By Tony Khing
SAN FRANCISCO – When Michael Robirds became a co-owner of Accu-Bore Directional Drilling in 2006, this Benicia-based construction company had just three employees. But as the U.S. Air Force veteran used his status as a disabled veteran-owned enterprise (DVBE) to help secure more bids, Accu-Bore’s business has grown to nearly 100 employees.
One reason for the company’s growth was developing a relationship with PG&E, who spent a record $125.5 million with DVBEs in 2013. Today, Robirds said that between 50 and 75 percent of the firm’s work in underground construction for gas and power lines is done as a primary or secondary supplier for PG&E.
PG&E has been a long-standing supporter of veterans, as evidenced by its Top-100 Military Friendly® Employer ranking by G.I. Jobs Magazine. The utility’s encouragement of DVBEs also extends beyond utilizing their businesses.
An example was the second “Boots to Business” workshop, held Dec. 8 at PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters. Representatives from nearly 100 DVBE businesses attended the seminar which provided attendees with useful information from organizations such as the U.S. Small Business Administration and the California Department of General Services, and networking opportunities with fellow DVBEs, suppliers and PG&E staff.
It’s More Than Having The Right Status
Companies are realizing the importance of diversity when selecting business partners. For example, the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee is concentrating on contracting with DVBEs and other diverse San Francisco Bay Area businesses for the big game in 2016.
Considering this increased focus on diversity, Robirds feels DVBEs need to use their position to help them grow. “We looked in the market and saw that having a DVBE status was going to be important to businesses such as PG&E,” he said. “Having the DVBE status opens doors and there are opportunities out there.”
But being a DVBE isn’t enough. Any business also needs the right portfolio. Robirds, an Air Force captain who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and suffers from excessive noise exposure, was a project manager for an international company and oversaw numerous construction projects, including natural gas distribution piping. He partnered with co-owner Billy Kilmer Jr., an experienced directional drilling operator, to form Accu-Bore.
Robirds’ civil engineering background and Kilmer’s expert knowledge of drilling was a perfect match.
“You have to have the background and the ability to do the work for a big company like PG&E,” said Robirds. “Having that experience would help keep the doors open and also allow us to provide different kinds of utility and infrastructure solutions.”
Besides getting that knowledge, being able to meet suppliers who use the services of other vendors at events such as “Boots to Business” is important. “Boots to Business has opened doors to help us talk with suppliers,” said Robirds. “We started as a secondary supplier and worked in that capacity for seven years before we got our first direct opportunity with PG&E.”
Paying It Forward
Robirds was at “Boots to Business” to expand his business network and continue to build/establish his relationship with PG&E. But he was also there to help other DVBEs succeed by meeting and talking with them.
“DVBEs need to find their niche and differentiate themselves to successfully compete,” he said. “They also need to build a long-term sustainable business. It can be difficult. There are opportunities out there. As a fellow disabled veteran, it’s important that I help support other businesses as well.”