Tag Archives: Women in Business

The Seven

November 25, 2019 by
Photography by contributed

Above image: from top left: Rose Blumkin, Alice Dittman, Harriet Petersen Fort, Margaret Robinson, Jan Thayer, Elizabeth Jane Robb Douglas, and JoAnn Martin.

The Nebraska Business Hall of Fame was created in 1997 between the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the University of Nebraska College of Business to recognize notable business leaders in Nebraska. The women appearing on the list are greatly outnumbered by their male counterparts, and the number of women appearing solo—not alongside their husbands—is even smaller. These women have created products and services known around the world—from tools to tables.

1997: Rose Blumkin

Rose Blumkin took $500 she saved from working a variety of jobs, such as selling used clothing, and bought $2,000 worth of goods to start Nebraska Furniture Mart. Blumkin became a retail giant, and not one to be trifled with. When Warren Buffett bought a majority of NFM in 1983, he paid $60 million. Blumkin’s philosophy of selling cheap and telling the truth was one she kept until she retired—at age 103.

She had more than one reason to not succeed in 1917 when she arrived in America—she was a Russian Jewish immigrant who spoke no English and had no formal education. Her signature on business documents was an illegible scrawl.

She set a trend that many women try to emulate today: building a business from the ground up and succeeding far beyond anyone’s expectations.

1997: Alice Dittman

Alice Dittman became CEO and president of Cornhusker Bank in 1975, one year after The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 allowed women to apply for credit cards without their husband’s permission.

She stepped into the role upon the death of her father—three months after becoming a widow. Then age 45, Dittman was the first female president of a Nebraska bank. She also became the first female president of the Nebraska Bankers’ Association and was summarized in a February 2017 Lincoln Journal Star piece as an “opinionated trailblazer.”

Dittman started a job-sharing program to help working mothers, embraced electronic banking technology, and expanded the bank’s assets from $8 million to $235 million.

In an era when women were just starting to obtain the rights to make financial decisions on their own, Dittman was running a thriving financial institution.

2000: Harriet Petersen Fort

Harriet Petersen Fort started as a schoolteacher, but a few years later, switched gears to help market her father’s invention, the vise grip. In the 1930s, Fort placed small ads in magazines that helped attract direct sales agents. Those sales agents began selling vise grips in a time when corn prices were so low it was often burned instead of sold. The first payments for vise grips were often chicken or produce, which the salesmen then sold for cash.

Fort co-founded Petersen Manufacturing Co. along with her brothers in 1939. She was credited with expanding the company internationally.

The first plant reportedly had a staff of 37, and in its heyday, the company employed more than 600 people at the main plant in DeWitt, Nebraska, and another 200 in Beatrice. The company sold to a national corporation in 1993, and, when the DeWitt plant closed in 2008, it employed nearly 300 people.

2001: Margaret Robinson

Margaret Robinson was one of the first women elected to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, alongside Nancy Hoch, and one of the first women to serve on the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry Board of Directors.

She became president of Norfolk Iron and Metal Co. in 1974 when her husband died. The company started as a scrap metal business and had been in the Robinson family since 1908. Under her leadership, Norfolk Iron and Metal Co. grew into one of the largest steel supply and processing companies in the United States. In fact, four years after Margaret assumed the presidency, the company earned the Nebraska Small Business Award.

She served two six-year terms as a regent and also served as chairwoman. She served on the Norfolk Public Schools Board of Education for 14 years.

2005: Jan Thayer

Jan Thayer did not think about receiving accolades in November 1988 when she founded Excel Health Services. She simply wanted to provide health care options for the growing population of elderly. Now known as Excel Development Group, the development, property, asset management, and consulting firm has now grown to managing 14 retirement facilities with over 1,100 apartments and 500 employees.

Thayer has earned the national American Health Care Association Chairman’s Award and was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame with a Clarence E. Swanson Meritorious Service Award. Other accolades included being named the 1988 Grand Island Independent Woman of the Year and the 1992 University of Nebraska Businesswoman of the Year.

