Then & Now: Milligan making waves in water treatment field

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 456 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Sept. 14 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Chris Milligan’s job may not be the best topic for dinner conversation.

In short, sewage is not sexy.

“My wife jokes with me sometimes when we go to parties, ‘Tell people you do water treatment. Leave out the waste part,” Milligan joked. “But that’s the best part of it. That’s the part that is protecting the environment for our children and us moving forward.”

Milligan is the president and CEO of BlueInGreen LLC, an emerging technology company based in Fayetteville focusing on water and wastewater treatment and one of the real Northwest Arkansas success stories of the past 15 years.

With a growing footprint in the U.S. of both municipal and industrial clients, BlueInGreen recently sold its 100th installation in North America. For perspective, BlueInGreen’s 25th installation occurred in 2016.

“We’re disrupting the water treatment market, and our pace is accelerating,” Milligan said. “When you look at other innovative technologies in the water treatment space, like ultraviolet [UV] disinfection, for example, it took more than 100 years for that step-change technology to reach 100 installations. BlueInGreen has reached this milestone in only a fraction of that time.

“BlueInGreen is simply at the right place at the right time with the right stuff,” he added.

Milligan, a licensed professional engineer in multiple states, said he feels like he’s grown up with BlueInGreen. University of Arkansas professors Scott Osborn and Marty Matlock, along with VIC Technology Venture Development, developed the company’s water treatment technology in 2004, intending to revolutionize how oxygen is used to treat water and wastewater.

After establishing his consulting firm in 2011, Milligan was approached by BlueInGreen to help develop the technology. After learning more about the company’s water quality solutions, he decided to come on, not as a consultant, but as an employee.

BlueInGreen hired Milligan as director of engineering in April 2012 and promoted him to vice president in March 2013. Later that year, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal honored Milligan as a member of its annual Forty Under 40 class.

In September 2016, BlueInGreen’s board of directors unanimously selected Milligan as its new president and CEO, overseeing operations, resources and market strategies. Since 2016, the company has had a cumulative annual growth rate of at least 45% and continues to expand.

The company has added Campbell’s, Del Monte Foods, Georgia-Pacific, Koch Industries, Seaboard Triumph Foods, Tyson Foods, and Mountaire Farms to its growing industrial clients list. In 2018, BlueInGreen established a contract services division, BIG Aeration Services.

“At the core of it, we have one main technology, which is the most efficient way of dissolving gases into liquids,” Milligan said. “We’ve taken that simple core technology for dissolving gases into liquids and applied it into a whole host of different municipal and industrial water and wastewater treatment applications.”

Milligan said BlueInGreen has excelled at overcoming hurdles in the water and wastewater treatment industry, which he described as fairly conservative. With success stories piling up from early adopters, the company’s proven track record helps accelerate the company’s growth with new customers.

“Now that we’re accepted and recognized, people can see the various applications, and we can point to successful projects,” Milligan said. “We had to prove that the technology works and, more importantly, demonstrate a return on investment. We’re now being pulled toward projects as opposed to having to chase projects.”

Milligan said the company’s growth spurt is only the beginning. BlueInGreen has 11 employees and earned a spot recently on Inc. magazine’s Inc. 5000 list, which is an annual ranking of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. BlueInGreen came in at number 2,080, with a 203% revenue growth rate over the past three years.

BlueInGreen’s technology is a textbook example of proven innovation in wastewater — literally. One of the company’s applications was recently highlighted in the second edition of Biological Wastewater Treatment, a nearly-900 page textbook published by the International Water Association.

“It’s not just an important chapter for the book. It’s an important chapter for our company as well,” Milligan said.

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