By: Meghan Holland
Both with full-time jobs, two kids and two dogs, Cory and Nikki Johnsen, co-owners of BLITZ Energy, are always busy. They said they consumed energy drinks regularly, and Cory would drink two or three in a day.
“We saw a problem,” Cory said, “The goal is that if you see a problem, how can you solve it?”
Cory said the problem they saw was that most energy drinks are not nutritious, have added dyes, are full of sugar and caffeine and are overall not healthy products.
Constantly on the go with work and their kids, Cory and Nikki decided to ditch the energy drinks they consumed regularly and create their own starting in May of 2020.
“We wanted a clean, healthy, longer-lasting energy drink, and that’s what BLITZ is,” Cory said.
With neither of them being trained as nutritionists or dietitians, they said they relied heavily on the people they hired to help create the formula.
“It was a lot of going back and forth of figuring out what we actually wanted in the product,” Nikki said. Testing the flavors and figuring out what they liked was a tedious process she said.
“The production (time) for the actual product to come is up to 12 weeks,” Nikki said.
Cory said they wanted a few specific ingredients to be in the drink. This includes 200 milligrams of caffeine and rhodiola, which is an herb that can improve exercise performance and prolong energy levels. He said they also wanted to incorporate all nine essential amino acids and vitamins B3, B6 and B12.
He said he wanted the drink to be low in calories and not have added sugar or dyes.
“Obviously in a perfect world, if you can get your energy from natural whole foods, that’s going to be a better option for you,” Cory said, “But not everyone has the time for that, so we wanted to put something out that’s just the healthy version of an energy drink, and that’s what BLITZ is.”
It was important to them that consumers did not feel a crash after drinking BLITZ.
Nikki said they have received a lot of feedback from people who have tried their product.
“They feel great after they take it, (and) they don't get the jitters,” Nikki said. “Some energy drinks will give you an itchy feeling, and ours does not do that.”
She said hearing about people who like their product encourages them to do more and do better for the company.
As of April 2021, BLITZ Energy offers one flavor of their energy drink mix-- Tropical Punch. Cory and Nikki said they have ordered the next flavor and are expecting it to arrive in the next few weeks.
They will announce the new flavor once everything is finalized.
Nikki runs the BLITZ Energy website and social media accounts, which include Instagram and Facebook. She said she tries to reply quickly to messages, especially because younger generations “like to have almost immediate responses back to them.”
This is very time-consuming, and Cory and Nikki work on their business when they are not working on things for their full-time careers.
Nikki said one of the biggest challenges of running this small business is “time management and making sure nothing falls through the cracks.”
Cory and Nikki said they have explored the idea of adding more products to BLITZ Energy, but for now, they want to focus on the quality of their product.
“I think that if we want to flourish and do really well, we have to figure out how to be really good at one product,” Nikki said, “And then get the trust of all of our customers, build our brand and then from there we might produce something else.”
Nikki said she wants customers to know they are supporting a family and small business by buying a product that they really enjoy.
BLITZ Energy also supports other local businesses by collaborating with them to sell BLITZ products at various fitness and yoga studio locations.
“The networking has been awesome,” Cory said. “There are people who love it, and they want to tell their friends about it. They're telling them just because they love it, not because they're getting paid or they're getting any benefit from it, other than the benefits that an energy drink will give you.”
By: Meghan Holland
The Street Department manages the highways and streets for all of Sioux Falls, which covers 80 square miles. As a way to track and compile data related to that management, the city created dashboards that are easy to view and can help with decision-making processes.
The city defines public innovation as the process of generating and implementing ideas that create value for the community. The innovation of using these dashboards results in greater efficiency and productivity through asset management.
The city maintains two dashboards, one for warmer temperatures (summer) and one for colder temperatures (winter), to track data related to construction, street preparations, safety precautions and even a crew’s location and work status.
The summer dashboard covers street maintenance such as pothole patching, asphalt overlay and any type of surface maintenance. The winter dashboard covers things related to snow and ice control, such as salt usage and the amount of snowfall the city receives.
Kristin Lobien, Street Logistics Specialist, said that each dashboard has tabs within them tracking more specific data.
With the new asset management software, she said data tracking is much simpler. “Before, I would have to go into a table and put that data in,” Lobien said. “Now, we have it tied on the backside, so when the employees put how many tons (of asphalt) they put out on a roller, it automatically updates our dashboards.”
Lobien said the data is being recorded 24 hours a day with information coming in from crews working around the clock.
An example of how the dashboard works is the pothole operation, which is its own tab within the summer dashboard.