2006: Elizabeth Jane Robb Douglas

Legend has it that Elizabeth Jane Robb Douglas had a dream in which a bearded man told her the design for a collapsible voting booth. The following day, she awoke and created a prototype of cardboard and sewing pins. In 1906, she received a patent for the product. The first order for these booths came from Los Angeles County, where she and her husband made and sold nearly 5,000 booths. The couple returned to Crete in 1912 and began manufacturing the booths there. Another eight years would pass before Douglas would be allowed to use her own invention through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Born in 1858, her 2006 Hall of Fame win was posthumous. When Douglas Manufacturing Corp. announced its closure in late 2016, the company was the oldest manufacturer of election equipment within the United States.

2015: JoAnn Martin

JoAnn Martin started working at Ameritas Life Insurance Corp. in 1984 (the company was then known as Banker’s Life Insurance Co. of Nebraska). Her career at Ameritas began in a role as an audit department manager. Martin then climbed the corporate ladder until she reached president and chief executive officer.

Ameritas experienced impressive growth under Martin’s leadership, with assets reportedly growing 61%, and the total number of customers growing 75%. She was instrumental in mergers with Acacia Life Insurance Co. and The Union Central Life Insurance Co. Martin was chair of the American Council on Life Insurers until October 2019, is chairwoman of the governance committee for the University of Nebraska Foundation Board of Directors, and is a board member for National Research Corp. Martin, who has announced her January 2020 retirement, was named 2018’s Celebrating Women’s Leadership Awards Woman of the Year.

A Mighty Minority

These seven were the only women not designated to the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame alongside their husbands. They were innovative, driven, and succeeded despite the obstacles society placed before them.

This article was printed in the December 2019/January 2020 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Brand R/evolution

February 7, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the fall of 2016, Hannah Nodskov was in her final semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, studying entrepreneurship and marketing. She was also having a “weird crisis,” as she calls it.

Her goal for the last three years had been to graduate and run her fashion design business, Hannah Caroline Couture, full time. Which sounds ideal, until one thing after another continued
to compound.

Ultimately, that led to the crisis she found herself in– the realization that maybe it wasn’t her dream to be a fashion designer anymore.

She says she felt burnt out. Being a 21-year-old running a fashion brand, finishing your last semester of college, and planning a wedding could have that effect on anyone.

“Pulling an all-nighter when I had a test the next day was not unusual,” she says of this time in her life. “It was a series of little moments. Every time I would agree to an order I didn’t love, it would be soul-sucking.”

The burnout prompted her decision at the time to take a hiatus from her brand to focus on her September nuptials and find a better work-life balance.

She says she constantly felt guilty for relaxing, thinking it was more important to make money than anything else. It left her feeling she was always apologizing for missing events to work.

“It’s common in entrepreneurship to get burnt out, and no one talks about it,” she says. “You just tell everybody it’s perfect all the time.”

While taking a much-needed break from her business, Nodskov stayed busy with a new job at tech startup Interface: The Web School, and planning her wedding. She was also making all the men’s bowties, bridesmaids dresses, mothers’ dresses, and her bridal gown for the big day.

She adds that wedding planning definitely affected her decision to take her fashion brand in a new direction. The idea of creating a bridal collection came to her gradually, she says.

Another defining moment on her journey of self-discovery came when she entered Max I. Walker’s Ultra Chic Boutique Dress Flip Contest in January.

Designers were tasked with taking an unwanted prom, bridesmaid, or formal dress and making it into a new dress. Nodskov says it was the first time she made something for fun in two years.

From there she knew she wanted to spend the remainder of her hiatus refining her brand’s image and core values. She says she thought a lot about what types of orders still brought her joy and remaking that prom dress came to mind.

“I want to make pieces for moments that are special and should be celebrated,” she says. “I want to focus on bridal, special occasion, and formalwear with an emphasis in plus-size and alternative bridal styles.”

The woman she designs for is a bride who wants to break all the traditional wedding expectations for what a dress should look like. A woman who is powerful or in a position of leadership. A woman who is a role models for others. A woman who wants to stand out when she enters a room. A woman who is empowered.

The woman Nodskov is in the process of becoming.

