It’s mid-February in central Wisconsin, and Dennis Borchardt, owner of Interstate Heating and Air Conditioning, is having an out-of-body experience.
While most of his days are spent inside the offices of his Sussex, Wisconsin-based HVACR contracting company, today he finds himself inside Hartford Union High School — the same school he graduated from back in 1983.
“HVAC is much more than bending sheet metal in a shop,” said the 53-year-old contractor, scanning each student’s face in hopes of connecting with those who appear the most interested. “You’re not just a mechanic with dirty hands. HVAC is the Internet of Things (IoT); it’s installing furnaces and air conditioners, marketing the equipment, manufacturing the equipment, helping people, and so much more.”
While the students are attentive at times, they seem to drift in and out of the discussion, like most teenagers do.
Borchardt reminisces of a time, 35 years ago, when he found himself behind the desk as a senior at Hartford Union.
“Honestly, I had no idea what I was going to do after high school,” he said. “I had an interest in cars and motorcycles because I enjoyed riding dirt bikes, but I didn’t want to be dirty all the time,” he said.
After earning his diploma, Borchardt turned to Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) with his sights set on becoming an electrician.
“The only reason I chose that trade is because I had family who had done it for years,” he said. “I knew they made decent money and enjoyed what they did.”
Unfortunately, WCTC’s electrician courses were full, signaling the end of Borchardt’s electrician career before it ever started. However, the school did have openings in its HVAC program. Despite not fully knowing what the acronym stood for, Borchardt signed up on the spot.
Two years later, he earned an associate’s degree and gained employment at Interstate Heating and Air Conditioning in Sussex, Wisconsin. Working as a tech during the day, he filled his nights with engineering classes at Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Borchardt and HVAC went together like peas and carrots.
“Once I got into the trade, I instantly fell in love with it,” he said. “I loved the people, the work, and that fact that I was making a difference in people’s lives. I saw huge money-making opportunities in this industry. Money was growing ripe on the trees, and I was on a mission to pick it.”
After working for Interstate for 10 years, Borchardt, along with Tom Terry and Dave Dlobic, took out a loan and bought the company for $2.5 million.
“After 10 years, I felt I could take the company to the next level, so, along with Tom and Dave, I became the owner,” he said. “We had 12 employees when we bought the business, and now Interstate employs 52 individuals.”
The word “million” instantly gained every student’s attention. Several turned to their neighbors with peaked eyebrows and mouthed the word, “Wow.” They had no idea an HVAC company carried that kind of value.
“I now rent a house in South America to go scuba diving every year, and I bought a house in Canada on Eagle Lake in Ontario, so I can fish for muskie,” he said. “HVAC has been very good to me.”
DO YOUR PART
Borchardt’s visit to Hartford Union left a lasting impact.
Jason Kraus, technology and engineering education teacher, Hartford, said several kids were asking about Interstate’s ride-along, summer employment, and full-time tuition-reimbursement opportunities days after Borchardt’s presentation. The school is already planning a return visit.
As a contractor, have you considered sharing your story with your alma mater? The idea that you were once in the same shoes resonates with kids. Additionally, by introducing your company name, you create a pipeline for those who may one day seek HVAC-related jobs.
We’re all well aware of the skilled trades’ worker shortage. Contractors who are willing to go above and beyond with their recruiting will be the ones boasting the most qualified, capable employees in the future.