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Cherokee Businesswoman Lauds 8(a) Status for Tribes and Native Businesses

VIRGINIA BEACHSylvia Estes is the president and owner of Pipeline & Industrial Group, Inc. an SBA certified 8(a), Virginia registered class "A" General Contractor and Native American woman-owned minority business. Estes, through her company, which is also known as P.I.G. Inc., has done more than $80 million in business in the past seven years.

In the course of her career with P.I.G Inc., which incorporated in January 2000 and obtained 8(a) status in March 2001, Estes has worked with a multitude of federal and state government organizations, and consulted with several tribal administrations including the St. Regis Mohawks, Micmac and Chippewa. Considering her continued success and consistency in working with government agencies over the past 11 years, when Estes talks, people listen.

The first piece of advice Estes gives to tribes and Native business owners is to obtain their 8(a) status. “8(a) status gives you the ability to work with the government at a level that teaches you how to grow business. The basis of the 8(a) program is to help businesses buy equipment, to hire and train personnel. It provides a vehicle for the government to buy services from your company. The government has every service need you could possibly imagine, from cell phones to supplying fuel to ships - they have to purchase this from someone.”

Estes admits the process isn’t easy, and though business owners must wait two years before applying, she said there are waivers. But even with a waiver, the process can take time. “It will take you a year to get 8(a) if you are diligent. Most people get very frustrated because there is a lot of back and forth - which I believe is a test to teach you to be patient, but the paperwork is necessary.”

Estes also noted that for many businesses or tribes that have 8(a) status, it isn’t a guarantee of work. “A lot of people get 8(a), however there are thousands that never get anything." She made it clear, that obtaining a contract is about working hard and creating a viable product.

“The first step is achieving 8(a), the second step is performing. Your word is golden. That is the secret. You have to be honest, above everything. You can make a mistake, but it's the honesty that they are looking for.”

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To Estes, the proof of her words is reflected in what she has achieved since 2001.

“I started this business with four people and one truck. Today I have 40-plus employees and I have more vehicles than I know of. I do not even want to know what the maintenance is on them. My payroll runs from $1 million to $1.5 million per year.”

In the years since achieving 8(a) status, the Pipeline and Industrial Group has earned respect as an industry leader and has helped to build a substantial amount of projects in the region including the Navy, Marine and Coast Guard Center, a major disaster response facility in Roanoke, Va., among others. Presently, Estes is working on a geothermal project for the city of Chesapeake, Va.

On a personal side, funds from Estes’ business have helped facilitate an impressive riding and equestrian facility run by her 19-year-old daughter Cadie, who following in the footsteps of her mother, serves as the youngest member of the Virginia Beach Horse Show Organization’s board.

Profits from P.I.G Inc. have also allowed Estes to provide for her family. “My siblings have all gone to college, because I was able to help them financially. My dream was always to buy my mom a house. I think that’s every Native kid’s dream, isn't it? To buy their mom a house? It's done. It's paid for and my mom doesn't have to worry about money. Without this business I would not have been able to do that.

“This business has given me the opportunity to work with tribes and meet some beautiful people. I am able to tell them that they can achieve good things and there is no reason they cannot break this generational curse. If you're going to build a business, why not build one that can make money? Anybody can do it.”