She says her next big challenge is figuring out who she is, separate from her fashion brand. She adds how much she learned about herself from her first job out of college at Interface: The Web School.

Right now, she really loves working at tech startup ScoreVision as a marketing communications specialist. She plans to enjoy it for a while and figure out the parts of her job she really likes before deciding what’s next. She adds that she does have plans to relaunch her fashion brand
after the holidays.

Nodskov is forever grateful she didn’t get accepted to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City because that’s how she ended up at UNO studying business. She says it’s the “best decision she didn’t make on purpose.”

“I love living in Omaha,” she says. “I feel connected to the startup community here. I’m able to invite people from the fashion community to get involved because there’s so much support, and it’s so welcoming. It doesn’t matter how big your business is.”

Nodskov would love to see the fashion industry start educating designers on the technical aspects of how to grow their businesses instead of only teaching them how to design clothes.

“Having a business education makes me think differently about my fashion brand than someone coming from a design perspective,” she says. “When I design something, I’ll think, ‘that’s pretty, but how am I going to sell it?’ I’ll think about the pricing strategy and marketing that needs to go into the garment.”

Since starting her business more than six years ago, Nodskov has come to the realization that there’s only “so much you can learn about entrepreneurship sitting in a classroom. You have to experience it.”

Visit hccdesign.co for more information. 

This article published in the January/February 2018 edition of Encounter.

100 Women, 10,000 Possibilties

January 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When the weather reached 91 degrees on July 18 last summer, many people didn’t think of anything other than cool drinks and swimming pools.

Amy Dorton and 59 other women were thinking of something else—specifically, which charity was most deserving of their money this summer. The members of 100 Women Who Care of Omaha gathered at College of Saint Mary for one hour to hear the details about three different charities.

Amberly Wagner Connolly told the group about Healing Embrace, which works to raise awareness and support for families who experience miscarriages or infant loss.

Stacey Goodman spoke about the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization.

Dana Lauritsen presented on Miss Amazing, which provides opportunities for girls and women with disabilities to build confidence and self-esteem in a supportive environment.

The group voted on NAMI, and each member present gave a $100 check to the organization.

“It was a neat experience to have the group select that,” says Goodman, who has been a member of the organization for about two years. “Part of the joy is just sharing the information. It is humbling to be a part of something so much greater than yourself.”

That humble experience is what motivated Karen Dunigan of Jackson, Michigan, to start the 100 Women Who Care in the mid-2000s in her hometown. The idea is for 100 women, who may not be able to donate thousands of dollars on their own, to come together and each donate $100 per quarter to a charity they agree on, turning $100 that may only go towards office supplies into $10,000 that can make a true impact to a local organization.

Dorton and her longtime friend Regan Smith learned about 100 Women Who Care through Reagan’s mother, Marti Doyle, who started a chapter in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in early 2014. By summer that same year, Reagan and Amy had started a chapter in Omaha.

That first meeting included about 50 women. Their membership now includes 71 women from the metro.

The group presented a check for $6,000 to the board of NAMI on August 23. NAMI is using these funds through the next three years to implement a new program called Ending the Silence, in which NAMI goes into area middle and high schools to give classroom presentations on mental health.

The $6,000 donation brought the total amount 100 Women Who Care of Omaha has given to local charities up to $85,650.

“Regan and I are extremely proud of our members,” Dorton says. “Their generosity and commitment to making a difference are inspiring. When women come together, our impact is unstoppable. Not many of us could do this alone, but as a group we have the power to instill positive and concrete change in our community.”

The winter meeting will be held January 23 in Mercy Hall at College of Saint Mary. This coming April the group will meet for the 15th time, and they hope to achieve the goal of having 100 women at that gathering.

From left: Regan Smith and Amy Dorton

Visit @100womenwhocare on Facebook for more information.

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

From the Editor

December 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I recently told a colleague the story of how Carmen Clark, former administrative assistant at Make-A-Wish Foundation, told me several times that she was always surprised when she saw me, because she thought of me as a tall woman. (At 5’0”, I certainly am not tall.) Usually we conducted business via the phone, and apparently I emit a tall presence.

