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BAPI ready to celebrate 30 years in business
Building sensors for HVAC industry
BAPI to celebrate 30 years
THE BAPI manufacturing facility in Gays Mills will be the site of the company's 30th Anniversary party. The observance will take place on Saturday, August 19, from 2-6 p.m. Everyone is invited to join the celebration, with free food, live music, face painting, a bouncy house, and family fun for all ages. Tours of the state-of-the-art clean manufacturing facility.

GAYS MILLS - A lot has happened in the last 30 years for Ritch and Vickie Stevenson and their company BAPI.

The Stevensons started Building Automation Products Incorporated in Cross Plains in 1993. The company focused on producing sensors for the HVAC industry. Although the product line has expanded over the years, BAPI still focuses on manufacturing those sensors.

And to hear the folks at BAPI tell it, they produce the best sensors in the industry. The company’s growth over the past 30 years is probably good proof of their confidence.

BAPI currently employs about 140 people in an expanded 52,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

And now, it’s time for a party to mark the 30-year anniversary of this remarkably successful local business, and everyone is invited.

Vickie Stevenson urged any and all local residents to come to BAPI on Saturday, August 19 from 2 to 6 p.m. for the party. BAPI is located off Highway 131 just north of Ocooch Mountain Rescue and the Dollar General. BAPI’s address is 750 N. Royal Avenue in the Applewood Business Park.

The party is definitely open to the community, and will feature free food, beverages, live music, a bouncy house and family fun for all ages.

Annie & the Crush will provide the live music and there will be a large tent on the grounds. Another key feature of the party will be guided tours of the manufacturing facility.

“I’d invite everybody to take the tour and see all aspects of clean manufacturing in our air conditioned facility,” Vickie Stevenson said.

This is the moment to see what BAPI does and how they do it. It’s definitely time to take a tour. And, enjoy the party with live music on the grounds.

So how did this moment come to be? We sat down with the Stevensons, and a few of their employees, and talked about BAPI’s past, present and future.

Ritchie Stevenson grew up in Utica Township on Stevenson Road. He attended North Crawford High School, where he played sports and joined the band.

Vickie Stevenson is a Seneca girl, who played volleyball at Seneca High School and went on to play some volleyball in college.

After graduating from North Crawford, Ritch attended Southwest Tech, where he studied electro-mechanical technology. Then, he moved to Madison and worked for a company that manufactured sensors.

“It’s where he grew his legs,” Vickie said of Ritch’s work in Madison.

When the time came, the Stevensons started a business called BAPI in Cross Plains, Wisconsin. It was October 19, 1993. There were three employees, actually four, including Vickie who tackled a mountain of office work for the startup business. Joining Ritchie Stevenson in the venture were Cort Stephenson and Nick Volk.

The products being manufactured were temperature and humidity sensors for the HVAC industry.

With hard work, the company grew and then grew some more. Eventually BAPI had 40 to 50 employees. Over the years, BAPI used three different locations in Cross Plains to accommodate their growing workforce.

However the big move came in December of 2001, when BAPI moved into the recently completed manufacturing plant in the Applewood Business Park in Gays Mills, Wisconsin. The Stevensons had come home.

At that point, BAPI had about 40 to 50 employees and was operating in two locations. The company continued some operations in Cross Plains for another four or five years after opening the facility in Gays Mills.

By 2016, BAPI was ready to expand its facility in the Applewood Business Park from 26,000 square feet to 52,000 square feet.

Along the way, there have been some other changes for the local manufacturer. The product line changed a bit, and offered improved sensors and then wireless sensors. Also, the company increased their line of products, offering sensors for air pressure and air quality.

BAPI air quality sensors can now detect and measure the presence of CO2, CO, NO2 and VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds), according Tyler Patzner, a key account specialist. Patzner, a North Crawford graduate, has been employed at BAPI for eight years.

Patzner noted a new air quality sensor for airborne particulate matter has been developed and it can be used in sensing the environment for COVID. While it doesn’t detect the COVID virus itself, it can detect particulate matter on which the virus circulates, Patzner explained.

ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) is currently standardizing MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) levels for air particulate matter.

Patzner explained BAPI sensors are key components of much larger systems created by companies like, Johnson Controls, Carrier, Delta Controls, Trane and others.

BAPI has almost 4,000 customers, when all the partners of the larger companies are included.

