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Lessons from Pacific Rim Environmental and the Port Accelerator Program

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October 24, 2022

Tricia was on a mission to get WMBE certification for her business when I met her for the first time at the July OMWBE Get Certified event that the Port co-hosted. Since then, I have seen her at nearly every event that the Port has hosted or in which the Port participated. Given Tricia’s tenacity and hustle, it came as no surprise when she was chosen by the selection panel to be part of this year’s 2022 Port of Seattle Business Accelerator Mentorship Program.

At each of the Program’s online sessions, I see Tricia, with the rest of the cohort, absorbing the presentations, asking questions, and engaging in practical discussions about how to grow their businesses. And at each session, Tricia contributes her characteristic enthusiasm to listen, learn, and share her own experiences. I spoke with Tricia virtually to find out more about her story, her experience in the Business Accelerator Mentorship program, and any advice that she had for other WMBE businesses. The transcript has been edited below for clarity and brevity.

 

A Little History

Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background

I started with Pacific Rim Environmental, Inc. when my husband started it, 32 years ago, taking care of the general management of the office. I started from scratch, really learning the business from the ground up. As we grew, I continued training- in human resources, accounting, accounts receivable- before eventually having to train new employees to do those things.

As we got going, I got more responsibilities and became Vice President. I still make sure that I have the same certifications that I require of my employees and am National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health certified and can read air samples onsite, as well as being AHERA certified for taking bulk samples and am working towards accreditation as a Project Designer to assist with the production of specifications for asbestos abatement. Two years ago, my husband decided to step back. I took over the business and am now majority owner and have a plan to move the company forward in a slightly different direction.

Tell us about your company, Pacific Rim Environmental, Inc

We started the company in 1990 with three employees. We had 22 employees the next year and now average between 16 and 20 in a year, most of whom have been with us for 15 or more years. In 1998 we acquired a bulk lab which allowed us to test asbestos in bulk materials and the manager of the bulk lab has been here ever since and we are proud to say is our longest employee. We also offer the following services to building owners, developers, and property managers: hazardous materials inspection and testing; hazardous material compliance, monitoring and removal management; and regulated building materials management plan preparation. We also do water intrusion; PCB and silica sampling; testing for lead in pipes; and school inspections.

We were told that asbestos would be all gone in 10 years and there would be no more work. Of course, there is still plenty of asbestos to be surveyed and abated. As we grew and hired employees with different skillsets, we were able to diversify our offerings beyond just asbestos surveying. We also diversified our clientele between public and private- that diversification means we get more private work during economic good times, and public work during economic downturns. Our goal as a company is that all of us continue working, and diversifying where we put our efforts is how we’ve made that happen.

What projects have you worked on at the Port? How did you secure those projects?

We started working for the Port in the 90’s, as a subcontractor to abatement contractors who would bring their air monitoring samples to us for analysis. Port Construction Services knew us from our subcontracting work, and so hired us directly for their operations and management plan, doing air monitoring for them under a Category 1 (less than $50K) contract.

We were then hired for the South Satellite HVAC upgrade abatement monitoring 2019-2021 contract. We submitted an RFP, were shortlisted, did the interview, and got the job. We had submitted other responses before and never not get shortlisted.

After an unsuccessful bid for an IDIQ contract in 2017, we asked for a debrief, got copies of the submittals from everybody else and found that everybody that was shortlisted were big national firms. We were frustrated and almost did not respond to the next RFP but when we bid again in 2019, I looked at the successful submittal and tailored our response to fit the RFP as close as we could, and we won! It ended up being a $650K project over a three-year period and kept us going through COVID. We were very lucky that we had this project and it made a huge difference for us.

At the same time, we worked as a subcontractor for two other projects: Safety monitoring as a second tier subcontractor to an insulating subcontractor, and serving as the hazardous materials consultant for Trammel Crow and the general contractor on the Terminal 106 industrial building project, which is our current active project for the Port.

Right now, because of COVID impacts, and project manager attrition and retirement, I’m reintroducing our company to all the folks who can connect us to work. I’m learning how to put myself out front and get us on the map.

What are your ambitions for your company for the future?

