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So, in the mid-1990s he settled back in Kansas City, working to reorganize the contractors association and develop a housing subdivision at 19th Street and Cleveland. In 2000, he was invited to Washington, D.C., to work on a federally funded guide for small contractors working Section 3 jobs. That spawned the National Association of Construction Contractors Cooperation — the NACCC. The nondescript, smoky office, next to an eviction company, is the national headquarters.
"This is the awesome task we have before us," he says.
And the reason, at 80 years old, that Harris isn't pondering retirement.
"Until I get this going, I'm stuck," he says.
But that doesn't mean he's giving up his old ways. He doesn't like phones or digital watches. Leaning back in his chair, he eases his feet up on his desk, careful not to jostle the ashtray. "I'm from the old school," he says. "What young folks do from a computer, I do from here."
Eyebrows raised, he taps his forehead.
"My job, really," he says, finally cracking a smile, "is to get young folks up off their butts."
Casey and Sloane Simmons aren't just sisters and business partners — they're a chemical reaction.
Wearing a clinging dress swirled with blue, green and purple, Casey sweeps to the front counter of Stuff, the vibrant art gallery that she co-owns in the Brookside shopping district. She speaks with brisk authority, her hands churning in front of her as if to release some of the energy pent up from standing still.
Flash back to the early 1990s: Casey and Sloane were successful political consultants, young professionals with some money to burn on the finer things. They were interested in art, Casey says, but put off by the pretension of galleries. So they developed their own space to sell art in a low-key setting that wouldn't intimidate customers. They called it Stuff, the irony subtle but intentional: Creativity isn't just for the elite.
They added their own populist twist. Before farmers markets here surged and before local became a cause, the sisters showcased work only from artists in the Kansas City area when they opened in 1996. The shop isn't just a bridge between artists and patrons, Casey explains; it's also a funnel that keeps dollars circulating in the community.
When they started, the Simmonses had to seek out artists; now they get 300 applications a year. And over the past 13 years, they have become collectors of a different variety, racking up small-business awards.
Casey chalks up their success to an almost magical sisterly bond. She and Sloane have been working together for 25 years. Each has her own style, but together, she says, the two spark.
Call it the Simmons Effect.
Sloane, wearing a baggy, button-down shirt, leans against a stool. Arms crossed, she allows Casey to dominate the conversation. At least on this afternoon, she's the chamomile tea to Casey's double shot of espresso.
"We don't think A-B-C. We're all out here," Casey says, reaching out as though trying to snatch invisible insects from the air.
"Throw anything into that process ... " she adds.
"And good things happen," Sloane finishes.
In fact, they're packaging that process into a consulting business — Two Minds Jam — that just went public with a Web site this week. The sisters will take a client's business plan or product proposal and do what paid consultants do — throw it outside the box, they say, rub it against the grain — and arrive at a Simmons-style prescription for creative success. Like their business, it's a playful concept with tangible results.