Sandia LabNews

Vet-owned small business nominated for DOE award

It all started with a pen

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NOMINATED PROTÉGÉ — Pluma electrician Guadalupe Cardoza coils wire while working on a maintenance garage in Eldorado, New Mexico. The Sandia small-business program nominated Pluma as DOE Protégé of the Year. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

Sandia nominated Pluma LLC as the DOE Protégé of the Year as part of its Mentor-Protégé Program. Pluma, a general construction business started in Albuquerque, was one of five businesses accepted by Sandia into the program with the mission of helping them grow with the Labs’ guidance, knowledge, leadership and resources.

While not selected as a finalist, Pluma’s owner said the real award is being part of the project in the first place.

“What’s important is the positive impact being a protégé has had on our business. We are sincerely grateful for being a Sandia protégé,” said Chris Pacheco, a disabled veteran, 1984 graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, former Airborne Ranger, Gulf War veteran and Bronze Star recipient.

A pen, a name

Pacheco became a partner in the business in 2011, but it was started nearly a decade earlier by his father Filiberto.

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LEVELING UP — Cruz Duran works with plaster while insulating a maintenance garage in Eldorado, New Mexico, as part of a Pluma project. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

“My dad was filling out the paperwork for the business license. It asked for the name of the company. He paused; he was holding a pen, looked at the pen and said, ‘it will be Pluma.’” Pluma being the Spanish word for pen.

In fiscal year 2022, just two years after being accepted into the Mentor-Protégé Program, Pluma was awarded a $4 million contract purchase agreement by Sandia. Pluma has also been awarded contracts through Los Alamos National Laboratory worth $600,000. Pluma has increased its workforce to 30 employees and revenue to $13 million annually, three times higher than previous years.

Pluma has reached this success in part because of the specialized training it has received from experts at Sandia. They have taught the team how to obtain DOE contracts, including safety and quality inspection, badging, pricing negotiations, cybersecurity, marketing proposition development and preparing presentations.

Beau Dawson, a construction manager at Sandia, is one of Pluma’s division champion mentors. “My job is helping Pluma learn how to work at Sandia, maneuvering the system, deciphering the language, basically how it works and how we do business out here.”

The first project for Pluma at Sandia was building an access ladder.

“We’re giving them the opportunity to show they can perform under this scrutiny and pressure,” Ben said. “It was a very complicated access ladder. They had to work through permitting, inspection, testing and placement. They learn what a schedule means to Sandia, what is fair and reasonable in pricing and changes. Those are the key takeaways in mentoring. There is a vast difference working outside of the fence of Kirtland and Sandia and working inside our boundaries.”

For Pacheco and the small business, it was a rare opportunity. “We understood that Sandia is a world-class organization, world-class in safety and quality, and figured if we are going to be a type of company to operate in that environment, it would behoove us to be trained by somebody who is world-class in those environments, and we were fortunate to get selected,” Pacheco said.

Cultivating local businesses

The Mentor-Protégé Program is part of Sandia’s small-business portfolio, managed by Laura Lovato, Sandia’s small-business program manager and led by Royina Lopez, Mentor-Protégé Program lead. Protégés go through specialized workshop sessions geared toward growing their capabilities.

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SMALL-BUSINESS SUCCESS — Pluma’s projects include a 16,000-square-foot indoor golf facility at the New Mexico Junior College. (Photo by Chris Pacheco)

“Pluma has demonstrated dedication in their development journey, applying what they have learned to their processes and projects, and enhancing their ability to compete for federal contracts through engagement and participation in the Mentor-Protégé Program,” Royina said.

Pacheco said the business has grown in many ways. “We’ve increased the value we can bring to customers. It’s a quality program that Sandia has put in place with safety plans. Training with Sandia has made us stronger, which has a direct, positive impact on the bottom line.”

Pluma is currently working on several major projects, including building a 6,000-square-foot maintenance facility for the Eldorado Water District and working with the Veterans Association shrine project to realign headstones at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe. The project involves surveying each headstone and resetting them to the same height to ensure perfect alignment. Proving Pluma is on the road to bigger things. A great place to be for a small business that all started with an idea and a pen. 

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