Celebrating ESOP Month

Pop Quiz: What do Paul Ryan and Bernie Sanders have in common? At first glance it may seem that there isn’t anything these two seemingly polar opposite viewpoint politicians could agree on. Well, in fact, there is. Both of these individuals, who hail from two separate political parties and grew up in states that couldn’t be more different, are, you guessed it, ESOP champions. Bernie Sanders’ message has gone so far as to say that employee ownership should be important national policy. What? Is this the secret sauce that separates the good from the bad, the right from the wrong, the up from the down, the….okay you get my point. Perhaps there is more to this underutilized, underappreciated and under…well….understood benefit than meets the eye.


October is Employee Ownership Month, and as an employee-owned, ESOP company for 24 years, we took this opportunity to look more closely at just what impact this qualified employee benefit has on our employees/families, our clients, our local community and the greater good. Could this be as far reaching as all of that? Perhaps. Consequently, it seems surprising that only about 10% of the private sector offers an ESOP to employees.


According to numerous research studies, including a paper presented by the National Bureau of Economic Research, employees who work for ESOP firms experience increased motivation, productivity, innovation, loyalty, wellbeing, trust, pride and ownership in their work. Employees who have this type of experience at work are less likely to leave their company, which tends to lead to employers maintaining and growing their internal knowledge base and competencies. This means GRAEF is better positioned to meet our clients’ uniquely individualized needs, increase employer and client profitability, and retain the local government tax base.


Employee owned, ESOP companies like GRAEF also increase community stability compared to their non-ESOP counterparts. These other firms often have nonexistent or incomplete plans for business continuity after the departure of the founder or major shareholders. In contrast, GRAEF and other ESOP companies have a mechanism that allows them to transition relatively seamlessly, which benefits employees, clients, and communities.


One research study conducted by Rutgers University consisted of over a decade of following and comparing 1,100 ESOP companies with 1,100 comparable non-ESOP. They found “overwhelming positive and remarkable results indicating that ESOPs appear to increase sales, employment, and sales/employee by about 2.3% to 2.4% over what would have been anticipated absent an ESOP.” Additionally, ESOP companies stayed in business longer than non-ESOP companies. They survived and continued operating independently by higher percentages.


So, all this is from a micro economics perspective, but what about “the greater good?” The research goes into two levels of impact: the federal government and shared capitalism levels. I know, deep stuff! Data from the most prestigious social survey in the U.S., the General Social Survey (GSS), showed employees in the U.S. who had employee stock ownership were four times less likely to be laid off during the Great Recession than employees without ESOPs, saving the US government billions of dollars. As for shared capitalism, it is considered to be a significant part of the U.S. economic model. Shared capitalism can increase wealth for workers at lower and middle income levels. Many studies and research papers have concluded that ESOPs are effective in addressing issues of distribution of wealth, wealth creation and average employee pay.


Sounds like the greater good to me.


My Experience with Honor Flight

With nearly 40 years of experience in engineering consulting, Bob Warren knows the importance of perseverance. The son of a World War II veteran and WWII history enthusiast, he understands the sacrifice our veterans made for this country. And in his spare time, he has found a way to give back to those who have sacrificed so much for our country.

It all started eight years ago while Bob was watching the news. A Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Homecoming was featured in that news program. It got Bob thinking, Bob Warren

“With my interest in WWII, my willingness to help others and as a tribute to my father, why not volunteer to help this organization?”

The next day Bob signed up as an Honor Flight volunteer. Honor Flight is a national program that flies WWII and Korean veterans to the war memorials in Washington, D.C. at no charge to them. At the end of the day, they return to Milwaukee to a heroes’ welcome and a homecoming celebration they never had when they returned from the war.

Founded in 2005 in Ohio, Honor Flight now has over 120 hubs nationwide with six hubs in Wisconsin. Stars and Stripes Honor Flight is the Southeastern Wisconsin branch of the National Honor Flight Network.

