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Milhouse Engineering named 2017 Illinois 8(a) Graduate of the Year

Wilbur Milhouse

Milhouse Engineering & Construction of Chicago has a strategy for success: staying small and nimble. President and CEO Wilbur C. Milhouse believes the competition isn’t always agile, but his company’s size and lack of bureaucracy allow it to answer customers’ technical inquiries quickly and effectively. On top of that, the firm strives to be cost-effective and offer innovative solutions. The SBA is recognizing Milhouse’s efforts and success, naming the company its 2017 Illinois 8(a) Graduate of the Year. (Milhouse also won the same award for SBA’s Region 5, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.)

A University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign alumnus with more than two decades of diversified civil and structural engineering experience, Wilbur Milhouse founded his namesake small business in 2001. The professional full service engineering and architecture firm has offices in Chicago and seven other locations. Their projects address community needs in aviation, facilities, gas, power, transportation, water, and program management.

SBA assistance has helped Milhouse expand over the years. SCORE counseling, for example, provided valuable insight into how to structure a parent company with subsidiaries. But the nine years spent in the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program, which helps small disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace and access government contracts, equipped Wilbur and his team with experience and confidence that have continued to benefit them, even after graduating. Some of the wide-ranging contracts Milhouse has completed include an airport traffic control tower electrical design in Peoria, Illinois, and physical needs assessments and energy audits for a Nashville housing agency. 

Perhaps the biggest effect of the 8(a) program can be seen in Milhouse’s staffing levels. In 2007, they had a team of 34, and in 2017, some 170 technical and support professionals are employed at the company. Managing salaries, rent, and business development thoughtfully has allowed Milhouse to sustain control over performance costs and maintain financial stability. Over the past 10 years, the company’s net worth has grown from $53,000 to $3 million, and sales have increased tenfold.

The 8(a) Mentor-Protégé Program aided Milhouse in overcoming some of the challenges typical to small businesses. Teaming with other, larger companies in joint venture agreements created sounder financing for projects, stronger bonding and insurance, and a larger pool of human capital talent.

Mentoring children and lifting up disadvantaged communities are two of Wilbur’s passions, and he devotes a considerable amount of time and energy to both. Wilbur and his wife created a non-profit, Milhouse Charities, in 2012, which supports math, science, engineering, and technology educational organizations to increase opportunities for youth. One of the charity’s current partners, Miles Davis Academy, is Chicago’s first children’s engineering school. Milhouse also performed construction management on two projects in underserved neighborhoods aimed at stimulating local economies, creating jobs, and providing healthy options in food deserts. In one project, a grocery store was built on the site of a former housing project. In another, Milhouse oversaw more than 40 subcontractors, organized meetings, and managed a pollution prevention and hazardous material management plan on a ground-up neighborhood redevelopment project.

Company Name: 
Milhouse Engineering & Construction