A small business based in La Jara is proving that a San Luis Valley company can ‘play with the big boys’. Dee Espinoza founded Espinoza Cultural Services, LLC (ECS) in 2010. Espinoza ran the company by herself out of her La Jara home for the first 2 years. She now employs 13 full time professionals (although some are seasonal) and 3 part time. ECS recently purchased and renovated a vacant historic building in downtown La Jara and has opened offices in Wheat Ridge, Colorado and El Paso, Texas. They currently have employees working in six states.
ECS provides cultural and natural resource regulatory compliance services to local, state and federal agencies and commercial clients, such as engineering and environmental firms. The work is highly specialized and all of ECS’ key staff must meet or exceed the Secretary of the Interior’s Qualifications for Archaeologists, Historians, and Archeological Historians. While they do considerable work in Colorado, many of the projects they work on are out of state and located as far away as Louisiana.
In their industry, ECS regularly competes against large companies that have decades of experience. “Our industry is very geographical,” says Espinoza, “We can’t boast a long list of projects in each geographic area as some companies can, but our staff has experience in nearly every state and territory of the US.” In order to compete, ECS provides clients with personalized attention and is responsive to their project needs by implementing change orders immediately. They also keep their overhead low so they can offer more competitive prices than large companies can. ECS has strong relationships with other small firms, such as RMC Consultants, Inc., to create all the ‘benefits’ of a large company in a small package.
ECS obtained several certifications from the Small Business Association that have helped them to win a growing number of contracts with the world’s largest customer, the federal government.
These certifications include Economically Small Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB), Minority-Owned Small Business, and Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone). Most significantly, they are currently the only small business in the San Luis Valley that is in the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program, which provides small businesses that are socially and economically disadvantaged with a broad scope of assistance so they can gain a foothold in government contracting.
The 8(a) program allows participants to receive sole-source contracts and they can also form partnerships to go after larger prime contracts as a team. “It took 4 total months to get our 8(a) and, within one month, we had the first 8(a) contract,” said Espinoza, “Within the first two months of 2014, we had more contracting revenue than we had the whole last four years combined.” Over the course of 2014, business has grown exponentially with the help of several large contract wins. ECS has recently been awarded work with National Parks Service for compliance related to the Gulf Oil Spill; a four state yearlong contract with the Forest Service for cultural resource work; and a Tribal Monitoring contract for a water line in South Dakota. They are also team members on two large, multi-year contracts: one for the Navy (NAVFAQ SW) and one for the BLM (for southeast New Mexico). ECS currently holds eight multi-year contracts, providing stability for long-term growth.
Opening their new office in La Jara and bringing professional jobs to the area has long goals for ECS, which strives to make a positive impact on the local economy. “The extra distance we travel to keep business here in the valley is our trade off to do our part to stimulate the local economy,” says Espinoza. Espinoza is a Trustee with the Town of La Jara where she helps the community and local businesses. She has also served on the Board of Directors for the Conejos County Chamber of Commerce.