A business that began in a garage in 2002 has grown to 43 employees in Eau Claire and 77 companywide.

“MEP (Associates) is a great story of someone sleeping in his car and trying to get his business started on a shoestring and now is all over the U.S.,” said Bob McCoy, president and CEO of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce.

That persistence was one reason the business recently earned a 2015 Small Business of the Year award from the chamber. Greener Grass Systems also earned the recognition, which was announced April 21.

Jeff Urlaub, a 48-year-old Neillsville High School and Chippewa Valley Technical College graduate, started MEP in his garage. The business now has locations in Eau Claire; Verona; Rochester, Minn.; Eagan, Minn.; and Norman, Okla. MEP Associates is an engineering consulting firm with a specialty in geothermal energy systems.

Geothermal systems use heat from the earth for energy. The sustainable approach can yield energy savings in the 30 to 50 percent range depending on the type of facility, said Dan Gerth, senior project manager and director of business development for MEP. It’s an approach that’s gaining favor in commercial and residential construction.

“More folks seem to be aware of geothermal at this time,” Gerth said. “We continue to complete energy studies for clients to show them the up-front benefits and cost savings to go geothermal in lieu of conventional systems.”

The company installed geothermal systems at its headquarters and at Urlaub’s home, but the business also has installed systems on a far grander scale. MEP had a massive project at Epic Systems in Verona and is currently working on another at Ball State (Ind.) University. In the latter project, a second energy station currently is being completed on the southern portion of the campus. A study recently was completed for a proposed geothermal system at Cornell NYC Tech's campus in New York City.

MEP is looking to expand in the U.S. and globally, said Gerth, who added that MEP is working on an energy study for a medical center in Israel.

“Client service and satisfaction” is what separates MEP from the competition, Gerth said.

“We feel we listen to our clients and understand their needs, which helps their project vision become reality,” he said. “We also continue to stay ahead of the competition with inventiveness and new design technologies, especially when it comes to energy savings and reduction.”

— Liam Marlaire