Defense Alliance of Minnesota has been named the Minnesota Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year for the U.S. Small Business Administration. The Defense Alliance is staffed by Paul J. Wagner, Founder; Commander Chip Laingen, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Director; Kathryn A. Neumann, Veterans Liaison; and Patria Lawton, Facilitator.
The Veterans Small Business Champion Award is presented annually in each state to individuals who have fulfilled a commitment to advancing small business opportunities for veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
The Defense Alliance of Minnesota is an independent organization founded in 2004. The mission of the Alliance is to network and expand Minnesota’s defense and homeland security industries, to create and retain high quality jobs, and to further promote the state’s important contributions of our men and women of the armed forces.
Integral to that effort is totally free support for:
- Veteran-owned business coaching and education on government contracting
- Job placement and search for Veterans
- Direct support to agencies and organizations dedicated to Veteran business and social services.
- Local and national advocacy for Veteran business and social services.
The Defense Alliance is an independent organization entirely funded by Minnesota Wire & Cable Co., and through fees at quarterly events. There are no membership fees for individual or corporate membership. The Alliance staff includes full and part time employees of Minnesota Wire & Cable Co., and volunteer “Facilitators” from outside the company. It is not a profit-making venture; as such, any excess revenues gained from events are used for service member support causes.
Within the two years of its existence, the Defense Alliance has grown to include over 200 registered small, medium and large businesses including dozens of small Veteran-owned businesses, state agencies and nonprofit organizations (including all of the state’s prime defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Alliant Techsystems and BAE Systems), and a wealth of high-tech, low-tech, manufacturing, academic and service members. The Defense Alliance has an additional affiliated 175-plus businesses and organizations and 2,000-plus individual members.
The operations of the Defense Alliance include quarterly membership events, such as a Veterans Business Resources Seminar to bring awareness to the many local and national resources available for Veterans in business, or who are planning to start one. They also produce a periodic electronic “Industry Brief” that includes new member highlights, industry trends, event notifications and defense and homeland security contracting awareness and education.
The Defense Alliance of Minnesota takes enormous pride in its overall mission of networking the state’s defense and homeland security industries – but most especially in its passionate efforts to support our nation’s Veterans, the businesses they run, and the non-Veteran businesses who employ them.
Tom Grones, CEO and President, and Dan Rudningen, Vice President of Sales, of GeoComm, Inc. based in St. Cloud, Minn., have been named the Minnesota Small Business Persons of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The Small Business Person of the year is selected annually based on growth in sales or unit volume, increase in the number of employees, financial strength, innovativeness of product or service and evidence of contributions to community-oriented projects.
Grones and Rudningen were nominated by Gail Ivers of the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce.
GeoComm is a business that saves lives. Although that is a simplistic description of a highly complex and technologically advanced company, at its foundation, GeoComm exists to save lives. They do it by helping public safety agencies locate people during a crisis through the use of technology and communication systems developed by GeoComm.
Grones and Rudningen started their technology firm in 1995 doing mapping for counties as they converted from rural routes to 9-1-1 compatible addresses. The original 7-member firm combined Rudningen’s expertise in mapping – Geo – with Grones’ knowledge of implementing 9-1-1 emergency communications systems – Comm.
GeoComm started by serving counties in Central Minnesota. Today they have customers in 585 counties in 38 states, serving 878 9-1-1- centers. They are adding clients on the average of 78 counties per year.
GeoComm has three divisions: communication, geographic information systems (GIS) and software development. Through the use of their software, they merge voice and data communications with GIS mapping. Every wired phone has a physical address for billing purposes. The 9-1-1 system was designed so that when someone dialed 9-1-1, text would appear on a screen in the emergency response center showing the name, address, and phone number of the caller, along with the police, fire and ambulance numbers that served that particular address. GeoComm’s technology takes the process to the next level by presenting the information graphically: mapping the location of the caller, not just providing the address.
In addition, the company has developed automatic vehicle location software that uses GPS technology to display “real-time” vehicle locations and status so emergency services dispatchers can locate all emergency vehicles at a glance, helping speed response time during a crisis. Response time in a crisis can mean the difference between life and death.
In the last year, GeoComm released emergency notification software that uses GIS, what Grones and Rudningen call “Reverse 9-1-1.” The system allows emergency services personnel to send a taped message via wireline or wireless communication to everyone in a specific geographic area selected by the originator of the message. The interest in such software has escalated in response to concerns over terrorism. Even though emergency notification has been around for awhile, GeoComm was the first to combine it with GIS.
The company also released a website GIS system that uses accurate GIS data developed for a given jurisdiction, making it available to multiple users involved in the day-to-day operation of an emergency environment. The system can be configured for use by multiple departments within a jurisdiction, allowing online collaboration and secure access to everything from emergency services zones, to evacuation routes, to chemical and biological plume modeling.
Such software services and web-based products are the future of the company, which already provide digital map maintenance and digital map hosting.
