Tag Archives: Business

From Fried Chicken to Frozen Farro

October 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the early 1950s, at the dawn of the frozen meal era, it was fairly easy to predict the type of meals that appeared in those iconic, foil-covered aluminum trays.

“They very much reflected what was put on the kitchen table for an evening meal, a Sunday lunch, or something like that, with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and some kind of a brownie for dessert,” says Kristin Reimers, director of nutrition at Conagra Brands in Omaha. “It was such a new technology that there was a need to keep the food familiar.”

Omaha figured prominently in the development of frozen dinners and entrees, and it still does. Reimers describes Omaha as “command central” for Conagra’s innovation in such products.

“All of the technology [for innovation] resides here in Omaha with the 1,200 employees that remain in Omaha,” she says. “This is where all the research and development occurs.”

That research and development team includes such high-level employees as food science experts, chefs, and processing and packaging engineers.

In 1980, Conagra purchased Banquet Foods Co. (an early marketer of frozen entrees). The company was a competitor to Omaha-based C.A. Swanson & Sons, which developed the TV Brand Frozen Dinner in 1953.

Then, in the late 1980s, Conagra blazed a new path in the frozen meal and entree market when it introduced the Healthy Choice brand at the urging of then-CEO Mike Harper.

Healthy Choice signaled a change in frozen meals toward better nutrition, as well as convenience.

Reimers says that in recent years, Conagra has revisited not just Healthy Choice, but all of its classic brands to make them more appealing to millennials and others who seek restaurant-style meals at home that feature foods different from what they might prepare in their own kitchens. 

“People are looking for the convenience, but they don’t just want the convenience,” she says. “They want the experience.” 

“People are embracing it and loving it,” she says. “They’re looking at these frozen meals as they would a restaurant experience—some way to explore new foods at a very small risk. If you don’t like it, no big deal. You haven’t spent a lot of money or a lot of time. But if you love it, it’s like ‘wow’—you’ve experienced something really exciting—and really nutritious, too.”   

“We can offer foods to people that maybe they haven’t tasted before. We’ve been able to really explore a greater variety of foods,” Reimers says. Foods such as the Adobo Chicken and Korean-Inspired Beef versions of the company’s Power Bowls entrees, which were introduced last year. Items in that product line include whole grains and vegetables that consumers tend not to keep in their pantries.

In July, Conagra Brands introduced Morning Power Bowls, which variously include grains such as farro, quinoa, oats, and buckwheat. They offer an Unwrapped Burrito Scramble, Turkey Sausage and Egg White Scramble, Roasted Red Pepper and Egg White Shakshuska, and Pesto and Egg White Scramble.

And the bowls themselves are made from a plant-based fiber instead of a plastic, providing a nod to today’s more environmentally conscious consumer along with a reduction in energy use for the company.

Regarding nutrition, consumers need not fear they are missing out on key nutrients when they choose frozen meals. Reimers says the nutrition of frozen meals is comparable to that of meals prepared using fresh or raw ingredients.

Freshness is no concern, either. 

“Vegetables that are in the frozen meals are probably fresher than a consumer would be using at home,” Reimers says. 

Why? 

“The foods are harvested and brought to the frozen state, usually within the same day—hard to do, even if you have your own garden,” she says. “The amount of time that that food is exposed to air and to light that will cause the degradation of nutrients is very minimized in the frozen food.” 


Visit conagra.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Kristin Reimers, director of Nutrition at Conagra Brands in Omaha

The Right Stuff

October 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raymond Page can trace his family’s military history to the Civil War and the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. Family members fought in World War I. His namesake grandfather survived a bullet wound after being shot on the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

Such a deep legacy of service may explain why, shortly after entering a university close to his rural northern Pennsylvania home, Page decided he wasn’t cut out for college. 

In 1988, at age 18, Page opted to follow his father and two older brothers into the U.S. Air Force. Another kind of education kicked in immediately at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue. 

“My first career was a radio operator, because I’ve always been into electronics,” says Page, 49. “Eventually I transitioned into meteorology and went to forecasting school. Offutt has the [Air Force Weather Agency] here, so it’s a job-rich environment.”

After ending his Air Force career as a major in 2014 after 26 years in the service, Page contemplated life as a civilian.

As he fielded several opportunities before accepting a position at Mutual of Omaha, Page discovered the reason transitions to the private sector run smoothly here: Omaha businesses need, actively recruit, and above all value veterans. 

Why?

“A better question is, why wouldn’t they want to hire a veteran?” observes Jeffrey Owens, vice president of Security Operations at First Data in Omaha and a Marine Corps veteran who enlisted during the Gulf War. “These young people trained, at a very young age, how to be leader[s], how to make decisions under high stress situations.”