“We can see how many potholes are generated each day from our requests to how many potholes are closed per day by the crews,” Dustin Hansen, Street Operation Manager, said. “We can even go back and look at where each pothole request is located within the city, and we can go back multiple years.”
Hansen said he is heavily involved in day-to-day operations, and when he thought of this idea, it was Lobien and Austin Brynjulson, Civic Analytics Specialist, who really brought it into fruition over the last two years.
Brynjulson said the dashboard itself is accessed via a URL, so it is stored in the Civic Analytics Department, formerly known as the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Division, and when someone needs access to it, they must have an account to receive the URL.
He said the process of collecting data through different sources, such as pulling weather from the National Weather Service, updates from crews, requests from citizens, etc. has been innovative for the city.
Hansen said the dashboards are primarily for internal use by all employees of the Street Department as well as some city employees outside of the department.
“It’s a good tool for not only management, but for others to really dive into the data and see where our problem areas are at (and where we need) to focus our resources,” Hansen said.
He said the city prides itself on being efficient and providing good customer service, so this is another tool they can use for that.
“It’s always going to be evolving,” Hansen said. “It’s always going to keep growing.”
By: Meghan Holland
With the world shutting down due to COVID-19 restrictions, Siouxland Libraries started opening up to new possibilities.
In March of 2020, Siouxland Libraries shut down for the pandemic, and as they realized that it would be more than just a two-week shutdown, they started brainstorming ideas on how to connect with people and continue providing services.
“We had never done virtual programming,” Jodi Fick, Director of Siouxland Libraries said, but despite having no prior experience, they decided to try it out.
The programs they provide are for all age groups and cover various interests. One of the more prominent programs they present virtually is reading books for storytime.
The city defines public innovation as the process of generating and implementing ideas that create value for the community. The innovation of implementing virtual programs allows for continued customer experience from the isolation of one’s home.
Siouxland Libraries communicated about their virtual programs through their online newsletter that is emailed out, as well as through their social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Fick said they went through a period of adjustment when learning about the technology and trying to reach more people.
She said they even had to experiment with the best setup for Facebook lives and Youtube videos.
“It was quite an amateur operation,” Fick said.
Around the same time Siouxland Libraries started these virtual programs, most of the staff also started working from home.
Fick said the staff had to figure out how to present virtual programs from their own homes by adjusting lighting, experimenting with camera angles and testing out how to present a book to their virtual audience.
“I am incredibly proud of the Siouxland Libraries staff,” Fick said. She said they showed dedication, creativity and commitment.
Siouxland Libraries is now open to the public again, but the staff continue to produce virtual programs. Fick said this will continue on in the future, even after the pandemic, to allow more opportunities for people to get involved with programs if they cannot attend a certain event live or if someone from out of state wants to tune in.
Now that they offer more in-person events, Fick said they have decreased the number of virtual programs and increased the quality of those virtual programs.
“We truly are servants, and in the midst of something that none of us could have imagined living through, (the Siouxland Libraries staff) were able to still make human connection,” Fick said. “Virtual programming allowed us to do that.”
By: Meghan Holland
City employees have purchasing cards (p-cards), which allow them to have more responsibility in business purchases. They must then report any expenses to the Finance Department.
The Finance Department handles purchasing, budgeting, operations, investments, cash management and all of the accounting and financial reports for the city.
Dawn Taborda, Business Application Specialist for the department, said before the updated purchasing process, when a city employee needed to make a purchase, it was recorded manually.
After they purchased an item, they would have to keep the receipt to put in a p-card packet with information on what they purchased, where they purchased it and the amount they spent.
They would then send it to the Finance Department for an audit review, and the information would be entered into the system, Taborda said.
“It was a very paper-intensive process,” Janelle Zerr, Finance Manager, said.
She said there were over 30,000 transactions in a year, and with the amount of paper being used and the time it took to complete the reporting process, it prompted a change in 2019 that was more user friendly and streamlined.
“Anything over $1,000 is run by the Purchasing Department right now,” Zerr said, “And so the purchasing cards in general were meant for those smaller purchases, so their departments had a little bit more flexibility and convenience in purchasing smaller items that they would need to do their daily business.”
Jon Economo, Business Application Specialist in Finance, said they tried to take a more human-centered design approach to making changes by going out and speaking with the employees that use the p-card system the most and asking them what would make the process better.
“A resounding response to that was less paper,” Economo said. “A lot of these guys are working out of their trucks, and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of that stuff. If they had a system where they could just take a picture of the receipt on their phone, that would really help them keep track of all their expenses.”
