Newswise — ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Pluma, LLC, has been nominated by Sandia National Laboratories as the Department of Energy’s Protégé of the Year as part of its Mentor-Protégé Program. Pluma, a general construction business started in Albuquerque, is one of five businesses Sandia accepted into the program with the mission of helping them grow with the labs’ guidance, knowledge, leadership and resources.
Pluma is owned by disabled veteran Chris Pacheco, a 1984 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, a former Airborne Ranger, Gulf War veteran and Bronze Star recipient. Pacheco became a partner in the business in 2011, but it was started nearly a decade earlier by his father, Filiberto. Pacheco said the story of how Pluma got its name is unique: “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.
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. While it sounds like a simple task, any project for a government-regulated organization is complicated, coming with a more stringent set of rules than in the private sector.
“We’re giving them the opportunity to show they can perform under this scrutiny and pressure,” Dawson 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.
“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 Lopez said.
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.
“If we were to be selected as DOE Protégé of the Year, it would enhance our ability to leverage our relationship with Sandia and the Department of Energy,” Pacheco said.
That could open up a world of possibilities for this small business that all started with an idea and a pen.