Like most everyone else at BAPI, Patzner believes the key to success of the company is the quality of products and the quality of the workforce that creates them.

Another thing spurring growth at BAPI is the expanding role of the international market. Patzner believes it may have doubled or tripled in the last three to four years.

“Who would have thought 30 years ago, we’d be where we are today?’ Vickie Stevenson said.

The BAPI Vice President was quick to point out the importance of the international market to companies like hers.

“Most business is done outside the U.S.,” she explained. “So it’s only a natural progression. There’s a potential for exponential growth.”

BAPI is always looking to hire some employees, Vickie noted. The company recently filled two important positions–hiring an engineer and a product manager. She also believes the company’s path toward automation in manufacturing is progressing well, and will help to increase production.

Ritchie Stevenson pointed out that BAPI now has representation around the world.

“I think we’re well positioned in the international market,” Ritchie said.

BAPI’s President noted the company’s international effort started with hiring a representative in the UK a few years ago. Now, there are three employees in the UK office. There’s also another sales rep in Germany and sales reps have been added for Australia/New Zealand and Dubai.

Ritchie believes BAPI has a mature product line that can cover the vertical chain of demand.

“We’re doing well in all markets,” Ritchie Stevenson said. “We’re well poised for growth globally and domestically.”

Of BAPI's sensor products, Ritchie fondly notes their local roots.

“It’s designed, engineered and manufactured in little old Gays Mills,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie noted that the loyalty and dedication of the work force is what powers BAPI’s productivity. He also noted this aspect is not lost on international customers, who seem to care a lot about the character of the people with whom they’re doing business.

With more international business comes challenges, and a lot of that lands on the desk of Melissa Fradette, BAPI’s controller and another North Crawford graduate. Fradette has worked for the company for the past 11 years, and loves the fact she moved with her family back to her hometown.

“I discovered opportunity here,” Fradette said. “It’s been interesting to watch the company extend its international reach.”

The controller noted international sales have already doubled in size.

That success has come through lots of hours of traveling to promote the quality of the product we sell, Fradette pointed out.

“However, there are some challenges accounting wise,” Fradette noted.

“The international expectations of customers in invoicing is different,” she said.

Fradette also pointed out that learning each government’s regulations is another hurdle.

“It's far more than accounting,” the controller said. “There’s more variations between the countries.

“I’ve spent 11 years getting a new system operating that can readily handle this expansion into the international market,” Fradette said.

BAPI does seem ready for increased international sales on many levels.

Jonathan Hillebrand has spent 27 years with BAPI. He joined the company in Cross Plains at the suggestion of his grandfather, when BAPI rented space in a building owned by his aunt and uncle. His perspective on working for the company is unique to say the least.

Hillebrand has most recently served as the senior product manager for BAPI. However, he is quick to point out that he began with the company as a production employee with no knowledge of the HVAC industry.

The long-serving BAPI employee also worked in sales for 20 years.

Right now, he’s doing some field-testing of products for BAPI, which includes testing ‘pilot builds.’

“I take them home and try and kill them,” Hillebrand said.

Hillebrand is currently testing, among other things, a wireless temperature sensor that is floating in his pool in Lone Rock getting water temperatures.

Like most BAPI employees and the company owners, Hillebrand is fiercely proud of the sensors the company sells.

“We manufacture devices that perform better than those that cost 10 times as much as ours,” Hillebrand said.

Jonathan Hillebrand, who grew up in the food service industry, believes the next big markets for BAPI sensors may involve the food, ag and pharmacy industries.

Well, whatever the future holds for BAPI, it’s abundantly clear the last 30 years have seen dramatic growth for a hometown business. So, mark your calendars for Saturday, August 19 and plan on celebrating BAPI’s 30-year anniversary at their modern manufacturing facility in Gays Mills, Wisconsin, and definitely take the tour. See you there. @font-face {font-family:Arial; panose-1:2 11 6 4 2 2 2 2 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536859905 -1073711037 9 0 511 0;}@font-face {font-family:Times; panose-1:2 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;}@font-face {font-family:"Cambria Math"; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1107305727 0 0 415 0;}@font-face {font-family:"MS Mincho"; mso-font-alt:"MS 明朝"; mso-font-charset:128; mso-generic-font-family:modern; mso-font-pitch:fixed; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 134217746 0 131231 0;}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho";}.MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-size:10.0pt; mso-ansi-font-size:10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho";}div.WordSection1 {page:WordSection1;}