The unemployment rate of post-9/11 veterans keeps trending down.  According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Labor Department, it stands at 3.3 percent nationwide. Still, many companies wonder why the number of employees with military experience isn’t higher, considering all the recruitment programs in place. 

The glitch may lie at the other end of the equation. 

“One of the scariest things for military people transitioning is there’s not a direct correlation of jobs [in the private sector],” says Page, echoing the thoughts of many veterans who may wonder, “Where do my skills fit in?” 

Page put his skills to the test in two war zones, Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Iraqi invasion in 2003, his weather detachment forecasted a monster three-day sandstorm, putting Army leaders in a position to keep their troops safe and hunkered down. 

“Even though I was a weather officer, I had a lot of experience in computer programming,” says Page, who lives in Bellevue with his wife and two children. “Military people, especially Air Force people, are wired to adapt quickly as we move from job to job. We show initiative.”

Owens, who also spent 14 years as a detective with the Atlanta Police Department, can’t speak highly enough of the qualities he observes every day in his employees. ”All the veterans I’ve had the opportunity to manage have exhibited loyalty, hard work, and they have a history and tradition built into them. Why wouldn’t you want those assets?”

Along with a lack of a business network, self-marketing may be a problem with many veterans. Military service focuses on the collective, making it difficult for a veteran to distinguish him-or-herself from the group, which is often an essential part of interviewing.

But that emphasis on the collective means many former service members will appreciate company values, missions, and visions.

First Data, founded in Omaha 47 years ago and now the world’s largest payment processor, reaches out to veterans through its First Data Salutes program. The company offers career opportunities and education resources for military personnel and their spouses; provides point-of-sale and business application technology free of charge to veteran-owned small businesses; and, like many local businesses, grants flex time to members of the National Guard or Reserves.

“What the company says to them is, ‘Hey, your job will be here when you get back.’ That gives them comfort and security while they’re [deployed],” says Owens.

First Data’s efforts on behalf of veterans, who made up 14.4 percent of the company’s Omaha hires last year, have won accolades. Military Times magazine has ranked the company No. 1 on its annual “Best for Vets: Employers” list the past two years, an honor “that cannot be bought, only earned,” according to the magazine’s editor. The rigorous survey, sent to 2,300 companies nationwide, contains 90 questions that companies must fill out and return. 

Page’s computer and leadership abilities caught the interest of Mutual of Omaha when the company hosted meet-up groups of software developers. Since joining the insurance company four years ago, he has thrived as an information systems manager. 

He has also positioned himself as a trusted adviser for Mutual’s military initiative, the Veterans Employee Resource Board. The group, in conjunction with the HR department, provides mentoring and assistance to people coming out of the service. Quarterly meetings focus on developing business knowledge and honing leadership skills. Members join their fellow Mutual employees in volunteering for community projects several times a year.

Page and other VERB members offer a bridge of understanding when it comes to the language of a veteran recruit’s skill set. 

“We also work with managers to help them decipher resumes,” Page points out. “What military people put on a resume is different from a civilian’s resume. I help interpret.”

Page realizes a lack of connections forms the biggest roadblock to people exiting the military. “I tell people to start networking, start visiting companies before they leave the service. Companies love talking to military men and women.”

Here in the Midlands, that’s sound advice.


Visit firstdata.com or mutualofomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Jeffrey Owens

Blockchain

September 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To industries that depend on verification as a core factor of their business, blockchain technology has much to offer, according to Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber. B2B recently caught up with Wassinger to get her take on blockchain and its benefits to companies in Omaha and elsewhere. 

B2B: Please explain what blockchain technology is. 

Wassinger: Blockchain is a new form of the internet. The distinguishing factor between blockchain and the internet as we know it now is the fact that blockchain is not controlled by any central entity or person. It’s completely decentralized and distributed. Think of it like a public ledger that can record transactions of any type. A simple parallel might be that it can be a supply chain for just about anything, including information. When you dig deeply into the industries of Omaha, you think about our density within the supply chain. We’re home to Union Pacific, Werner Enterprises, and some of these big logistics companies. Blockchain fits really nicely into the business models of those types of companies because it allows any organization or person to verify where something is on the supply chain. 

B2B: To make use of blockchain, you have to be appropriately credentialed, digitally, right? 

Wassinger: To an extent. Businesses can operate on blockchain, any person can cooperate on it. If you want to develop on the blockchain, it does require a certain level of skill. There are very few developers. I heard one source say there are as few as 1,300 true blockchain developers in the world. 

B2B: What are those individuals doing? Developing applications for different products? 