Now, employees can send in their receipts from anywhere using an expense reporting system called Concur Expense.
“We elected a few different options as far as software, but nothing could match the robustness of Concur,” Zerr said. “We knew with the volume that we had to deal with that we wanted a system that could handle that and do so smoothly.”
Zerr said the greatest benefits of this change are using less paper and being more efficient.
They ran a pilot group in October 2020 with people from three different departments to identify any issues in the system, which Zerr said helped tremendously.
“It’s a learning curve with technology,” Zerr said.
She said overall the users have wanted to learn the system and have come to like it.
Their next goal is to get people on the mobile application of Concur.
“Now that we’ve taken this leap into the use of technology, it’s constantly evolving,” Economo said. “We’re constantly learning new things (and) tweaking little things here and there.”
With continuous innovation and technological improvements, the city strives to implement ideas that create value and great service to its citizens.
By: Meghan Holland
Working out of their company trucks, city inspectors have learned to adapt to the job on the go.
The City of Sioux Falls made the decision in March 2020 for the Inspections (Building Services) Department to transition their inspectors to working from their company trucks in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Building Official Butch Warrington said the decision “did what we were hoping it would do” because the city has not had more than one inspector out for COVID-19 at a time. This allows the city to maintain inspections in all trades.
The goal of this transition was to comply with COVID-19 guidelines and limit community contact by reducing the number of people that come into the office, but it also resulted in greater efficiency in day to day operations.
The city defines public innovation as the process of generating and implementing ideas that create value for the community. The innovation of having inspectors work from their trucks allows them to continue their work while improving COVID-19 safety measures as well as boosting efficiency.
The inspections department is considered critical infrastructure, and Warrington said it is important to continue working on inspections in order to keep the economy going.
“Without inspections,” Warrington said, “it would stop all construction within the city limits. Therefore, to keep people working and to provide growth in the economy, one needs to do inspections.”
Four inspections divisions operate within the department, including building, electrical, mechanical and plumbing. Each inspector has access to a company truck, and if the inspector lives within the city, they can take their trucks home. Otherwise, the inspector will come to the office to get their truck and head to their first job.
“One inspector put on about 2,000 less miles last year than the year before,” Warrington said, “so that tells me that we’re saving not only in gasoline and wear and tear on a vehicle, but we’re being more efficient.”
Previously, inspectors would come into the office in the mornings for about an hour to answer phone calls and discuss different jobs with their coworkers before heading out for an inspection. Now, the city can complete more inspections per day by having their inspectors go straight to the job site and start working.
This saves the inspector about 65 hours of driving time. “This also allows for time to answer contractors’ questions on the job site,” Warrington said, “so it gives the chance to educate and build a better relationship with the people in the field.”
Neil King, the building inspection manager, said their biggest concern about working from trucks was that they would lose the team aspect of the job. He worried that inspectors would “lose that relationship and that ability to lean on each other for questioning and growing their own knowledge.”
However, King said the inspectors have still been calling each other and reaching out when they have questions.
“Efficiency is the biggest advantage,” King said.
Inspectors have more freedom in planning their own day. He said they can now schedule lunch breaks or time off for things like dentist appointments whenever they need to and still get all of their work done because there is not an expectation to come into the office at a certain time.
Each inspector covers a specific area of the city.
“They usually get to the job site a lot earlier than they did if they have to come into the office,” Gary Klarenbeek, the mechanical inspection manager, said. “Most of my guys live either in or really close to the area of the city that they do inspections in.”
Klarenbeek said the inspectors already worked on iPads and had the ability to remotely access their desktop in the office, so the team was fairly mobile to begin with.
“I’m lucky with my group because they’re all pretty adaptable,” Klarenbeek said.
He said the IT department has provided some extra support to make sure everything keeps running smoothly, and the inspectors have adapted to the technology quickly.
The city also implemented virtual inspections.
Klarenbeek said while not all inspections can be done virtually, there are times when the inspector can FaceTime a contractor on site and have them walk through the areas they need to inspect.
“Virtual inspections are definitely here to stay,” he said. “That is much more efficient for both us and the contractors.”
The inspections department will maintain some of the new practices even after the COVID-19 pandemic according to Warrington, King and Klarenbeek. Warrington said inspectors will continue working from their trucks.
“Had this happened 20-30 years ago with the technology that was available then, we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” Klarenbeek said. “The technology has made a huge difference in our ability to work from home and work from the truck.”
I am an aspiring photographer, writer, and adventurer. I love the outdoors and I love to tell a great story with pictures!