Pasco business fosters reputation for innovation

PASCO — Richard Bogert dreams big, hence the 6-inch-tall "DREAM" sign above his desk.

"I like to say it took me 25 years to be an overnight success," said Bogert, whose Pasco company, Bogert Group, is growing beyond even his expectations.

Bogert and his sister Cathy Bogert run what, from the outside, looks like a humble machine shop in the Tri-Cities Airport business park next to the rail yards on the north end of Pasco.

No fancy facade, no manicured landscaping out front, no security badge required for entry.

There wasn't even heating and air conditioning in the shop until three years ago.

Yet inside, the Bogerts have built a national reputation for their hydraulic jacks, specifically for the U.S. military and General Services Administration.

The company also designs and builds items for airplanes and marine use, and even a heavy-duty bed frame.

The Army contract was for 108,000 jacks, and the Bogert Group recently won another contract for an even bigger jack with a remote pump that will pump another $1.5 million into the Tri-Cities economy.

Richard Bogert modestly notes his homegrown business has earned a reputation with the military by providing rapid prototypes, on-time deliveries and solid customer service.

And he credits all of it to the way his employees pull it all together.

The shop is nothing less than an innovation kitchen where new ideas are cooked up daily.

"Everything starts with a dream. You can't build it if you can't imagine it," he said.

Richard Bogert may be the boss, but he readily admits the employees are key to the still emerging success story.

The average age at the shop is well under 30, and many employees are in their first or second jobs, having been hired right out of the classrooms of Columbia Basin College in Pasco.

"Being aware and awake to possibilities, people here can look around and see opportunities," Richard Bogert said.

"A bunch of them came to us as students by day while working part time after classes. It worked out really good for them, and they got the training," he said.

"There are some really bright kids here, some real thinkers, and everybody understands innovation," said Cathy Bogert, who does the financial side of the business.

Warren Hughs, 25, oversees product development at the facility on Swallow Avenue. He scrunches his long, lanky frame up against a desk in a corner and hovers over a small keyboard, focused on solving problems.

The handwritten sign on the door to his office, which he shares with marketing clerk Julie Murphy, advises all who enter to consider the culture of the workplace.

"Warning. 'Can't' is not accepted beyond this point."

Hughs said the goal is to find solutions, not admit defeat.

"I was the second guy hired on in this building," said Hughs, who is responsible for product testing, some product development and is supervisor of fabrication, welding and machining.

After five years on the job, Hughs said he has no plans to do anything else.

"We're doing something different all the time. I don't have engineers breathing down my neck saying it has to be perfect. And we're allowed to go off the reservation a bit to see how to make things better," he said.

Hughs, the son of a patent attorney, had been taking classes in welding and machining at CBC when he saw a help wanted ad in the newspaper.

He called Bogert Group, and one interview later, the job was his.

Murphy, also recruited from CBC, where she had a job, said the company's culture really makes the job.

"You're given a lot of freedom to participate in the creative process," she said.

After three years doing computer-assisted drafting work at Bogert, Andrew Willis didn't hesitate. "I love this job," said the 26-year-old Kennewick man and CBC graduate in machine technology. "It's family."

For Nick Schmeck, it really is family. As Bogert's stepson, Schmeck, 24, literally grew up in the family business.

"I was home-schooled, and part of it was working with him," Schmeck said. "Back then it was him and Cathy. The company was in our garage. He'd work all day, have dinner, and then go back to the garage to paint the parts he built during the day," Schmeck said.

Richard Bogert, who describes himself as a farm boy from Sunnyside "who didn't take to farming," either has a knack for hiring creative, imaginative people, or he cultivates it in them early on.

"We innovate here every day. Not every idea is a 'Holy Cow' idea, but we're constantly trying to make things better, either by saving work time or having a more efficient idea for layout of the work area," he said.

Saving time and steps is second-nature to Richard Bogert, who spent more than two decades running his two-person family business out of a two-car garage.

Growing up on a farm taught Richard Bogert what every farmer eventually learns: how to make it work, or make it better. It's the bailing wire school of engineering, and it led him to the west side to Clover Park Vocational Technical Institute.

Being a young pilot and graduate of an airframe and powerplant school was followed by several aircraft mechanic jobs in Yakima and Richland.

Building and fixing airplanes gave Richard Bogert the idea that maybe he could build and sell aircraft parts that were better than original equipment.

What followed was an extended period of self-imposed self-employment, or as Richard Bogert prefers to put it: "I haven't had a real job since 1983."

A film crew spent several days documenting Bogert Group's journey for a presentation for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership's annual convention in Orlando, Fla., last month.

The business got a heavy leg-up to success in 2005 when he connected with the Washington Manufacturing Service, now called Impact Washington, which is paid for by the Washington, D.C.-based Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Patrick Sazama of Impact Washington coached Richard Bogert and gave him assignments to help take what had been a business stuffed into a two-car garage to a manufacturing enterprise with excellent growth potential.

"Richard values his employees highly. He knows that with us his dreams can come true," Murphy said.

The sign above her desk said: "Dream, care, imagine."

"We've got a lot of great folks here. Instead of being a one-man band, I get to be the conductor and let people make their own music," Richard Bogert said.