for the convention and meetings industry, picks up the Silver. Carey Limousine, just one wing of the multifaceted Kansas City Transportation Group, drives off with the Bronze recognition.

The best place to work off one of those dinners, lunches or power breakfasts you read about in the Wining & Dining category, our readers say, is 24-Hour Fitness, helping members break a sweat at any of eight locations. LifeTime Fitness, with two Johnson County locations always humming with activity, earns the Silver. And the venerable Woodside Health & Tennis Club, easily accessible from the Plaza, Midtown and Downtown regions, packs Bronze.

There are good reasons why Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City win the Gold in this category—it also has the largest customer base among health insurers in the metro area. Silver honors go to UnitedHealthcare, the largest single health carrier in the United States. And Aetna, at the spry age of 161, brings home the Bronze.

In this category, bigger is usually better, as it implies a full range of services at the leading hands-on health-care providers in the region. So it is with Gold-winning Saint Luke’s Hospital, with prominent facilities near the Plaza area and in the hearts of readers, too. Speaking of hearts, the cardiologists and staff at the University of Kansas Hospital have earned national acclaim for their expertise, just one area of excellence that has helped the hospital earn Silver recognition this year. Shawnee Mission Medical Center, which pioneered acute-care delivery in the emerging Johnson County suburbs more than 50 years ago, earns Bronze.

Flying various flags through the years, InterContinental Kansas City at the Plaza has been a reader favorite since the building first opened its doors in 1972 as the Alameda Plaza. The InterContinental maintains that stature with Gold honors this year. Coming virtually out of nowhere to seize the Silver—maybe voters saw the rooftop pool as the clincher?—is the new Hotel Sorella, which opened in May in the new Plaza Vista. And across the street from InterContinental sits The Raphael hotel, earning Bronze.

When you make widgets for a living, you want to make widgets, not mess with the hassles of information technology. Our readers cite a trio of companies that can help take the IT load off and let you build your business. Gold goes to a global giant, Dublin-based Accenture, with a wide range of services that go beyond IT, including strategic and operations support consulting. Closer to home, we have Silver-winning NetStandard, with its own suite of managed services, and the Bronze goes to DEG, the fast-growing provider of services that address IT, digital marketing, e-commerce and other vital functions.

It’s the fastest-growing law firm in America, and one reason for that is the legal acumen amassed in a burgeoning health-care practice at Polsinelli, P.C., which earns Gold honors this year. Hmmm. Wonder if anything going on in the area of health-care law might have something to do with that? Lathrop & Gage, our Silver winner, has a sign that overlooks Downtown, a visual metaphor for the influence this legacy firm exerts here with a full range of business-law expertise and other legal services. And Bronze goes to Shook, Hardy & Bacon, a full-service law firm that’s not just big, but big-hearted, with the region’s most robust pro bono programming.

In a little more than a decade since it opened its doors, the Overland Park Convention Center has established itself as a Gold-level venue for corporate events and other sizeable gatherings. Our Silver winner, Downtown’s Kansas City Convention Center, is capable of handling convention and meeting needs of all sizes, anchored by the 400,000 square feet of column-free space at Bartle Hall. Bronze goes this year to the Kansas City Marriott Downtown and its Muehlebach Tower—two halves, if you will, of the same meeting-space flying the Marriott flag and sitting across from each other at 12th and Wyandotte.

High-quality, large-volume and specialty printing jobs done fast, professionally and affordably—our business-owning and executive readers know the companies that hit all of those marks. They cite Summit Litho, in Lee’s Summit, for Gold-level service in design, pre-press work, bindery services and other skills. Downtown-based Soli Printing earns Silver for its printing services, both with offset sheet-fed work and digital custom printing. Alpine Litho-Graphics, with commercial, digital and packaging print skills, earns the Bronze.

The 800-pound gorilla—silverback, no doubt—of retirement living in Kansas City is John Knox Village. The long-time leader in senior living earns Gold for offerings that include settings for independent living, assisted living and other senior lifestyle needs. Claridge Court Garden Apartments bags the Silver, with elegant settings that help the sunset years retain their sparkle. Bronze honors are split between Bishop Spencer Place, the compact but highly popular Plaza-based organization, and Village Shalom, delivering quality, compassionate care for more than a century.

Ahhh, the spa: Ingram’s readers know what a good spa experience means—relaxation, rejuvenation, and restoration that gets you ready to wade back into your workday with a new attitude. A Golden experience, they say, awaits you at The Spa at Briarcliff, in the Northland, a destination where health and beauty converge in an experience that will provide a max of relax. Longtime reader favorite bijin salon & spa picks up a Silver this year for its customized services that will re-invigorate you from the tips of your hair to your toes. And Bronze goes to The Elms Hotel & Spa, a short drive up the road to Excelsior Springs, with treatments, packages and a unique grotto experience.

The national awards keep coming for Creative Planning, the Leawood-based financial-services and advisory firm offering more than just wealth management counsel—tax services, estate planning and asset management are all part of the package for this year’s Gold winner. A split of the Silver goes to a pair of names familiar to most any investor, Merrill Lynch and St. Louis-based Edward Jones, while this year’s Bronze honors go to a national investment giant based right here, Waddell & Reed, popular with investors for its Ivy funds, among other investment vehicles.

Face it: you can’t compete in business if you don’t have the right tools, and the latest ones. AT&T, perhaps the most time-honored name in communications, meets that need in the wireless age by offering products, service and plans deemed Gold-worthy by our readers, and accessible at any of 21 company stores or authorized retail locations in the metro area. Verizon Wireless, this year’s Silver winner, offers its range of communications tools from more than two dozen venues. The hometown favorite, Sprint, in the headlines this month for both the withdrawn attempt at merging with T-Mobile and for replacing Dan Hesse with Marcelo Claure as CEO, brings home the Bronze.

It’s appropriate to take note when government units get things right, and nowhere is that as important to many of our readers as with local economic-development efforts. They say government outshines the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., for Gold honors this year. The new Cerner Corp. towers in Village West, which will employ 4,500 new workers, attest to the UG’s ability to move things forward. Silver goes to Kansas City, Mo., in part for its response to the call by Mayor Sly James for a more business-friendly attitude at City Hall, and in part for being able to pull that off over a sprawling municipality that reaches into three counties. Overland Park, Kan., the economic engine that is yin to Kansas City’s yang, picks up Bronze for its long-term embrace of business growth, balanced with quality-of-life considerations on behalf of nearly 180,000 residents.

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