Wilhite Electric Co. Inc.
- Written by: Molly Shaw
- Produced by: Sean O'Reilly
- Estimated reading time: 7 mins
Since 1975, Wilhite Electric Co. Inc. (Wilhite) has been providing electrical services to multimillion dollar facilities throughout Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi as one of the region’s largest electrical contractors. Based in Bossier City, Wilhite is running on its second generation of family ownership in northern Louisiana and fast approaching a 40-year milestone.
“Wilhite will celebrate 40 years in business in 2015,” shares Keith Wilhite, now president and second-generation family member owner. “My father, Donnie Wilhite, founded the company in 1975.”
A family foundation
Donnie and wife Doris started Wilhite in January 1975 out of his home garage after working as an electrician since 1962. “He served as president up until his death in August 2001,” shares Tim Wilhite, chief financial officer of Wilhite. “Myself, Jerry, Keith and Greg are now the officers of the company. Keith, Jerry and Greg are trained electricians and have vast field experience.”
The three brothers practically grew up in the business, watching and learning from their father. “We all were raised around the industry,” shares Keith. “I helped my father right up until college. I actually went on to get my degree in education, but decided it wasn’t for me so, I applied and was accepted into the electrical apprenticeship program.”
Keith joined his father full-time in 1984. “I worked in the field for about 10 years and my father eventually brought me into the office to work on estimating, and in 2013, I assumed leadership as president,” he recounts.
However, Keith is far from alone in his leadership role with the help of his three brothers. “My older brother Jerry is our senior vice president and he is semi-retired,” he tells. “My other brother, Greg, is the company vice president and Tim is our general counsel and CFO. We’ve all be working together for many years.”
Wilhite also employs approximately 75 professionals that are part of the company’s extended family. “The way I see it, success is much more than just profit; we’re responsible for feeding about 50 families, as well,” says Keith.
Based in family ownership and values, Wilhite has made a name for itself throughout Louisiana and beyond. “We have a single location in northwest Louisiana that covers our main market,” details Keith. “We primarily serve the six surrounding parishes here, but we’ll venture out of town for certain customers. We’re licensed to work in Mississippi and Texas, as well, and we will travel out of state if need be.”
Over the last four decades, Wilhite has carved out a niche in the commercial sector, serving hospitals, educational facilities, retail and various other commercial buildings. “We’re unique in the fact that we also deliver from a design-build or design-assist standpoint,” reveals Keith.
Wilhite has become a trusted name in designing electrical systems that work for the needs of a range of facilities. “We’re well-known in the entertainment arena,” notes Keith. In fall 2011, Wilhite completed the famous L’Auberge Casino-Hotel in Baton Rouge, La.
Following L’Auberge, Wilhite began ground up electrical construction for the $15 million Margaritaville Resort and Casino. “We delivered this major project, including intricate lighting and design in 16 months from the ground up; it was officially completed in July 2013,” details Keith.
Keith is often in the field himself, overseeing projects. “We completed a significant hospital job at the Willis-Knighton Piermont Health Center, doing the complete scope of electrical from the ground up,” he recalls. “I was on the project myself, because it was very interesting. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to build a completely new hospital. We delivered this job from the ground up in 18 months.”
Turning up the heat in the solar market
While Wilhite has certainly been making a name for itself in the commercial and health care sectors for years, more recently, the company has added a solar division. “We have diversified into solar power and residential generators – both are more recent facets of Wilhite,” reveals Keith.
Six years ago, Wilhite formed Wilhite Solar Solutions (Wilhite Solar), which is now one of Louisiana’s leading solar companies, partnering with some of the nation’s largest solar providers, such as Sunpower and Conergy. To-date, Wilhite Solar’s team of certified electrician installers with solar designation have delivered approximately 1,000 complete residential solar systems.