Along with business growth, has come growth in high paying jobs and new revenue entering Central Minnesota. Providing well-paying jobs is just one example of Grones’ and Rudningen’s commitment to their employees. They also believe employee development is critical, both technical development and professional, or career, development. The company has a staff trainer who provides programs ranging from public speaking and communications to financial management. Each employee is required to complete eight to ten hour per month of professional development, amounting to about 100 hours per year per employee.
Since 1995, GeoComm has expended a significant percent of its pre-tax net profits on gifts to charitable organizations, many within the public safety community. The company belongs to a number of organizations and supports volunteer involvement from its employees in a variety of not-for-profit groups.
An innovative business that helps save lives, a community resource that provides well-paying jobs and new revenue to the region, and a generosity of spirit for both employees and the community are the reasons Tom Grones and Dan Rudningen were selected as SBA’s 2007 Small Business Persons of the Year.
Grones and Rudningen will be honored at a luncheon ceremony highlighting Small Business Week winners on Friday, May 11, 2007, at the Northland Inn in Brooklyn Park.
Byron Bjorklund, owner of Custom Catering by Short Stop based in St.Cloud, Minn., has been named the Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The Small Business Person of the year is selected annually based on growth in sales or unit volume, increase in the number of employees, financial strength, innovativeness of product or service and evidence of contributions to community-oriented projects. Gail Ivers, Vice President of the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce, and Barry Kirchoff, Executive Director for the Small Business Development Center – St. Cloud State University, nominated Bjorklund for this award.
If you ask Byron Bjorklund what sets Custom Catering by Short Stop apart from the competition, he’ll discuss customer service, creativity, and food presentation. If you talk with him for 15 minutes, you’ll realize that Custom Catering by Short Stop actually has a secret weapon…and his name is Byron Bjorklund.
Fast talking, quick to smile, and charismatic, Byron brings the enthusiasm of an 11-year-old to his catering business. Maybe that’s because he was 11-years-old when he fell in love with the restaurant business.
A finance major in college, Byron procrastinated on a class assignment until the last minute. Scrambling to write a paper on starting a business, he decided to focus on running a restaurant – something he understood from working in the family restaurant since he was 11. He liked his business plan so well, he decided to give it a try. In 1984, while finishing his senior year in college and with a little help from his dad, he opened Short Stop in east St. Cloud.
Instead of dampening his enthusiasm, owning his own business ramped it up. Married in 1986, he opened a second Short Stop in west St. Cloud in 1987. His wife, PegAnne, ran the east side location and Byron ran the west location. But after four children the work was too much.
Knowing he needed to make a change, but wanting to stay in the food business, Byron started thinking about catering. For several years customers had requested that he provide chicken for
family and business functions, but he hadn’t really considered that to be catering. As he started to research the idea he realized that there weren’t many professional catering operations in the St. Cloud area. In 1995, he made the leap. He closed the east side location and focused on becoming a professional culinary caterer, not just a restaurant that delivered food. He joined catering trade associations, attended conventions, purchased hardware and equipment, and began changing his business model from Short Stop fast food to Short Stop Custom Catering.
It turns out changing a business model is not as easy as it sounds. Byron kept the name Short Stop because people knew it so well and he didn’t want to lose that. The problem was that people knew him as Short Stop Broasted Chicken and thought that’s all he catered. To raise the Custom Catering profile, he created formal advertising materials to use when meeting with new clients and to promote the business.
A successful caterer has to do more than work at weddings. Byron discovered that exclusive relationships are the key to growing volume in the catering business. He’s worked to develop those relationships and is now the exclusive caterer for several central Minnesota businesses including Wapicada Golf Course, Roadside Tavern, Powder Ridge, and the Red Carpet Events Center. He provides daily catering for four or five major employers in the St. Cloud area, setting up lunch and selling the food to employees for cash. He’s also the second largest caterer for the St. Cloud Civic Center.
Byron offers his Short Stop Restaurant as a training site for students with special needs. He’s been doing this for a number of years and likes to tell the story of Darrell who worked at the Short Stop restaurant for several years.
Darrell had Down syndrome and after he graduated from high school, his mother called and asked if it would be all right for her to bring Darrell to the store now and then because he like working there so much and he really missed it. Naturally, Byron said yes. Darrell died on Christmas Day and Byron offered to cater the funeral meal for free. As Byron recall, “Two years later, when Peg and I had our fifth child, Megan, we discovered she had Down syndrome. It was at that moment that I realized that Darrell had not only shown me how to be a better worker and corporate citizen, but he also had helped prepare me to be a better father to Megan.”
It’s obvious why the charity closest to Byron’s heart is the Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota. In 1999, he offered to cater the Buddy Walk for the association. They served 400 meals. Today they feed over 5,000 people and Byron not only caters the event, he has recruited additional donors so the meal is free to participants. As he puts it, “I just feel good that I have the gifts that can be used to help people in the way and to help people feel special.”
For more information:
Custom Catering by Short Stop
3701 3rd Street North
St. Cloud, MN 56303-4029