My last name is also frequently mispronounced. Admittedly, Hutzell-Rodman is a mouthful. Yet a surprising number of people think my last name is Rodham, as in Hillary Rodham Clinton. Politics aside, one cannot deny that she has been a career-minded woman.

Perhaps part of the reason why people mispronounce my name is because my normal attitude towards life is “I can,” as in “Yes, I can find sponsors for an annual car show.” “Yes, I can write another 800-word article and turn it in today.” While I cannot do everything, this attitude has helped many women in their careers.

That’s one common theme with the women in this issue. They can. Our second annual Women in Business edition highlights some incredible businesswomen. They can collaborate, code websites, manage banks, move boxes in high heels, run a bar, head a school, even own a
mobile business.

I loved reading about the strengths of the incredible women in this magazine.

Along with being the Women in Business special edition, this magazine includes the Best of B2B ballot, which can be found on pages 55 and 56. Now is the business community’s chance to vote on everything from best commercial cleaning service to best place to eat a business lunch.  We’ll reveal the results of the contest in April.

Daisy Hutzell-Rodman is the managing editor of B2B, a publication of Omaha Magazine LTD. She can be reached at daisy@omahamagazine.com.

This letter was printed in the Winter 2018 edition of B2B.

Women in Business

December 8, 2017 by
Photography by Jeremy Allen Wieczorek

This sponsored content appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of B2B. To view, click here: https://issuu.com/omahapublications/docs/final_20bb0118/30

According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Labor, women comprised 47 percent of the total U.S. labor force. That same study found that women comprise 91.1 percent of registered nurses, but also 66.1 percent of tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents, and 59.3 percent of all insurance writers.

The National Association of Women Business Owners revealed in 2015 that women-owned firms account for 31 percent of all privately held firms.

The women on these sponsored pages own or represent businesses that have been traditionally male-dominated and work for companies that encourage diversity in the workplace. They are advertising professionals, equestrian center owners, saleswomen for industrial products, and more.


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Collaboration in Action

November 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Many forward-thinking employers emphasize collaboration. Siloed organizations—those with teams, departments, or groups that do not want to share information or knowledge with other individuals in the organization—are increasingly seen as outmoded and inefficient. Collaboration is not just a feel-good philosophy—bottom lines and output benefit from collaborative environments.

At its root, collaboration is a commonsense tactic that simply means working together to produce, create, or execute something. Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and other business-savvy publications sing the praises of collaboration, and research indicates that women in particular excel in this area.

“I believe that collaboration is key to a successful business or operation,” says Susan Henricks, president and CEO at ICAN, a regional leader development focused nonprofit. “Women, the research shows, are generally better collaborators and more skilled at collaboration than men.”

ICAN offers programs, classes, and events that provide experiential learning. As a happy side effect, participating men and women develop stronger professional networks, which Henricks says often helps them achieve important real-world collaborative efforts.

“Collaboration is a skill we identified many years ago as a necessary, critical characteristic of successful leaders,” says Henricks. “All our programs, many of our speaker events, and certainly the women’s leadership conference focus on what it takes to collaborate and how to get better at collaborating, whether it’s with women, men, or a [coed] group.”

Jami Anders-Kemp, director at Step-Up Omaha!, a youth employment initiative of The Empowerment Network (TEN), also uses the power of collaboration at her organization, where she unites stakeholders from throughout the community. Though her role has expanded and evolved, she was initially hired to direct Omaha 360, a TEN program, where she aimed to build relationships and collaborations to reduce gun and gang violence in Omaha.

Jami Anders-Kemp

“My job was strategizing solutions at a high level and determining who needed to be at the table to address the issue, because we realized we needed to take a holistic approach,” says Anders-Kemp. “We also agreed that we can’t arrest our way out of this situation; a true solution involves many different strategies.”

For Omaha 360, Anders-Kemp says those strategies include enforcement, positive alternatives, re-entry and recovery, and court services, among others. She adds that in all of TEN’s efforts they also look at individuals’ needs at “a basic human level”— such as if the lights are on at home and if they have a job. When looking at a problem from so many angles, collaboration becomes essential to the process and Anders-Kemp brings together representatives from community organizations, OPD, OPS, the mayor’s office, the faith-based community, local business leaders, and others to facilitate action and change.

