Coldfooting From California to Alaska
Alaska is the last American frontier, offering beauty and opportunity to people who have a spirit of discovery and courage. These are some of the factors that enticed Cuauhtémoc Rodríguez to build a life and Coldfoot Environmental, a very successful business in Alaska.
Rodríguez was born in Los Angeles, California. While still an infant, his family relocated to Chula Vista, California, one of the largest cities in the San Diego metropolitan area. Chula Vista is a short distance from the US-Mexican border with Tijuana. Growing up as a Mexican-American, along with his three siblings, Mr. Rodríguez learned values that would later help him succeed in Alaska.
At just under 18 years of age, Mr. Rodríguez decided to join the U.S. Air Force. He came to Alaska in May of 1994 while in the contracting squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base. Rodríguez got involved doing outdoor activities and quickly fell in love with Alaska. When it was time to reenlist in the Air Force, he found that there were no guarantees that he would be able to stay in Alaska, so Rodríguez made the choice to exit the Air Force and make his way in the 49th state. He bought a small plot of land in Eklutna and began constructing his life.
Getting started in Alaska wasn’t easy. Rodríguez was very young, he had a lot of experience managing contracts, doing procurement, and purchasing for the military, but outside of that agency, however, Rodríguez still needed to prove himself. After looking for work, Rodríguez found a job doing contracting for a construction company. When the opportunity came to start his own business, he seized it, and opened Coldfoot Environmental.
Coldfoot Environmental specializes in hazardous material (hazmat)/waste cleanup, building demolition, asbestos removal, and other aspects of environmental work, including consulting, and testing. The company that started off as subcontractor to out of state companies grew to win its own contracts and is now an important player in Alaska through contracts that are statewide and benefit government agencies, from the military, to municipalities, to school systems. After growing little by little, the company now employees between ten people off-season, and up to 45 during the busy season. Coldfoot Environmental employs people with a wide array of skills, from project managers, and superintendents, to drivers, machine operators, carpenters, etc.
Rodríguez leveraged the programs available for minority businesses in order to better position Coldfoot Environmental. Today, Coldfoot is 8(A) Certied and Disabled Veteran-Owned. The company has won a number of awards for the high quality work that it does, and Rodríguez himself has been awarded recognition as an industry leader. Coldfoot competes for contracts that have a hazmat and construction component and employs a “self-perform” model; that is, the company does most or nearly everything in-house in order to keep better management of the projects and help keep the costs down for the client.
When asked if being Latino helped or hindered Rodríguez’ efforts and success, he said that there were pros and cons. He said that being Mexican-American in a border town, he grew up with very little, so he had to learn to work hard very early in life. Working hard and succeeding helps fight the stereotypes that come with being Latino. Rodríguez said that coming out of the Air Force, being young, and Latino, it was hard for him to get hired or get breaks because people couldn’t believe he had so much experience. He said that people could not believe that, “Guys like me can ramp up, re up and run these bigger projects.”
Rodríguez recalls that every day, he had to make choices about what he did with his time and hard-earned money, he thought, “I can go out and have beer or I can buy a four-by-four for my house”, and slowly he opted for the latter. Rodríguez now lives in Anchorage with a lovely family. Rodríguez has three sons. He says that they don’t necessarily understand yet what he went through as a kid. But that is normal since his sons are growing up in a different state, and are exposed to different experiences. But he is confident that little by little everyone has to have their own experiences. Rodríguez gives advice to his kids that is important to everyone. He says, “You have to work hard. There is no better formula, and you can’t stop. When you want to quit—that is when you step it up a notch and keep going.” He continued to say that taking advantage of opportunities is paramount to his success. Growing up as a kid in Chula Vista, Rodríguez could only dream of running a company, now this is his reality. “Nothing is unreachable... persistence is big.”