INWOOD—Adam Gregg is impressed with how far an Inwood welding, assembly and powder-coating shop has come in the year since it opened.
The Iowa lieutenant governor toured A & R Industries Tuesday, March 30, and learned how its owners, 22-year-old Reese Schulze and 21-year-old Austin Rozeboom, launched the venture a year ago.
The cousins gained welding experience and a feel for business through Rock Valley High School’s hands-on business program, Rocket Manufacturing. They were among the first students to participate in it when it began in 2015.
Schulze graduated from high school in 2017 and attended Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids for two years to study agriculture business. Rozeboom graduated from high school in 2018 and later worked for a machine shop in Rock Valley.
The duo also worked for a farmer in the area but wanted to branch out on their own and decided to put their shop and business skills to use.
They purchased the building, located west of Inwood on Highway 18, from Gerald Brands.
Brands also serves as mayor for the Lyon County community and was present Tuesday for the facility tour with Gregg.
Gregg asked them about some of the challenges they faced in getting A & R Industries off the ground.
Schulze said one of the main obstacles was the fact he and Rozeboom were young and needed help with finances.
To buy the shop, they took a loan out from Premier Bank in Rock Valley — with their grandfather, Robert Davelaar, as a co-signer — and received assistance from Lyon County Economic Development.
“Once we got this shop, it just kind of took off from there,” Schulze said.
At first, Schulze and Rozeboom were the only employees and were able to stay busy with work. They did some agriculture equipment jobs for Rock Valley-based manufacturer Kooima Company. The company liked the work the cousins did and continued partnering with them for work.
Business began picking up more for Schulze and Rozeboom at the start of this year, prompting them to hire a full-time welder, Mitchell Smith, and a powder-coating employee who worked full time during the winter. The latter worker wants to come back again next winter.
“We’re going to try to keep him, so we might try to find some summer help from maybe Rocket Manufacturing or West Lyon,” Schulze said.
He and Rozeboom eventually would like to employ three people within the next year and then get to a point where they would be able to provide them benefits.
The lieutenant governor asked how the coronavirus pandemic impacted the cousins’ work during the past year. One hurdle the pandemic presented was finding a time to receive their welding certification from Southeast Technical College in Sioux Falls, SD.
“We had a bid for what would have been our biggest job, but we couldn’t get the job because we weren’t certified welders,” Schulze said. “A few months later, we did end up getting certified. But yeah, we lost a job.”
The cousins also spoke of some difficulties in getting in touch with companies for jobs and not being able to physically visit businesses that have COVID-19 restrictions.
Gregg said it was hard not to draw energy and optimism from Schulze and Rozeboom’s story of hard work and willingness to start their own company in the face of risk.
“That’s awesome,” Gregg said. “That’s kind of Iowa in a nutshell. We’re willing to work hard and do the right thing and do things the right way.”
He also had not been aware of the cousins’ connection to Rocket Manufacturing until he arrived at their shop. He said Gov. Kim Reynolds has highlighted the student-run business in previous speeches she has given around the state.
Gregg called Rocket Manufacturing a good example of work-based learning that exposes students to future career opportunities and lets them decide early on if starting their own business would suit them.
He spoke of the importance of encouraging more hands-on work opportunities for students and said that’s the purpose of the statewide Future Ready Iowa program. Before the pandemic hit, Gregg said Iowa’s biggest problem was it had more jobs than people with the skills to fill them.
“This is why Gov. Reynolds wants to have every high school in Iowa have workplace learning opportunities going forward, and it’s why we’ve made investments in the Future Ready Iowa program to meet that workforce demand,” he said.