An education through Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) can be an open door to a good job and a lifelong career. It can also be a springboard to further education, and more opportunity.
For Jeff Urlaub, founder and CEO of Eau Claire-based engineering firm MEP Associates, it was both. Now the head of the company that employs 70 people, including 16 CVTC graduates, has been named the recipient of the CVTC Alumni Association’s 2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Urlaub will be honored, along with the winner of the CVTC Proven Business Partner Award, on Thursday, April 4, at the 10th annual CVTC Alumni Association Spring Gala.
“It was excellent,” Urlaub says, describing his days as a CVTC student, during two separate phases of his education. “There were good teachers. They made it fun and promoted learning.”
Urlaub credits his time at CVTC with helping inspire in him a love of lifelong learning, which is now paying great dividends in his personal career.
Urlaub showed entrepreneurial spirit at a young age. “I started my first business when I was 14,” he said. “I raised hogs.”
The hogs, raised in his Uncle’s dairy barn, gave him some spending money, but when he graduated from Neillsville High School, he chose neither to further his education nor to go into business for himself. He worked road construction.
An injury from an accident led him to reconsider his future, and in 1988 he enrolled at CVTC in a one-year refrigeration program, part of what is today the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) program.
“I was interested in it, and intended to work in a field with my hands,” Urlaub says.
After completing the program, he moved to Florida, where he has family, and held a good job in refrigeration and air conditioning service and installation. He came back in 1991 and enrolled in CVTC’s two-year associate degree program called Air Conditioning Technology at the time.
“After the first year of the program, I figured out that I wanted to go on and get my engineering degree, so I started taking classes at UW-Eau Claire.”
The inspiration to further his education came from his experience at CVTC. The two-year program included hands-on experience working with air conditioning and refrigeration systems, as well as a strong component in design of such systems.
“That’s what led me to want to go to a university and become an engineer,” he says.
The CVTC experience helped him in another way. “I was able to pay my way through college with the two-year degree,” he says.
The CVTC education allowed him to pass a contractor’s exam in Florida, where he started his own business. At the same time, he attended classes at Manatee Community College in Bradenton, Florida, then at the University of Florida in Gainsville, on his way to earning that engineering degree in 1998.
When Urlaub came back to Wisconsin, he worked for Cedar Corporation, an engineering firm in Menomonie, and quickly built a track record of success. He grew a fledgling department dedicated to plumbing, electrical and HVAC up to 20 people.
In 2001, he and two co-workers broke off on their own and started MEP Associates, headquartered in Eau Claire.
MEP Associates offers design services in mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection and renewable energy, with most of its clients in education, healthcare and government. In addition, the company offers review services to ensure compliance with specifications in a variety of construction contracts. The company now has five offices in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Oklahoma.
The company is responsible for some of the most sophisticated geothermal projects, including the nation’s largest geothermal campus conversion at Ball State University in Indiana. Locally, the firm has done a lot of work for Mayo Health Systems, UW-Eau Claire and many others.
Urlaub says he is honored to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the college that helped him get his start.
“There was a good atmosphere for learning at CVTC,” he says.
The 10th Annual CVTC Alumni Spring Gala will be held on Thursday, April 4, at Florian Gardens, 2340 Lorch Ave. Eau Claire at 5:30 p.m. Also to be honored at the event will be Spectrum Industries of Chippewa Falls, as CVTC’s 2013 Proven Business Partner.
To attend or learn more about this event, please contact Heidi Fisher, executive director of CVTC Foundation and Alumni Association at 715-833-6277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.