Fruitland-based security company provides service at Navajo Mine
FARMINGTON — When visiting Navajo Mine, an individual's first point of contact are security guards from Dinéland Protection Services Inc.
Verda Blackgoat is president of Dinéland Protection Services, a Fruitland-based company she started this year. Her firm signed a three-year contract with Bisti Fuels Co. to provide security services at the mine, located about 30 miles southwest of Farmington.
When Blackgoat, who is Navajo, was considering starting a business, she had 16 years of experience as a senior site supervisor for the previous security service contractor at the mine.
Blackgoat said the opportunity to run her own business gained momentum when the transition in mine operators began between BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal and Bisti Fuels.
During the transitional period, Bisti Fuels decided to seek bids for security services and she saw her opportunity.
"I always had positive thinking. I never had that negative feeling that it wasn't going to be done. Even if that meant I had to use my own vehicle at the mine to start," Blackgoat said.
After consulting her husband and others about opening a security company, she worked with her family's accountant to complete paperwork to form and register her company with the state and the Navajo Nation.
The next step was applying for a loan from several local banks.
After her loan applications were denied, she sought help from the Small Business Development Center then was referred to WESST. Both programs are in the Quality Center for Business building at San Juan College.
WESST is a statewide small business development organization that provides technical assistance to clients who are interested in starting businesses.
The Farmington location is one of six offices that house a Woman's Business Center Program, which is partially funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Under the program, WESST helps women-owned businesses by providing access to education, training, mentoring and business development.
Another aspect to WESST is assisting clients in securing capital for their business start-up and serving as a microlender under the Small Business Administration.
Chris Hunter is the regional manager for the WESST office in Farmington.
Hunter said Blackgoat approached the office with a good business plan. After listening to her experience, and her determination to address the financial issues that caused the loan application denials, he was convinced to help.
"She knows about how to run security guards. She doesn't know how to run a business and those are two different things," Hunter said.
To help Blackgoat launch her business, WESST provided a $100,000 term loan and a $50,000 line of credit.
She used the term loan to purchase three pickup trucks and equipment such as radios and cellphones.
Her company now employs 15 security guards who undergo Mine Safety and Health Administration training and instruction for federal, state and tribal laws.
"Chris was the one who became my business coach. There was a lot of doors that opened for me through WESST," Blackgoat said.
Hunter and Blackgoat continue to meet monthly to discuss progress, management and operations.
They also talk about marketing because the business has the potential to grow and attract other clients, both Navajo and non-Navajo, Hunter said.
"This story, to me, represents the best of what the Navajo Nation is wanting to accomplish in proving employment opportunities for citizens," Hunter said.
Navajo Transitional Energy Co. spokesman Erny Zah said when NTEC purchased the mine, a goal was to create more opportunities for Navajo vendors and contractors.
NTEC selected Bisti Fuels because the company understood NTEC's goal for generating opportunities.
"We are pleased Bisti is upholding the values of the Navajo Business Opportunity Act. We applaud Bisti for contracting Dinéland Protection Services," Zah said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.
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