At Realityworks, ESOPs and Learning Go Hand-in-Hand

U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) stopped by Realityworks‘ Eau Claire, WI headquarters today to learn more about our Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and take a tour of the facility. While here, he was able to learn about our many interactive training simulators and models and how they impact today’s students.

Engineering Manager Jeremiah Bauer helps U.S. Rep Ron Kind with a hands-on demonstration of Realityworks’ Bovine Breeder artificial insemination simulator.

He recently introduced the bipartisan Promotion and Expansion of Private Employee Ownership Act, which will encourage the formation of employee-owned businesses and promote retirement savings through S Corporation Employee Stock Ownership Plans (S-ESOPs). The bill was introduced with Representative Jason Smith (R-MO).

“I am proud to introduce this bill, which will empower companies to become employee-owned and give our workers more stake in the game. The evidence is clear that S-ESOPs help companies and workers alike grow faster and achieve a more secure financial future,” said Rep. Ron Kind.

S-ESOP companies employ over 29,000 Wisconsinites at 122 companies across the state. According to several recent studies, S-ESOPs provide a number of benefits to companies and workers alike, including an outperforming company growth rate, increased retirement security and decreased income inequality within the company.

Rep. Kind’s visit to our company allowed him to talk more with the company’s leadership and learn how ESOPs can benefit both the company and the employees who work for them. Realityworks converted to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan S-ESOP in 2012, which has allowed us to attract and retain talent while continuing to grow the company.

“Employees who own the businesses where they work have a share in the wealth they help create, and that connection makes companies stronger, more stable, and more rooted in their communities. The legislation proposed by Rep. Kind will expand ownership opportunities like we have in place at Realityworks to even more of the U.S. workforce,” said Mary Boettcher, CFO – Realityworks and Board Chair for the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO).

“This bill is important legislation to support the creation of more ESOPs. ESOPs create additional retirement security for those working as employee owners at ESOP companies. At Realityworks, being employee-owned means you are engaged in the company success. You benefit from Company growth and value your work at a different level. About 50% of our employee body has been with the company over 5 years, well over national average. Retention is a key to our success and our ESOP is a big contributor to that,” said Timm Boettcher, President and CEO – Realityworks.

Penny Wars Benefits Local Charity

Realityworks is an employee-owned company and celebrates Employee Ownership Month (ESOP) every October with various activities. On October 1, the Charitable Giving Committee announced a new company challenge: A Penny War-funded charitable giving drive to support iHeartMedia’s Christmas is for Children program. The twist: First prize would be an executive-served pizza party; second prize would be an executive-served donut party and third prize would be two pies in the face of a third company executive.

Realityworks has supported the Christmas is for Children campaign every holiday season for the past four years; in 2017, enough funds were raised through a non-competitive giving drive to support the purchase of holiday gifts for 16 children. This year, the group hoped to raise a few hundred dollars by giving this annual drive a competitive spin; instead, it was announced on Halloween that the employees had raised $2,615.98.

“What we did made a lot of cents,” said JJ Smieja. “It was really impressive to see each team get so involved,” added Tiffany Olek.

The Penny Wars competition drove so much more giving this year, that the 70-person Realityworks team will be able to support 74 local children.

“Finding out how many kids we could sponsor was my favorite part of this event,” added Terri Lokken. “A close second was seeing Timm and Scott get a pie in the face.”

Timm Boettcher, President & CEO,  and Scott Jameson, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, tied for third place, meaning they both received a pie in the face from Mary Boettcher, CFO & Vice President of Finance.

“The ESOP ownership model fits our all-for-one, one-for-all culture perfectly, as Realityworks employees have always been encouraged to adopt an ownership mentality,” said Boettcher. “This competition is a great example of the success that can come from collaboration – and a little competition!”

Back to School Supply Drive

As a part of our yearly charitable giving and volunteer efforts, the employees at Realityworks recently took part in our annual Stuff the Bus competition. This yearly school supply drive pits the seven departments against one another in an effort to gather the most supplies for each team’s designated school. The teams get to choose which school their supplies are donated to, and are often able to choose a school that one or more of the team members’ children attend.

This year, the teams chose to support the following local elementary schools: Halmstad, Meadowview, Stillson, Altoona, Oaklawn, Lakeshore, and Ridgelawn.

The sales department took 1st place in this friendly competition. We’re all excited to take trips to the schools to drop of the supplies before the start of the year.

Charitable Giving as a Company Philosophy

Each year Realityworks employees get the opportunity to nominate organizations to receive contributions of volunteer hours or outright donations for program assistance.  Our community can look to us for support and assistance.  Additionally, employees are encouraged to participate in local organizations’ committees and directional boards as a way to better our community through service. We can’t wait to share more of these great opportunities with you!