Wassinger: Yes. They’re thinking of different use cases just like we would for the internet, where we think of how to create a web platform or an app that solves a problem. Blockchain developers are doing that same thing for blockchain use cases. 

B2B: What are some blockchain use cases?

Wassinger: You see blockchain used in the food industry with the verification of crop growth product formation. For example, if, as a consumer, I want to eat a food, and it matters to me greatly that that is a wholly organic food, I might want to go all the way back to the point at which that was planted in the soil to figure out how the crop was treated, how often was it watered, when was it harvested, where did it go, and what happened to it at the next facility.

B2B: Is supply chain verification the most popular use of blockchain?

Wassinger: Yes, at least here in the Nebraska blockchain market, whether it’s the food supply chain or the information supply chain. 

B2B: What are some local use cases for blockchain?

Wassinger: Let’s dig into the economy of Omaha. We’ve got deep density in financial services— everything from payment processing to banking to insurance. All those bases are completely ripe for blockchain technology, especially when you think about the need for authenticating things. Think about insurance, for example. Wouldn’t it be great if, upon buying a new policy, you could record every transaction very simply? That’s happening now with certain insurance companies. They’re testing that, and some are live right now. You can also look outside financial services and into the food industry. There’s a startup we are working with called BlockEra that’s working on an ingredient-to-table verification process. You can also think supply chain logistics. For example, if I am Union Pacific and I want to watch my train go from here to there, and I want to know what freight was loaded, when it was unloaded, and all of the details of that experience, blockchain becomes very relevant. 

B2B: What about an international use case? 

Wassinger: The United Nations, which works with massive refugee populations, has a really interesting blockchain use case. As a refugee, your anonymity is important to you—the ability to transact in any environment is important. You also fully expect to have a physical wallet on you to carry cash. You’re going to be crossing borders and deal with this, that, or the other. So the United Nations looked at that. We can respect these people’s anonymity through leveraging the block chain by giving refugees tokens that will allow them to transact across any border. As they reach certain points in their journey, we can make sure that they have enough tokens to fuel that piece of their journey. 

B2B: The technology sounds great. How does anybody make money from it? 

Wassinger: A lot of people are still trying to figure all of this out. Because the transactions are happening on blockchain, they require use of cryptocurrency. When you hear “cryptocurrency,” a lot of people are going to initially think of bitcoin. But there are several others that come up, Ether being one. Ether is the cryptocurrency of choice for the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is an open- source blockchain that is hinged around the idea of a smart contract, which is a really transparent way of two entities agreeing on a value for something and then recording that agreement
transaction together. 

B2B: Is there anything you’d like to add? 

Wassinger: I think about Omaha and the talent pools we have here. I keep coming back to this: we’ve got really a strong agribusiness talent pool, we’ve got a really strong talent pool in supply chain and logistics, and we’ve got an incredibly dense and strong talent pool as it relates to financial services, insurance, and payment processing. I think our region needs to embrace blockchain. We need more people in the core industries where blockchain stands to be a major disruptive source to test and dabble and experiment earlier with the technology to look at it and say what levels of verification need to happen in those industries. I would love to see that embraced because I firmly believe that blockchain will be very important to the future of Omaha’s economy.


Visit blockgeeks.com for more information about blockchain.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber

Honoring Veterans

September 18, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Two years ago, my husband and I met a group of friends from Iowa City at Elk Rock State Park near Knoxville, Iowa, for a “meet in the middle” excursion. I made the mistake of booking sites for the six of us at the equestrian campground, which featured well-maintained trails that nearly every other camper, all horse owners, made use of that weekend.

Knoxville happens to be my hometown, so while in the area, we paid a visit to my parents. Upon explaining to them where we camped, my father said, “I think that was some of my guys who originally created those horse trails.”

‘My guys’ refers to veterans. My father was a psychologist for the VA Medical Center in Knoxville for 40 years.

These veterans came together to create trails at a state-run park that could be used by anyone, just as they came together during conflicts to fight for the U.S. They felt a sense of purpose and honor in coming together for the common good. This sense of honor, especially, is a trait that many veterans carry into the working world.

Veterans Day falls on Nov. 11, and as a way of saying, “thank you,” we have created features in this edition of B2B that are dedicated to honoring veterans. We spotlight two former servicemen who became entrepreneurs, we explain some legal considerations with employing National Guard members, and we help employers translate some of the great qualifications a soldier has from “government speak” to the business world.

Also, we at Omaha Magazine are creating a special event that will be perfect for networking. Learn more about the Best of Omaha Soirée (Nov. 8) in our “After Hours” department. I hope to see you there.