“The integration of solar and generator installation was a natural fit with Wilhite’s use of Infrared Technology in electrical maintenance and 24-hour emergency service,” explains Tim. “The core of business will always remain the commercial and industrial new construction markets, however, the addition of the other areas of electrical work allows Wilhite to better serve its existing customer base and open up new markets.”
Solar energy offers almost limitless possibilities in powering homes and businesses as a completely renewable energy source and Wilhite Solar is spreading the word throughout Louisiana. “Solar solutions are a great choice for homeowners and businesses in our state,” explains Keith. “Louisiana actually ranks No. 1 in overall solar incentives, according to a national rating authority. Louisiana residents can also receive up to 80 percent in tax credits for solar installations.”
Teaming up for savings
Wilhite and Wilhite Solar partner to perform the complete solar installation. “There’s no need to call anyone else because we offer a single point for the whole system,” says Keith. “Although Wilhite and Wilhite Solar work together to deliver complete solar solutions, Wilhite Solar has its own office and location.”
Based in Shreveport, La., Wilhite Solar provides in-house sales and advertising. The solar arm also performs energy assessments of homes free of charge, assisting customers in determining the best solar system for their needs. Wilhite Solar’s professionals also help determine the best location for the panel array and explain state and federal tax incentives and financing options.
Wilhite then steps in with certified electricians to perform the installation. It takes Wilhite’s professional team just days to install a roof mount system.
The panels weigh approximately 44 pounds each and are mounted on the roof or rack and fastened to rails with sealing attachments that will not damage the integrity of the roof. Once the panels are installed and the wires have been run to the inverter, the home is linked to the local power company’s grid. “This is all done under the power company’s supervision and with their help,” assures Keith. “After installation the only maintenance required is cleaning the panels four times a year.”
Keith says solar installation intimidates some homeowners, but in actuality, the process is streamlined and results in minimal changes to the existing home. “There are no wiring changes or modifications needed inside your home,” explains Keith. “A permit is required from the parish permitting department and upon completion of the installation the parish’s inspector will inspect the system. Once the system passes inspection, the local utility company installs a new meter.”
Keith explains that the electricity supplied by the solar system is the same kind of electricity received from local power companies. “Homeowners recognize the savings early on,” he continues. “As an added comfort, we offer a 25-year warrantee on all panels.”
Together, Wilhite and Wilhite Solar are meeting the region’s energy needs with cost-effective, durable and high performance products and solar applications. Keith says this partnership and market diversification has allowed Wilhite to get a leg up through the recession.
“It’s been very slow in the private sector,” he imparts. “We haven’t had a major anchor project – anything over the $8 million mark – in a couple of years and that’s unusual. We do have an upcoming office complex and data center to look forward to in the next couple of years.”
Keith says in the absence of an anchor project Wilhite Solar has been a major contributor to the company’s progress and growth. “The residential solar side has been very busy through the summer and we’re training two more crews to go work in the solar field,” he notes.
Although revenue is a clear concern, Keith says at the end of the day it’s not all about profit. “Our job is to keep our guys busy, so they can feed and support their families,” he says. “We want to keep everyone happy and working while supporting the community.”
Outside of revenue driven projects, Wilhite supports the Junior Diabetes Foundation, Great Bossier Economic Development Foundation, the Independence Bowl Foundation, local schools and law enforcement departments. “If we’re helping our people and the community; then we’re doing the right thing,” says Keith.
He says it’s also rewarding to watch the next generation grow and begin to thrive at Wilhite. “Unfortunately, right now there are no siblings or sons or daughters coming up, so we’re trying to position Wilhite with a good team that represents our philosophy to keep the name going strong into the future,” shares Keith.
“In 2013, Wilhite began employee stock ownership plan, allowing the employees to share in the growth of the company and really be part of our future,” adds Tim.
“As my father always said, ‘Do what you do best and keep doing it,'” recalls Keith. Wilhite Electric Co. Inc. has been doing what it does best for nearly 40 years while integrating Wilhite Solar Solutions to keep pace with the progressing power industry.
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