WDM Chamber Announces Recipient of the 2024 Mel Essex Award

WEST DES MOINES, IA (April 11, 2024) – The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce (WDM Chamber) has announced Blanca Plascencia, Co-owner of El Fogon, as the recipient of the 2024 Mel Essex Award. Plascencia will be honored at the fourth annual Athene Black & Brown Business Summit presented by Wells Fargo on April 19 at 4 p.m. The event will be held April 18-19 at the corporate headquarters of Athene at 7700 Mills Civic Pkwy, West Des Moines, Iowa.

The Mel Essex Award honors business and Iowa community champion Mel Essex. The award recognizes honorees for high standards of business ethics and a heart for inspiring and encouraging others to fulfill their dreams of securing economic success. Since 2021, the Summit has been recognizing winners who fulfill the intent of the award. Past recipients include Pernell Cezar Jr. – BLK & Bold Specialty Beverages (2021), Lu Spaine – Zumi Collection (2022), and Perlla Deluca – Southwest Contractors (2023).

“I am grateful and honored to receive this award, but it also comes with a weighty responsibility,” says Plascencia. “In accepting the award, I am reminded of the many individuals still residing in the shadows, facing challenges no different from my own. This award serves as a reminder of the ongoing work needed to achieve meaningful diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

In addition to receiving the Mel Essex Award, Plascencia will also serve as a panelist at the two-day conference. Registration for the event remains open until Sunday, April 14 at 11:59 p.m. at www.wdmchamber.org/BBBSummit.

Sponsors and partners of the Athene Black & Brown Business Summit play a crucial role in making this event possible. A portion of sponsor proceeds benefits the Pitch Competition, Presented by Bank of America. Over the past three years, pitch competition winners have collectively received more than $100,000 in prize money. For the 2024 event, sponsors, partners, and supporters (listed alphabetically) include African American Museum of IA, Alliant Energy, Amplified DSM, Anthony Arroyo Photography + Creative, Athene, Bank of America, Bankers Trust, Belin McCormick, Black Capital Project/Iowa CORE, BMO, Chase, City of West Des Moines, ClaimDOC, Cocoa Creative Agency, Creative Planning, Delat Dental, Des Moines University, Drake Business Clinic, Dubuque Bank & Trust, Eide Bailly, Elevate by Principal, F&G, Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, Forvis, Greater Des Moines Partnership, Holmes Murphy (ethOs and Broker Tech Ventures), Hy-Vee, IMT Insurance, Iowa Economic Development Authority, Iowa Small Business Development Center, Krause Group, Merchants Bonding, NCMIC, One Economy Financial Development Corp, Paychex HR, Sammons Financial Group, Shazam, Inc., Small Business Administration, Smash Park, Symetra, Turner Construction, UnityPoint Health, We Are Iowa, Wells Fargo, Whitfield & Eddy, and Women Lead Change.


About the Athene Black & Brown Business Summit
The Athene Black & Brown Business Summit is an annual event dedicated to providing a platform for Black and Brown professionals, entrepreneurs, and leaders to share insights, inspire change, and foster connections. The Summit serves as a catalyst for growth, empowerment, and collaboration within the community.

About the WDM Chamber of Commerce
The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, established in 1924, is a dynamic organization dedicated to championing all things West Des Moines. With a focus on strengthening local businesses, providing personalized resources, and attracting a top-tier workforce, the Chamber aims to position WDM as the best suburban city in America. Celebrating a century of excellence, the Chamber boasts a diverse community of over 800 members, offering something for everyone. Explore the possibilities, learn more about the chamber, and discover how you can get involved in shaping the future of West Des Moines at wdmchamber.org.

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