Honor Flight gives veterans the opportunity to visit the memorials constructed in their honor. These flights are free to the veterans, thanks to the generous contributions of hundreds of donors. None of these veterans asked for this recognition and appreciation they are shown, but it honors men and women who unselfishly gave to protect this country.“My experience with Honor Flight has taught me that every day is a bonus.”

Joining the Honor Flight team was a win-win for Bob. He says being able to serve these veterans and hear their stories is absolutely amazing. He has talked with heroes who landed on the beaches of Normandy and heroes who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He notes that each story has its own degree of sacrifice and suffering. Every veteran Bob speaks with quickly reminds him that they are not the heroes,

“…the true heroes are still over there.”

As captured in a documentary film about the Honor Flight Network called Honor Flight, thanking our service men and women is a very fulfilling experience. As the film portrays, the preparation for each flight is like a military operation in itself. There is a lot to do to get the trips organized and coordinated for this one day trip to Washington D.C.

Hundreds of volunteers show up at the airport at 3:00 in the morning in preparation of the arrival of the hundreds of veterans at 5:00 AM. From wheelchair teams at curbside, lanyard distribution, photo helpers, breakfast or just someone to listen to their story – it is all part of the volunteers tasks. On the trip home, there is a “mail call,” in which the veterans receive genuine, heart-felt letters from friends and family. This simple gesture gives the veterans a hint of what is to come once they return home, as there is a bigger celebration waiting for them at the airport. The veterans are celebrated and welcomed home by friends, relatives and strangers in a homecoming they never had when they returned from the war. This emotion-filled journey is well worth it, and shows our veterans the love and support they have always deserved. In its beginning, Honor Flight adopted a motto from one of the first veterans that flew on an Honor Flight. The motto is comes from what the veteran said after suffering three months at the hands of the Germans in a prisoner-of-war camp. This horrible experience made him realize how precious freedom and life is and that “EVERY DAY IS A BONUS.” This is what Bob takes from Honor Flight and how he tries to live his life every day.

If you would like to volunteer your time to support this mission or want to learn more about it, please visit the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Network’s website.

Points of Contact

By Joe Schuller

In 30 years working in the A/E industry, I have learned that maintaining contacts and connections continues to be the name of the game. I have also learned that, despite the technology available to us these days, the best way to organize and maintain contacts established while working on many projects throughout the year is quite traditional — business cards.business card

I make it a priority to get a business card from everyone involved on a project. This could be client staff and other businesses, partners, and sub-consultants. I simply ask each person for their card and follow up or circle back around if need be, to ensure I have one from each individual. I sort the cards by project–not by company because our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software can do that for me. While the project is active, I keep the relevant business cards in my project folder. It is helpful when referring back for specific information in the event I need to reach a particular person involved on the project or when a colleague may need a contact’s information. The information is right at your fingertips—particularly as we don’t always have our CRM software with us! And as a project moves through its various phases, I move and rearrange the cards to follow.

“It’s tough to keep contacts straight when you meet so many people during the length of any given project.”        

After a while, I start to see the same cards over and over. That’s fine. It just means that I have had continued contact with the same people and am becoming familiar with them—I’ve established a relationship with them. It is important to note these project contacts may or not be business development contacts. That is less important than staying in front of them regularly.

Identifying the movers and shakers,—the people with the power to award and/or advance opportunities for our firm–is critical to business Preferreddevelopment. Sometimes these key people and decision makers are intricately connected through past projects and project team members. That’s where relationships really serve our firm well. Based on who we know, and our experiences with them, I can decide strategically how, when, and where to spend my time and energy for business development. I have both project contacts and business development contacts, and they may very well overlap. Tracking when a project team member changes or when there is a new gate keeper is important to my market strategy. These are the paradigms I’ve used to remain both competitive and relevant. When it comes to being efficient in business, sometimes the best methods are a bit traditional.