 

Ready for the Workforce: Realityworks’ Youth Apprentices Share Projects with State Governor

“See those wires there? We’re trying to get rid of them. We want to make the whole thing smaller, so you can hold it in your hand instead of display it on the tabletop.”

If this statement was overheard outside the office of a mechanical engineer, you wouldn’t think twice. After all, it’s their job to develop, build and test the mechanics of tools, engines and machines, adapting and modifying as needed. In fact, this statement was made by 18-year-old Seth Kooiker, a senior at North High School in Eau Claire, WI and one of two youth apprentices at Realityworks, Inc.

Run by the State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship program is part of a statewide School-to-Work initiative. It gives high school students the opportunity to spend 1-2 years getting hands-on learning experience in an occupational area. Seth and Gabe LeGore, also a North High School senior, have been working at Realityworks since June 2016.

On Friday, January 5, Seth and Gabe had the opportunity to present some of their recent projects to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who made a brief stop at the high school to see examples of premier youth apprentice programs in the area. As they explained to Governor Walker, the two had been tasked with modifying Realityworks’ Electrical Wiring Kit, a portable, battery-operated kit that allows students to practice basic electrical wiring skills. Seth and Gabe’s efforts thus far have included rewiring, prototyping and simple machine operation.

“We’ve had dozens of students come to Realityworks through Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship program, and we’ve always gotten a lot of value from it,” said Realityworks Engineering Manager Jeremiah Bauer, who mentors the company’s apprentices. “These students spend the first few months getting up to speed, and by their second year, you can send them a project and they can take it and run. Seth and Gabe are a great example of that. You can trust them to contribute, and they’re getting a jumpstart on the working world.”

The Electrical Wiring Kit is one of many projects that Seth and Gabe have been tasked with modifying, improving or creating since their 2-year apprenticeships began in June 2016. Other projects include developing an aquaponics kit, a blood pressure simulator and several other electronic and software prototypes. They’ve used imaging programs, learned machining programs and mathematical statistic programs.

“The level of knowledge gained by our youth apprentices is easy to see and forthcoming. The level of benefit to the company is unforeseen,” said Realityworks Mechanical Engineer Mike Zaborowski, who works closely with Gabe and Seth. “When you realize that you have helped guide a young mind to a future role, its only then you can clearly see the future of industry and business. The youth apprentice program makes the future very bright.”

Reflecting on Tradeshow Season 2017

Our account managers had a great time attending over 100 conferences, conventions and symposiums across the country throughout 2017. We asked them which shows stood out to them the most, and here’s what they had to say. Were you at one of these shows? Keep reading to find out!

Sarah Philen, Account Manager for ID, MI, MT, NM, WA and WY

“My favorite show this past year was in Austin, TX. Eric, Kelly and I gave a presentation on the Geriatric Simulator and the group was fantastic. We even had a volunteer who wore the suit and was such a good sport! I could feel how passionate the group was about Gerontology and they gave excellent feedback. Being involved with passionate educators is one of the best parts of my job.”

Kelly Greig, Account Manager for AL, LA, MS, TX and WI

“The one that really stands out to me was ACTA in Alabama. I met some amazing teachers and administrators and everyone was extremely welcoming to me. Most of the other vendors and participants knew each other well, but instead of feeling like an outsider, they introduced themselves to me, invited me to do things with them and just really went out of their way to make me feel at home. The event itself was well-organized and FUN. All in all, it was fantastic!”

Anne Bogstad, Account Manager for AK, CA, HI, NV, OR and UT

“I can’t pick just one! Each has its own uniqueness from the people and their goals to the venue itself.  I’ve been set up inside a barn with plywood dividers, beautiful banquet halls, event spaces so large you get lost and quaint spaces – like the one with a grizzly bear 10 feet from me (stuffed of course). In CA, my agriculture educators were challenged with the drought, many had to sell their livestock because they couldn’t feed them due to lack of water/crops. In remote Alaska, students get opportunities like riding with the Fish and Game to tag caribou as they migrate south, learning snow machine safety in schools and welding for the pipeline. I have the privilege of meeting teachers face to face and hearing how their students’ lives are changed, the new technology in the classrooms and new approaches they are taking as educators.”

Amy Underwood, Account Manager for CT, DE, KY, MA, MD, ME, NH, NJ, RI,  PA, TN and VT

“We were invited to present on our family of products with focus on guideWELD RealCareer Welding Solutionsat the2017 Institute for CTE Educators. The conference participants were so excited to see the new products. We even had a kindergarten student stop by with her father who is an Agriculture Teacher at a Tennessee high school. They were both impressed with the Chicken Model and the kindergartner took apart the chicken and put it back together all by herself. She even shared that they have Easter Egg laying chickens on their farm—some lay blue eggs and others lay yellow eggs. Her father then explained the process of bleaching eggs that go to market and how long eggs can last if they are not washed immediately. It was a great lesson for me as I continue increasing my knowledge of agriculture.”

