Small businesses thriving under status quo at Hanford

The American Dream can still be had with a lot of hard work.

Such has been the case for many entrepreneurs who've seen a need for a service at the Hanford site and have the vision to fulfill it.

One of the brightest examples is Total Site Services. In the span of about 10 years, Lisa Chapman-Rosa has gone from working for a janitorial service that cleaned at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory at night to the owner of a company making $14 million a year.

Chapman-Rosa had taken time off from the work force to raise her four kids. Her short time as a janitor when she returned quickly taught her she wanted a different line of work.

She reached back to her experience working for her father's construction company, which did work at Hanford. She had helped with drug-screening tests for potential employees. She had found the process of sending them off-site cumbersome and time consuming.

Knowing there had to be a better way, Chapman-Rosa launched her first business, Tri-Cities Mobile Drug & Alcohol Testing. She brought the drug testing equipment to the employers, streamlining the process and saving them time and money.

Getting her foot in the door wasn't easy. She baked a lot of cookies, which were delivered to potential clients along with reminders about her services.

As they say, persistence pays off, and eventually Chapman-Rosa's tenacity helped her build a roster of clients and a successful small business.

But she wasn't done yet. With the drug-testing business running smoothly, she looked for more opportunities at Hanford and formed Total Site Services in 2007, expanding into general construction contracting.

And while Total Site Services enjoys the designation of a woman-owned, small disadvantaged minority business because of Chapman-Rosa's ethnicity -- a blend of Cherokee, Colville and Basque -- she says the majority of contracts the company has earned were through a competitive bidding process.

Timing was on her side as well, with the federal economic stimulus program coming along soon after she had started the construction business, bringing her additional work at Hanford.

Other contractors quickly took notice of Total Site Services' success, with Washington River Protection Solutions bringing the company under its tutelage as part of a Department of Energy program aimed at developing long-lasting relationships with contractors and helping them learn how to better compete for federal contracts.

Knowing that the stimulus money and work at Hanford would eventually fade away, Chapman-Rosa began looking at other opportunities with federal agencies. Garco Construction of Spokane took on Total Site Services as a protege through the Small Business Administration, and that was the big break she needed to grow beyond the nuclear reservation.

Through that partnership, Total Site Services has a $12 million contract to build a facility at Fairchild Air Force Base next year, designed to help with training airmen for survival in case of capture by hostile forces.

Another contract at Fairchild is worth up to $95 million over five years in a joint venture with Garco.

Chapman-Rosa says the key to her success is in the employees she has hired and the quality of work they do.

But it's obvious the vision and determination come from her.

Enterprising folks forming small businesses to fill niches with Hanford contracts is an important component of the Mid-Columbia economy. They often morph into lucrative businesses that reach beyond Hanford.

It's a success story that encompasses more than Total Site Services, but the SBA is pushing to change the game plan and have the Department of Energy be directly involved with small subcontractors.

That work has largely been handled by larger contractors awarding work to subcontractors, and it seems to be working just fine the way it is.

Businesses like Total Site Services are thriving under existing SBA programs and we don't see a need to change that. If it's not broken, don't fix it.