Traditional Mitigation Banking and the New In Lieu-Fee Mitigation Program

Introduction to Wetland Mitigation

If, after avoidance and minimization, wetland impacts associated with a new development are greater than 10,000 square feet, a project may require an individual wetland permit. An individual wetland permit carries with it the responsibility for the permittee to mitigate impacts to wetlands occurring as a result of the project. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) provides three avenues to satisfy mitigation requirements which include wetland mitigation banking, in-lieu fee (ILF) mitigation, and permittee responsible on-site mitigation. Permittee responsible on-site mitigation is generally discouraged by the WDNR as it can be very difficult to achieve success. So this article will focus the differences between mitigation banking and the new ILF mitigation program.

Traditional Mitigation Banking

The only way to previously satisfy compensatory wetland mitigation obligations, aside from permittee responsible on-site mitigation, was purchasing credits directly from a mitigation bank. This means the permittee is responsible for establishing their own mitigation site within the same local watershed as the occurrence of wetland impacts. Mitigation banking requires credits to be purchased from an approved mitigation bank which will use the funds to manage a “bank” or wetland restoration site that has already been established. The program divides the state into 12 watersheds or Bank Service Areas (BSAs). Ideally credits will be purchased from a bank located within the same BSA as the impacts, in an effort to mitigate impacts to the BSA from a holistic point of view. This is an effective means for watershed management; however, difficulties arise with this system when there is a lack of mitigation banks and available credits for purchase within BSAs. There are currently only ten listed operating mitigation banks within the state. Many of the 12 BSAs are without an operating mitigation bank, which means there is a lack of purchasable credits for impacts in those areas. To alleviate this problem BSAs are grouped into three larger, “major basins” where permittees are able to expand their search for purchasable credits with approval from the WDNR if credits are not available in the BSA where impacts are to occur. In theory, this is a good approach to watershed management, but it becomes difficult in practice when active mitigation banks and credits are scarce, as is the current case in Wisconsin. This is what prompted the formation of the new in-lieu fee mitigation program.


Mitigation Blog2

Bank Service Areas (BSA’s)(12) color coordinated, Major Basins (3) Outlined in heavy black border (Image source: WDNR)

ILF Mitigation

The WDNR recently established the Wisconsin Wetland Conservation Trust (WWCT), a wetland in-lieu fee mitigation program, sponsored and administered by the WDNR. This program allows permittees to purchase WWCT credits directly from the WDNR to satisfy compensatory mitigation requirements. The revenue generated by the WWCT in-lieu fee program will then be used to fund future projects that restore, enhance, establish and preserve wetlands, ideally within the BSA in which wetland impacts are to occur. This differs from the traditional wetland mitigation banking system where credits are purchased directly from mitigation banks, where restoration or restoration plans have already been established. The ILF mitigation program allows for the purchase of credits when credits from mitigation banks not available. However, the WDNR still prefers credits to be purchased from mitigation banks if possible. ILF credit costs range from $59,000 to $62,000. This is comparable to credit costs of mitigation banks, although individual mitigation banks are able to set their own prices.


The actual individual permitting and mitigation credit purchasing process remains relatively unchanged after the ILF mitigation program implementation. Mitigation options are typically discussed during a pre-application meeting with the WDNR Water Management Specialist that is handling a particular permit application. The WDNR prefers the purchase of credits from tradition mitigation banks when possible, but the ILF provides a viable alternative when the purchase of credits from an appropriate mitigation bank is not an option. As with either of the two options, the amount of credits to be purchased and mitigation ratios will be influenced by the amount of impact, the type of wetland impacted and the quality of the wetlands impacted. This information will be reviewed during the early steps of the permitting process. Cost per credit between the two avenues of mitigation are comparable, but individual mitigation banks are able to set their own credit prices, so costs may vary from bank to bank. Ultimately, the creation of the ILF mitigation program provides a much needed alternative to satisfying wetland compensatory mitigation criteria for individual wetland permit applicants when credits from mitigation banks become scarce in your BSA.


