Long time GROW Nebraska® Member recognized as Business of the year

News release provided by Nebraska Department of Economic Development and written by Kate Ellingson.

The Nebraska Diplomats hosted its annual awards banquet on Tuesday evening at the Younes Conference Center North in Kearney.

During the banquet, Governor Jim Pillen, Nebraska Diplomats President Desiree Wineland, and Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Sherry Vinton helped present the following awards:

Business of the Year – Preferred Popcorn, Chapman

In 2018 Preferred Popcorn expanded their Chapman facility into a state-of-the-art popcorn processing plant with a $6.5 million expansion. With an investment of $2 million in 2022, the company opened Preferred Snacks in Waco to provide quality, ready-to-eat flavored popcorn and snacks. The venture in Waco started with seven employees and has grown to 17 as of the summer of 2023. It is poised to have 25 employees by the end of this year. In December 2022, in an effort to remain viable well into the future, Preferred Popcorn and Snacks was purchased by Performance Food Group, a Fortune 500 company.

Business of the Year – Gerkin Windows and Doors, South Sioux City

Since its beginning in 1932, the primary focus of Gerkin Windows and Doors has been to manufacture energy-saving window and door products. The business has established itself as an innovator in the design and manufacturing capability of insulated windows and doors. Through stringent product testing and innovative design, the company has evolved its products as market and consumer needs change. Its window and door products are sold throughout North America by professional building material distributors and dealers. Gerkin Windows and Doors recently invested $14 million to make a significant expansion, adding 40 jobs. The company plans to hire 30+ additional employees as it continues to grow.

Community of the Year – City of North Platte

North Platte is enjoying rapid economic growth, with approximately $2 billion in new projects underway. North Platte wrapped up 2022 with record retail sales and lodging revenues. 2023 is already the city’s largest construction year on record, as measured by the value of building permits.

A number of high-profile projects are taking place in the community:

  • Sustainable Beef, a rancher-owned beef processing plant, is currently under construction. It is expected to create 875 direct and 1,040 indirect jobs in North Platte. In August 2022, Sustainable Beef announced a major partnership agreement with Walmart.
  • Leaders in North Platte have played a key role in the development of an Industrial Rail Park near Hershey. Over time, the 300-acre park is projected to have a $1.8 billion impact and create up to 1,000 jobs.  In October 2022, the North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corporation, in partnership with Lincoln County, purchased a 53,000 square foot production facility from Greenbrier Rail Services that will have an initial spur to the Union Pacific mainline. The Nebraska Department of Economic Development certified the rail park as an Inland Port Authority in February 2023. 
  • Rev Development is redeveloping North Platte’s mall into a mixed-use commercial and housing development known as District 177. The $85 million project involves construction of numerous retail spaces, along with 96 apartment units. 
  • North Platte has successfully completed a $4 million, four-year project to transform its historic downtown into the newly renovated Canteen District.
  • The National Guard has constructed a $3 million readiness center and new guard unit facility at the North Platte airport.
  • North Platte has engaged in new housing development through its successful “Shot in the Arm” housing initiative. The North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corp. put together the incentive program, which has assisted the construction of 500 new housing units since 2015.
  • Great Plains Health has grown to 1,200 employees and is currently constructing a stand-alone, $30 million Primary Care Center. Additionally, the hospital recently opened a $6+ million neurosurgery clinic and announced a new sports and medicine therapy complex.

Diplomat of the Year – Mark Zumdohme, CEO of Graepel North America

In 2006, Mark started Graepel North America in Omaha. It began as a sales office and has grown into a successful manufacturing business under his leadership. Graepel now operates a 85,000-square-foot plant on seven acres in the Hilltop Industrial Park in southwest Omaha. Since arriving in Omaha from Germany, Mark has immersed himself in Nebraska life. He has joined the Millard Rotary Club, the German American Chamber of the Midwest, and the Nebraska Diplomats. As an active Diplomat, and current Nebraska Diplomats board member, Mark is always available to host companies, help with trade missions, and promote Nebraska as a great place to work and live. He and his wife, Heike, have three sons and enjoy all that Nebraska has to offer.

Ambassador Plenipotentiary – Terry McMullen, President of AIT Worldwide

The Ambassador Plenipotentiary award is given to someone whose contributions to Nebraska extend beyond in-state influence. Throughout Terry’s career as a Nebraska Diplomat, he has been quick to mentor young Nebraskans and recruit them to become Diplomats. He is always willing to help the Diplomats and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development with recruitment and the development of international relationships. He has hosted dinners and international gatherings, organized golf outings, and shipped items overseas to promote Nebraska, and he is an effective advocate of the state.

Governor’s Excellence in Agriculture Entrepreneurship Award – Sentinel Fertigation, Lincoln

Sentinel Fertigation uses satellite imagery to monitor corn crops and recommends fertilizer application rates based on real-time data. Sentinel’s founder and CEO, Jackson Stansell, launched the company in 2021 as the fruit of his Master’s thesis research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Sentinel Fertigation has expanded to have six full-time staff and three interns, and is actively helping producers in four states. It has immediate plans to expand into five more states and into international markets. In 2022, its first commercial year, Sentinel Fertigation was able to improve nitrogen fertilizer efficiency by 23%, saving farmers 42 pounds of nitrogen per acre, resulting in $40/acre savings. Additionally, using less nitrogen to produce the same yield ultimately reduces fertilizer run-off and/or permeation into groundwater.

Stansell’s graduate research was supported by the Nebraska Corn Board, the Daugherty Water for Food Institute, and the Central Platte Natural Resources District. It is a great example of how local entities are fostering entrepreneurship to benefit farmers in Nebraska.

Governor’s Excellence in Agriculture Partnership Award – Nebraska Corn Board, Lincoln

The team at the Nebraska Corn Board—whether leadership, staff, or members—have been champions when it comes to growing Nebraska’s agriculture industry. The Nebraska Corn Board has been an incredible partner of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to build relationships, engage international markets, and promote Nebraska agricultural products. They have been incredibly supportive in working to ensure that Nebraska is recognized as a state that can provide high-quality, reliable products to partners abroad, particularly in emerging markets such as Latin America and Southeast Asia where there is high growth potential.

Additionally, the Nebraska Corn Board has continually supported the education of Nebraska’s agricultural youth through their sponsorship of the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute (NAYI). Their generosity has allowed hundreds of students to attend NAYI at no cost throughout the years so that students have the opportunity to network with peers and learn about the careers available to them in the agricultural industry.

The Nebraska Diplomats would like to congratulate the 2023 award winners and to thank the following sponsors:

A nonprofit corporation, Nebraska Diplomats, Inc. has a membership of nearly 300 business executives and community leaders. The Diplomats form alliances with other Nebraska economic development organizations to promote the state’s productive business climate and unparalleled quality of life. For more information about the group’s work to benefit the state, visit www.nediplomats.com.

A photo album from the awards ceremony is available by clicking here.

The GROW Nebraska® Foundation was founded with the idea of expanding resources to businesses and entrepreneurs alike to make a sustainable living anywhere within the state of Nebraska. As a 501(c) 3 educational foundation, the GROW Nebraska® Foundation was founded in 1998 and now works to extend resources, training, a brick and mortar store, as well as an eCommerce site full of Nebraska products to help elevate Nebraska-based businesses and connect Nebraska entrepreneurs to the global marketplace. Support or join GROW Nebraska® Foundation’s efforts by visiting www.grownebraska.org.  

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