My five-year goal is to increase our sales in the public sector and secure long-term projects (like IDIQs – Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity- contracts) so that I have steady, secure work on the books. Long term, I would like to transition my company to my children and to retire. I want to build it out and then train them how to do the business side. Our oldest son (31 years old) has worked for us since 2012 and is a senior project manager and ran the South Satellite project at the airport. My daughter (28 years old) has also worked for us since 2012 and managed the paperwork, drawings, and meetings for the South Satellite project. My youngest works for us during the summer. I want a place for them to go in the future. It’s a very viable business so my thinking is: let’s keep it going!

 

Experience in the Accelerator

What interested you in our Accelerator program?

I was interested because you had a clear definition of the type of people you wanted in the program: been in the business for at least three years, worked in a particular industry, and had to be bringing in a certain amount of revenue. I’ve participated in a couple different programs but there were so many people in those programs that had much less experience, so those programs ended up not being a good fit for me. The other leaders in the Accelerator cohort are peers who I can relate to and are able to help me with issues that I face.

I was also interested in being paired up with a mentor through the program, because I know that making and building relationships is the key to a successful business. Meeting my Accelerator mentor was just like meeting an old friend. We had so much in common and then the next week she was in the class as the presenter! I really think my mentor pairing was perfect. Just dead on. I originally didn’t know what to ask her but now I want to inquire about how she teams on contracts and what projects they decide to team on and not.

What has been the highlight of the Accelerator program for you so far?

It’s my peers. Their questions are intense at times and spot on. They ask questions that I never even thought about. The ability to have frank conversations has also been a highlight. During the very first class on building a business plan, I was in the middle of submitting a RFP, and the presenter understood what I was saying, and I him. It let me know that I’m doing something right. It feels great to hear that you are already doing something that an expert would do themselves. Being in an office by yourself can be really lonely and you definitely aren't able to get that kind of important feedback.

 

Words of Advice

What advice do you have for other WMBE/small businesses when it comes to bidding for Port projects?

Don’t be afraid to team, obviously. It also comes down to what Josephine [Wilson, from the Port] said at the Accelerator class yesterday – be short, to the point, align your work to what is requested, don’t advertise. I heard the same thing during a debrief from a different agency. Also, don’t wait until the RFP is out to work on your RFP. Sometimes you have only four weeks to pare down all the information that you collected about all the good work that you do. You should have responses prepared. We’re building an RFP database of responses that we can have on the ready so that we’re always prepared ahead of time.

My advice for subcontractors is that if the Port posts a project that’s too big but seems like there’s a piece of it for you, email everybody who says that they want to be a prime on that project and see if you can team with them. We have clients that we work well with, so I’ll call and ask them if they want to team with us on specific projects. My advice for teaming is: talk to people and let them know who you are so that when a project comes out, you are the person they think of to team with.

On the flip side, I recently searched on the OMWBE site for a woman owned business that did ergonomics because ergonomics was added to an RFP that we were responding to. I called her, we talked, I told her we were bidding the job, and asked her to be on our team.

What advice would you have for a WMBE/small business if they just won a bid and are about to start a project at the Port?

Proactively ask what exactly is needed from and expected from you. Communication must be clear because poor communication can really sour the collaboration. On our projects we clearly state who has what responsibilities. The client (the Port or the firm that we are subcontracted to) knows who to call, and what steps will be taken for the task to be completed. We track all work on a daily log and give it to the client at the end of the shift. Everything is an open book and we provide as much visibility as possible. One of the things we really push here is that our invoicing and all the documentation that goes with it is timely, clear, concise, and complete. Good communication and invoicing are how you get paid.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with WMBE/small businesses that might be helpful to them?

As a small business you need to have all your ducks in a row. For example, if I am going to be a sub for a general contractor, I better have my OSHA certification, licenses paid and in good standing, my taxes paid, etc. If one thing is missing the prime will take you off the job. Be sure that you know the status of the administrative parts of your business and check that they’re up to date so there is no question about your eligibility for a job.

The last thing I would say is recognize that you can’t be the expert on everything. For example, we use ADP for payroll and we have used them since 2008 because it is not my area of expertise. To me, it’s worth its weight in gold. So yes, it’s ok to ask for help and outsource some things. It makes a huge difference.

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