For additional information or assistance with the permitting process, please contact one of our wetland specialists:

Mike Al-wathiqui





Work-Life Balance in the A/E/C Industry

By Julie Olson

Balancing work and life isn’t hard to do when you work for a company like GRAEF. An employer that supports a balance of a career, family, hobbies, and health is essential. Finding a balance is decidedly the responsibility of the individual, but the added perk of a supportive employer is sought after in today’s workforce whatever the industry or market.

Collaboration02_Planning Table Nicole and Erik 2014

Maintaining a balance according to personal needs and wants is a goal for many employees. Equally important in the architecture, engineering and construction industry is balancing the needs of our clients, stakeholders and “team members.” Working out timelines, expectations and preferred methods of communications are all great places to start. Discussing these needs will enable you to make independent, fully informed decisions at the right time. After all, that is our focus in the industry: problem solving.

Ideally, one works with a client often enough and close enough that one is in sync with the client’s expectations. Though other aspects of life are not as predictable, anticipating a client’s needs and exceeding their expectations should be second nature. One’s colleagues, manager and other support staff can and are willing and able to help. On can use these outlets from time to time when needed to meet a client’s goals.


One’s family, on the other hand, can be a very different story. From our individual experiences, we all know that things come up at the most inopportune times. Whether work went well or not, shifting into family mode upon arrival at home can sometimes be difficult. This takes practice. Being fully present in one’s family life and keeping up at work are two major life concerns. One way to alleviate the stress of finding a balance is to set schedules for both work and home and stick to those schedules.

Family, career, and health are all essential to a balanced life, and holding a steady balance between them day-to-day can certainly be a struggle. It is an ongoing challenge that is universal, not just in the AEC industry. Surely we all can admit to experiencing this struggle! Having that balance in life with little to no effort on our part is the objective. And so we continue our efforts every day with the support of a great employer.

Teamwork and Dragon Boats

Team GRAEF Paddling

Team GRAEF on the move!


Dragon Boat Racing

by Ashlee Bishop

As water splashes aboard, a forceful thud (from a paddle) smacks your arm and you begin straining “core muscles” you didn’t know you had…this is when you realize that dragon boating is intense! Hip-to-hip with your row partner, unified by the beat of the boat drummer, and with your adrenaline pumping miles per minute, you can feel the camaraderie in the boat.

GRAEF employees recently tested the waters at the 3rd Annual Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival. With the experts in the front (the “pacers”), the strongest/burliest in middle (the “engine”), and energizers (the “rockets”) in the back of the boat, our team pulled together and made waves from the beginning. With one promising practice under our belt, we were happy with the analysis of our skill level and “ready to row.”  Spurred on by the contagious enthusiasm of Team Captain Julie Olson, 20+ staff members from various areas of the company, and even some spouses, committed; there was no better time to show and prove.  Early on Saturday morning, July 11th
at the lagoon at Veteran’s Park,
support for Team GRAEF poured in.

Nervously loading into the narrow boat, individuals went in…and one fused team returned! Racing in groups of four, 38 teams competed at the festival. Bonding over refreshments, in-depth and genuine conversations, and exhausting physical exertion helped move the 8-hour day along at a steady pace. Since the event was put together by the Milwaukee Chinese Community Center, and with Chinese Fest mere steps away, this was definitely a cultural experience. There were more than 1,000 people sprawled across the grass in teams, with family, and passersby. Groups of people with matching shirts, vendors, and fitness fanatics all seamlessly gathered nonstop throughout the day to watch the neck-to-neck races.

Team GRAEF Paddles


The first two races Team GRAEF competed in resulted in very respectable times of 01:17.0 and 01:17.2. These times were impressive enough to land the team in the championship race in the Jade Division.  As we coalesced as one unit with paddles in perfect synchronization, two seconds were shaved off with a time of 01:15.1 in this championship round (two seconds is a big deal in dragon boat competitions!). Final results: Team GRAEF came in 4th place in the division and 12th place overall out of the 38 teams participating. Not too shabby for a group whose previous experience consisted of one brief practice session three days earlier!

