Here at DISTek we just competed our 24th full calendar year as a company, which means our 25th anniversary happens in 2017. We are excited to think about our future as we pass this milestone, but it is also healthy to step back and review what we did in 2016. We took some bumps and bruises along the way – as did many in the industries we serve – but we also had some exciting successes.
We did not make quite the leap in regional growth as we did in 2015 when we opened new offices in the Des Moines and Milwaukee markets, but we did add an office location in Dubuque. DISTek has had a presence in Dubuque for a decade, with employees working at customer locations. Having the physical office in Dubuque helps us to better serve our Eastern Iowa/Western Illinois customers, as well as our other customers in nearby areas, such as the Quad Cities.
We kept the pedal to the metal with regards to our ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan). The biggest event was in September when a team of DISTekians attended the ESOP Association Midwest Conference in Milwaukee. The conference had several tracks and we split up to try to cover most of them. While we are still young in our ESOP as a company, it is great to hear from some of the more experienced ESOP companies to help us navigate the various pitfalls and opportunities. The conference location provided a great excuse for several in our company to visit our Milwaukee office for the first time … and also to catch a Brewers game. The Brewers managed to actually pull out a win, against the Cubs no less!
After adding significantly to our headcount in 2015, we spent 2016 collectively catching our breath and ended the year right about where we started. Even though we did not grow our headcount, I think we did rather well considering all our target markets were down in 2016. Similarly, we were able to capitalize on our 2015 growth to achieve a much better financial year in 2016 than we had the year prior.
If you missed seeing DISTek out and about, it was not for a lack of trying. DISTek had presenters at the AMC Engineering Conference in April, at NI Week in August, and at COMVEC in October. DISTek also held several public training classes for topics such as ISOBUS and Model-Based Software Development. And our sales and engineering staff visited a wide variety of industry shows and events. If you are planning to be at an industry event and want to talk to someone from DISTek, please let us know as we will likely have someone there!
We did some exciting internal projects in 2016 that are in the process of being made available to our customers. The Dash Test System is a new system to simplify manual testing of software on a single ECU. We see that as a stepping stone toward more sophisticated solutions such as HiL (Hardware in the Loop) test systems, another area we continued to advance internally. We continue to develop our VIRTEC ISOBUS stack, with new capabilities added and several new customers in 2016. We partnered with STW to offer an ISOBUS Gateway solution, giving implement manufacturers a quicker and cheaper path to ISOBUS capabilities for their existing control systems. Several other efforts are underway as the new year begins, but none of those are quite ready for the prime-time of the DISTek blog just yet.
The market situations in most of our key industries – Ag, Construction, Mining, and Forestry – are still depressed. The near-term outlook is little changed from the pessimistic view that was commonly held a year ago. But we are encouraged as we see reports and forecasts for recovery in those markets. Of course, 2016 gave us some shocks to the worldwide geopolitical system and 2017 could certainly do more of the same. However, in spite of pessimism, optimism, or uncertainties, at DISTek we carry on confident that our work to enable electronics on heavy equipment will be valued as the world continues to need food, resources, and infrastructure … and the equipment and technology to make it happen.