This letter was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Daisy Hutzell-Rodman is the managing editor of B2B, a publication of Omaha Magazine LTD. She can be reached at daisy@omahamagazine.com.

Changing Lives After a Life-Changer

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She never imagined that checking a small box on a job application would have such a big impact.

Jasmine L. Harris was trying to turn her life around from a couple of misdemeanors as a young adult. She learned that answering “yes” to the question of criminal charges in her background put up barriers to employment.

“All I heard was, ‘We can’t hire you’ for almost two years,” Harris says. “And that was with misdemeanors. Someone with a felony on their record doesn’t stand a chance.”

With only her family in her corner and a young son for whom she was now responsible, Harris determined she was going to get her life on track and make a better way for others with similar life experiences.

“I had to get a grip on my life because I was going nowhere fast,” says Harris, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, then a Master of Public Health from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “If I didn’t make drastic changes, I was going to be dead or in jail.”

With her newfound lease on life, Harris became a health educator and tobacco prevention coordinator for Creighton University School of Medicine’s Clinical Research Office. She also served as civic engagement committee chair for the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals, where she focused on advocacy and awareness of criminal justice issues.

Her passion became helping those who wanted to move beyond past mistakes and find someone to believe in their future. That passion led Harris to co-found Waymaker LLC, an organization that motivates women and girls to overcome setbacks from being involved in the criminal justice system—the kind of service Harris could have used when she was climbing her way back. 

“We focused on making a way of life—creating second chances—for women and girls who were having similar experiences as mine,” says Harris, who focused much of her work in North Omaha where she grew up. “A lot of times, all someone needs is a second chance.”

Harris was the driving force behind efforts such as Black and Brown Legislative Day, when people of color were hosted at the state capitol to learn about the legislative process and register to vote. She also helped push for legislation that would remove the “Criminal History” section from an application for any job in the state—a bill that didn’t make it off the legislative floor.

Harris then turned her attention to volunteering with a new Nebraska organization called Defy Ventures, a group that works with incarcerated and previously-incarcerated people to help them land jobs or become business entrepreneurs. 

She deployed programs such as “CEO of Your New Life,” which focuses on character development, employment readiness, and entrepreneurship training. Defy helps people in post-release develop a new business pitch in a “Shark Tank”-like competition—with the idea that the new business will eventually hire others who have been in jail.

“The main goal is to help people, upon release, be ready for gainful, meaningful employment,” says Harris, who landed a full-time position as Defy’s post-release program manager. “We teach how to talk about your incarceration in a way that doesn’t turn off employers or cause them to pity you.”

Harris, awarded the Omaha NAACP Freedom Fighter Award in 2017 and named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans by the Omaha Jaycees, knows there might be opportunity to help more people in a bigger city. But the “love-hate relationship” she had with her hometown when she was a teen is now all love. She is motivated by the endless opportunity she sees here.

“I came back here because I see the potential in Omaha,” Harris says. “I see people who sincerely want to help and are making the change. I want to be an integral part of that.”


Visit defyventures.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Omaha is a 52-Weekend Destination

When a Minnesota mom was looking for a December weekend getaway, she looked toward Omaha. Yes, you read that correctly: December and Omaha. Greta,* a blogger living in Minnesota, visited Omaha during the summer a few years ago. When she and her husband were looking for a fun family winter destination that was drivable, affordable, and offered lots of activities for their 18-month-old son, they thought Omaha fit the bill. And they were right—Omaha is a great winter destination for a weekend getaway. (Omaha is south of Minnesota…winter is all about perspective isn’t it?)

The city’s major attractions are all open year-round and offer unique indoor experiences during the winter months. When Greta and her family visited Omaha’s zoo last December, they had more than seven acres of indoor exhibits to explore. There weren’t huge crowds to compete with her toddler for great views of the animals. While she can’t pinpoint a favorite exhibit at the zoo, her son’s favorite spot was the aquarium. She loved the specially designed areas in the aquarium allowing her son to feel like he could almost reach out and touch the fish.  

The family also visited The Durham Museum during their Christmas at Union Station celebration. The magic of the holidays came alive as they explored the historic train cars, discovered how a train depot works, and bellied up to the old-fashioned soda fountain. It was a much different experience than she had during her summer trip.

When we look at research completed by Tourism Economics, an Oxford economics company, visitation to Omaha peaks in the second and third quarters as you would expect. In the fourth quarter, visitation is lower as the kids go back to school and winter sets in. But here is why visiting in the winter can pay off: hotel rates are generally lower and attractions are typically less crowded. 