Nice weather, lake views and the company of friends and family, what could be better? Of course, winning would have made the day perfect! But what’s better than that is the actualization of passions, skills, and the realization of an interoffice support system. Yeah, we didn’t win first place…but the fact of the matter is we pulled together, gave it our all, and realized the importance of working together as a team! We had a GRAEF time!!

Team Photo

The Team



Our community, our environment, and our Earth are extremely important. GRAEF realizes the impacts people have on our planet and take to heart incorporating sustainability into our culture and our business practices.

GRAEF Earth Day Team

GRAEF Earth Day Team

GRAEF collaborated with McKinstry and the City of Monona Public Works Department to lead a clean-up effort at the Winnequah Park in Monona (near Madison, WI), on Friday, April 17th in celebration of Earth Day. The clean-up was part of an annual event to take care of our planet. Volunteers at the event were organized into four groups. The first group dug the holes and planted trees provided by the City of Monona, the second group planted bushes and shrubs along the lagoon, the third group helped cut bushes and pull weeds in front of the Monona Public Library, and the fourth group picked up trash from along the edges of the lagoon and around the rest of the Park.

We were extremely pleased with the turn-out and hope to continue to challenge our colleagues and partners to be responsible stewards of the environment. GRAEF’s Civil Market Leader in the Madison Office, Tyler Smith, was interviewed by the media regarding GRAEF’s involvement. “GRAEF and McKinstry are two energy-efficiency, sustainability firms that have been teaming up on projects over the last few years. We started talking and wanted to get together to do something for the environment on Earth Day, and just do something for the community” said Tyler. Channel 27 News also interviewed organizer Mario Millonzi from McKinstry. Organized clean-up efforts like this give our employees a chance to roll up their sleeves and support the firm’s core aspects of sustainability and environmental impact, while collaborating efforts with colleagues.

In addition to GRAEF’s efforts in helping the planet outside of the office for Earth Day, we are making large strides to improve our carbon footprint inside our offices on a daily basis, as well. GRAEF has previously formed a sustainability committee with several initiative, one of which is “Walk the Talk.”  This initiative is focused on internally improving GRAEF’s efforts of going green. To work towards this initiative GRAEF has planted a victory garden on the patio of our Milwaukee office, converted our plastic water bottles to pitchers of water in conference rooms and meeting areas, as well as converting plastic utensils to silverware.

Hats off to the GRAEF employees on making our mission statement a reality both inside and outside of the office.

To see photos of GRAEF employees and colleagues cleaning up on Earth Day, visit our Facebook page at:

https://www. facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.834384146645417.10737418 31.165108110239694&type=3

Embracing Summer

By Ashlee Bishop

City living comes with its perks; accessibility, more people and vast varieties to choose from, on practically anything. These perks can be enjoyed by anyone willing to try. Summer in Wisconsin finally arrives, and while the weather has been tricky, it still beats the mildest winter night. It’s a no brainer, that when the sun is out we all want to soak it up! Outside of work, school and family there is ample opportunity; seems like the distance/commute and probability are all that stand in the way.

You find the park you want to visit but chances are it’s more than 10 miles away. That’s it; you’re taking the trip! You load up the car; food, friends and fun are all on the agenda. Cruising along the way, you notice the potholes that winter has left. Attempting to reroute and dodge the “roughed up” roads, you are eventually engulfed in traffic as far as the eye can see.

Or, let’s say you found a peaceful pluck of nature befitting of your needs and personal agendas. Chances are so have others. So, as you were taught in kindergarten you must share. Fair enough until somehow it’s ruined; this is no longer a place of rest and it only makes you uncomfortable. Ingeniously these two scenarios have kept you from the happiness that comes with sun shine.

