Tech Tilling: From family farm employee to business owner

By Dale Drees
For MAA

It’s always amazing to see how the world of agriculture opens so many paths to prosperity in related fields. For Ryan Kortz, he took his hands-on experiences growing up on a family dairy farm in Kaukauna, Wis., to making a career out of shaking hands and growing relationships.

In high school, Kortz juggled early morning and evening chores with homework and other activities while discovering a passion for fixing equipment so vital to his family’s livelihood. He was kind of the go-to farmhand when it came to engines and maintenance, thanks to his father’s mentorship. Learning the value of such skills and possessing an affinity for hands-on work, Kortz’ interest in outdoor power grew by the time he finished high school in 2008.

Kortz’ eye for detail also came with a sense of readiness to learn more about the industry. He enrolled in Fox Valley Technical College’s (FVTC) Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) program in 2009 and then shortly thereafter accepted a position with a De Pere-based landscaping company. Kortz soon found himself balancing time and work like he did as a youngster on the farm with full-time college and employment.    

In class, I could tell right away that Kortz was going places. He seemed to quickly apply both class and lab applications to his job. He revealed a knack for blending people skills with technical aptitude.

“Fox Valley Tech gave me the independence and skills to know how engines work and how they don’t work, in addition to providing a diverse learning environment that builds leaders,” said Kortz, who graduated from FVTC’s OPE program in 2010.

Those leadership skills fueled his desire to own and operate an outdoor power shop. What’s particularly impressive about his aspiration is that he approached it with diligence and strategy. Kortz started a new job repairing small engines for a Fox Valley landscaping firm. During that time, he attended a Freedom High School graduation party in 2013. At that gathering, Kortz connected with Greg Vosters, who happened to know him from their shared business interactions. The two began discussing a small business together. Vosters presented him with a life-changing question, “Did you ever consider going into business for yourself?”

“With his experience and connections and my love for repair, we thought this would be a great dynamic to best serve the needs of area gardeners and landscapers,” Kortz said.

The two began conceptualizing a business plan while Kortz started working at a construction company, where he once again expanded his knowledge base working on more specialized industry-specific equipment.

Eventually, the two of them opened Evergreen Power in December 2016. The impressive 14,000-square-foot-facility in Kaukauna greets visitors with a world-class showroom, parts area, storage space and top-notch service of basically any equipment built for gardens, lawns and landscapes.

Yes, we build not only technicians at FVTC, but also leaders and small business owners at the age of 27 like Kortz. You can read more about his company at www.evergreenpwr.com.

Dale Drees is an outdoor power technology instructor at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wis.