Visit Omaha has created a new 52-Weekend advertising campaign to drive home the message that Omaha is a year-round destination for families, couples, and friends to get away for a long weekend. The ads are running year-round in Minneapolis; Kansas City; Des Moines, Iowa; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota—cities that are an easy drive away. From January through March, the number of people going to Visit Omaha’s website to plan a trip increased by 25 percent from residents of Minneapolis, 17 percent for those from Kansas City, and 9 percent from residents of Des Moines.

Omaha is not a city that hibernates during the winter months. The more Gretas who know that, the more business will be generated here. So, the next time someone asks you about the best time to visit Omaha, let them know it is any of the 52 weekends out of the year.

*Greta Alms is the blogger behind Pickles Travel Blog. Greta asked to partner with Visit Omaha last December. Her travel adventures, including her post about Omaha, can be found at picklestravel.com.


This column was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Vets in Business

Whenever I think about the veterans I know who have started businesses after leaving the military, I reflect on the leadership qualities they learned and bring with them to the workplace. Honesty, responsibility, respect—yes, these are important values. But the best quality of them all, the one that uplifts and inspires me the most, is their extreme sense of honor. 

Having a sense of honor feels like an ancient thing, a deep and noble thing. When life is full of extreme trials and devastations, honorable people rise above the rest and stay focused on what is excellent. Others might give up or give in, succumb to rationalizations and workarounds, but those with a sense of honor have a strong appreciation of the good and the right, and they intentionally choose to live by their moral principles.

Notice, then, that the key to honor is as much about resolve and willpower as it is about having specific moral principles front of mind. Honor is an action word. Without consistent, calm, clear follow-through, a sense of honor is hollow.

When I visualize an honorable person, I think of an archer, focused on a bullseye, bow pulled taut
with an arrow ready for release. Years of dedication and practice enable the archer to remain cool and composed, shooting the arrow straight and true. Yes, for me, a sense of honor is acquired over time and through experience. 

These days, I think I have a pretty good ability to pick out businesspeople who are, or have been, in the military. I pick up on their sense of honor. When I recently met Richard Messina, owner of Play It Again Sports, his demeanor and description of how and why he runs his business exemplified his sense of honor. He could, so easily, buy used sports equipment for pennies for what they are worth and resell them for much more than they are worth. But his sense of honor directs him. He sees himself and his business as a part of the community and, so, unfair business practices are not acceptable. Rich was in the Air Force for 17 years. His aim is straight and true. 

To Rich and all Omaha vets: I admire your sense of honor and, in this, I want to be just like you.


This column was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

Play Ball!

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mancuso: a name revered in the Omaha area for their family’s event planning business, Mid-America Expositions. 

From hosting grand events in Omaha’s late Civic Auditorium to formulating events like “Taste of Omaha,” the Mancusos’ impact has been felt in the Omaha area for more than 50 years. It is their passion for sports, however, that has held the family together. 

Youngest son Mike says his father, Bob Sr., grew up in Omaha with a heavy interest in sports thanks to Mike’s grandfather, Joe, being in charge of the city parks. Mike also says because his father grew up in a time without television and video games, sports were something he could easily focus on.

Bob Sr. took his passions to Kansas State University on a wrestling scholarship and later qualified to wrestle at the 1956 Olympic trials. However, before the trials started, Joe fell sick and passed away; Bob Sr. needed to move back to the area. Bob Sr. took a job coaching wrestling at Bellevue High School (now Bellevue East). He led the team to their first state championship, and within a few years, the University of Nebraska offered him a job coaching wrestling in Lincoln.

“Bob Devaney was just hired as the head football coach in 1962 and Frank Sevigne was the track coach, so he was just really enjoying the new environment and coaching at the time, as were us kids,” Mike says.   

Since their days in Lincoln, the Mancuso family has owned tickets to every season of Nebraska football.

“When my dad started coaching at Nebraska in the ’60s, he got a couple of seats for every football game,” Mike says. “We’ve kept those seats every year since it’s a tradition of ours to attend every game, through the good and the bad.”

Mike says he best remembers Saturdays at Memorial Stadium with his dad.

One October 1994 game in Lincoln has remained apparent in his mind.  

“It was a huge Big 8 matchup with Colorado, and Brook Berringer got the call at quarterback because Bobby Newcombe wasn’t feeling too good,” Mike says.  “We had the tunnel walk and HuskerVision for the first time, and [then] Colorado came out before we [Nebraska] came out onto the field. And because of that, I can just remember the stadium…going absolutely nuts.” 

For most games, the Mancusos have traveled to Memorial Stadium from Omaha. The family’s residence in Lincoln was cut short, in part due to Mike entreating his father to move home.