“Deana Ramsey, Principal at the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Center School in Philadelphia, invited me to co-present on the guideWELD RealCareer Welding Solutions and Employability Skills Program at the N&D Symposium at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. The educators had a chance to try out the virtual welding unit while they discussed how virtual welding could be implemented within their “career exploration and career ready” programming. The educators had a wonderful time exploring how the assessment of each weld was done and the safety aspects of this virtual welding unit.”

Seth Short, Account Manager for FL, GA, IN and OH

“My favorite show of 2017 was the National FFA Convention. It was a great place to see the interaction of teacher and student, to get to know and understand agriculture and what their needs are. We had a student (Junior in High School) explaining one of our future products to his teacher and class. He was using our Bovine Breeder Prototype and explaining the AI process. It was amazing to see someone so young explain something so complex. Seeing students and teachers coming together from across the nation was an incredible experience. They were teaching us more than we could ever dream of sharing with them.”

While these are only a few examples of the many from the past year, we appreciate every opportunity we have to talk to and learn from the many students, educators and administrators we meet every year. From all of us at Realityworks, thank you for sharing these moments with us. We look forward to continuing these discussions and experiences in 2018 and beyond.

Realityworks is Thankful for…

The team at Realityworks has so much to be grateful for this year. Here are the words that came to mind when asked what we are must thankful for this Thanksgiving:

A few team members shared more about what they are grateful for:

“I am thankful for friends, old and new.” – Sarah Philen, Account Manager

“I am thankful for my co-workers, some of the most supportive and hard-working people I know!” – Casey Kooiman, International Business Consultant

“I am thankful for all of the regular things…like kids, dogs and a warm house. But there are those that do not have what I have, and I am thankful for caring people who GIVE at this time of year so others can have also.” – Christine Medina, Account Services Representative

“I am most thankful for getting to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family.” – Lisa Rolf, Marketing Intern

“I am thankful for all of the dedicated educators around the world that take the time to care, nurture, inspire, and prepare our youth for a successful life journey.” – Timmothy Boettcher, President & CEO

Realityworks Employee Spotlight: May Edition

Meet Casey Kooiman, Realityworks’ International Business Consultant

Casey Kooiman was born and raised in Wisconsin Dells and later moved to Hammond, WI, at the age of 12. She spent seven years in Washington, DC, where she studied at American University and later worked as an International Market Specialist in the automotive industry. Casey’s fondest memory of DC life was when she worked in the media department for the Washington Capitals.

“I attended all of their home games and would get to go to the locker rooms after the games to interview some of the best players in the league,” she explained.

As a self-proclaimed Midwesterner, Casey moved back to Wisconsin in 2012. She lived in Milwaukee for three years before relocating to Eau Claire for her position with Realityworks.

“I handle just about everything pertaining to selling our products abroad whether it be working with our many distributors, lead generation, researching new markets, etc.” she said.

Working with our international distributors is her favorite part of working with Realityworks, Casey explained, because they are all incredibly unique.
“We have our small, mom-and-pop type shops like Virtual Parenting (Australia) and Babybedenkzeit (Germany) to our larger partners like Camera Mundi (Puerto Rico) and Studica (Canada & Nordic),” said Casey. “I am privileged to have the opportunity to work with them on a regular basis, whether it is via Skype or in-person.”

Casey has found the international travel to be the most interesting part of her job.

“I can’t get enough! For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for learning about and experiencing new cultures, particularly when it comes to cultural differences in how one does business,” Casey explained. “I’m always reading The Economist for world news updates, asking our distributors and international friends about their perspective on world events, and of course immersing myself in the culture when I do have the opportunity to travel.”

As for a favorite Realityworks product, Casey’s is RealCare Baby.

“When I explain where I work to family, friends (both domestic and international), and business contacts, they may not always know the name Realityworks, but they almost always know about RealCare Baby,” she explained. “RealCare Baby is where the company began, it provides a great segue to explaining our mission and it is darn cute too!”

From Chicken Legs to Life Skills: What I’ve Learned from Ag Education

By Diane Ross, M.Ed., Realityworks Senior Field Account Manager for NC, SC, VA, WV

I learn something new every day. But what I learned this week reminded me of an old Bob Hope joke (remember who he was?)

Bob Hope once judged the mini-skirted fashion model Twiggy when he said “Give her an inch and she’ll make a skirt out of it.”

Today, I learned from an Ag Education teacher that you judge chickens, namely hens, by their legs – or rather, the whiteness of their legs. The whiter the legs, the more “seasoned” the hen, and the more eggs she will produce.