Here’s an easy solution; this summer forget planning, comfort and otherwise sound logic. Go out in the rain, stay out past dark and dress for comfort instead of for fashion. The Wisconsin winter was brutal enough to us this year; step into nature ready to receive rejuvenation. Open yourself the simple beauties of the summer. Go on trips “Spur of the moment”: go alone even. Use the time you will spend outside to reflect, meditate and unwind from the constant every day.

Experience of an externship at GRAEF

By Andre Rosteing

“Last spring break was not your typical college spring break…no it was so much more, and one that played a part in my summer employment – albeit elsewhere. Fellow classmate Frank Zimmerman and myself spent the five days within GRAEF’s PLUG division (Planning, Landscape, Urban Design and GIS) I worked alongside two former professors (Larry Witzling and Stephanie Allewalt) and it was truly great to see their professional side compared with their roles in academia.

Frank and I spent the week learning what exactly the PLUG group did and their team of 8 (within a company of 300) welcomed us openly. We worked alongside a recent graduate of UWM’s joint M.Arch/MUP and it was great to see how quickly he was assimilated into practice, giving us both hope of that light at the end of our tunnel as well. We even got to sit in on a city planning commission meeting in Grafton, WI.

This externship definitely bolstered the little office experience I’ve accumulated alongside a very strong set of academic work. As I mentioned above it played an integral part in obtaining my summer internship at Northwestern Mutual this summer, working underneath their sole inhouse architect. During the interview process the HR recruiter and now my boss commented that they work frequently with GRAEF’s structural team – not the division I was in, but I’m sure it helped. The setting of the professional office environment was the most important step for me in this process – it really helped me see myself belonging there, and now I do.”

Push to be a Technology Company and a Publishing Company

By Kelly Gibson

Executive Using Cell and Computer

Smartphones are now the primary access point for people to the internet.

When I was in high school, my dad plugged a phone line into our computer and, voila, we were connected to the internet. But in 1995, there really wasn’t much out there. Actually, there were 23,500 websites, but I don’t remember much more than clunky search engines and a ton of discussion forums.

In the late 1990s businesses decided they all needed a website. Most were form-based and contained a few pages of contact information and their locations. The sites weren’t pretty – lots of bright colors, many different fonts, pixilated images – all competing for your attention.

In the 2000s, businesses decided their websites needed to stay updated. The downside was most companies made longer websites with more tabs and just added to their many pages of information.

Around this time the first smartphone came out. The first BlackBerry was released in 1999, followed by Android in 2003. Larger companies began to develop a second website, a simpler mobile site that could be viewed on a much smaller screen. Other companies began to follow suit as smart phone and tablet usage continued to rise. This year, in fact, marked an information access shift. Smartphones are now the primary access point for people to the internet.

Social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter began entering the mainstream business climate in the mid to late 2000s. Social media conferences began popping up everywhere to teach marketing, communications and sales professionals the business case for using social media. I was able to attend a few of these seminars. At one such program earlier this year the speaker said, every company must be a technology company and a publishing company. Not only does a firm need to have a strong website, but they need to be writing and posting articles. Expectations are high. Smaller firms and business-to-business firms such as ourselves are judged the same as large company sites as we are all consumers.

So I wondered, how do businesses, especially small businesses without a website or social media department, find the time to post on several social media sites in their already busy day?

Our solution at GRAEF has been to enlist the help of marketing, administration and technical staff as bloggers. Like the old adage, many hands make light work. Though many social media experts teach how important it is to have one company voice, having representative voices from different areas of our firm really does speak to the full service of our firm.

At GRAEF, we are still learning about social media and how to best connect with clients and potential clients. Technology will continue to bring us to new ways to communicate and reach clients and we must adapt to stay relevant.

Ten years ago, I didn’t have internet at my house. I didn’t order anything online. I didn’t have the consumer confidence. Whereas today, I do the majority of my shopping online- clothes, shoes, books, and even food.

Technology changes, people change and business development changes in a cyclical fashion. And while I probably won’t ever be the first one using the latest technology, after a little trial and error, I always enjoy using and evolving with it.