Milis Flatwork has enjoyed spectacular growth since Construction in Focus profiled the Kaukauna, Wisconsin-based concrete construction company in February 2019. Revenues and employment have tripled, and the firm has introduced a new tilt-up service and worked on a series of high-profile projects.
“Probably our top change has been the acquisition of general contracting company C.E. Doyle,” says Dylan Milis, Chief Executive Officer and founder of Milis Flatwork.
Based in Campbellsport, Wisconsin and established in 1974, Doyle offers tilt-up construction, among other services. In tilt-up work, pre-made concrete panels are positioned by cranes to form an exterior wall of a building.
“Since the beginning, I wanted to do tilt-up, but it takes so much manpower and so much skill and knowledge. We really had to enter the market at the right time to be successful. We did that about two years ago, and now our tilt-up division is doing well,” says Milis. The company’s core service is also booming, and the team is “now doing about seven million square feet of flatwork a year,” he reports.
Milis Flatwork has placed over 38 million square feet of concrete since it was founded in 2012. Aside from deliveries of ready-mixed concrete, the company self-performs its work, continuing to serve the industrial, parking lot, agriculture, and commercial sectors, as well as tilt-up. While most projects are based in Wisconsin, the team has also worked in Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota.
The Milis Flatwork team has soared from 60 people in early 2019 to “around 200,” today, Milis says. In this same period, the company has experienced “between 300 to 400 percent growth from a revenue standpoint. We’ve added approximately $60 million to our yearly revenue.”
This explosive expansion can be attributed to several factors including energetic sales outreach, new customers, and enhanced relationships with existing customers. The company’s overall growth “has definitely exceeded expectations. Our customers are looking for quality at the end of the day, and we try to deliver that for a competitive price. Our parking lot and the industrial and commercial markets have been pretty strong,” says Milis.
The company paves parking lots with concrete, not asphalt, an option that is becoming increasingly popular as customers recognize the value of using concrete for parking lot construction. Concrete offers low maintenance, high longevity, and moderate cost.
Since Milis Flatwork purchases ready-mixed concrete from outside suppliers, the company sticks with a series of concrete suppliers throughout the Midwest on which it can rely.
“We work with the same vendors most of the time, continuously,” Milis explains. “In different areas of the state we have different vendors, because the vendors don’t cover the whole state; our Wisconsin ready-mixed suppliers don’t cover Minnesota. We have different suppliers in different areas.”
As for which vendors the company prefers, “A lot of it boils down to good working relationships. We need somebody that can supply us with concrete at a fast rate and [offer] a good quality product.”
Regardless of the project, quality is maintained by pairing well-trained and motivated crews with cutting-edge equipment such as “the most technologically advanced laser screeds [self-propelled, multi-functional four-wheel drive vehicles used to level concrete during pouring.] We’re using technology to the fullest to be successful in the field and in our office,” says Milis.
This successful formula has enabled Milis Flatwork to undertake a series of huge projects as of late, including a nearly 400,000-square-foot smart manufacturing facility in Little Chute, Wisconsin. The facility will be used by Excellerate, a division of Faith Technologies Incorporated (FTI), to manufacture and assemble electrical components. “There were some high specs and tolerances on the floor. Our guys had to do a perfect job. It had to be flawless,” Milis recalls.
Other noteworthy projects include a FedEx distribution building in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where the company did foundations, flatwork, and tilt-up, all on a tight schedule. The tilt-up portion alone consisted of 100 panels, but Milis Flatwork still managed to beat the clock. “We ended up getting everything done six weeks ahead of schedule. It was a beautiful project,” Milis recalls.
Industry groups have recognized the company’s many achievements, and in recent years, the team has won a slew of design awards from the Wisconsin Ready Mixed Concrete Association (WRMCA). The company also received the 2022 Business of the Year (Large Employer) Award from the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, an honor that Milis attributes to solid teamwork.
The company has also been busy doing renovations at Milis Flatwork’s own headquarters. The firm recently constructed a 10,000-square-foot office building in Kaukauna using tilt-up techniques and added 20,000 square feet to another structure to accommodate laser screeds and heavy equipment.
“We’ve had some pretty large expansions here in our corporate headquarters to keep up with our demand, our workforce, and our office team,” explains Milis. The company has also been looking at opening new branches in other cities if enough work can be secured to justify such a move.
Yet for all the personnel it has added in recent years, Milis Flatwork remains choosy about potential hires. Anyone who wants to join the company needs to appreciate the importance of quality, hard work, and schedules. “Our biggest focus with anybody is quality,” says Milis. “We’re looking for people who are dedicated to what they’re doing. If they have passion for their job, they do better work. It is also very important that they show up on a daily basis. You’ve got to be there on time, you’ve got to be there every day.”
Previous concrete experience is not a requirement as long as the potential hire is “dedicated to work and learning a new trade. We have a full training program. They can come right out of high school at 18 years old and do their youth apprenticeship here. They can run through our four-year apprenticeship program and get into the trades and make good money.”
Employees also need to have a safety-first focus, which is understandable given the nature of their work. “Safety’s a huge element. There are constant conversations about safety and keeping safe. We want our guys to go home to their families because, at the end of the day, the reason they’re at work is for their families and to enjoy their free time,” Milis says.
The tilt-up division likely experiences the greatest risks “because you’re lifting 200,000 to 300,000-pound panels up in the air with a massive crane,” he adds.
With this in mind, Milis Flatwork closely adheres to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, including new standards regarding silica dust at construction sites. Its safety department inspects work sites regularly, and daily safety talks are the norm.
Safety “is a continuous focus in day-to-day operations at Milis Flatwork; it has to be. We’ve got heavy equipment. We’ve got semis. We’ve got 80,000-pound concrete trucks driving around. Everybody has to be aware and follow all safety rules. It’s the most important thing,” states Milis.
The company’s commitment to safety was evident during the COVID crisis. “When COVID hit there were a lot of unknowns. Everybody was pretty nervous for a while. We immediately took steps to keep our people safe. We followed recommended COVID guidelines. We were working for some well-known names that had high-profile jobs going on at the time, and on-site safety was big. We were able to maintain our work, follow guidelines, and keep our guys safe.”
Ironically, the COVID virus actually boosted business; during and after the pandemic, “there was a very large boom in buying online instead of traveling,” says Milis. “There was a very large boom in the industrial market and we were able to pick up additional work in that area.”
In terms of promotion, Milis Flatwork attends trade shows and the company’s human resources department participates in recruitment and career fairs. The team also reaches out to local technology schools and other educational institutions to highlight career opportunities at the fast-growing concrete company.
Into the future, “our plan is to just keep going in terms of growth and revenue. We are looking at other locations, and hopefully we can get a couple of those off the ground,” shares Dylan Milis. “We plan to maintain the same similar linear growth path we’ve been on.”