“1964 is when our family decided to move back to Omaha, since coaching, at the time, wasn’t paid in a substantial amount like it is today,” Mike says with a laugh. “I inspired our dad to start [Mid-America Expositions] and come to Omaha to start managing events.”

Mike and his older brothers, Bob Jr. and Joe, took their Cornhusker pride and athletic passion to the ball diamonds and courts of Omaha. Bob Sr. was also a prominent figure in the Omaha sports community.

“We grew up around Omaha sports, playing in a variety of different leagues,” Mike says. “Like his dad, my dad also coached a lot, mainly because he loved teaching. He also was very involved in the Greater Omaha Sports Committee, originated by my uncle Charlie, and continued by my dad after Charlie’s death.”

Mike says his dad’s involvement in the Greater Omaha Sports Committee created many surreal experiences as a child, where he and his brothers worked as bat, and ball, boys for Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association exhibition games.

“I remember one time I was a ball boy underneath the hoop and Sam Lacey was the big center and ‘Tiny’  Nate Archibald was the little guard,” Mike says, speaking of two Kansas City Kings players. “During the game, Lacey went after a ball and tumbled into the stands, causing everyone to [launch] their pops, creating a mess. I had to get my towel out and clean it up in front of everybody.”  

At the core of the Greater Omaha Sports Committee, and the city, was the College World Series. Bob Sr. and fellow committee members often held a welcome luncheon for all the participating teams, hoping to provide unforgettable experiences in Omaha.

The Mancusos’ contribution and involvement in college baseball’s grand series carried on throughout the tournament as Mike and his brothers helped to enhance the experience in any way possible. 

“We would run the dugouts, trying to clean them up between each game,” Mike says. “We worked the fields, and if we had time, would run up and clean the press box. Up there we took care of the press by giving them something to eat and plenty of water to drink at the games. We’ll just say I made a lot of Zesto runs.”

A newspaper clipping from Wilmer Mizell’s appearance in Omaha

One time his father even gave up their family’s premier seats to former Saint Louis Cardinals pitcher and U.S. congressman Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell.

“Ben Mizell came in for breakfast one morning before the games to speak in front of some of the players who were involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” Mike says.  “After the speech, my dad generously told him to take our seats, kicking my brothers and I out.  Luckily, there were spots up top in the GA [general admission] section, and at that age we liked to run around anyway.”

Like Bob Sr., his three boys also played college sports. Mike inherited his father’s passion for wrestling, taking his talents to Iowa State University. Bob Jr. also took the Mancuso name to Ames, though for baseball, while Joe played baseball at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Although the brothers now longer watch sports with their dad, who passed away in 2015, in many ways, sports act as a microcosm in demonstrating the core aspects of family, which is why the Mancuso brothers’ passion in athletics ceases to fade.


Visit showofficeonline.com for more information.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

A souvenier given to CWS teams

Making Their Own Way

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The military teaches people to work as a collective. In some ways, it can be called the ultimate team. It also teaches many how to work as individuals.

James E. Walker was one who learned how to work as an individual. Joining the U.S. Army was an easy decision for him.

“I just had no sense of direction,” he says.

It was 1979, and Walker—who had dropped out of high school two years earlier—saw a lot of merit to the idea of getting three hot meals daily, a place to stay, and a monthly paycheck.

“It was a no-brainer to me,” says Walker, now 57 and owner of Custom Diesel Drivers Training, an Omaha truck-driving school that trains about 300 students a year.

He served in the Army just after the Vietnam War, and was a recovery specialist whose job was to retrieve broken equipment from the front lines and bring it in for repair. Among his tools were a 28-wheel tractor/trailer and a 5-ton wrecker.

The work suited him. 

“I was around trucks quite a bit growing up,” says Walker, clarifying the age he started working with trucks was about 9.

While growing up in southwest Iowa, he lived across the street from a man who had a couple of semi-trailer trucks, and young Walker sometimes drove them.

“That wasn’t too legal,” he says. “I couldn’t even touch the pedals. Just turn on the key, shove it into gear, and get rolling.” 

Walker enjoyed his time in the Army, and considering re-enlisting as his hitch was coming to an end in 1982. But he had recently married Bonnie (now his wife of 37 years), and his next posting would have been in Germany. The couple had a baby on the way, and she didn’t want to go overseas. Instead, the couple moved to Colorado.

After James left the military, the transition to civilian employment wasn’t easy. Much of the problem had to do with the difference between military and civilian management styles.

“When you’re in the military, they pretty much give you a mission, and you go and do the mission,” he says. “It just doesn’t work that way in the real world, because too many people are breathing down your neck, watching what you’re doing all day. It’s a real pain.”