This is something useful to me, not just because I work for a company that sells experiential learning aids for agriculture education, but because I am learning how valuable Ag Education really is, whether or not students ever become farmers or teachers – because I am a consumer of food.

It’s kind of like when I learned how to drive in driver’s ed. I never had an intention of becoming a professional driver, but I needed to learn to drive in order to find work, food, or just see the countryside.

Ag Education teaches kids the importance of producing quality food, distinguishing what is healthy and what is marketing on labels. It teaches kids how to grow food in water, fertilized by fish waste. It teaches kids how to mend a fence or a tractor by welding. Life skills is really a central theme of Ag Education. Kids learn how to do just about everything around the home or farm, but it also allows them to decide what they will be best suited to do in life. And, like most of us, they won’t be doing the same thing their entire lives. When life throws a curve, they’ll have other skills to fall back upon.

Oh, and another thing, just to set the record straight: Chickens lay eggs with the large side out first, not the small. I learned that from our Chicken Model.

Diane Ross holds a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from Marshall University in Huntington, WV. She has been with Realityworks since 2013, and has been instrumental in assisting educators with implementing educational solutions that make a difference in students’ lives.

Spotlight – March Edition

Allen Jacobson has been a Designer at Realityworks for over five years. He grew up on a hobby farm in Alma, WI. They had chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, beef cattle, horses, pigs, dogs, cats and even a pet crow named Heckle. He and his wife Kim have been married for over ten fun-filled years and are the proud owners of a German Wirehaired Pointer and a Boxer. Two very energetic dogs.

When not at work, Allen enjoys travel, running, biking, hunting, golfing, basketball, kickball and most of all working on new projects. Growing up, Allen wanted to be an architect. Though he took a different path, he said he still enjoys dabbling in this field when working on homes and cabins.

“I’ve had my hand in constructing/remodeling over 10 homes with my dad. This all started at around the age of 12.”

Although he has fun building and remodeling homes, Allen enjoys smaller projects with faster results, like a bike trailer he modified out of an old burley and a pot rack he made for his kitchen.

As the Designer at Realityworks, Allen works on the website, literature, ads, videos, tradeshow displays, packaging and new product concepts.

“My favorite parts of working at Realityworks are the super friendly I work with and I get to work on so many different projects,” he said. “I really do think I have the best job.”

The best memory he has from working at Realityworks so far was at a recent trade show that he attended.

“At the 2016 ACTE show, when the booth was set up, Rick Jurmain (Realityworks co-founder) stopped to talk/gush about how impressed he was with the booth, new products, the great new people (in the company) and the overall growth of Realityworks into a real CTE company,” he recalled. “It was a very cool moment.”

Spotlight – February Edition


Mike Zaborowski is a Mechanical Engineer at Realityworks. He grew up in Owen, WI; the youngest child of 4. He and his wife moved to Eau Claire in 1988 when their daughter was born and fell in love with the area. Mike was working at The Hobby Master and made a lot of great friends he still has today.

At Realityworks, Mike’s responsibility is for the mechanical aspects of the products that are developed, whether they are designed in-house or not. Sometimes he gets the chance to brainstorm new designs too, which he really enjoys.

Designing the painting processes for the baby product has been one of Mike’s proudest moments so far at Realityworks.

“It was a huge challenge due to shape of the heads, as well as understanding adhesion and overcoming opinions on looks,” he reflected.

Mike’s favorite part about working for Realityworks is the empowerment the company provides.

“They don’t just make you feel like a member of the team, but give you the support that makes you know you ARE a member of the team,” Mike said. “I also really enjoy seeing products start and end. From concept to shipping and everything in between.”

Growing up, Mike said he always wanted to be an Engineer, just not the kind you might think.

“Pete McMillan was our school guidance counselor,” said Mike. “With a name like Zaborowski we spend a ton of time last in line. Only Tico Zukouski was behind me. I sat down in front of Pete and he said, “OK Mike, what do you want to do when you get out of school?” I said that I want to be an Engineer. He said, “That’s great, mechanical or electrical?” I looked at him somewhat dumbfounded and said, “NO, I want to drive a train!” He said, “NEXT!””

From vacations to his spare time, Mike’s hobbies impact his life outside of work.

“To sum it up, my hobbies revolve around cars, planes, helicopters, boats and rockets,” said Mike. “I have a level 2 certification for Model rocketry and have flown rockets to a mile high and 500MPH. I also have a few rocket designs on the market though Estes products. When people think of model rockets, I do that too, BUT… on a MUCH larger scale!”

“The IRCHA Jamboree was my favorite vacation,” said Mike. “It’s the world’s largest RC Helicopter event and lasts 5 days. Great time with my kind of people. I look forward to it each year.”