“With that range of strategies in place, you can see how important it is to ensure you have the right stakeholders at the table,” says Anders-Kemp, who employs similarly collaboration-based strategies when managing STEP-UP Omaha! and taking a major role in other TEN initiatives like Women for Peace, Omaha African-American Male Achievement Council, and Cradle to Career.

“It’s not necessarily that men don’t have this strength, but I think women have that desire to build relationships. And we’re often in environments where we’ve had to find ways to collaborate, whether it’s raising a family or doing business,” says Anders-Kemp. “That relationship piece is key for collaboration. All the strong women I know are good at coming together with that ‘it takes a village’ mentality.”

Certainly, collaboration can go wrong, but more often it goes right—especially for women. According to research from the Women’s Collaboration Project, there are at least five favorable or neutral experiences for every one negative collaborative experience, and 77 percent of respondents said they were “very likely” to employ collaboration again within the next 12 months.

So, what makes someone a good collaborator?

“The No. 1 key strength of an effective collaborator is that you’re not just out for yourself; you desire a good group outcome,” says Henricks. “No. 2 is having empathy, understanding, and willingness to consider other perspectives. Many leaders just don’t want to listen to others, and I really believe that if you’re not willing to listen then you can’t be a collaborator. Third, you must recognize situations where collaboration is needed, and I think women often recognize that faster than some men…the research in this area shows that. While there are certain keys to being collaborative, I also believe an individual can learn to be collaborative even if they aren’t organically collaborative.”

Henricks also stresses “whole-brain thinking,” or holistic team-building, an important focus at ICAN.

“You don’t want all creatives, all numbers people, or all strategic people,” Henricks says. “You need to take all of those different capabilities and include people who represent each set of knowledge, then you’ve got a whole-brain-thinking team. It’s a great way to set up a collaborative situation.”

Anders-Kemp agrees that good collaboration requires a holistic approach.

“There’s no one program or model that fits every need, so it’s crucial to bring the right people together and look at things from all different aspects to accelerate change or success,” she says.

“Everyone’s contributing a little bit, but collectively it makes a huge effect. It’s important to be honest about not being an expert in every area and being able to ask, ‘Who needs to be at this table?’ Particularly when we’re talking about people’s lives, young people, and violence prevention, it’s very important. We have to hear from everyone, put personal feelings aside, and bring everyone in. No one person has all the answers, but together we can always find the answers faster.”

Visit icanglobal.net and empoweromaha.com for more information.

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

Susan Hendricks

Dorothy Turley

Photography by Jeremy Allen Wieczorek

“We have an A-plus rating with the Better Business Bureau, and we get a lot of repeat business and word-of-mouth,” American Legacy Complex Owner Dorothy Turley says of her equestrian center. It’s a reflection of the family- and child- centered atmosphere she has cultivated.

Turley and her all-woman staff oversee boarding, lessons, and training on spacious grounds north of the city. American Legacy Complex hosts a horsemanship summer camp and three annual horse shows, and is the site for birthday parties year-round. They also provide white horses for Hindu weddings.

Every visit becomes a learning experience. “It’s all geared toward education,” she says. “Besides the horses we have a donkey, two sheep, two goats, probably 19 ducks, and three alpacas. When kids come out, they can see everything.”

7193 County Road 40
Omaha, NE 68122


This sponsored content appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

Ashley Batten

Photography by Jeremy Allen Wieczorek

Ashley Batten has served as general manager for Batten Trailer Leasing for two years, but she’s been associated with the business nearly a lifetime, learning from the inside about the many facets of the company her father, Blaine, founded in the mid-1980s.

“This year I’ve really worked on modernizing our fleet and updating. The industry is becoming more and more regulated,” Batten says.

Batten trailers have carried elephants bound for Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and wall pieces for pools used during the Olympic Swimming Trials. They have also hauled supplies to hurricane victims and materials to Habitat for Humanity, an organization the company is proud to support. Flexible rental terms, dependable service, and a willingness to work with both large and small enterprises generate steady referrals and year-after-year repeat business, Batten says.