Supervisors’ training also differed between military and civilian life. In the Army, he says, those who tell others what to do are already skilled in those tasks. That isn’t always the case in the civilian world, as Walker discovered in some of his post-military jobs in construction and manufacturing.

“You’ve got people who are telling you what to do when they don’t even know how to do it themselves,” he says.

He eventually worked for a plastics injection-molding company—an opportunity that would put his career path on a new road.

“I was able to work my way into driving the truck for them, which really worked out well for me,” Walker says. The job lasted four years, with two years spent driving the truck and the rest managing the company’s warehouse. 

What followed were 22 years of over-the-road semi-trailer truck driving, “hauling swinging beef out to Hunt’s Point, New York—stuff like that,” he says. Walker also drove grain trucks and flatbeds.

He and Bonnie eventually moved to Omaha, near her hometown of Gretna. As their two children headed toward their teen years, Walker began driving trucks locally, which went on for a decade.

He then became an instructor at Custom Diesel Drivers Training, and after a year was offered the opportunity to purchase the then-nearly bankrupt school. 

“They sold it to me for a ridiculous low price,” he says. “I couldn’t turn it down. I had nothing to lose by buying it.”

Since Walker purchased it, the school has grown, going from one truck, one trailer, and one office employee to six trailers, six trucks, and nine office employees. The office, formerly in a 700-square-foot space near Sapp Bros., recently moved to a 10,000-square-foot office at 5020 L St.

Many of the school’s students are veterans. Walker says the trucking industry offers them
an opportunity to—as in the military—work without interference.

“That’s the freedom of driving a truck and being your own boss,” he says.

For veteran Dario Dulovic, 43, being in a wartime environment was nothing new.

Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (formerly Yugoslavia), Dulovic’s first experience with war happened at age 18, when an early 1990s religious conflict between Orthodox Christians and Muslims tore his country apart.

His father owned a pizza restaurant, but that ended when the war broke out.

“We lost everything in about 10 days,” he says. “So we had to run to Montenegro.”

Dulovic’s family—including his father, mother, and sister—lived in that small southeast Europe country for about four years, then emigrated to America.

With help from the U.S. government, they settled in Danville, Kentucky. The family received a month’s rent and three months of food stamps. 

Dulovic’s knowledge of America had come through the movies, most of which were set in large cities such as New York and Chicago. Danville, with a population of about 16,500, was not one of those. 

“It was an experience,” Dulovic says.

As the only family member who could speak English, Dulovic found himself bearing a lot of responsibility. He found a factory job and went to work.

“I was supporting everyone for three or four months,” he says.

Six months later, he joined the Kentucky National Guard as a way of paying for college while remaining near his family.

Training happened on weekends and during the summer.

Then came 9/11. 

“After Sept. 11, everything changed. It was like the regular Army,” he says. Training became constant.

In 2006 and 2007, his unit deployed to Iraq, where it was situated on a former Iraqi airbase.

Though Dulovic had been trained as a vehicle mechanic, in Iraq he was a base security guard.

It wasn’t a cushy desk job. He had to help defend the base, which came under sniper fire. Improvised Explosive Devices, also known as IEDs, were a hazard on area roads.

“That was my second war,” Dulovic says.

As for transitioning back to civilian life, it wasn’t a problem.

“I can adapt anywhere,” he says. “It’s like that survival instinct.” 

Though he didn’t have a problem with getting back to civilian life, he acknowledged that others do. He also says it’s important to think “out of the box” and stay positive.

“Use your energy to work on things you can change,” he says, “And never give up.” 

After coming back to the U.S., he enrolled at Eastern Kentucky University to study computer information systems. 

His involvement with computing had begun decades before, when he got his first computer—a Commodore 64—in 1987 at age 11.

Eventually he got a job working for the Department of Defense. In 2011, he moved to Bellevue for a job at Offutt as a software developer for the Air Force Weather Agency.

Three years later, he started a side business fixing residential computers.

“It was just more for fun, really,” he says.

He didn’t expect it to grow, but grow it did. 

A year ago, he quit his software development job to concentrate on the business, called DME Computer Services, which provides information technology support for small- and medium-size companies in metro Omaha. DME is based in the home Dulovic shares with his wife of three years, Mirela, and their children, Emma and Oliver.

Dulovic is planning to spend another year as a one-person operation, then will consider adding staff. 

“I don’t want to rush anything,” he says.


Visit cddt.us and dmeomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

This online version has been changed from the print edition to reflect updated information.

Dario Dulovic

Employment and the National Guard

September 17, 2018 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Rare is the job today with simple, fixed 9-to-5 hours and weekends off. Many jobs require a laptop, and it is usually a given that the machine will be joining its owner on off-hours and weekends. It is part of modern work life.  

