LOS LUNAS—When local plumber Billy Ortega went into business for himself 14 years ago, he didn’t know much about owning a business but he had experience in his field, a dream and a whole lot of determination.
Learning the hard way, Ortega Plumbing and Heating nearly went under during the 2008 recession but found its wings with assistance from the New Mexico Small Business Administration.
This year, Ortega’s business, now named ORCOM Inc., was given the 2018 NMSBA Minority Owned Small Business of the Year award.
“We’re pretty excited — we’re proud that we built the business and that we’re recognized for it,” Ortega said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, so to us — we’re honored. It’s a step in the right direction.”
Like his father Joseph, Ortega became a member of the Pipefitters Union and worked for various companies, but since he was a child, he dreamed of owning his own business.
In 2003, he took the risk and set out to start his own business, contracting locally in residential construction and completing custom homes for clients.
Ortega recently became a general contractor and today his company is called for projects throughout the Southwest.
But it wasn’t always so rosy. When the recession hit, Ortega had, by then, built the business up to five employees and was securing state contracts but projects were drying up and payment on some of the jobs took months.
Bids were dropping to an all-time low for the lack of projects, Ortega said.
“There’s nothing more heartbreaking than thinking everything you’ve worked for is about to disappear,” he said.
Before Ortega went into business for himself, he had a good job and now his business venture seemed to be circling the drain. His wife, Angela’s steady paycheck from Valencia Counseling kept them afloat but it was hard.
“Had it not been for her ... I was basically experimenting and she was paying the bills, so all credit to her,” Ortega said.
Angela believed in her husband and stood by him.
“I was going to support him — whatever happened, I was going to be there,” Angela said.
They hung on and in 2012 at a friend’s suggestion, Ortega obtained status as a small minority-owned company. It’s known as the 8(a) program and it put him in the running for federal projects.
One of Ortega’s largest customers became the Army Corps of Engineers at Kirtland Air Force Base, and now his customers range from military entities to the FAA.
One of the most notable projects ORCOM undertook was through the National Park Service, replacing half a mile of trans-canyon pipeline at the bottom of the Grand Canyon’s Phantom Ranch. It was completed in 2015 and ORCOM was the prime contractor.
The first time down in the canyon was by helicopter, but the crews hiked in and out for a year, living in tents at the bottom of the canyon and working nine days on and five days off.
“That has been our most challenging but most successful project yet,” Ortega said.
ORCOM was awarded another project for the Grand Canyon National Park rehabilitating pump houses at Indian Garden and the Black Bridge near Phantom Ranch. It was completed in 2017.
The company continues to operate as a full-service general contractor, capable of performing large scale mechanical projects.
ORCOM has also completed work for Facebook, the Santa Fe School for the Deaf, White Sands DES police station and the New Mexico Institute for Mining and Technology Torres Hall project.
The company is growing consistently and now employs 25 to 30 employees, most of whom have been with Ortega for several years.
“By the grace of God, we’ve grown quite a bit but it was a lot of tough times,” Ortega said.
The company is also involved in community service projects, such as toy drives for children in CYFD custody, donations to local church projects, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, youth sport league sponsorships and others.
“I think we’ve got a lot of good things coming up for our company,” Ortega said. “We’re growing constantly and for us, (the award) is just another step — we’re going to climb as high as possible. Our next goal is to hit the national award.”
ORCOM, Inc. is located at 2206 Sun Ranch Village Loop in Los Lunas.