This veterans day we are honoring Army Veteran Aaron Milner who now serves as the President of the Johnson+Milner Civil Engineering Firm in Tallahassee.
Milner decided to join the Army right out of high school mainly for the college benefits he would receive for his service. This would also give him time to decide what he wanted to do for a career. During his time in the Military, Aaron gained skills and knowledge that he was able to translate to becoming a business owner. Organizational leadership and logistical operations were a few examples that enabled him to adapt to different regulations and channels.
When he returned from the Army, Milner attended Florida A&M to major in Civil Engineering. While enrolled, he was a student of Primus Mtenga who now serves as the Vice President of Engineering for Johnson+Milner.
“Primus Mtenga was my professor, he taught several classes I took,” Milner said. “Ironically, after one of those classes was over, I was going to his office for help and we were just talking hypothetically. He was saying after retiring he was looking to open up his own firm and figured maybe one day, we could connect and possibly go that route and open up an engineering firm together. I don’t know if he was serious when he said it since it was just a casual conversation we were having.”
After graduating, Milner was working for an engineering firm and met George Johnson, Jr. who is now the Vice President of Operations for Johnson+Milner. At the time the firm was still coming out of the recession and they both felt as though they had hit the ceiling where they were and decided to join forces and start their own company.
“I reached back out to my old professor and said, ‘hey, I don’t know if you were joking but if you still want to combine forces and go that route, let’s do it’,” said Milner. “He agreed and the rest was history as they say.”
Milner said running his own firm feels like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. And when you are an employee, there is a definite beginning and definite end and you handle everything in between. However, when you become an entrepreneur those beginnings and endings become a lot blurrier because you are now managing an entire framework instead of one specific task or process.
Fortunately, Milner and his team connected with the FSBDC at FAMU during the early stages of their business.
“Luckily for us we connected with the SBDC in the very beginning,” said Milner. “I would have to call it a blessing that I ended up in a room with all of the, what I would call, supportive services providers which are just different companies that help you if you are a business owner. The SBDC was one of the groups that was in the room and we were able to connect with them really early on to get information about being in business in general because it was new to all of us.”
What really drew the Johnson+Milner team towards the SBDC at FAMU was the assistance they offered in government contracting. The SBDC has a specific series dealing with Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) and have designated individuals who help steer business owners through government contracting.
“What we got from the SBDC, it wasn’t always ‘do this do that’, it was general advice and guidelines to give you the layout of the land,” Milner said. “In some instances, they made direct introductions like ‘you have a problem and you need to talk to this person at this particular site or this particular military base or particular government installation,’ but more of what they did is walk you through the process and set a better expectation.”
With the help of the SBDC at FAMU, the Johnson+Milner team has been able to make impactful contributions that expand past local engineering needs. With the increase in demand for renovated home and office work spaces due to COVID, as well as, residential engineering needs due to natural disasters, Milner and his team have been doing their part in assisting those in need of engineering and construction consulting.
“Following Hurricane Michael, people were really in dire need and they had these major issues where they needed to get their homes repaired and didn’t have anywhere else to go, ” said Milner.”All the work that we do has some purpose but with jobs like those, you are directly, and immediately, helping somebody and doing what you can to get them back in their house and back safe.”
Milner encourages those who are in need of any type of office, residential or commercial repairs to reach out or visit their office in Tallahassee, Fl.
“One reason to choose us is because we really try to balance consulting advice with engineering along with our need to stay in business,” said Milner. “It’s not just a pure business transaction.”
For those looking to start a business, or need assistance in growing their business, Milner encourages them to reach out to the SBDC at FAMU and take advantage of the resources and consulting advice the center offers.
“I would direct people towards the SBDC because you can leverage some of the relationships that the SBDC have,” Milner said. “They also have consultants that have experience and there are so many things as a business owner that you have to balance and take care of. And truth be told, you can not do it all by yourself. The SBDC either has the resources or the network of resources that you can tap into. Once you look into those resources, it will benefit you as an owner to be able to have access so that your hands don’t have to do all of the work.”