However, for the approximate 4,500 members of the Nebraska National Guard, this reality comes with its own dilemma: How can you be two places at once when your National Guard duty calls?

The answer is simple: you cannot. One weekend a month and two weeks a year, service members are required to attend training (or “drill”) at the National Guard. Most employers are familiar with the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” obligation. But that obligation is due to increase. In February, the military announced their Army Guard 4.0 initiative, which focuses on readiness for fast deployment. The new model calls for an increase in the number of days spent in training, up to 60 days per year, starting with armored and Stryker brigade combat teams. This change in training philosophy will eventually affect many, if not all, units.

Additionally, National Guard members have their own responsibilities to their employers. They must give their employer written or verbal notification before their deployment. The time requirements for this can vary, as deployments are sometimes sudden. When a member returns from deployment, they must alert their employer of their intention to return to their job. If a deployment is between 31 to 180 days, National Guard members are given 14 days to reapply for their job after they return home. If their deployment is greater than 180 days, they are given 90 days to reapply for their job. 

And those who serve in the National Guard need outside jobs. The official National Guard website calculates that the highest ranking officer, with 20 years of service, can make $15,736.84 annually. The lowest ranking enlistee, with one year of service, can make $3,385.82 annually.

By law, employers have to accommodate their employees who serve in the National Guard. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which was signed into law in 1994, states that employers must allow National Guard members to serve their duty, and must not force them to resign from the National Guard. They cannot ask a Guard member to use their vacation time for a training session. Additionally, public employers must pay military differential pay. Private employers are not required to pay this. If a member is deployed, the employer must retain that person’s job when they return from their deployment. If they cannot give their job back to an employee, they must find a job that is similar to the one he or she left when they were called to duty. 

Many employers are familiar with the USERRA law, and comply. However, there are some exceptions. The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) reported that four cases in Nebraska were filed by Nebraska National Guard service members in the 2018 fiscal year. The four cases involved concerns over “military obligation discrimination.” 

These days, many companies produce long-range team projects as opposed to daily production work. The idea that someone might leave at a moment’s notice may make a team lead hesitate to put someone serving in the National Guard in charge of a project. But rest assured, help is available if this situation arises. A good source for employees in this instance is a staffing agency.

“What normally happens is we get a call for a project manager or something,” says Jim Taylor, franchise owner of Snelling Staffing in Omaha. “We’ll know if it’s a short term or not. It very well could be the reason why there’s an opening is that the person is overseas, but we don’t specifically ask why.”

Taylor’s employees at the staffing agency receive the request, find prospective employees from among their clients, and fill the request. 

William Harris is a lawyer at Berry Law Firm. He also acts as defense counsel for National Guard members. Harris has been in the military for almost 20 years, serving four years of active duty in the Air Force, and 15 years as a National Guard member. Even with a lofty legal title, Harris isn’t immune to the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” requirement. Harris says his biggest challenge is juggling the demands of both jobs. 

“Even though we’re part-time soldiers, there’s certain rules and regulations you still have to abide by,” Harris says. 

In addition to his civilian lawyer title, Harris is also a Justice Advocate General (JAG) officer. National Guard members can consult their local JAG officers on legal issues, free of charge. In his 15 years with the National Guard, Harris says he’s only had to handle about three employment-related complaints. None of the complaints involved the loss of a job or denied promotion. Instead, the issues were mainly questions employers had about USERRA law. Harris says most of the protections within USERRA are known to employers. 

“It’s pretty user-friendly if you read it,” Harris says. 

This means the temporary employee hired to help for six months will most likely be moving on afterwards. That doesn’t necessarily mean a temporary employee will not be a great employee.

“I’ve owned this franchise for seven or eight years, and I was under the impression that a small percentage of people would want to do temporary assignments,” Taylor says. “That’s not true. There’s a whole range of people wanting to do temp work, for a variety of reasons: It’s good exposure. Some people get bored early, so they want a different adventure every six months. We have some clients that have been in the temp world for 10 years.”

There are instances when a temp employee may be a better worker than the full-time employee, but the employer cannot simply pass over the National Guard member once they return.

However, while USERRA protects National Guard members by ensuring their civilian job will be available to them when they return, it doesn’t entirely guarantee their job. If a company undergoes a restructuring where certain positions are eliminated, or a job is lost to automation, companies are still in their legal right to eliminate positions that may have National Guard members as employees. 

“If that type of job goes away, they can’t be forced to put them in a job that no longer exists,” Harris says.


Visit ne.ng.mil for more information on the Nebraska National Guard.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.