“We have a wide base of customers in a lot of different industries, and much of what we do is seasonal,” she says. “I really enjoy working with a variety of customers.”

Trucking is still an overwhelmingly male industry, but Batten says she’s seen more women enter the field—not so much as drivers but in essential support positions that keep things running smoothly. The work can be demanding.

“This is not a ‘9 to 5,’ it’s a ‘24/7.’ You can’t just clock out when a load has to get there,” she says. “The work/life balance can be challenging.”

But Batten enjoys a challenge.

“We are a small company,” she says. “And there are not a lot of people in this area that do what we do.”

4511 S. 67th Street
Omaha, NE 68117

This sponsored content appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

Erin Strunk

Photography by Jeremy Allen Wieczorek

Licensed real estate agent and certified interior designer Erin Strunk knows each person’s home is special. That’s why she starts each client-agent relationship by learning about the client, the life they lived in a home, and where they are going in the next chapter of their lives. She then coordinates a home inspection so she can see the house’s potential.

“I walk hand in hand with my clients,” Strunk says. “I want to be a part of this transition where I’m helping them turn up the value on their home.”

Strunk stages each home as a complimentary service to enhance a home’s value. She emphasizes each house’s character: Painting walls or purchasing furniture to show off focal points. The end result is that a home’s potential is revealed to buyers and sellers alike, often resulting in a higher sale.

That is why clients put their trust in Strunk. That integrity and emphasis on relationship-building are also why she chose to join Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate, The Good Life Group.

8026 West Dodge Road
Omaha, NE 68114

This sponsored content appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

Cindi Incontro

Photography by Jeremy Allen Wieczorek

Colliers International is the fourth-largest commercial real estate company in the world, so Omaha office associates have the resources to provide clients with a full range of commercial real estate and property management services, and assist owners and tenants with their real estate decisions. They’re also proud to share that, in a field that is still male-dominated globally, the Omaha team includes a female chief financial officer, a female vice president, six female brokers, and two female property managers.

Vice president Cindi Incontro, who has 24 years of experience in the commercial real estate business, describes the Colliers Omaha office as “professional, fun, and different every day.”
“Our group is filled with an amazing group of smart people, with multiple women in leadership roles who understand and enjoy helping clients find real-world solutions for their real estate needs,” she says. “Colliers is incredibly family-friendly and work/life balance aware. Our female employees are empowered to be creative, knowledgeable, and leaders in our industry.”
Chris Mensinger, a commercial real estate broker who’s been with Colliers since 2011, says women bring a “new perspective” to the field.

“Women understand what it takes to keep negotiations moving forward. As someone who works between several parties to get the best end result, keeping personalities, emotions, and expectations under control is an important part of brokerage,” she says. “My work is not about me; it is about how real estate decisions best serve my clients. These are important, costly, long-term decisions that make a huge impact on organizations.”

Mensinger says her employer supports the career goals of women and men alike.

“Colliers International is a group of strong and focused professionals that have helped me grow my business and teach me the industry. They have supported my dedication to advancing women in the industry through my participation in CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women), Omaha Metro,” she says.

She is giving others similar support as well. At the end of the day, “I would like to be known as someone of character who promotes other women and appreciates those who have struggled before me to give me the opportunity to work successfully in my field,” she says.

Kristi Andersen, an associate broker who came to commercial real estate after 20 years of working in the communications industry, says Colliers has a reputation for integrity, a characteristic she values highly. But it is up to individual associates to earn repeat business and referrals by making sure clients are satisfied.

“We believe in building relationships and providing our clients personalized service,” she says. “I have built strong relationships in Omaha. Relationship-building continues to be my primary goal in this field…I want my clients to know that I have their best interests in mind at all times.”

It’s part of a bigger picture, too, she says. “Our community is fortunate to have many women who are business leaders and business owners and they, too, have many reasons to need the assistance of a good commercial real estate broker.”

6464 Center St., Suite 200

Omaha, NE 68106

This sponsored content appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.